Julie Payette, STS-127 mission specialist, attired in her shuttle launch and entry suit, on the flight deck of Space Shuttle Endeavour during postlaunch activities in July 2009. Photo from NASA

Julie Payette faces backlash over faith remarks

By 
  • November 8, 2017
OTTAWA – Governor General Julie Payette should apologize to Canadians for denigrating religious faith during a 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.”

Speaking at the ninth annual Canadian Science Policy Convention Nov. 1, Payette dismissed divine intervention as a factor in evolution and lumped those who believe otherwise into the same category as climate deniers and horoscope readers.

“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?” asked Payette.

“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.”

Payette is a former astronaut who has been in office since Oct. 2. Her mocking comments prompted laughter from the roomful of scientists.

Her speech went on to taunt other people who hold unscientific beliefs.

“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.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who appointed Payette, defended the Governor General, applauding what he called “the firmness with which she stands in support of science and the truth.”

“We are a government grounded in science. Canadians are people who understand the value of science and knowledge as a foundation for the future of our country,” he said.

Elia said it is ridiculous for the Governor General to present faith and science as an “either-or proposition.” 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. 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 by-election.”

Denyse O’Leary, a Catholic author who specializes in the intersection of faith and science, said “making fun of Canadians” who believe in divine intervention “is not a recipe for good government.”

“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,” said  O’Leary. “Science does not require us to accept a random origin of highly complex life forms. The evidence suggests the opposite.”

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 (Payette) 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.”

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