March 30, 2009
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A couple of particularly well-turned phrases in response to the Gary Goodyear evolution flap from an excellent piece in the Globe and Mail by T. Ryan Gregory (author of the Genomicron blog, which has continued to follow the story) explaining facts, theories and everything in between:
Darwin had two objectives: first, to establish that modern species are related through descent from common ancestors; second, to propose natural selection as the primary cause of this “descent with modification.” As scientists put it, he sought simultaneously to establish both the fact of evolution and a theory of evolution. But how can something be both a fact and a theory? The controversy over science minister Gary Goodyear’s comments about evolution shows the need for clarification….
Evolution is not “just a theory,” any more than germs, atoms or gravity are “just a theory.” The common ancestry shared by all life is the unifying principle of biology, making sense of an otherwise bewildering array of diversity and complexity. Our understanding of how this has occurred is, itself, constantly evolving.
March 20, 2009
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Gary Goodyear, Canada’s minister of state for science and technology, has drawn international attention this week for his highly defensive, arguably obfuscatory, chronologically incorrect and possibly creationist statements about evolution.
Tuesday, March 17, the Globe and Mail reports Goodyear responding to a question about evolution by saying “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.” (er, that was a science question!) Later Tuesday, appearing on a CTV News show, he said “Well, of course, I do, but it’s an irrelevant question” and went on to say “We are evolving every year, every decade.” (speed-volution!) Wednesday Morning, and since, he has stuck to the position that his view on the matter “has no relevance.” (keep evolving that position, Mr. Goodyear!)
There are now several schools of thought:
- Mr. Goodyear is a creationist whose beliefs are influencing science funding decisions;
- Mr. Goodyear has compounded a bad gaffe with a worse strategy, but the science funding decisions have nothing to do with his beliefs;
- His failure to properly articulate examples of evolution show that he lacks understanding requisite to do his job;
- His failure to properly articulate examples of evolution were a further attempt to prevaricate — he claims to believe in evolution, but doesn’t mean the same kind of evolution that scientists refer to; plus a special bonus…
- The whole thing is a librul witch hunt and it would be perfectly okay to have a creationist minister of state for science (sic) and technology.
I have been unable to locate a description of the minister of state’s mandate, so I can’t judge whether he’s effectively meeting those expectations. I can say that his behaviour, between this episode and his shouting match with professors a couple of weeks ago, has done nothing constructive to address the urgent problems facing our research, development and commercialization industries.
Is that irrelevant? Well, Mr. Goodyear…