“COVID and the Scientists”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

Throughout this year, most of us have been bemused by the varying claims made about COVID-19 by various scientists in various countries:  “Coronavirus isn’t a big deal.”  “No, wait, it’s a HUGE deal!”  “Well, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all.”  “It can only be spread by person-to-person contact.”  “Actually, it can be spread by surface contact too.”  “Really, surface spread doesn’t happen very much.”  “Singing in groups is deadly!”  “Singing in groups is probably OK.”  “Chloroquine might help.”  “Chloroquine is POISON!”  “We don’t actually know whether chloroquine will help or not.”  And so on.

To anyone who pays attention to the human race, the above confusion probably isn’t very surprising.  Scientists are people too, and people err in their reasoning all the time.  We like to reach strong conclusions by extrapolating from inadequate data.  We all have biases, and those biases affect our reasoning, sometimes dramatically.  Pressure from our superiors can shape our results as much as the evidence does (Chinese doctors and scientists, holla!).  All of those factors, plus many more, whether working singly or in combination, produce mistakes.

I don’t say all of these things because I am anti-scientist.  Indeed, I am pro-scientist, just as I am pro-the rest of the human race.  Indeed, I acknowledge that I myself have made mistakes.  I remember both times vividly!

That was a joke, by the way.

It should lead us, though, not to put too much faith in the conclusions of scientists.  For some reason, many of them feel like “I don’t know and can’t tell,” is an unacceptable answer, so they opine with great certainty in areas where a little self-skepticism would teach them to be anything but certain.

Take, for instance, the vast body of scientific opining about the origins of the universe, life, and humankind.  We have real trouble figuring out COVID, a disease that we can observe right now and study experimentally.  How likely are we to be able to interpret correctly fragmentary evidence about events that many believe happened millions or billions of years ago? 

How about bias?  The chloroquine narrative has been driven by bias against a certain American president who has adopted chloroquine as his very own anti-COVID wonder drug.  It led scientists to embrace some fatally flawed findings because they led to the conclusion that said president was wrong.  Is it possible, just barely possible, that scientists who are committed to a naturalistic view of the universe (which necessarily excludes God) are predisposed to reach conclusions that justify their worldview?

How about pressure to conform?  The scientific establishment is staunchly Darwinian.  Dissenters who openly point to evidence for creation get denied tenure or get fired altogether.  Indeed, they often become the target of vicious personal attacks from their peers.  Could it be that scientists who like to eat and be on good terms with their colleagues will, whether consciously or unconsciously, toe the party line?

I will admit that unlike everybody else on Facebook, I am not an expert in virology.  However, I do spend some time trying to understand people (as any Christian should), and when I see virologists making the mistakes that people make, I am not surprised.  I also am not an expert on the fossil record, but if paleontologists as well made the mistakes that people make, that also would not surprise me.

Indeed, I only would be surprised if they didn’t.