It’s really not that big a deal

All of a sudden, people all over effbook are freaking out about the two-year-old story that Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of Science, doesn’t believe in the theory of evolution. I think this is a bit of an odd turn. I mean, it’s been out there for over two years. It’s not like we didn’t *know* that the guy’s personal religious beliefs are contrary to a scientific theory. Maybe folks are getting upset about it now because there’s an election coming up?

But if the only thing you can pick out of the current administration to be incensed about is that one of the elected ministers in Cabinet doesn’t believe in what he’s Minister of, well, maybe we need to go back to square one with ‘why people get to be elected’ and ‘how elected officials get Cabinet positions’. We’re not the first, nor will we be the last, country who spent time with a Minister of the Environment whose opinions on the environment were dicey, from the point of view of environmentalists. Environment Ministers are often chosen because they can handle the economics of environmental development, and not because they’re environmentalists.

We had a Minister of Justice who wasn’t particularly just. I’m sure he wasn’t the first. I mean…first, why is this a surprise, and second, why does it matter? Explain to me why it matters if an elected official doesn’t believe in evolution.

I don’t care if the people I vote for are atheists. Or religious. I don’t care if they believe in the curative properties of garlic. I don’t care if they don’t believe in the effectiveness of antibiotics to combat infection. I don’t care WHAT they believe, as long as they do the job they were elected to do.

A better question…a far *bigger* concern…is what the current Canadian administration has done to things like research and development in the area of sciences (and in many other areas, but let’s just focus on sciences for now). If you’re going to argue that the reason funding has been cut to research programs is because the Minister is a creationist, that’s a pretty big leap of logic. A more important question is: why does the Canadian government feel that knowledge, education, and learning are unimportant? By cutting funding to researchers and educational institutions, the government is endangering the health and well-being of every single Canadian.

How so?

Well, it certainly goes further than things like trying to find a cure for cancer.

Things like learning for the sake of learning, questioning because you don’t know the answers…without those things, there wouldn’t be *any* progress. We’d still be using water wheels and driving horse carts. On skids. Maybe. If the government doesn’t understand THAT, then there’s a far bigger problem.

Calling someone down because of their beliefs is…well, it’s not really very nice, I hear. Would it have been better if he hadn’t mentioned his religion? If he had said, “there are many scientific theories that have not been proved to be true or false; there are many I don’t have an opinion on”, would that have been better? Do you have to believe in evolution in order to support learning? Nope. Do you have to believe in evolution to be a scientist? Depends on the kind of science, I suppose. Maybe there are physicists out there for whom the idea of evolution is really not all that important.

*My* point is that it seems to me folks are chewing on the wrong lapel here. The man’s personal beliefs aren’t as important as whether or not he’s doing his job. Did the Prime Minister come in and say, “Gary. About this evolution thing. It’s, you know, a big scam”? Or is it more likely the Prime Minister came in and said, “Gary. About this budget. We need a few million dollars for corporate tax cuts. You don’t really NEED this research budget, do you?”

We might disagree with his personal beliefs. We might say things about hard evidence proving, without a doubt, that homo sapiens have been living on earth for more than two thousand years. We might say that even if he believes that there is a Universal Force that “created” the proper conditions in which evolution took place, that doesn’t mean the animals of the world were “created” to be as they are, in their current state, and that evolution doesn’t take place. We might refute his beliefs.

And if you don’t like the way he’s doing his job, fire him. (That means don’t vote for him again.) But it’s still illegal in this country to fire people for their religious beliefs **unless their religious beliefs impede them from doing their jobs**.

Personally, I don’t think the man’s personal beliefs are preventing him from doing his job. I think his manager (the Prime Minister) is preventing him from doing what his job *ought* to be. I think Gary Goodyear is doing *exactly* what his manager is telling him to do in cutting funding for research. But it hasn’t anything to do with his personal beliefs.

