The current Evangelical scepticism about science and modelling could do long term harm

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There is a narrative that is gaining traction at the moment which runs along the lines that we are resisting an authoritarian agenda led by “The Science” and fed by dodgy models.  From this perspective, attempts to model and forecast should be ignored as worthless trash whilst our efforts to control and defeat a pandemic are nothing less than hubris.  Instead, we should acknowledge that the pandemic is simply to be patiently endured as a trial.

I’ve noticed some threads that seem to keep coming up alongside this. Given my previous comments about statistics, data and evidence, I need to be careful about quickly declaring a correlation and then announcing cause. However, the other themes I’m seeing include:

  • A libertarian political view which is generally suspicious of government intervention.[1]
  • A belief that the virus has been a form of divine punishment attached to specific sinful tendencies.

I am concerned that a narrative is building and it will have consequences not just for the current crisis but for the long term health of the church.  My first concern is that we will retreat a long way back in our understanding of the Old Testament and therefore our doctrine of humanity.  If we see attempts to control a virus as hubris then that has implications for how we read the Creation mandate in Genesis 1 and our understanding of how the Fall and the curse affects life around us.

Secondly, I think we will end up losing sight of common grace and general revelation. The risk then is that we will end up discarding the very ordinary, providential means of guidance that God has given us.  The reality is that we make decisions on a daily basis that are dependent upon the assumption that we can rely on scientific data and on things like modelling tools. In fact, the whole idea that we can model things even in a messy and chaotic world is based on the Christian presupposition that God created a universe that was ordered, structured planned and predictable.

Thirdly, we are sending out an awful message to our communities. You see, the primary driver for Christians suddenly becoming pandemic sceptics and Swedenaphiles is that the pandemic has severely hindered our ministries.  The impression we give is that we will willing cease on any conspiracy theory going if it will support what we want to do even if that puts others lives as risk.

Fourthly, there is a level of arrogance in the way that amateurs step out of lane to so dogmatically denounce the hard work of others.  As I have repeatedly argued, staying in lane does not mean that we shouldn’t have opinions or seek to evaluate the evidence but I hope that those of us who don’t happen to be epidemiologists nor the political responsibility for making decisions that affect a whole nation’s live will learn the appropriate level of humility that should accompany being arm chair pundits.

Fifthly, that humility should lead to engagement with others. One of the concerns I’ve had is that some of the people most dogmatic in their arguments haven’t taken time to respond when criticised or to engage with the arguments of others which often already put their claims into question even before they made them. I have watched the result of this as Christians start to become wary of other Christians and that is likely to disrupt fellowship going forward.

Sixthly, we are allowing particular callings and vocations to be rubbished. Amongst the epidemiologists, statisticians and computer scientists working hard to understand this pandemic are believers. There are Christians working on the front line in the Health service treating the illness whilst others are working on a vaccine as part of university teams and pharmaceutical companies. Yet the signal that has gone out is that their work is somehow idolatrous and up there with prostitution and astrology in terms of the level of respect given it by some Christian leaders.  The message we are sending out is that secular work does not have value.  This fits a culture where only those who engage in word ministry have value in the Church. We must never lose the central importance of word ministry but we must also never forget that its purpose is to equip the whole church for works of righteousness.

I can’t help thinking that perhaps it is time for us to take a deep breath and reflect carefully on what we are communicating to the church and to the world around us.

[1] As it happens, I have some level of sympathy with this particular philosophy but as I’ve said before, we need to be alert to our presuppositions and how they might shape our view of things.

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