Julie Payette is Canada’s new Governor General. At a recent speech to scientists at an Ottawa convention, Ms. Payette was very clear about how she felt about religion. She mocked those who were still debating about whether life came about as a result of divine intervention rather than natural processes. She then went on to compare this to people taking a sugar pill to cure cancer. But she didn’t just say that her comparison was hyperbole. She said that there were so many people believed that a sugar pill would cure cancer, and then added, looking at the audience, “I am sure you know many of them.” Ms. Payette was no doubt referring to people who prayed about their illnesses.
Much has already been said about Ms. Payette’s insensitivity to people of religious persuasion. Some have called her “mean-spirited.” The Prime Minister rushed to her defense indicating that he was proud of her comments, while the Leader of the Opposition pointed out that the Governor General was mocking people of Indigenous religions, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and people of other faiths.
As a Christian, I have several thoughts. For one, I wonder if Ms. Payette would include Francis Collins, the former Director of the Genome Institute, in her list of people who believed in a sugar pill? Or would she acknowledge that Denis Alexander, Supervisor of the research group in cancer and immunology at the Babraham Institute, is not working on sugar pills, yet believes in God? I would commend her to read John Lennox, a mathematician at Oxford, specifically his book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? She might find it interesting to actually read a book from one of the “sugar pill” people!
But apart from the question of the many scientists who actually believe in God, there is another searching question. Most Christians who work in various intellectual pursuits are well aware of the intellectual arguments for “naturalism.” Furthermore, a great many Christians are able to articulate the arguments for naturalism and give a reasoned response for the theist position. This is basic to their profession of faith.
On the other hand, a great many naturalists have never read the intellectual arguments for theism. They are not able to articulate a worldview other than the one they hold. And so, when confronting another worldview, many simply resort to caricatures and mocking. While I can’t say with certainty whether this is true for Ms. Payette, I hope her willingness to create exaggerations and derisive comments does not set the stage for her tenure as Governor General. As one Christian living in Canada, I say, “Shame on you.” You owe it both to yourself and to the people of Canada to read John Lennox. At least understand the other side. That might lead, at the very least, to a respectful dialogue rather than a condescending one.