The origin of speciousness

Peter
Peter Jackson
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The Globe and Mail raised the alarm last week about Canada's minister of Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear.

"Science minister won't confirm belief in evolution," the front page headline declared somewhat inquisitionally. In a private interview, Goodyear had deflected a question about his thoughts on evolution, saying it wasn't fair to discuss matters of religion.

The Globe and Mail raised the alarm last week about Canada's minister of Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear.

"Science minister won't confirm belief in evolution," the front page headline declared somewhat inquisitionally. In a private interview, Goodyear had deflected a question about his thoughts on evolution, saying it wasn't fair to discuss matters of religion.

After the story appeared, Goodyear decided to change his tune, saying that "of course" he believes in evolution. But by then, the story had gained a life of its own, spilling onto the pages of other publications such as the National Post and Maclean's magazine. For the most part, other editorialists ganged up on the Globe, claiming the paper had made a mountain out of a molehill.

There are a couple of pitfalls in this debate.

The first is the notion that religion and science - or, more specifically, Christian faith and evolution - are incompatible. Under this notion, a question about evolution automatically carries religious baggage. This confusion was exacerbated by the Globe's use of the term "belief," as in, "Do you believe in evolution?" The headline makes lack of deference to the theory of evolution seem like a matter of heresy. Non-believers will be excommunicated, or at least mocked in public.

In fact, evolution is not a matter of belief. It is a matter of science. And right now, it is the most plausible explanation we have for the natural ebb and flow of life. It is not a perfect theory - few scientific theories are - but it has withstood the test of time and experimentation, and it is what continues to shape our understanding of all species, living and extinct.

The real question for Goodyear should have been, do you believe in Creationism? (Not creation, mind you, but Creationism - there is a distinction.) If he had answered yes, then that would be a different kettle of fish. To believe in Creationism is to show utter disdain for the fundamental precepts of science.

Creationism - more recently referred to as Intelligent Design - is a front for anti-intellectual fundamentalism. Its proponents don a pseudo-scientific cloak to "prove" that biblical allegories literally occurred, and to "prove" the Earth is only a few thousand years old.

This is pure chicanery. It puts the cart before the horse and mocks the basic ground rules of science. It sets up round holes, then tries to pound square pegs into them.

Even this, however, is not the main concern raised by the Globe story. The implicit question is whether Goodyear is likely to channel any unconventional views he may have into his decision-making. In other words, would he welcome a lobby for teaching Creationism in schools, or to change the focus of biological research?

The answer is no.

Even if he could, he is no more likely to impose religious precepts in his portfolio than he is to join fellow chiropractors in a lobby against universal vaccinations. Such matters are not even under his purview. Furthermore, the arm's-length system of scientific research in this country is firmly entrenched. Any attempt to undermine its integrity would stick out like a sore thumb.

Given the Harper government's demonstrated failure to adequately address environmental concerns, it remains prudent to monitor the influence of ideology on government policy. But the Goodyear debate is only a tempest in a teapot.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Goodyear, Globe and Mail, National Post Maclean's Intelligent Design The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada

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  • Rod
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    No - Mr. Goodyear is unlikely to mandate that pictures of dinosaures on Noah's Arc be posted in schools - but that point of view (that religious faith 'trumps' established scientific opinion) can and will result in a tipping toward a particular Christian fundamentalist vision.

    Funding for scientists who date fossels can be tampered with who needs fossels dated when they know the world is 6000 or so years old?

    Biologists, who study the mechanisms of evolution can be reduced, as can that of astrophysicists who tend to date things in billions of years rather just thousands.

    A good understand of science is not only helpful but almost necessary when making funding decisions that effect the future of scientific research in Canada for years to come.

    Obama in the US is finally releasing his country from the shackles of the religious blinded Bush .. we must be on guard that it does not happen here.

  • Rod
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    No - Mr. Goodyear is unlikely to mandate that pictures of dinosaures on Noah's Arc be posted in schools - but that point of view (that religious faith 'trumps' established scientific opinion) can and will result in a tipping toward a particular Christian fundamentalist vision.

    Funding for scientists who date fossels can be tampered with who needs fossels dated when they know the world is 6000 or so years old?

    Biologists, who study the mechanisms of evolution can be reduced, as can that of astrophysicists who tend to date things in billions of years rather just thousands.

    A good understand of science is not only helpful but almost necessary when making funding decisions that effect the future of scientific research in Canada for years to come.

    Obama in the US is finally releasing his country from the shackles of the religious blinded Bush .. we must be on guard that it does not happen here.