Canada's science minister said that he didn't answer a question about his views on evolution because he says the question is "irrelevant" to his portfolio.

Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, sparked a controversy when he refused to tell the Globe and Mail whether he believes in the science of evolution. His portfolio was already under fire because of cuts to scientific research councils in the most recent budget.

"I didn't answer the question because it's not relevant to the portfolio, it's not relevant to what we have to do, (to) what Canadians are worried about," Goodyear told CTV Newsnet's Power Play Tuesday. "It's unfortunate a reporter has chosen to take this as something of interest when in fact the focus should be on . . . creating jobs and securing our economic future."

When asked by the newspaper about evolution he responded, "I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate."

But when asked again on Power Play if he believed in the theory of evolution he responded, "Of course, I do."

"We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact, whether it's to the intensity of the sun . . . or to the effects of walking on concrete. Of course, we are evolving to our environment. But that's not relevant."

Goodyear said on Power Play that religion has no part in federal science policy.

Most scientists will say that one cannot "believe" in evolution -- that it's a fact backed up by 150 years of research.

Many in the Canadian scientific community expressed shock that Goodyear would invoke religion when asked a question about science.

Brian Alters, founder and director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University told the Globe and Mail that evolution is a scientific fact and is the foundation of modern biology.

"It is the same as asking the gentleman, 'Do you believe the world is flat?' and he doesn't answer on religious grounds," Dr. Alters told the newspaper. "Or gravity, or plate tectonics, or that the Earth goes around the sun."

Many Christian communities say that evolution is not incompatible with their religion.

In February, the Vatican said that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is compatible with Christianity. The Church of England has also worked to play up Darwin's role in their church.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesperson, Kory Teneycke, said Goodyear didn't answer the question because it would have made it seem as if religion had a role in science policy.

"It's a dangerous road to go down to make religious beliefs a part of science funding," Teneycke said. "Once you start going down that road, you really are opening Pandora's box."

Some opposition MPs mocked Goodyear's comment.

"Our science critic is a former astronaut (Marc Garneau), he can testify from personal experience that the world is round, it's not flat," Liberal MP Ralph Gooddale told Power Play. "I think that distinguishes our decision making processes from the Conservatives."

Budget controversy

The timing of the controversy could not have been worse for Goodyear, who is under fire from many scientists who say Canada is not keeping up with other G-20 countries in scientific investment.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged about US$25 billion for basic scientific research, while the Harper government's stimulus budget cut funding to several government councils that provide grants to scientists.

"They are imposing $128 million in cuts on the three major granting agencies," Goodale said. "They are biasing their decision-making process, imposing their political judgment on what should be an independent peer-group process."

However, Garneau was much kinder to Goodyear. He criticized the budget cuts to research granting councils but said there didn't appear to be any religious motivation for the decisions.

"With respect to science policy, I can not honestly say I've seen a direct link -- so far," Garneau told The Canadian Press.  

Goodyear said that the Harper government has increased funding for science in their time in office, including $5.1 billion over three years in January's budget.