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Gary Goodyear Would Be an International Embarrassment, if Anyone Were Paying Attention

March 19, 2009

Last month I wished the ghost of Charles Darwin a happy 200th birthday with a somewhat downbeat post, which noted the depressing prevalence of creationism in 21st century Canada. Now it seems that the intellectual infection may extend to our Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear.

The trouble started when the Globe and Mail asked Goodyear whether he believed in evolution. The article implied that the question was meant to follow up “rumours” that Goodyear might be a creationist, and his reply certainly left room for the possibility:

“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… said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

This Tuesday he “clarified” his views on evolution by saying:

“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.”

That simply doesn’t sound like any form of evolutionary theory I’ve ever heard of. Human evolution takes place on a time scale of generations, not years, and it certainly doesn’t have much to do with one’s choice of footwear. It’s hard to take this statement as anything but either a clumsy attempt to obfuscate or a display of total ignorance of the subject. Worse yet, the Wednesday installment of the Goodyear evolution saga was a mind-boggling declaration that creationist beliefs would have “no relevance” to a person’s fitness to hold the Science and Technology portfolio.

No relevance? That’s like saying it should be all right for the Foreign Minister to believe that the United Nations is secretly controlled by reptile women from Venus. Evolution, of the non-chiropractic variety, is a scientific fact as basic as the Copernican theory of the solar system. Cabinet members are not necessarily supposed to be experts on their portfolios, but for a minister to be either doubtful or ignorant about something so fundamental is inexcusable. Goodyear is verging on the absurdity level of South Africa’s former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the infamous “Dr Beetroot” who used to argue that AIDS victims should forget about anti-retroviral drugs and just eat the right vegetables.

Unlike Tshabalala-Msimang, Goodyear is only a small-scale international embarrassment. At least a couple of scientifically-minded American bloggers, P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula and Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy, have taken the time to express disgust, but the mainstream foreign media seem not to be paying attention. Sometimes Canada’s low global profile is a blessing in disguise. Nevertheless, I would much rather have a Minister of State for Science and Technology that the country can actually take pride in. Stephen Harper, if you’re reading this, please ease Gary Goodyear into another job before too many people outside Canada notice how spectacularly unfit he is for his current one.


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10 Comments leave one →
  1. canworldjon permalink*
    March 25, 2009 10:56 pm

    This post title, and post itself, is scathingly funny. Nice work, Corwin! But, good grief, how did this happen? Did Harper not think someone would eventually ask Goodyear if he believed in evolution? His explanation seems actually worse than creationist — most creationists have at least a rudimentary understanding of evolutionary theory. They have to, in order to set up the strawman they are often attacking. Goodyear does not seem to have even a rudimentary understanding of evolution. Survival of the fittest does not mean my reebok running shoes survive because they fit the best versus high heels.

    • March 27, 2009 8:20 am

      I’m quite sure that Goodyear’s placement was very well thought out. Just like the Bush administration’s placement of a U.N. Ambassador who didn’t believe in the U.N., or their similarly disastrous choices for the heads of the FDA or FEMA. Or our current head of the CRTC.

      Put simply: if you don’t believe that the government should have a role in a certain area, instead of trying to overtly kill that department, just put some incompetent and/or ideologically blinkered boob in there and he’ll make sure his department eventually becomes so discredited that people will WANT to do away with it.

      (this cheerfully paranoid analysis brought to you by ‘The Wrecking Crew’ by Thomas Frank 🙂

      • corsullivan permalink*
        March 28, 2009 1:02 pm

        Until a few days ago, I would probably have been dismissive of your paranoid analysis. After all, what kind of nincompoop would think that government should not have a role in funding and supporting science?

        Now I know exactly what kind: Karen Selick.

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    March 20, 2009 11:26 pm

    Cor, right on, right on. What in the world is the Canadian media doing ( are reporters, quite justifiably, so worried about job cuts and pennystock prices of corporate bosses, falling asleep on these issues?)

    This week, local “populist” radio station in Vancouver, CKNW – known affectionately as The Giant – has featured a canwest columnist, M. Symthe, ranting and raving in defence of said Minister Goodyear. The rants seem to fall under the rubric, “what’s wrong with being a Xtian/being religious” and “are we going to ban faith in our politicians” etc. The high-pitched whine reached a crescendo mid week with this tid-bit which as stuck with me and i quote, verbatim, as i heard it, live on radio: “What about Gandhi, eh? He was, he was, well, a Hindoo (sic) wasn’t he? And he was a leader, eh eh?”

    Not kidding. This is life in B.C.

    keep up the good work. R

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 21, 2009 10:59 am

      Good point – a lot of people seem to want to construe the pointed questions being asked of Goodyear as some kind of attack on religious faith. In reality, the questions are all about his opinions on evolutionary theory, and that becomes a religious matter only if one adheres to a form of religion that willfully opposes scientific evidence. When a cabinet member with responsibility for science holds beliefs that stray into that domain, they become a legitimate object of public concern.

      Two thought experiments bring out the real issue here. Firstly, suppose that Goodyear doubted evolution for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with religion – if he simply found the evidence unconvincing, for instance. That would indicate shockingly bad scientific judgement, and it would be a serious problem. Secondly, suppose he had strong religious beliefs, however bizarre or even incoherent, that did not lead to any conflict with established scientific facts. That would not really be a problem at all, as far as his job was concerned. The issue is not faith in the unseen, but inability to accept and understand what can be seen very clearly indeed.

  3. Michael permalink
    March 20, 2009 8:28 pm


    Manto Tshabalala-Msimang came to mind for me as well – and that Secretary Watt guy, under Reagan, who said that trees were the biggest source of air pollution.

    Wake up Canadians!

  4. March 20, 2009 8:55 am

    Even worse, his reference to “the intensity of the sun” makes me wonder if the next question should be whether or not he ‘believes’ in anthropogenic global warming.

    And meanwhile, Obama’s new science guy is a Nobel-winning physicist. So why are we going backwards when the U.S. finally moving forwards?

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 21, 2009 10:43 am

      Yes, it also occurred to me to wonder about Goodyear’s views on global warming. People who are determined to explain away the evidence often seem to fixate on fluctuations in solar intensity as a possible mechanism. I hope some enterprising journalist manages to pin him down on the issue.


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