Lately, I’ve been hearing the phrase, “follow the science,” a lot. For example, people have been saying that we should follow the science with regard to coronavirus. They mean that we should social distance from one another and wear masks when we’re out around other people, because these things make it less likely that you’ll catch the virus. However, they’re leaving out the fact that they’re also making a moral judgement that we should do whatever we can to avoid catching or spreading Coronavirus. Science doesn’t make judgements on what we should and shouldn’t do; it only tells us facts based on empirical evidence and experimentation. We then have to take those facts and make a judgement about them to figure out what we should do in this situation.
So, science tells us how Coronavirus spreads and which people are most at risk, our belief that every human life is precious leads us to do what we can to avoid spreading the virus, and our common sense tells us when we should take more or less precautions. However, sometimes different morals seem to come into conflict. In that case the science doesn’t change but our judgment might. For example, we believe in the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech, and both of these can lead to exceptions to the rules on social distancing. Let’s try to think about the decisions we’re making and what morals and beliefs are behind those decisions. We should definitely encourage people to take common sense precautions, but let’s refrain from berating and accusing people. Instead, let’s try to understand the beliefs behind one another’s actions.
Science can answer a lot of questions. It can tell us who, what, when, where, and how, but it can’t tell us why. Science can tell us about the world around us, but it doesn’t tell us why those things are. Science can tell us where the colors come from and how our eye picks up light reflected off of other things, but it can’t tell us the meaning behind a great piece of artwork. Science has it’s place, but so do religion and philosophy. Science can explain how the human body stays alive, but religion tells us about the meaning and purpose of life. Jesus Christ, after all, commanded us to feed the hungry and care for the sick (Mt. 25:31-46), but He also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.