Canada Nov. 8, 2017

Governor General should apologize: civil rights league

By Deborah Gyapong

Julie Payette, Canada's Governor General, delivers opening remarks at the 9th annual Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa Nov. 1. Payette has been criticized by the Catholic Civil Rights League over her speech. (MCpl Vincent Carbonneau / Rideau Hall)

OTTAWA (CCN)—Governor General Julie Payette should apologize for remarks denigrating religious faith at a Nov. 1 speech in Ottawa, says the Catholic Civil Rights League.

“Her comments were disappointing and insulting,” said Christian Elia, executive director of the league. “As an extremely intelligent woman with many degrees and many accomplishments, she seems to equate faith in God, particularly in a Divine Creator, with following one’s horoscope or taking sugar pill placebos.”

“That in itself is insulting and disappointing, but on a deeper level, she presents faith and science as an either/or proposition, which is ridiculous,” Elia said.

The role of the Governor General as the Queen’s representative in Canada is “to be impartial and neutral,” Elia said. “This does not mean propagating the smug secularism we are used to from our elected officials, including our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“If she wants to act as one of the smug, secularist elite, she ought to step aside and run as a Member of Parliament at the next byelection,” Elia said.

The new Governor General, who has only been in office since Oct. 2, told the ninth annual Canadian Science Policy Convention: “Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period?” she asked. “And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, lo and behold random process.”

“Yet so many people, I’m sure you know many of them, still believe or want to believe that simply taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough,” she said. “And your future and every single one of peoples’ here personality can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations.”

Denyse O’Leary, a Catholic who specializes in the intersection of faith and science, said “Payette seems to think that it is reasonable to believe that our amazingly fine-tuned universe and its known life forms arose from a random process. Even an alarm clock does not arise that way.”

“Science does not require us to accept a random origin of highly complex life forms,” said the author of [email protected], By Design or Chance, and The Spiritual Brain, written with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard. “The evidence suggests the opposite.”

“However, philosophical beliefs among scientists such as naturalism (nature is all there is) and scientism (science can answer all valid questions) do require that we accept a random origin,” O’Leary said in an email interview.

“How do we know that nature is all there is?” she asked. “There are many good reasons to think otherwise.”

“Making fun of Canadians who know some of these reasons is not a recipe for good government. It implies that we should assent to an ideology, irrespective of facts, to be taken seriously by the government,” she said.

As for Payette’s Darwinist assumptions, O’Leary points out there is nothing settled. “There is currently no theory of how life began, just hundreds of conflicting speculations.”

“Claims about how life evolves are now mired in deepening controversy because new fossils and genome maps haven't supported many widely held assumptions,” she said. “It's not appropriate to ridicule the public for doubting that the current mess will enlighten us anytime soon.”

Elia pointed to the many universities in the western world founded as Catholic institutions where faith and reason are not opposed. “Some of the greatest scientists responsible for the many concepts and theories which enabled her to engage in space travel are Catholics,” he said.

“She ought to apologize and she should learn to comport herself moving forward like the one she is supposed to represent, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who sits in the pew every Sunday as head of the Church of England,” Elia said, noting that in more than 50 years serving as Canada’s head of state, the Queen has made virtually no gaffes, in contrast to the new Governor General who has only been in office a few weeks.