- THE STATEMENT -
A Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times
We, the undersigned, join together as Christians who uphold the authority of God’s Word and see science as a tool to understand God’s world. We call on all Christians to follow the advice of public health experts and support scientists doing crucial biomedical research on COVID-19.
We are deeply concerned about the polarization and politicization of science in the public square when so many lives are at stake. The word “science” has become a weapon in the culture wars. Scientists are vilified and their findings ignored, while conspiracy theories go viral. Sadly, Christians seem just as susceptible to these trends. Thoughtful Christians may disagree on public policy in response to the coronavirus, but none of us should ignore clear scientific evidence.
It is appropriate for Christians to be skeptical of claims made by scientists who speak outside their area of expertise. We firmly reject claims that science has somehow shown God does not exist or faith is mere superstition. Such claims go beyond what science is capable of investigating. We lament the times when science and medicine have been misused to perpetrate atrocities like the racist Tuskegee experiments. But Christians should listen to scientists and doctors when they speak in their area of expertise, especially when millions of lives are at stake.
The Bible teaches that our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14). Thus, those doing biomedical research—whether they are Christians or not—are studying the very handiwork of God. Scientists are discovering truths about the virus, our bodies, treatments, and vaccines. As Christians, we know that all truth, including scientific truth, is ultimately from God.
God can do miracles of healing, but God also uses doctors and scientists to bring healing. Before Jonas Salk discovered his vaccine, polio killed 350,000 people a year, most of them children. Christians in the biomedical sciences, like Dr. Francis Collins, see their work as continuing the healing ministry of Jesus (Matthew 15:30). Pursuing medical treatment is not a sign of weak faith in God, but a grateful acceptance of God’s gifts.
Scientists of all faiths at many universities and research institutes have been working hard to combat COVID-19, including at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Many scientists have dropped their own research programs to devote themselves full time to understanding exactly how this virus works, how it spreads, how the disease can be treated, and which vaccines would be both safe and effective. Experts have been communicating their knowledge in real time as the pandemic progresses, which has led to some confusion. In the early days, they advised the public against masks when supplies were needed for healthcare workers, but later they changed their message in response to more data. A change in expert advice is not a sign of weakness or unreliability, but of good scientific practice and honesty. On the biggest points, scientific predictions have been proven right: scientists said stay-home orders would reduce cases, and thankfully those measures worked. Scientists predicted that ending quarantine too soon would increase cases, and that has been the case.
Scientists are not all-knowing and have biases like the rest of us. That’s why the process of scientific research has built-in steps for testing, vetting, and validation by the whole community. While any individual scientist may be biased, the community actively critiques each other’s work to reduce bias and errors until together they develop a consensus on what the data are saying. It’s not a perfect process and one can always find dissenters, but scientists working together are far more accurate than one person’s theory on YouTube. Scientists are trained to communicate where the consensus is uncertain and to not overstate conclusions. They may speak in sound bites in an interview, but if you listen a bit longer you will hear the caveats. So when Dr. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, tells us what scientists have learned about this infectious disease, he should be listened to.
We need more than science alone to make good decisions. Invoking “science” is not a one-word rationale for public policy; many factors need to be considered. The economic losses and social hardships of the pandemic are painful, and thoughtful Christians will disagree on how to balance those needs with health needs. Even closer to our hearts is the impact of quarantine on church fellowship. As churches reopen, Christians need to balance God’s call to meet together with God’s call to protect the vulnerable among us. We need more than science to make these decisions; we need biblical faith to be wise and discerning (James 3:13-18). As Christians throughout history have shown during other pandemics, our faith is what moves us to deep compassion for the sick, the young, the old, and the vulnerable, as we follow Jesus’ command to care for the least of these (Matthew 25:31-36). Our faith calls us to sacrifice ourselves for others and accept temporary limitations on our freedoms because we have a permanent and complete freedom in Christ (Hebrews 10:34). Our faith helps us be humble and patient when discussing contentious issues (Ephesians 4:2-3). It is our faith, not science, that overcomes fear and brings hope. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Therefore, because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we will:
Wear masks in indoor public spaces and follow other physical distancing rules given by public health officials (1 Peter 2:13-17), unless there are underlying health conditions. Yes, wearing a mask is uncomfortable and awkward, but the evidence is clear that masks reduce the chance we will transmit the disease to others. Mask rules are not experts taking away our freedom, but an opportunity to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 6:31).
Get vaccinated against COVID-19 when a safe and effective vaccine is available and as directed by a physician. A large fraction of the population needs to be vaccinated to develop the “herd immunity” which protects the immuno-compromised and others who cannot be vaccinated. Vaccination is a provision from God that will prevent disease not only for ourselves but for the most vulnerable among us (Matthew 25:31-36).
Correct misinformation and conspiracy theories when we encounter them in our social media and communities. Christians are called to love the truth; we should not be swayed by falsehoods (1 Corinthians 13:6). We will actively promote accurate scientific and public health information from trustworthy, consensus sources, and use this information when making decisions for our families, churches, schools, and workplaces.
WORK FOR JUSTICE
Work for justice for communities who have suffered the most deaths from COVID-19. Christians are called to be courageous in fighting for justice (Micah 6:8). We should be the least indifferent to the disadvantaged and vulnerable. Groups that have been hit hard include the elderly in nursing homes, the Navajo nation where many do not have access to clean water, and people of color who continue to experience discrimination in access to health care.
We pray for God to heal the millions of sick, to comfort the thousands of grieving families, and to give wisdom to decision-makers. We pray for God to sustain biomedical and public health researchers as they work to develop treatments and a safe and effective vaccine. We pray for God to protect nurses, doctors, lab techs, and all healthcare workers fighting COVID-19 as they serve patients and our communities. And we pray for God to bless our cities and nation with justice and flourishing for all (Jeremiah 29:7).