“Trust in science” does not convince those who need to be convinced the most | National Catholic Register

"Trust in science" does not convince those who need to be convinced the most |  National Catholic Register

“In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific evidence in favor of vaccination is overwhelming. Those who are aware of this and see this universal prophylaxis as the only way to end the pandemic often use the mantra ‘trust the science,” he wrote in a 5,000-word essay, entitled “COVID, faith, and the fallibility of science” and published in Italian.

Story Highlights:

  • Writing in the Jan. 15 edition of La Civiltà Cattolica, Brother Guy Consolmagno said that the phrase was not only off-putting for “large sectors” of the population but also expressed a misleading idea about the nature of science.

  • “At first glance, the expression does not lack a certain charm, also because it refers to that trust in science as a path to truth that our society has learned to accept since the Enlightenment.” 

“But the evidence of the facts around us suggests that instead this slogan is not so motivating. Large sectors of the population … have continued to reject vaccination.”

A summary of the article in English on La Civiltà Cattolica’s website said: “The no vax and conspiracy theory proponents uphold a misconception of what science is all about, as well as what it can deliver. When science fails to live up to its supposed infallibility, it only fuels further skepticism.” 

La Civiltà Cattolica, founded in 1950 and published twice a month, is produced by the Jesuits in Rome and approved before publication by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

“In addition to reconsidering how we argue in favor of science, as in the case of promoting vaccines, it is worth taking a closer look at how we try to use science or faith as bulwarks against our fundamental human fear of uncertainty.”

The article does not explicitly address the recent failure of widespread vaccination programs in halting the rapid transmission of the current Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Nor does Brother Consolmagno speak directly to concerns about the censorship of dissenting scientific views about the safety of the vaccines and treatment protocols for COVID-19, or to the skepticism some unvaccinated Catholics harbor about the scientific rigor underlying the pro-vaccination statements of Pope Francis and other ecclesiastical authorities. Brother Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory since 2015, said that as a scientist and member of the Catholic Church, he was aware of the distrust of both scientific and ecclesiastical authority.

“Treating scientists as members of a sort of priesthood of truth is a questionable tactic, especially in a society where true priests are viewed with suspicion,” he wrote. “And while I am entirely pro-vaccination, a motto like ‘trust the science’ leaves me very puzzled. It embodies a popular conception of science that is not only misleading, but makes it vulnerable.”

The 69-year-old Jesuit brother, who was born in Detroit, Michigan, said that the phrase suggested that science was the only reliable guide to truth.  “The expression itself sounds like an answer to an unexpressed question: what or whom should we trust? In some ways, it echoes the phrase addressed by Peter to Jesus in John 6:68: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’” he observed.

“But anyone with real familiarity with science knows that this is not the case at all,” he wrote.  “Yes, the vaccine prevents disease in the vast majority of the vaccinated and reduces the severity of disease even in cases of so-called ‘breakthrough infections.’ But vaccines are not perfect. Fully vaccinated people can become ill with COVID-19, and indeed this does happen, although rarely with serious effects.” 

Brother Consolmagno said that the conviction that science is the sole reliable guide to truth implies that it has infallible authority. “And perhaps those scriptural echoes are noticeable to those who, like an evangelical Christian, are familiar with that passage of scripture, but probably not as familiar with science, and therefore perceive those words as implying that ‘trusting the science’ is being proposed as a substitute for trusting the Lord. To such a person, that slogan may unknowingly do more harm than good.”

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