Are religious politicians "nutters"?
We had a little spat on Sunday Sequence this morning between the Times columnist Matthew Parris and Northern Ireland's culture minister, after the latter, Edwin Poots, made it clear that he is a young earth creationist and an opponent of the theory of evolution. We were talking about Tony Blair's claim that he didn't reveal his personal religious views while in government in case people wrote him off as "a nutter". Here's an edited version of part of the conversation:
William Crawley: (To Edwin Poots) You talk about your faith in public meetings.
Edwin Poots: I would talk about it when I'm asked about it, but I don't generally seek to impose it upon people. And I think where Tony Blair is wrong -- and I personally came through this when I was a lad at school, in that I hid my faith whenever I was in secondary school ... It wasn't until I left school and went to college that I was prepared to stand up and tell people that I was a Christian and I found that I didn't grow in my Christianity until I was able to tell others in a confident way that I was a Christian ...
William Crawley: What about when you become a minister, representing the government? Does your role then change, and the things you can talk openly about then change? Is that a new dynamic you've faced?
Edwin Poots: I haven't found that to be the case. In fact, since I've been a minister, I've been questioned in public fora about it, and I've reponded to those questions. Interestingly enough, in Armagh, I was actually approached after one such forum, and this guy says, "I'm a Roman Catholic. I'm from Newry. I send my kids to Irish language schools. If there was a vote for a united Ireland in the morning, we'd be voting for a united Ireland. But, he says, we're actually depending on you guys to stand up for the moral issues in Northern Ireland.
Then, when the conversation turned to Richard Dawkins' claim that religious believers are "mentally ill", the culture minister intervened:
Edwin Poots: He [Dawkins] wants to indoctrinate everyone with evolution. And whenever people suggest that you can teach something other than evolution, and that there might be others theories about how this earth actually came to be, such as intelligent design, Richard doesn't want children to have the option of actually hearing those things and making their own minds up. So it's very interesting that evolutionists are very dictatorial in what they suggest.
William Crawley: Matthew Parris ... you've just heard the culture minister in Northern Ireland speak, Matthew. Would a politician in Britain ever use words like that? A minister ingovernment?
Matthew Parris: Absolutely not. No. And I would use the word "nutter" -- not of Edwin, obviously. But I do use the word 'nutter' of people who think that what informs them religiously entitles them to say that evolution is a form of indoctrination. I mean, there's absolutely no question where science points, and it can only be some feeling that you've got a direct line with revelation with the Almighty that could lead you to stop wanting children to be taught that evolution is the best available explanation of where we are now.
Edwin Poots: Matthew, you're telling me that cosmic balls of dust gathered and there was an explosion. We've had lots of explosions in Northern Ireland and I've never seen anything come out of that that was good. And you look at this earth and you tell me that there was a big bang and all of a sudden all tat is good about this earth came out of it?
Matthew Parris: Good heavens! You're the culture minister and you don't believe in evolution?
Edwin Poots: Yes, absolutely. And you're telling me that all of this evolution took place over billions of years, and yet it's only in the last few thousand years that Man could actually learn to write?
William Crawley: How old is the earth?
Edwin Poots: My view on the earth is that it's a young earth. My view is 4000 BC.
You can listen again to the entire debate on whether our politicians should talk openly about their religious beliefs on the Sunday Sequence website. Also talking part: Al Hays, an American professor of politics currently working at Queen's University, and Ruth Yeo, the recently appointed Humanist Chaplain at Queen's University.