It Would Be So Much Easier to “Believe the Science” If We Could Trust the Scientists

"This is not an anti-science piece. It is rather a warning against scientism, the belief that science is the only path to knowledge because the material world is all that exists, and only science is equipped to discover knowledge of the material world. Scientism breeds a naivete and credulity about scientific authorities that is unhealthy because it is uncritical." - Mark Farnham 

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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My post at Mark's site...

Appreciate your thoughts, Mark. I don’t really disagree but I think you’ve misread our context. What I’m seeing everywhere I look in conservative circles (Christian and non-Christian) is decision-making and opinion-forming driven by anti-science, populist attitudes. Christians and conservatives need encouragement right [now] not to take a dimmer view of science, but to take a dimmer view of populist armchair quarterbacking and “my opinion is as good as anyone’s” egalitarianism. I think we all get that even vast majorities of independent scientists aren’t necessarily always right. What many of us clear don’t get is that these experts are not always wrong.

The call to be appropriately skeptical toward scientists is solid but would still be true if all the scientists in the world had a Christian worldview. There is no scenario in which we "can trust the scientists" beyond trusting them to do what human scientists do. There is also not really any scenario in which we should trust them less than that. (Well, there is one: when they're not free. It's difficult to know for sure what to make of health research coming out of China these days, but at least it gets some peer review before it hits ink in publications like JAMA.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Ed Vasicek's picture

The scientists are groping because there is still much to learn about this virus.  For certain respiratory issues, a ventilator is helpful. They are learning, through experience, that such is not the case in this situation.

They are taking their best guesses.  And, althouigh they are sometimes wrong, their best guesses are likely to be better than ours by and large.

"The Midrash Detective"

dgszweda's picture

The problem points back to what Aaron said.  We view science has being a homogeneous entity, but it really isn't.  The same science is used in explaining gravity as it is in explaining COVID-19.  The problem is that science is based on observation and facts.  This leads politicians and ordinary people to then acclaim that science is based on fact.  The problem is that observations are severely limited and flaw by the limitations of man and the world around us.  COVID-19 is so young that we have limited data, inaccurate assumptions, lack of testing....  that it makes the recommendations limited at best and potentially inaccurate.  We don't truly know if a mask is better or not.  We base the idea of a mask on what we previously know about viruses and what we think we know about COVID-19, but the fact is that it has not been fully tested.  Science rails against recommendations of hydroxychloriquine because we have not followed double blinded comprehensive clinical trials, but they are making recommendations on the fly without the same type of rigor.  I am not saying that what they are recommending is reckless or that it doesn't have a thought process around it.  Just that we need to be careful calling what they state facts and holding it to the same level as a well understood disease.  Add to the fact that the media is trying to report on a complex topic with little to know understanding of it, further adds to the problem.  A classic example is Sweden and the Rest of the World.  

Ed Vasicek's picture

dgszweda wrote:

 COVID-19 is so young that we have limited data, inaccurate assumptions, lack of testing....  that it makes the recommendations limited at best and potentially inaccurate.  

This is true.  At the same time, we are all entitled to an opinion, but the opinion of top medical experts should bear more weight.  Unfortunately, this COVID-19 quarantine gives people a great chance to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

We have seen similar reversals with the Food Pyramid that left us all looking like pyramids. Decades ago, they pushed margarine over butter -- until trans-fat proved a greater health risk.  Coffee was bad for you, now it is good for you.  However, it would take a lot of space to write all that they proved correct about.

"The Midrash Detective"

JD Miller's picture

Aaron wrote

Appreciate your thoughts, Mark. I don’t really disagree but I think you’ve misread our context. What I’m seeing everywhere I look in conservative circles (Christian and non-Christian) is decision-making and opinion-forming driven by anti-science, populist attitudes.

I would like some examples.  I know that conservatives question many global warming claims, but it is not because they reject science.  Rather they are looking at data and listening to different scientists.  Just because everyone does not agree with the scientists you or I agree with does not mean they are rejecting science.  In fact, you and I should be able to disagree on scientific conclusions without saying the other is anti science.  I am not sure why this has to turn into an excuse to call out political leanings.