When I read journalists writing about matters of faith, I often find myself stuck on words which clearly don’t mean the same thing to me as they mean to them.

Stumbling blocks to clear writing are words like “fundamentalist” which to many journalists seems to mean anyone who takes their faith seriously. “Evangelical” to reporters seems to mean any pro-life Christian.

These, of course, are not the actual meanings of the words.

But nowhere is this vagueness more apparent than when journalists write about the differing viewpoints of creationism, evolution, or intelligent design.

In a profile of a Vatican astronomer appearing in the Walrus Magazine this trouble appears:

Indeed, the Galileo affair may be seen as a historical relic; after all, no one argues about the mechanics of the solar system anymore. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, on the other hand, still faces fierce resistance in some circles, as it has ever since On the Origin of Species was published 150 years ago. Even in Canada, a 2008 poll found that only 58 percent of respondents accept evolution, a figure that drops to 37 percent in Alberta. The Vatican has also found itself caught up in the controversy. Pope John Paul II embraced evolution as “more than a hypothesis,” but the current pope, Benedict XVI, has referred to the universe as an “intelligent project,” leaving some people to wonder if he is less committed to science than his predecessor.

Isn’t that creating a distinction where really isn’t one? Does anybody believe that Pope John Paul II didn’t believe that the universe was designed by an intelligence?

The implication is that Pope John Paul II embraced science and evolution and Pope Benedict XVI believes God placed dinosaur bones in the ground as a lark 6,000 years ago when he created the world. But the journalist doesn’t prove any of this. He takes the word “intelligent” and links it to something else entirely.

And then the writer brings out quotes from Jesuit Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno as if he’s refuting the Pope:

Consolmagno has little patience for intelligent design. “Science cannot prove God, or disprove Him. He has to be assumed. If people have no other reason to believe in God than that they can’t imagine how the human eye could have evolved by itself, then their faith is very weak.”

So the writer is essentially creating a feud where none likely exists simply based on vague nomenclature.

Isn’t there a difference between creationism and intelligent design? In fact, I would tend to think that one could believe that the universe was intelligently designed and evolution at the same time.

But I think if journalists are going to continue covering faith issues they should at least have an agreed upon definition of terms.