Righting America

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Responding to COVID-19, or, Evangelicals v. Science | Righting America

by Rodney Kennedy

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is also putting the finishing touches on his sixth book: The Immaculate Mistake: How Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. with Donald Trump. from the New York Intelligencer (May 6, 2019) Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last Friday Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared on Fox News to suggest that the media attention to the novel coronavirus is actually a conspiracy designed to sabotage Donald Trump’s presidency: 

It’s just strange to me how so many are overreacting. It makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that. Impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work. And so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.

What?

The inquisitors and censors are back, and this time the effort to reject scientific knowledge doesn’t come from Rome or Geneva. Instead, it comes from the White House and Trump’s evangelical enablers. 

Some years ago, Holiday Inn had an ad where a man would be dressed in surgical garb, apparently doing surgery on a patient, and telling the camera, “I’m not a surgeon but I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.” 

Advertising parody has now become reality in our time. Our nation is riddled with people who say, “I’m not a doctor but I attend an evangelical church, and we believe vaccinating children is dangerous.” Or “I’m not a historian; but I’m a dentist in a large city in Texas, and I don’t trust these experts.” Or “I’m not a biologist, geologist, or physicist, but I’m sure God created the world in six literal days.” 

Until recently Americans have had a scientific soul. We have marveled at the abundance of biological and paleontological evidence of Darwin’s “endless forms most beautiful and wonderful” (Stephen Jay Gould, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin ). We have been practical, demanding, and pragmatic. We have demanded to see the evidence, collect the facts, and see all of it for ourselves. We have served as “an incubator for ideas, an engine of scientific creativity that has lifted the condition of mankind and opened new horizons of understanding from which the rest of the world can draw.” 

This openness, creativity, and search for truth is under sustained attack as anti-evolution, young Earth creationists, and other sorts of evangelical Christians attack and censor science, all the while attempting to insert anti-science material into the biology textbooks of our high school students. 

We will not continue to be the world’s leading scientific nation if we surrender to the anti-science Christians.  Instead of listening to Jerry Falwell, Jr., Jim Bakker, and Ken Ham, we are better served by trusting the health community, the scientific community, the medical community that have given us organ transplants, cures for various kinds of cancer, pain-relieving drugs, and a host of other practices that have led to a higher quality and longer duration for human life. Science, a gift from God, was brought into life by the church, serving as an incubator for the great universities and the resulting arrival of the Western scientific tradition (David C. Lindberg,  The Beginnings of Western Science). 

This is not the time for the church and culture to abandon centuries of tradition dedicated to the pursuit of truth and better lives. As Kenneth R. Miller, a leading biologist, says: 

A society that genuinely supports science is a rare and delicate thing. Science demands free inquiry, open discussion and debate, and popular support for the life of the mind. These are threatening principles to many human institutions and have been actively opposed by authoritarian regimes in the past and even in our own times.  

A people who insist, against all the evidence, that the world was created in six literal days, can’t be trusted when it comes to science. A people who still insist that Darwin was the devil and Clarence Darrow his cohort can’t be trusted to tell us the truth about science. These Christians have been nursing a grudge against science since the Scopes Monkey Trial, when Darrow made William Jennings Bryan look like a bungling idiot. 

These anti-science Christians should not be exerting influence over our nation’s health policies when it comes to vaccines, pandemic viruses, vaccination, the state of the climate, and a host of other issues that are scientific. They are not to be believed or trusted. Their readings of Genesis are untrustworthy. Indeed, they are unbiblical, unchristian, and dangerous.