An un­for­tu­nate de­but for our gover­nor gen­eral

The Amherst News - - OP-ED - Alan Wal­ter Alan Wal­ter is a re­tired pro­fes­sional en­gi­neer liv­ing in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Hal­i­fax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he op­er­ates a small farm. He can be reached at alan­wal­ter@eastlink.ca.

Our newly ap­pointed Gover­nor Gen­eral, Julie Payette, re­cently made her first pub­lic speak­ing en­gage­ment at the Cana­dian Sci­ence Pol­icy Con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa. Sur­pris­ingly, in her speech she chose to take on ev­ery­one from cli­mate-change de­niers, to as­trologers, natur­opaths, and any­one else whose oc­cu­pa­tions or views con­flicted with her sci­en­tific back­ground.

She was speak­ing to a sci­ence-friendly au­di­ence, but she was later roundly crit­i­cized for mock­ing the re­li­gions of Cana­di­ans of all stripes, as to their be­liefs be­ing un­sup­ported by sci­ence and there­fore not to be taken se­ri­ously.

It was also par­tic­u­larly trou­bling that En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna and our Prime Min­is­ter were so quick to cheer on their new hire for her re­marks.

There’s no doubt that hold­ing or not hold­ing reli­gious be­liefs is a topic of dis­cus­sion to be avoided at all costs in so­cial cir­cles.

How­ever, while Payette and I both hold elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing de­grees, she can no more prove through sci­ence that God does not ex­ist, than I can prove that God does ex­ist, if I was so in­clined.

This is the long­stand­ing philo­soph­i­cal dilemma that nei­ther logic or sci­en­tific ev­i­dence can help re­solve. That’s why for reli­gious be­liev­ers their “faith” is a cor­ner­stone to be re­spected, while non-be­liev­ers’ sci­ence­based ar­gu­ments are not yet up to the task of prov­ing their case, and per­haps never will be.

Also, not to be ig­nored when tak­ing pot-shots at reli­gious be­liefs is the fact that they come in

a va­ri­ety of forms that re­flect dif­fer­ent per­sonal per­spec­tives on the topic.

At the “athe­ist” ex­treme, oc­cu­pied by our new G.G., we see that there is no room for any kind of be­lief in God. At the other ex­treme, “the­ists” are to­tally com­mit­ted to a God with a su­per­nat­u­ral in­tel­li­gence; om­ni­scient, om­nipresent and om­nipo­tent, who has not only cre­ated the uni­verse we live in, but is still around to over­see its devel­op­ment.

This God also an­swers prayers, for­gives or pun­ishes sins, oc­ca­sion­ally per­forms mir­a­cles, and has an abid­ing in­ter­est in the lives of all of us.

Some­where in be­tween these ex­tremes come the “deists” who are will­ing to recog­nise God as the cre­ator of our uni­verse, but hav­ing no fur­ther in­ter­ven­ing role, and cer­tainly hav­ing no in­ter­est in hu­man af­fairs.

As for the “ag­nos­tics”, they have noth­ing worth­while to of­fer, claim­ing nei­ther faith nor dis­be­lief in any form of God.

Per­son­ally, I must ad­mit to a lean­ing in the “deist” di­rec­tion. I’m will­ing to con­cede the pos­si­ble ex­is­tence of some pow­er­ful en­tity or force; an in­scrutable, un­seen cre­ator. But one that has no in­volve­ment in our in­di­vid­ual life sit­u­a­tions.

It’s a bit of a cop-out as a be­lief sys­tem I must ad­mit, but it will have to make do un­til some­thing more sat­is­fy­ing comes along.

To re­turn to our new G.G. and what might have caused her to tackle such a con­tro­ver­sial topic in pub­lic, I look to the per­sonal qual­i­ties that have made her so suc­cess­ful in life.

There is no deny­ing her amaz­ing tal­ents and ac­com­plish­ments, as an as­tro­naut twice over, a multi-lin­guist, a mu­si­cian, a busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive, while tak­ing on moth­er­hood.

How­ever, I be­lieve that be­yond in­tel­li­gence, it takes a par­tic­u­lar mind­set for an in­di­vid­ual to be so thor­oughly suc­cess­ful in life; an at­ti­tude that has no room for equiv­o­ca­tion, and a low tol­er­ance for un­cer­tainty and views con­trary to their own.

It there­fore came as no sur­prise to me that her po­si­tion on a topic as sen­si­tive as one’s re­li­gion was so un­com­pro­mis­ing. Hope­fully, in keep­ing with her el­e­vated national po­si­tion, she can learn to show more re­spect for the deeplyfelt be­liefs that are in­dis­pens­able to so many other lives.

“Hope­fully, in keep­ing with her el­e­vated national po­si­tion, she can learn to show more re­spect for the deeply-felt be­liefs that are in­dis­pens­able to so many other lives.”

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