I work with people of all ages, but specially children, educating them about natural sciences.
More often than I wish, I see people using "belief", "hypothesis" and "theory" as synonyms and I´m starting to get tired of it. I try to keep it simple (because I´m usually with children), explaining that an "hypothesis" is an idea you propose as a solution for a question and that you need to test it, and that a "theory" is an explanation you have evidence for and, until now, no test has rejected it.
But, why I have to explained it in the first place? When and how did this confusion start?

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I think that the answer you WANT is that it started with right-wing Christian fundamentalism and their varied attempts to discredit science so that their bullshit claims of creationism can be presented on a false "equal footing."

But that's just my theory...um, hypothesis.
I cannot say I know personally any fundamentalist (maybe one crazy catholic scholar). I think they have very little with the start of this confusion (at least in my country), even when they are the ones to exploit it the most.
I´m not so pacient. I sure that it has something to do with the fact I never have to deal with creationists yet. Once I have a evangelist woman who didn´t want to know anything about ancient mummies even when she had one in front of her, but that was all.
I always do an effort to make children understand that theories require facts. I usually use the alternative hypothesis of the KT extintion for that (children know everything about dinosaurs, usually more than me!).
This year we are talking a lot about Darwin, so I´m making an effort to explain than evolution and "the theory of evolution by natural selection" are two different things.
My $0.02: remember to tell your creationist friends that all good scientific theories are the best explanations selected from a set of theories. Creationists are locked in on one theory and one theory only, and do not bother to evaluate competing theories properly.
Remember to tell them than Creationist haven´t overcome the hypothesis category yet. (And it´s a lousy hypothesis anyway) XD
Mostly it's ignorance--club-swinging, woman-dragging-by-the-hair ignorance. They just don't notice the details of what makes these particular types of "an idea" different. The rest of it is active malevolence on the part of those who work toward a world devoid of rational thought--goodthinkers and duckspeakers.
What baffles my mind is I've seen numerous scientists on tv use the word theory with the meaning of guess/hypothesis.
I wish scientists would make up a new word for their use of theory.
The problem with using the non-scientific use of the word gives apparent creedence to the misuse.

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