  24 comments for “It’s really not that big a deal

  1. Wonko the Sane
    3 April 2011 at 10:13 am

    I think having a creationist as Minister of Science is an epic mistake. If it doesn’t seem immediately apparent to you why I think so, try imagining Christopher Hitchens as Pope.
    Mr. Goodyear *might* be able to keep his personal beliefs out of his professional decisions, but when those personal beliefs are so obviously counter to the accepted *scientific* beliefs that are part-and-parcel to his work, it is hard to see how he could keep his religious beliefs out of the decision making process. It’s like putting a pedophile in charge of a daycare, as long as he only “really likes” children on his own time.
    As for removing him from the Cabinet post for his religious beliefs, in this case I think it’s warranted. Cabinet positions have been taken from people for far less. He’ll still have his MP seat – that belongs to the people in his riding.
    I’m sure that there’s many Creationists in Parliament doing a fine job of looking after their ridings; I just don’t think that any of them are suitable choices for a job that should require acceptance of the scientific method of inquiry.

    • 3 April 2011 at 12:02 pm

      See, I thought of that. But it isn’t the same comparison. The pope *must* believe in creation; it’s part of his job description. He cannot minister to the spiritual health of people on earth without his Faith.

      Gary Goodyear isn’t a scientist. He doesn’t need to believe in science to be a science minister. I don’t think it’s anything like letting a pedophile run a daycare. I mean, how often, really, is evolutionary theory going to come up in Gary Goodyear’s daily work. I don’t think his beliefs would have anything to do with his work. He doesn’t do research. He doesn’t write reports. He doesn’t even need to believe in the scientific theory. He just needs to do what his manager tells him to do.

      If people are going to be removed from Cabinet for the things they believe in, we’re treading dangerously close to thought policing. His belief in creationism does not at all impact his ability to do his job. Not like Tom Lukiwski’s belief that homosexuals are dirty, diseased people; that actually causes harm.

      Why would being the Minister of Science require you to accept and use scientific methods? He’s an *elected official*. In no other cabinet (except for Finance, possibly) is there a requirement of Ministers to know anything about their cabinet position.

      • Wonko the Sane
        3 April 2011 at 12:40 pm

        Maybe the problem is that the job is filled by *anyone* who isn’t well-versed in scientific thought. Just like the Finance portfolio requires someone with a bit of financial acumen, so should the Science portfolio require someone who has at least a passing understanding of scientific methodology, etc. If the job truly just requires someone to “do what their manager says”, then he’s not really the Minister of anything.

        • 3 April 2011 at 1:02 pm

          Well, that *is* my point. I don’t think Harper’s ministers *are* ministers of anything.

          I also want to point out that the pedophile analogy is completely unfitting. Pedophiles are mentally ill. While you might believe that people who believe in creationism are mentally ill, doctors don’t agree with you.

          It would be more apt to say that someone who doesn’t believe in having children is incapable of running a daycare.

    • Jennnnn
      3 April 2011 at 1:04 pm

      I really think that comparing a creationist as science minister and a pedophile in a daycare is not only alarmist, but incredibly ridiculous. I may disagree with Mr. Goodyear – I’m certainly not a creationist, but it’s incredibly offensive to say that he’s doing the sort of damage to *anyone* (including science) that a pedophile does to a child.

  2. Jennnnn
    3 April 2011 at 10:45 am

    A-frikken-men, sister. I’ve been puzzling over the hullabaloo myself.

  3. Cheruby
    3 April 2011 at 11:07 am

    I’m with Wonko on this one. I like his pedophile and Christopher Hitchens analogies. If you make Gandhi a Field Marshal or Al Capone the head of the Supreme Court, chances are that no matter what tasks you put before them, their beliefs and desires are going to interfere with their jobs in either subtle or huge ways. Why would you appoint somebody like that when they could be doing something else that doesn’t cause the poor man cognitive dissonance at work? It makes sense to appoint somebody as Minister of Science who ACTUALLY BELIEVES IN SCIENCE!

    You do have a point, though, when you say that there is no logical connection between funding cuts to research and the Minister’s creationism. There’s not enough evidence either way to say there’s a link.

  4. Ms. S
    3 April 2011 at 12:55 pm

    A theory in the research community about the lack of funding to pure arms-length undirected research is as follows:
    A.) The government prefers to fund the infrastructure such as the labs, because it has more of a “wow” factor. (The same thing can be said for medical infrastructure such as the still empty heart institute built in Edmonton whose ribbon-cutting was attending by the PM himself).
    B.) The government isn’t interested in funding pure “what-if” research because it tends to have long horizons (20+ yrs, which is generally longer that any PM – or his party is likely to be power.)
    C.) The government prefers to have research funding tied to commercial interests. That is why you see the dollars going to the tech commercialization hubs at universities and to partnerships with industry – whatever their agenda may be. If the dollars are tied to particular desired outcomes then the best brains will be herded in that direction as well.

