A response to Jesse Johnson

Today, I discovered that I’m an epistemological narcissist – I don’t even know what that means, but I don’t think it’s a compliment, and it appears that I am this thing simply because I don’t accept the “settled science” of vaccinating my children early and often.

I agree with Jesse Johnson that “much of what passes as science these days is a bowl of lies. We are aware that popular science today makes basic mistakes, has all but discarded the scientific method, and is politically and financially driven. We get that the phrase ‘most scientists agree’ means nothing except that the facts are not in.” Right on! Preach it, brother! But then he then goes on to assert, with only a single sentence that makes even a passing reference to the facts(1), that vaccination science is settled and to disagree with him is to “deny science”.

Frankly, I really don’t wish to debate the vaccination issue in all its details here or anywhere else – the time spent would likely not change anyone’s mind, and would be better spent playing with my unvaccinated children (before I put them to bed laying on their tummies). What bothers me is this change in tactics to advance the Christian pro-vaccination narrative.

To put it bluntly, I will not support the idea that Christians from either side of the debate should resort to Saul Alinsky-style tactics to shame or mock others into siding with them.

This is exactly the strategy employed by those seeking to discredit biblical creation – don’t debate whether molecule to man evolution is scientifically possible, just mock people for believing that God created it all. It’s the same strategy employed by those preaching global warming (now climate change) – don’t discuss the facts, just mock those who disagree with you as “climate change deniers” or “skeptics” or some other terms of derision.

And now it’s the same with vaccinations from our Christian brothers – we call our brothers “science deniers” and “epistemological narcissists”. We say they’re “undiscerning” and “anti-neighbor”. All because we disagree with them regarding if or when they believe it’s best to vaccinate their children?

Truth is, we just disagree about the science of vaccinations in terms of both their risks and their benefits. I remind you that the earth used to be flat before it was round. There was a time also when bloodletting was also a settled science. After that, man-made global warming almost wiped us out so that we’d have to evolve from molecules all over again. There was even a time that the sun revolved around the earth – ah, for the good old days. More recently in the realm of heath science, settled science was that we had to get rid of all the saturated fat in our diets, but now low-fat diets are being blamed for dementia and maybe even Alzheimer’s. What passes for settled science changes. Chances are, our children will one day laugh at what we think is settled science today.

In light of this, I don’t know why it’s such a stretch to say that vaccination science isn’t entirely settled. You may think it is; that’s fine. I don’t. So we disagree. But I would strongly encourage both sides not to tie their theological horse to science that often has been shown to be more unsettled than we previously thought. Maybe I’ll get into details of how I’ve come to my conclusions another time, but regardless of my logic or yours, I do think we could exercise some grace towards those that see it differently. (For the record, the militant anti-vaxxers should be gracious in their critiques as well!)

Lastly, I believe that the Scriptures apply to all of our life and we should seek to apply Scriptural principles in every area of our life. To the extent that the goal of Jesse Johnson’s article was to do this, I applaud those intentions. We need to, as Christians, do a better job of living lives that do not separate everything into either the sacred or the secular – all of our life is God’s and we should seek to glorify Him in all things, including our healthcare decisions. However, as I’ve outlined above, our disagreement here isn’t really about doing what’s best for our neighbor, or any other Scriptural argument. The reason for our disagreement is based on what we consider “settled science” – not whether or not we we’re narcissists, undiscerning, or lack love for our neighbors.

I’m not here to judge my brothers and sisters in Christ for vaccinating their kids, even though, on the basis of our limited understanding of science, we disagree. I’d appreciate the same courtesy.

– Jeremy

P.S. Interestingly, Jesse’s 4th point in respect to why Christians should vaccinate only makes sense if we accept that there might be some risk. Perhaps we’re closer to agreement than we think.

(1) The “passing reference to the facts” I mention was regarding just how much the drop in measles cases should be attributed to the vaccination. Even this “fact” is disputed. The pro-vaxxers tend to give all the credit to the vaccine. The anti-vaxxers tend to dismiss the vaccine as all but irrelevant to the drop in measles cases. Frankly, the truth seems to be somewhere in between based on my research. (Btw, in discussing this, much will depend on whether you rely on data about measles cases or measles mortality, but I digress.) As they say, you can, after all, make the data say anything you want.