I have seen a lot of posts on social media lately about "believing" - specifically about "believing in science!" (always with an exclamation point because folks seem very happy and celebratory about this. In the current context, this is, of course, about those who choose to receive the Covid vaccine and in some cases, about those companies who are beginning to require it for their employees. Yay 'science!'
Let me start by making clear that there is no conflict between science and faith. Science has its foundations in the Christian faith and certainly, God gave us minds for understanding and by His intelligence, created an understandable world. And particularly in healthcare, which also has its roots in the Christian faith, science and faith are brothers.
But let's talk about 'believing,' shall we?
When someone says they (or someone else) are believing in science, what they mean to say is that they accept the things that science has been able to tell them - or that science is telling them. Now, this raises two sticky points.
First, we know that science is always changing. It keeps developing based on new information. Even in terms of its greatest successes and achievements, there have always been stepping stones along the way and perhaps, more to come. So what science is able to say today may or may not be true tomorrow as new information keeps coming in. When someone claims to be believing in science, they are claiming to trust only in what science is telling them and they accept it as unchangeable and valid, even though science itself confesses that it may be neither.
Second, we know that science is always working with a limited (though in the best of times, growing) data set. In other words, science knows what it knows (at least, to a degree), but it doesn't know what it doesn't know. And a lot of times, science's answer to this is to sweep the questions under the rug by simply proclaiming more loudly what it feels certain of today.
The vaccine works. It is effective against Covid and increasingly, it looks like it even stops the spread of the virus. Science has studies that show this. It feels pretty good about this. But it doesn't know what the side effects are. It doesn't know why some react more harshly than others. It doesn't know what effects it can tie to the vaccine and which it can't. It doesn't know what will happen to the vaccinated a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now. But it can't let itself get bogged down in that. It simply proclaims, "We have a vaccine, and it works!" And then the people rejoice, line up to get vaccinated, and congratulate one another for 'believing in science!' (Always, we might add, with a little jab toward the unvaccinated, who, by implication, must be idiots.)
Faith has questions, too. There are things that we know about God for certain, and it's on these things that we stake our faith, but if we're being honest, there are still questions. And I think sometimes, we do the same things with them - we either sweep them under the rug or else we drown them out by declaring all the louder what we're certain of. And we speak with the same kind of certainty, the same kind of exclamation points - Yay God! while at the same time, by implication, calling the world idiots for not believing in what we believe. The evidence is so clear and yet...the questions are still daunting to some.
We have to make more grace for the questions. In science and in faith. We have to make space for those questioning to question out loud. We have to stop shouting them down, implying their foolishness, or using the force of our language to pressure them into pretending that the questions don't matter. We have to let questions be just as valid as answers. Because sometimes, what you know just isn't enough when what you don't know looms so large.
There is one advantage of faith over science in all of this, and we must briefly mention it - God doesn't change. We don't know exactly what God is going to do a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, but we know He will be loving, He will be gracious, He will be good.
Even if some of us have grown a third arm by then. (Sorry, vaccine joke.)