    In which case, the Science minister is doing exactly what his job requires.

    • 3 April 2011 at 1:04 pm

      That’s what *I* think.

      But then again, I’m not the sort of person who believes that, f’rinstance, people who do not want children shouldn’t be teachers.

  5. Séamus
    3 April 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Do I like the fact that Gary Goodyear does not believe in evolution? No. Am I surprised that a creationist was appointed minister of science in a Harper government? No. Do I think Mr. Goodyears beliefs (or lack there of) have effected his ability to hold his office? Unfortunately, probably not. It’s a wonderful idea to think/believe that the minister of any given portfolio SHOULD have a grounding in that portfolio, but in reality it’s the bureaucrats of that portfolio who do the REAL work, so it doesn’t really matter what the Minister thinks/understands/believes. I’d be much more alarmed if I heard that the Ministry of Science was recruiting staff from Bible Colleges.

    • 3 April 2011 at 4:48 pm

      I’m sorry you feel that way. People who believe in stuff need jobs too. What makes you think that people who attend bible colleges (as I did) shouldn’t work for government?

      • Séamus
        3 April 2011 at 6:22 pm

        Nothing wrong with people who believe stuff having jobs. In the case of people who work for the Ministry of Science, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect employees to have a background in science. The last time I checked most Bible colleges were not recognized for their scientific rigor. In fact, most academic institutions do not recognize Bible studies as post secondary educational credit.

        • 3 April 2011 at 8:10 pm

          I don’t know what college you …okay yeah I totally do know what college you went to. “Bible Studies” is valid post secondary educational credit in most Universities with a department of religious studies. At the University at which we met, there are three seminaries.

          So what you’re saying is that people who practise religion cannot be scientists because they do not understand scientific rigor.

          In fact, one of my best friends teaches Bible Studies and early church writings (it’s called ‘Patristics’). AND he believes in evolution. But he shouldn’t work for the government because he teaches (and studies) bible studies and not sciences.

          If you’re talking about people working at a *research* institution, sure, the employees should have a background in science. But if you’re talking about a government bureaucracy, there is absolutely no need for employees to have backgrounds in science.

          • Séamus
            3 April 2011 at 9:19 pm

            True, there are seminaries that are affiliated with universities. As to whether or not *most* universities will recognize credit from a Bible college, I can’t speak for SK, but all three Universities in AB are not likely to give you credit, not even Religious Studies credit.

            As for whether or not people who practise religion can be scientists, I didn’t say that. As you point out, you have a friend who teaches Patristics and believes in evolution. I simply stated that I think people who work for the Ministry of SCIENCE should have a background in science, like a BSc. Show me a Bible college with a recognized BSc program and I’ll shut-up. It doesn’t matter to me if someone who works for the Ministry of Science is religious or not, they may have gone to Bible College before finishing a BSc in Botany, I don’t care. All I care about is whether the person has a background in science or not.

            • 4 April 2011 at 7:40 am

              Regardless of the focus of the college itself, educational institutes in this country must follow proscribed curriculae.

              Unless I don’t understand what you mean by “Bible College”. Because people who graduate from Bible Colleges generally get credit for having completed their courses. In fact, as long as the college meets certain educational standards, you *will* get a degree from them that *is* recognised at most Universities in Canada.

              Bible Colleges don’t offer *science* degrees, but then, that’s not their focus. That certainly doesn’t mean they are not recognised as accredited educational institutions. There are several “Bible Collages” all over Canada at which students may complete theology degrees or religious studies degrees that would be recognised by any post-secondary institution.

              But it seems to me you’re also saying that someone with a liberal arts degree (such as in English or in communications) shouldn’t be allowed to work for the Ministry of Science. If that’s your position, I *still* disagree with it.

              • Cha-Cha
                4 April 2011 at 1:13 pm

                Clearly, the notion of the separation of Church and State is and should be assumed to work both ways: Religion is not considered as legitimate for government policy, and government policy informs religious discourse only if religious practices are violating basic rights.

