Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

Follow

Follow the science, they say. And they say this over and over and over. It has become a catch phrase, slogan, or mantra like ‘Loose lips sink ships,’ ‘Safety first,’ and ‘He who hesitates is lost.’ But what does it mean to follow the science? Is following the science always the best approach?

Following the science ought to be a safe, prudent, and rational choice. But not all that passes for science is actually science. Just consider the nutritional guidance we have been given since the early 1950s. At that time we had the four basic food groups – meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and breads and grains – and eating from all four groups represented a balanced diet. Technically, pizza fulfills this definition of a balanced diet. The low-fat food pyramid, published in the early 1990s, said our diet should consist primarily of rice, pasta, bread, and other carbs. Eggs, nuts, meat, oils, and sweets should be eaten with great moderation or avoided altogether. Since then the dietary advice has become less and less clear, but it is clear that the low-fat food pyramid was utterly wrong: we would have been better off without it.

Thus, following the science makes sense only when there is actual science from which to draw scientific conclusions. Since science involves scientists, science sometimes becomes less science and more wishful thinking, groupthink, or politics. Preconceived notions, bigotry, arrogance, fear, and a whole host of human fallibilities often produce unscientific science. For example, into the 1970s many anthropologists insisted that the three human races evolved separately such that Africans, Asians, and Caucasians never shared a common ancestor. There was no evidence for this beyond the bigotry of the scientists themselves. Likewise, atheistic scientists insisted that the universe was eternal to escape the possibility that an eternal Creator created an ephemeral universe. Zero evidence again, and the concept of the eternal universe had to be abandoned with the discovery of the Big Bang.

There have been times when following the science was not just a bad idea, but resulted in catastrophe. The Nazi scientists, using Nazi ideologies, were convinced that some human populations were in fact subhuman and that a superior population was meant to dominate or even enslave the lesser, weaker populations. Some populations were even scientifically declared to be unworthy of life. They could point to Darwinism and the selective breeding of domestic animals that has been practiced for centuries. The same type of thinking led to the development of eugenics programs in this country where marriage was regulated and people forcibly sterilized for the sake of genetic hygiene. They too could claim that they were following the science.

Does this mean that we should not follow the science? Not at all. We should follow the science when the science is well established and backed by objective, unbiased evidence. Opinion, conjecture, and even common sense are not the same as scientific evidence. It would be refreshing to hear caveats instead of absolutes when opinion, conjecture, or common sense are the primary basis for things like the 6-foot social distancing rule and the face covering mandates. It would be even more refreshing to see the science followed when it comes to human life. Science absolutely establishes and demonstrates that the human embryo and all subsequent stages of development represent a unique, living human being. Scientifically speaking, he or she has life, has human DNA, and is genetically unique from the first moment of conception. Follow the science and save millions of lives!

The history of science certainly contains some embarrassing and tragic episodes. We might hope that science progresses toward the good, but with humans at the wheel, this is not a given. So, to what degree should we follow the science? To the extent that it is the truth. If it is the truth, following the science is part of following Jesus. While science often dithers this way and that, we always ought to follow Jesus and His unchanging and unchangeable Gospel. Human knowledge will always be fallible and limited while also being subject to the corrupting power of money, ideology, and politics, but the Gospel suffers from none of these. Thus, our trust ought to be in Jesus and His promises more than what scientists say. After all, following the science, if it is truly science, can bring about longer lives, but following the Gospel is the only way to bring about eternal life.

—Fr Booth