The Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail is reporting that Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology in Canada, may not believe in evolution.
The situation is somewhat confusing. The article starts off with this:
Canada’s science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won’t say if he believes in evolution.
“I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Wait, what? Religion? The reporter says he was asked about evolution! This makes the issue a little muddy.
If Goodyear was asked specifically about evolution, then it’s not directly a question about religion, and the quotation doesn’t make sense. Either the reporter got it wrong, or the Canadian Minister of Science thinks evolution is religion. Or that being asked about evolution is akin to being asked about religion.
Let me get this clear: science is not faith-based. Evolution is science, and science is not religion. Therefore, being asked about evolution is not the same as being asked about religion.
However, if he was asked about his religion, and the context was whether his religious beliefs are in conflict with evolution, then the question is very appropriate. In fact, the situation would demand it. He’s the Minister of Science! If he thinks evolution is not true because he’s a creationist, then every scientist in Canada should be demanding Goodyear be fired.
Goodyear, apparently, disagrees.
When asked about those rumours [about him being a creationist], Mr. Goodyear said such conversations are not worth having.
“Obviously, I have a background that supports the fact I have read the science on muscle physiology and neural chemistry,” said the minister, who took chemistry and physics courses as an undergraduate at the University of Waterloo.
“I do believe that just because you can’t see it under a microscope doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It could mean we don’t have a powerful enough microscope yet. So I’m not fussy on this business that we already know everything. … I think we need to recognize that we don’t know.”
Asked to clarify if he was talking about the role of a creator, Mr. Goodyear said that the interview was getting off topic.
Off-topic? I don’t think so. And in fact that followup question is exactly the right one to ask. Given the context, it certainly sounds like Goodyear was invoking religion in his answer.
Until recently, I thought that asking a politician about religion was not appropriate, unless that religion had a significant chance of interfering with that person’s ability to execute the nature of their position — for example, if a creationist is your nation’s highest science official. In America, sadly, religion has become a political substitute for "trustworthy"; politicians wear their religion on their sleeves, and it’s a standard topic for either defense or attack by the media or other politicians (how many people still think Obama is a Muslim due to the ridiculous attacks on him during the campaign, despite the Reverend Wright controversy?).
Because of that, knowing a politician’s religion may actually be a very strong clue on how they will react when science-based legislation comes up for a vote. I’m not saying a politician’s religion will definitely affect them, but I absolutely want to know if my governor or senator or school board member is a creationist, just as surely as I would want to know if they were a flat-Earther, a Holocaust denier, or 9/11 conspiracy theorist.
In Canada, this situation is exacerbated due to recent deep cuts in the science research budget by the Canadian government. That, coupled with doubts over Goodyear’s science credentials, is sparking what might be called a crisis of faith in the government among scientists.
I don’t blame them. After seeing what happened here in the U.S. when religious zealots made ideologically based decisions, I’m a tad sensitive to this myself. I certainly hope the folks up north get this straightened out as soon as possible.