One of the most tiring arguments on social media these days are from people who debate science versus religion. In so many cases, they don’t understand the purpose of each, and as a result, look in the wrong place for the answers they seek. It’s one of the reasons people who have no religious faith look on those who do as ignorant and backwards.
But where do those nonbelievers turn when faced with a challenge science can’t answer?
Science is all about how. How things work, such as the efficacy of vaccines, the best treatment for cancer, or finding the right combination of drugs that will get malaria under control.
On the other hand, religious faith is about why. Why are we here? What’s our purpose? Faith deals with meaning – the meaning and purpose for our lives. What it means to be human.
Something that science can’t answer.
The best recent example was how government leaders responded to COVID. They were obsessed with science, and so often completely ignored the perspective and consequences of what it means to be human. Science dictated maximum lockdowns. As a result, while many were saved, thousands of people died alone as their loved ones were forced to watch on Zoom, or were compelled to stand in the grass and look in through an outdoor window.
Correct interpretation of science? Maybe.
Correct interpretation of what it means to be human? Absolutely not.
Writing about the recent book “What It Means To Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics,” Barton Swaim writes:
The dispute over masks—like those over school closures, business shutdowns, social-distancing guidelines and all the rest—should always properly have been a discussion of acceptable versus unacceptable risk. But the preponderance of America’s cultural and political leaders showed no ability to think about risk in a helpful way. The threat of infection overwhelmed every public discussion; every policy, no matter how draconian or impossible to enforce, was worth trying if it could, in theory, save one human life.
Is the benefit of not contracting Covid-19 worth the cost of going without the bodily presence of, say, one’s children and grandchildren for months on end? Put that way, I suspect most Americans’ answers would range from “probably not” to “hell, no.” But in 2020 public-health experts and their defenders in the media proceeded as though “yes” were the only conceivable answer. That suggests our cultural elites and policy makers haven’t thought deeply, or at all, about what the human person is.
But what is a human life? That was a question very few of our authorities cared to answer—or even ask.
I hope should this every happen again, leaders will have a broader view of the possibilities and options. Because no matter how dangerous the potential consequences, there will always be a need to understand – and defend – what it means to be human.