Friday, April 10, 2015

James Lunney Press Conference

An April Fools joke, perhaps? That's what it seemed like when veteran backbencher James Lunney (former CPC -- Nanaimo-Alberni) rose in the House of Commons to announce his resignation from the Tory caucus. With only six months left in his term, having announced that he would not seek re-election, his caucus colleagues wondered why he didn't just step down. The National Post's Peter O'Neil struggled to make sense of the speech that wasn't:

April 1st, 2015, Ottawa
In a rambling address in the House of Commons, he said “millions” of Canadians are being “gagged” as part of a “concerted effort by various interests to undermine freedom of religion.”
Mr. Lunney described himself as a victim of “cyberbullying” and “crowd shaming” after he questioned the theory of evolution in a tweet in February.
“I am tired of seeing my faith community mocked and belittled,” said the MP, who was first elected in 2000 and is not running again.
“To not respond is to validate my accusers and, worse yet, imply that I lack the courage of my convictions to stand up for what I believe. That is not a legacy I wish to leave behind.”
Despite Mr. Lunney’s appeals it “has cost me something” to take a public stand, Speaker Andrew Scheer said he was not properly using the privilege procedure and shut him down after a 21-minute series of exchanges.
“I have not heard anything that would indicate that his privileges have been affected,” Mr. Scheer added after Mr. Lunney failed to get unanimous consent to finish his speech.
Mr Lunney apparently has scientific views on the origins of life that differ from The Theory of Evolution. Problem is, he won't exactly say what they are. He will say that he's being bullied by atheists. 
Mr Lunney's credentials include a Bachelor's degree in Zoology and a Doctor of Chiropractic. He ought to know that calling Evolution a fact is not scientifically incorrect if one first considers what constitutes a scientific theory. 
Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?
It is both. But that answer requires looking more deeply at the meanings of the words “theory” and “fact.”
In everyday usage, “theory” often refers to a hunch or a speculation. When people say, “I have a theory about why that happened,” they are often drawing a conclusion based on fragmentary or inconclusive evidence.
The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.  
In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.
Science, Evolution and Creationism (2008)
Evolution is indeed a scientific theory because it rests on a number of facts borne out by observation and is unlikely to be affected by the introduction of new information. Creationism is a belief system outside of scientific discussion. Intelligent Design is Creationism masquerading as science. It has interesting properties, but, according to the article linked above, doesn't meet the sniff test for science. 

As to charges of cyber-bullying and how it pertains to the law in Canada, the RCMP has this to say:

Bullying can be a traumatic experience, and some forms of bullying can even be considered illegal. These include:
  • Threats - whether done face to face, online, over the phone or through text messaging.
  • Assaults - including pushing, tripping, slapping, hitting or spitting.
  • Theft of personal items - like a backpack, books, electronic devices, etc. 
  • Harassment - repeated tormenting online, with texts, phone calls and/or emails.
  • Sexual Exploitation - sharing videos or photos with nudity of people under 18.
  • Hate crime - bullying based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc.
For all of these criminal offences, it is important to notify your local police detachment or report it to CYBERTIP.CA. Based on the available information, police will decide if an investigation is warranted and whether charges may be laid.
No doubt, some nastiness has been hurled in Mr Lunney's direction -- incivil and unnecessary, of course -- but not bullying, by a stretch.

Religious persecution? A rejection of Darwin is a feature of many Evangelical Christian churches. Evolution is far less controversial among mainstream Christians. A laugh-out-loud rejection of Intelligent Design hardly constitutes an attack on all Christians. It constitutes an attack an a belief system that is not scientific but pretends to be.

And you can't bully an idea. It has no rights. To put this another way, actual scientists cannot claim to be bullied when religious fundamentalists take to the Twitterverse to ridicule their support of Darwin.

Lunney had an opportunity -- of his own making -- to set the record straight and clarify his beliefs. He called a press conference at his constituency office and left when reporters questioned him. One of the things they asked him was how he was serving his constituents by leaving the party he ran for in order to freelance his views on the origins of the species. 

The article and video of his exchange can be viewed here.

His prepared statement to the press is reproduced on his website. In part, he writes:

The campaign to target Christian politicians and make them appear unintelligent, uneducated and therefore unelectable is based not on science but a clash in world-views increasingly untenable due to advances in molecular and cell biology. Evolutionism is a religious world-view clung to by a dwindling cadre of scientists, militant atheists and the uninformed who insist (macro) evolution, from simple molecules to higher life forms by random undirected acts, is a fact.
I'm sure the voters of Nanaimo-Alberni will be relieved to know this.

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