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Stockwell Day is upset that he is being quizzed on his support for creationism. The Canadian Alliance Leader resents the probing of his conviction that the Biblical account of how life originated on this planet is a scientifically supported theory capable of being taught alongside evolution. He says the inquiries are intrusive and irrelevant to the election campaign.

Mr. Day is right that a person's religious beliefs are a private matter. The Charter of Rights guarantees what we in Canada are fortunate to be able to take for granted: the freedom of conscience and religion and, for that matter, lack of religion.

Where Mr. Day errs is in arguing that his private commitment is none of the public's business. He has made it the public's business by running for prime minister and proposing policies that may be coloured by his instincts and convictions. To take an obvious example, the duty he owes to God compels him not to work on Sunday. That conviction will be tested when, if he becomes prime minister, his duty to the country obliges him to respond to national or world events on his Sabbath.

Take another example. Although education is a provincial responsibility, he has pledged that any federal government he headed would give taxpayers' money to parents who want to send their children to private religious schools. And what do many religious schools offer that the secular public system doesn't? As the assistant pastor and administrator of Bentley Christian School in Alberta between 1978 and 1985, Mr. Day knows one answer: a curriculum with a far different view of how much credence children should give to the scientific theories of evolution and the story of creation in Genesis. He made clear his own feelings on the matter this week when he said, "There is scientific support for both creationism and evolution."

It is important to emphasize that faith and science are not enemies. They are merely separate spheres. It is entirely possible to have faith that God created the building blocks of the universe, among them the relationship of matter and energy, and at the same time to appreciate with an open mind the scientific evidence of how those blocks have interacted and the course of natural history that has followed. The big-bang theory, the fossil records that support or contradict Darwin's theories of evolution -- all can be read as evidence of the natural unfolding of a divine plan.

Where faith and science become incompatible is in the rigid refusal to accept the signposts of science where they conflict with articles of faith. In a documentary aired Tuesday on CBC-TV's The National,the head of natural science at Red Deer College in 1997 said he heard Mr. Day tell a crowd that the world is only several thousand years old and that men walked with dinosaurs. While that may be consistent with the literal word of Genesis, it is inconsistent with the evidence uncovered by geologists and others, and subjected to tests and challenges, that Earth is billions of years old and that, The Flintstones notwithstanding, dinosaurs died off tens of millions of years before humans first appeared.

Mr. Day says the documentary denied him a chance to reply. He has that chance in the public arena between now and Nov. 27. Does his faith so preclude an acknowledgment of scientific discoveries and scrupulous tests that nothing could convince him that humans and dinosaurs weren't neighbours? Or does that interpretation do him a gross disservice?

If the former, his strong views on what is and isn't good science may affect how he arranges the expanded funding for basic science that his party promises once in power. It is Mr. Day's choice how to address such concerns, but he can't write them off as irrelevant.

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