World of Wonders

When we see things that aren’t, we miss the wonderful things that are.

March 18, 2009: Canada’s Minister of Science accepts Darwin’s evolution. Or does he?

So, Gary Goodyear, Canada’s minister of state for science and technology, thinks his views on evolution are “irrelevant”. When asked in an interview whether he believed in Darwin’s big idea, the minister refused to answer, saying that his religious beliefs had nothing to do with government policy.

As a tax-paying voter, I think they are very relevant—particularly if, as many suspect, Goodyear is a creationist. If the minister believes that all the species on Earth were created by a divine being, whole and complete, and that they didn’t evolve from common ancestors, then he has made a choice based on his religious faith. He’s chosen an explanation that goes against the vast body of evidence accumulated in the 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species. He is rejecting the foundation on which all of biology is constructed, an idea universally accepted by science because it has been proven at every step.

His beliefs are relevant because, if this is how he makes decisions and choices, how then will he vote on issues such as stem-cell research, climate change, same-sex marriage, capital punishment, abortion, and so on? Will he vote according to faith-based beliefs? Where there is empirical evidence to consider, will he examine it and vote with a rational mind?

Even if Goodyear weren’t science minister, the question would still be important to me, because I’m not prepared to vote for someone who believes—as Stockwell Day declared in the 2000 election when he was leader of the Canadian Alliance—that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that humans once shared the planet with dinosaurs.

Goodyear’s assertion that he believes in evolution (in a later interview) didn’t exactly reassure the scientific community. The minister, a former chiropractor, explained that “Of course I believe in evolution. Whether it’s to the intensity of the sun, whether it’s to walking on cement versus anything else, whether it’s running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment.”

Huh? I don’t remember there being anything about high heels in On the Origin of Species. To some, the minister’s answer was satisfactory. But others, like Denis Lamoureux, a professor of science and religion at the University of Alberta, recognized that Goodyear was continuing to be evasive. The minister still hadn’t specifically answered whether he accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection and that separate species evolved from common ancestors over millions of years.

And even if we accept Goodyear’s stated belief in evolution, you have to wonder about his grasp of the concept. According to Elizabeth Elle, a biology professor at Simon Fraser University in B.C., “[Goodyear’s answer] demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how evolution by natural selection works.”

So, whether he is being evasive about his creationist belief, or he simply doesn’t understand evolution through natural selection, Goodyear’s disingenuous, rambling, unintelligible answer fails to instil confidence within the Canadian scientific community. It also underscores the relevance of the question. After all, how would Canadians feel about a finance minister who didn’t believe in capitalism, or who could not explain how the stock market worked? Or a minister of health who didn’t believe in germ theory, or could not explain how vaccines worked?

Mr. Goodyear, we await further clarification.

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Filed under: creationism, evolution, politics, religion, , , ,

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