Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

While the post-mortems from Election Day continue, the newest addition to “least trusted professions” must be pollsters (and probably straight after “fact checkers”). Regardless of when the dust finally clears, what is plain is that pollsters are asking wrong questions of the wrong people. But there is also plenty of evidence to show that the architects of many polls are flat-out ignoring the data they don’t like. The blue checks and talking heads might plead that polling is not an “exact science,” but the fact that the prevailing narratives diverged so markedly from reality, shows that objectivity is not the goal.

The lack of willingness to follow where the facts lead is not limited to polling. The pandemic, which has held the world captive for most of this year, has highlighted something that is happening in many places – scientific dogmatism. A recent article in Spiked, written by Norman Lewis, focused on the interesting studies of Robert Edgar Hope-Simpson, a British doctor who is mostly known for showing that shingles is a reactivation of the chicken-pox virus. 

Hope-Simpson spent a lot of time studying influenza and how it spreads. In the late 1970’s he challenged the prevailing idea that direct person-to-person transmission was the sole mode of influenza spread. He observed how the flu travelled around the world, and proposed causes for the seasonal nature of flu outbreaks. His conclusions about pre-existing immunity in populations and the effect of changing seasons in activating the virus lead him to posit that “it seems certain that the current concept of direct spread is impeding our understanding of influenza.” 

“Knowledge is… power [and] as with all science, it can ossify and become an orthodoxy that bars the way to further study.”

So what could account for the lack of interest in pursuing Hope-Simpson’s theory? Lewis proposes that suppressing flu viruses through hand washing and distancing and masks, gives people a sense of agency. He also argues that some wish to weaponize The Science for their own control: “Knowledge is… power [and] as with all science, it can ossify and become an orthodoxy that bars the way to further study.” If you have the result you want, why search any longer?

Sumantra Maitra wrote for The Federalist in the earlier stages of the pandemic, lambasting the way world leaders had scrambled to adopt policies based on faulty modelling. He says, “The phrase ‘settled science’ is a classic oxymoron. There can never be science that is settled…” He goes on, “This pandemic has highlighted how much of our public and social media are full of mindless drones [and] it has highlighted just how much of our scientific consensus is flawed.”

Maitra goes on to outline that what is on display here is not science, but Scientism. He describes scientism as “faith in the idea that all social problems have only one answer, through the process of science… Scientism elevates science to the point of a religion, thereby defeating the whole purpose of scientific inquiry.” Scientism is the new dogma, with science masquerading as a savior. But it is a golden calf, an imposter, a god formed in an image we prefer. The bitter reality for those who put their hope in Science is that following its doctrines can never cleanse your conscience. 

The quote often attributed to GK Chesterton is apt: “When Man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything.” St. Paul says that we (humanity) became futile in our thinking when we “exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” We end up worshipping and serving “the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” 

In stark contrast is the freedom we have in knowing that Christ is The Truth. The world he created is orderly and magnificent, even though it is corrupted by our sin. He upholds every atom with his Word and graciously reveals the intricacies of creation to humanity. With that sure foundation, discovering the truth about our world does not become an idol to which we desperately cling, but rather joyful fascination at the mind of our Maker.