                That being said, I don’t think that it’s an objection to anyone’s personal beliefs to say that any Ministry needs a competent bureaucracy in order to make effective policy, and I do think that that means that people in the Ministry of Science need to have scientific backgrounds. I don’t think that anyone here is arguing that every single employee of the Ministry needs to have a Bsc: I think that the argument is that those who are involved in crafting options for elected officials to consider need to have the appropriate qualifications for the job, and I don’t think that that’s unreasonable.

                • 4 April 2011 at 1:34 pm

                  I do think that it’s beneficial to elected persons to have well-educated and well-informed staff at their disposal. Most elected officials rely on the information they get from their bureaucracy. But I don’t think that elected officials need that knowledge.

                  For these reasons: 1)Cabinet positions are awarded, not earned. Yes, they are held by elected officials, but no, there is no requirement that those who hold them have any expertises in those areas.

                  2) Cabinet positions are mutable. Whoever is Science Minister today might end up being Minister of Canadian Heritage tomorrow. Should we expect *all* of our elected officials to have a background in sciences and humanities?

                  That would be *nice*, granted. PLEASE, someone bring back classical education! But it’s not going to happen.

                  And I’m not talking about the *staff*. Not *really*. Fill up the entire bureaucracy with people who’ve studied science if you want. You don’t get that luxury in elected officials.

  6. 4 April 2011 at 3:59 am

    It’s Mr. Goodyear’s job to allocate his department’s budget though, isn’t it? It’s a little alarming to have the Science Minister lump Evolution in with Unicorn Breeding and Pixie Dust Harvesting.
    Am I totally mistaken on what his actual duties are? Politics were never my strong suit.

    • 4 April 2011 at 7:31 am

      I’m pretty sure that there are very few Ministers who actually do this (by themselves). That’s what senior staffers do, for the most part. Ostensibly, even if it *is* his job to allocate funding, just because the man’s a creationist doesn’t mean he does’t see the value in research. It doesn’t mean he’s incapable of *all* thought, or even of “rational” thought. I just think it’s foolish to assume that someone is incapable of setting a responsible budget for something based on their personal beliefs.

      Also, Pixie Dust harvesting is a fine and noble, time-honoured careers.

      • 5 April 2011 at 6:12 am

        They ARE noble and time honoured careers, but I think they fall more under the mantle of the Minister of Agriculture rather than the Minister of Science.

        I think what worries me about his having that position with his beliefs is my fear that he won’t be able to seperate his personal beliefs from his job.
        Maybe he’s perfectly capable of doing his jorb and I’m just freaking out over nothing, but since we’ve all seen shabby politicians before, I’m not willing to give him the benfit of the doubt. You’re right though, I should just relax about the whole thing until (or if even) he screws up, and then I can scream stridently, “I TOLD YOU SOOOOO!”
        Or something. Likely I’ll just sigh and go back to wasting my time with stupid Facebook games. ;)

        • 5 April 2011 at 6:14 am

          I apologize for all the spelling and grammatical errors in that last post. I was typing WAY too fast for my brain to keep up.

  7. 4 April 2011 at 8:30 am

    The unfortunate part of your reasoning that I vehemently disagree with is actually not that his religion has nothing to do with his decisions (that is a whole other ball of wax), but that Canadians can merely “fire him”. Canadians as a whole can NOT fire this man. The only people who can fire him are the people In His Riding who elect him. In Canada, contrary to what Canadian’s believe, we do not vote for ANYONE in our election other than the people running in our riding.

    Sure, we can vote as a country and give a different party power, thereby giving said party’s leadership power, and from there perhaps this guy will go. But we still only vote for one seat and for the vast majority of us, that seat is not his.

    I really think this is why voter apathy is such a growing problem in our country. We all feel so damn powerless.

    • 4 April 2011 at 10:07 am

      Yeah, I was thinking about that myself.

      I mean, technically, by definition, yes, we as Canadians *can* fire him (I’m just going to go out on a limb and assume that SOMEONE who reads this bournal lives in his riding).

      But. You’re right. It’s mind-bogglingly difficult to fire turrible MPs. Mine, f’rinstance, who is so blatantly hateful and hurtful. I can’t fire that guy without a ballista. Because he’s the only right-wing candidate in a predominantly rural riding (rural ridings which traditionally don’t vote central and left). I’ll ALWAYS be stuck with this schmo, unless I decide to run against him FOR HIS PARTY, and that ain’t gonna happen.

      Good point, M. Well said.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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