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Christians must stop embracing pseudo-scientific claptrap

British doctor Mark Surg says Christians who share poor science around Covid-19 and facemasks are harming our collective witness

As a surgeon who spends a large part of his life covered in other people’s bodily fluids, you would think that I would have developed a fairly strong stomach. Yet every time I venture onto Twitter or Facebook, I feel a flutter in my stomach that fills me with dread. Who will be the latest Christian to be endorsing another pseudo-scientific Covid idea?

Invariably it will fit into a relatively simple scheme of anti-lockdown / anti-mask sentiment which will be backed by “scientific evidence” (which is usually neither). Lockdownsceptics.org has made a name for themselves in the UK because they're willing to publish anything that advances the agenda stated in their name – no peer review required. When I say anything, I really mean anything. For example, one article against masks was written by a mast-cell engineer who doesn’t believe in the existence of virii. Obviously, masks won’t be of much use to you if you don’t think the virus exists in the first place! Still it didn’t stop a leading Christian blogger from sharing it as “facts and reasoning on masks”.

Ivor Cummins has also been a mainstay of the Christian blogosphere despite him not being a doctor but an engineer with a large YouTube presence and diet book to sell (his previous obsession). Of course, he has no peer reviewed publications in the area, but he does make nice videos which have been noted multiple times to be just pseudo-scientific claptrap.

The problems faced by Christian scientists and doctors are multiple – we are by definition fairly busy people and the time taken to correct is much larger than what it takes to retweet misinformation. It’s hardly surprising that, as noted in The Social Dilemma on Netflix, lies propagate six times more rapidly than the truth. Debunking is a bit of a whack-a-mole situation – just as you deal with one, another five equally bad theories pop up.

As a Christian scientist, my hope is Christian leaders can note the following points:

1. Christian leaders have to accept their limitations 

I don’t think anyone would take a surgeon seriously trying to give a novel and ground-breaking perspective on penal substitution. I wouldn’t recommend a 200kg patient aspire to be a ballet dancer. We should all be aware of our limits. Yet after reading a few articles or watching a few YouTube videos, some Christian leaders seem to think they've gained a full insight into the science and stats of what most people in the field are struggling to get their minds around. There’s also no appreciation for where the information they are being fed stands against the medical consensus. Humility will reduce your blogging / tweeting output, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

2. Know your sources 

A non-peer reviewed article on LockdownSceptics is as valuable as some chap down the pub telling you something – he may be right but whatever he said won't be as trustworthy as something published in a journal such as Nature or Cell. Don’t embarrass yourself by demanding others debunk “facts” from such tainted sources – if it was such great data, then why has it not been published in a peer-reviewed journal? Why is this author only publishing on their own website and/or lockdownsceptics? These questions should be asked before you ever consider retweeting this or using in an article that will be circulated widely.

3. Think of the impact on the gospel

Seeing so many leaders following this conga line has made me think twice about my faith. Reasonable, rational evidence for Christ’s life and resurrection lies at the heart of our faith. Christianity is the truth and something that allows us to see the truth of what is around us. Can we really expect atheists to take seriously our arguments for the resurrection if we've been peddling at best poor science and at worst conspiracy theories?

4. Try to be gracious

If you are corrected, you should be considering correcting your blog or deleting your tweet. Biologos has produced an excellent Christian Statement on Science for these pandemic times. I think it’s worth reading and signing if you feel you can. If you can’t, it’s worth wondering which parts of it you take issue with and maybe asking why. I’ll keep on plugging away – apologies if you get offended (I know quite a few Christian leaders have muted me on Twitter). If you feel I’m being harsher with you than with non-Christians, that’s probably the case!

Mark Surg is a British surgeon, father and musician. He tweets at @marksurg and blogs at marksurg.wordpress.com where this post first appeared

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher

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