Evolution is not religion

In 2009, there was trouble in Canada. The minister of science Gary Goodyear started the year facing an uphill battle which only intensified later on. Firstly, Goodyear made severe cuts in the funding for basic research. That was not a popular move. And subsequently, he got into some serious trouble. Unnecessarily so, some say. Others say: unfortunately. Reprehensible, say the Canadian scientists. This is understandable.

“It is not appropriate to ask me about religion”

It started out very well. One of Canada’s leading newspapers The Globe and Mail wanted to do a portrayal of Goodyear. Partly, they wanted to give him a fair chance to defend himself against the massive criticism that the government’s science policy had been subjected to. And partly because they wanted to do a “human interest” story so the readers got better acquainted with him. Therefore, the interview focused mainly on Goodyear as a person. This went well.

However, then the journalist asked if the science minister believed in evolution. That did not go quite as well.

“I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking me a question about my religion is appropriate”.

You can agree or disagree with that. If your religious convictions mean that you as minister of science will not recognise the fundamental basis of a large part of all biological and medical research then it is very much an appropriate question. Not least because it is justifiable to fear an effect on the political decision making with regards to distribution of research funds.

Presently, Canadian scientists are deeply concerned with the, pardon the expression, almost religious celebration of the applied and quickly convertible research. Research is about producing a lot of products in a fast and inexpensive manner – and on Canadian soil. It is not about acknowledgement, achieving an insight with regards to nature and our place in it. In a village-like merchant mentality, innovation becomes synonymous with research even though in reality the focus is merely on how to make a quick buck. Absent is any kind of understanding of what research is really about and what lies at the root of the scientific and technological development that everyone agrees is the foundation of the economy and society of the future.

You do not have to listen to the minister of science Gary Goodyear for long before realizing that there is cause for concern.

“walking on cement”

Everyone interprets the science minister’s answer in the same way. He did not want to answer the question because he does not recognise the theory of evolution. In a television interview he tried to calm down the massive critique. That quickly became a slippery slope. Goodyear explained that he did not wish to answer the question the other day because it was not relevant to his job of managing the portfolio of the ministry of science and technology. It was also not relevant to what currently worries the Canadian public; that they are losing their jobs and that the economy is in a poor state.

“We have to support science in order to create jobs and discover cures for diseases. That’s what’s relevant today”

Before his quickly put together and self-praising celebratory speech was interrupted by the journalist, he just managed to utter the euphoric statement: “we need to get science onto the factory floors”. 

But how about evolution? Did he really not believe in that?

"Of course I do. We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment".

The Canadian science minister was clearly satisfied with his answer. And one might wonder why. Among all the ridiculous misunderstandings concerning evolution that I have come across, I have rarely heard anything like this. It is based upon such a fundamental misunderstanding of what evolution is that he cannot possibly believe in it himself. And of course he does not.

Gary Goodyear knows that biological evolution is a completely different issue. But armed with a sparkling Colgate smile and hopeless political spin, he tried to avoid the actual question. However, he did not succeed very well.

Evolution is not religion

The worst thing is not that Canada has a potential creationist as the minister of science and technology. No, the worst thing is that the man with the money believes that evolution is a matter of faith and immediately places it within a religious context.

It is absurd. And coming from a science minister it is downright terrifying. It demonstrates such a frightening lack of knowledge of modern science that it sends shivers down one’s spine knowing that this comes from a person with power, money, and influence in a country that recognises itself as the most civilised in North America. Anyone of my students would fail immediately, should they utter such an opinion.

When Gary Goodyear refuses to answer the question of whether or not he believes in evolution, because he is a Christian, he fails. This is quite simply not an acceptable answer. What about plate tectonics? “I don’t want to answer the question because I’m a Muslim”. Thermodynamics? “I don’t want to answer the question because I’m Jewish”. Gravity? “I don’t want to answer the question because I’m a Hindu”. His way of avoiding the question is simply embarrassing.

No scientific theory is a religion. Evolution is not a religion. Science is not faith. It is unbearable how these two always become mixed up. It has to stop now.

Peter C. Kjærgaard

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