Originally published at Convivium on May 17, 2021.
Faced with pandemic “certainties” that quickly turn out to be up, down, and all around, Don Hutchinson cautions that science can provide estimates but not ultimate truth.
Two weeks to flatten the curve. Two more. Stay-at-home to prevent a next wave. Fifteen percent church attendance. Maximum 10 people in the church building; unless it’s a movie crew or an AA meeting.
Closing the borders to flights from China would be racist. The border with the USA is closed. No flights permitted from the UK. Now India. Self-quarantine. Hotel quarantine. Take a cab from an American airport and walk across the bridge into Canada to a waiting ride home.
Two doses, three weeks apart. Two doses, four months apart. Two doses, not necessarily the same vaccine. Take the first jab you can get. One vaccine is preferred over another. That one’s not available anymore.
The Prime Minister is now promoting a one-dose summer leading to a two-dose fall, with no explanation as to what that means in terms of near and far, or open and closed.
What started as COVID fatigue, sprinkled with conspiracy theories and Internet-based inquiry, is transitioning to more widespread distrust and doubt.
Unfolding in public, right before our eyes, is the raw reality that personal care and emergency medicine are labour intensive occupations, science is an art, and politicians are following the science.
Lack of personnel in an Ontario long-term care home has been reported to be the root of more than two dozen deaths due to dehydration. Basically, death due to inattention in a residence for the elderly that was styled “long term” and “care.” In other residences, part-time staff working at multiple homes were found to have been unwitting carriers.
Hospital ICU beds are filling in several provinces. In Ontario, COVID patients are being transferred from one region to another. Weary warriors of front-line health units tell us they are outnumbered, in need of rest, and struggling with their own emotional and physical health.
Vaccine supplies are up, down, and all around. Federal political leaders urged a “get the first shot into as many arms as possible” approach, criticizing several provincial plans for storage based on pacing a two shot vaccine supply and inconsistency in manufacturers’ delivery timelines. Provinces pushed the first jab. Then, federal politicians sent civil servant talking heads to announce a recommended lengthening adjustment to second dose protocols when they found themselves unable to keep commitments for supply timeliness or manufacturer matching.
Several generations of Canadians have been raised to doubt and question everything but evidence-based science. While contending with the revelation that medicine isn’t a cure-all and science is an art, many are also shifting from confidence in government to confrontation with the exposure of elected representatives resulting from trusting doctors and scientists in order to make decisions about what will be open today or closed tomorrow.
Taught from toddlerhood that science is fact and religion is for the weak, Canadians are discovering that particular equation is only half true. Religion is for the weak. For Christians, the words spoken by God to the apostle Paul when facing his own chronic trial carry the air of truth for us today. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).” As doctors, scientists, and politicians squabble in public about the fickle nature of science, the faithful lean into our faith.
Science can provide estimates and projections based on what it discovers along the way―don’t wear a mask, wear a mask; two layers, three layers; droplet spread, aerosol spread; to mRNA or not to mRNA―but science is not capable of unfailingly precise prediction, or supplying peace to a troubled soul. Science is aided by discovering truth, but is not itself the messenger of ultimate truth. Science ought not to be discounted. Neither should it be venerated.
A certain truth has emerged from Canadians’ experience over this past COVID year, now in an increasingly stressful period of overtime for many. The problem with putting blind faith in politics or science is the blindness, and perhaps a misplaced faith. There are indeed answers to be found to questions of our common good in both politics and science. But they don’t offer all the answers.
The strength of religious faith is that it reminds us daily, even hourly, to put our ultimate hopes and trust not in the moving goalposts of secular success―political, scientific, or otherwise―but in God’s eternal goodness and love.