The Perennial Clash of Faith and Science

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The Perennial Clash of Faith and Science

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It’s hardly uncommon for faith to clash with science, and as regular an occurrence as this is, there are some interesting parallels surfacing these days between religious faith and scientific belief. There’s so much controversy over certain issues like vaccination or global warming that seem to come down to being little more than matters of faith simply because many refuse to believe in these scientifically validated phenomena. Beyond that, fraudulent research is a legitimate threat to the truth from the so-called Piltdown Man to the far more recent Andrew Wakefield. This only exacerbates the problem by adding misinformation to various conversations and casting dispersions where there should only be a clear-cut consensus.

The thing about misinformation and what Americans call “alternative facts,” quoting President Donald Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, is that it highlights the one undeniable truth on which everyone agrees, which is that knowledge is something you have to seek for yourself. Liberals commonly accuse conservatives of being particularly susceptible to phenomena like group-think and bandwagoning because of the very concept of church and the way certain challenges to facts among them can seem to go viral in no time at all. The anti-vaxxer movement is a case in point there, but conservatives rebut with explanations of faith in many cases. Their belief in God is characterized by liberals as irrational, which is a characterization that goes hand-in-hand with antiscientific thinking like the challenges to climate change science based on seemingly nothing at all.

Liberals, however, are often also blind to the fact that they do have to have faith in knowledge itself. How can anyone really know that what they know is real, especially when misinformation rears its ugly head? Many liberals trust scientific studies despite not actually reading them for themselves or understanding all the concepts therein, so with no meteorological background, a liberal IT guy, for example, is actually taking it on faith that he can trust the news article he read (like this one) that breaks down explanations of the study he does not personally comprehend. Is that really any different from a belief in God?

Andrew Wakefield, mentioned earlier, is the guy who conducted a study that posited this theory that linked vaccines to autism back in 1998. One of the reasons it was able to gain traction is because it’s not like we’ve been vaccinating people this consistently for all that long, and autism has been proven to be increasingly prevalent. The correlation between the rise in autism and the regular administration of vaccines, though, was debunked, proven to have been based on nothing in particular, and Wakefield, of course, lost his medical license for that.


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The thing is, vaccines have yielded not only fewer deaths but also fewer hospitalizations according to David Weiner, the Wistar Institute’s executive vice president of their Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center. Vaccines also correlate with the eradication of diseases like smallpox, diphtheria, polio and the measles. No one can deny that those things are legitimately gone. On the other hand, we have to concede as well that there may be unintended consequences related to vaccines, too. “In fact, for the most part, our memory of the infection goes away,” Weiner explained recently. “That’s a big problem. We don’t remember what happens when we don’t get vaccinated anymore. That’s causing a lot of the issues.”

In other words, the anti-vaxxer movement was partly fueled by misinformation but also partly fueled by people simply not remembering what life was like prior to vaccines. It was arguably hell honestly. Our memories never last long, yet our beliefs are hard-boiled. In Iceland right now, there’s a bill threatening to make circumcision a crime for infant boys based on completely nonmedical logic, and many physicians and nurses are supporting it while religious leaders criticize it harshly. The imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland, Ahmad Seddeeq, has publicly referred to this piece of legislation as “a contravention to the religious rights of freedom” that seeks to criminalize a tradition that has religious significance.

The bill’s wording is the same as a 2005 law passed against female genital mutilation, suggesting circumcision is tantamount to the same thing. Violation of the new circumcision ban, should it pass, would serve as much as six years’ imprisonment. We’re talking about an agenda of the Progressive Party in Iceland, a centrist party whose member, Silja Dogg Gunnarsdottir, has said that, even though many children have no circumcision complications, “one is too many if the procedure is unnecessary.” Religious organizations, of course, consider this a weak argument. One Rabbi likened it to a ban on ear piercings for the same reason. It also doesn’t take into consideration that circumcision has been medically proven to measurably reduce the likelihood of infection (e.g. chronic urinary tract infections, phimosis, balanoposthitis, etc.).

That’s an example, though, of how liberals can often overstep the rational thinking they believe they have espoused in their zeal for doing away with matters of faith. There is a common sentiment, especially in Europe if not the West in general, that religion and medicine don’t mix, which is why a so-called new breed of physicians in Romania are being ostracized for infusing their practice with faith. An area of deeply rural Transylvania has seen a cultural renaissance, including the revival of the Romanian Orthodox Church, infamous for its past communist dictatorship. A sizable contingent of the church’s congregation, though, are medical students and physicians.

Because of this culture shared among so many doctors, Cardiologist Ciprian Fisca tells them, “If you’re a doctor, God needs to be the head of your department.” Fisca and others are advocating a new kind of medical practice that incorporates the Church’s centuries-old maxims with modern medicine, and other medical professionals who abhor this mixture criticize the new model because of the Church’s resistance to contraception and abortion, which represent antiquated medical ethics in Romania.

Gabriel Diaconu, a psychiatrist and Viata Medicala commentator, said, “There are doctors that play for classical orchestras in their spare time, but they don’t bring their cello into the operating room.” The fact is that faith and science are collectively a quagmire. That a woman in this community could get an abortion virtually anywhere else in the country is beside the point in the grand scheme of things. The bigger picture is that people cannot scientifically or religiously agree on what is knowable and known information, which means that whether it’s this issue or some other one, there’s always a point of conflict.



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