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Mar 18 2009

Our Science Minister believes in MAGIC!?

Yet another post about the nexus of religion and science. You’d think I’d get tired of this stuff, but this one hits really close to home, and my rage meter is probably my biggest blogging driver.

Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology, apparently can’t bring himself to accept that science always trumps faith when the two come into opposition. When asked about whether or not he believed in evolution, he refused to answer on the grounds that as a Christian, he felt the question was religious and he didn’t want to discuss religion.

Update: Shoulda read all my RSS feeds before posting, because Phil Plait already covered this loon, and the “clarification” he made on CTV today. However, I agree wholeheartedly with Phil when he says:

I’m calling shenanigans on him. Why? Because 1) he should have answered it in the first place — if, by his reasoning, the question was irrelevant yesterday, it still is today, and 2) it is an extremely relevant question, given that he was couching his answers yesterday in religious terms.

The rest of this post, everything below the fold, stands unaltered by this update, because I believe this is little more than backpedalling in the face of a public outcry. The question asked is ONLY a religious question if you think evolution is incompatible with your religious beliefs. Period. End update.

As if you couldn’t guess, it is disgusting to me that the man put in charge of science in our country actually prefers to believe in a really old book written by a Bronze-age tribe, rather than in the mountains of current, testable evidence available to us presently. Tons of other people, from scientists to Pope Benedickhead, manage to accept that all the evidence is on one side of the scales and a really old book is all that’s on the other side. It therefore shouldn’t be quite so difficult for people of faith to reconcile that the knowledge we have of the world derived from science is based on evidence, whereas their faith is (by definition) a belief in something supernatural that is either contrary to, or absent of, evidence, and yet, every day it seems we find yet another public policy maker with exactly that lack of ability.

The word faith itself has a few meanings, and oftentimes people arguing that atheists have “faith” in science are making use of that semantic trap, where their faith is blind devotion to an invisible deity, and the science-defender’s “faith” is their belief that all the science is based on tested evidence even though they themselves have not reproduced every experiment on which the foundation of the science they’re espousing is based. This is like saying iPods can’t possibly exist because you personally don’t have the ability to build one from base materials bought at a hardware store, doing all the metalworking, plastic-moulding, electronics-manufacturing and programming on your own. But people don’t see the semantic trap that way — they think if they could just knock down that one tiny assumption on which evolution is founded, people would come flocking (heh) back to their religion because that’s the only other choice.

Except, the problem with that mistaken belief is that at this stage in human history, science is intertwined to the point where it can no longer be extricated. Biology is now so intertwined with evolution that as Russian Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky famously and correctly stated in the title of his best-known essay, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution“. The foundation of evolution is not only biology (and chemistry by association), but also genetics and paleontology. To continue down the tangled path of evolution’s heritage, paleontology is in turn dependent on our knowledge of geography, geology, and plate tectonics. Our knowledge of geology is dependent on our knowledge of chemistry, the *theory* of gravity (of which we know stunningly less than we do about the theory of evolution), and even a smattering of astrophysics.

And so on and so forth. Everything ties back to everything else such that a particular field cannot be removed outright without being replaced by something better — for instance, how our understanding of evolution improved vastly upon the discovery of DNA, and how whole swaths of theory (like Lamarckian evolution, wherein adaptations by members of a species were thought to be heritable) were knocked out as a result.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t trust anyone with promoting science in our country where they believe science is a cafeteria where you can order up what works and what doesn’t a-la-carte. Let’s not even mention that he’s a chiropractor, which is to legitimate medicine what mime is to acting — their Venn diagrams overlap only slightly, and most practitioners of the former know little or nothing about the latter.

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