Evangelical discomfort with uncertainty has become clearer to me in the few months that Covid-19 has ravaged the planet. For a community of people that are supposed to be “set apart” from the world — that is, to exercise discernment and caution in all things — it is evangelical Christians that are the most likely group to fall for conspiracy theories. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen social media posts from Christians I once looked to with respect post article after article claiming that the coronavirus is a liberal hoax, and that face masks are a Mark of the Beast, per Revelation 13:18.
For a group that prides itself on being pro-life, evangelicals are the largest demographic of Americans that are refusing to wear masks in public spaces or practice social distancing. Why aren’t they taking the virus seriously (if for no other reason than to protect pregnant women and fetuses), and what does this have to do with a fear of uncertainty?
At the start of the year, scientists were in disagreement about how to slow the spread, or “flatten the curve.” There wasn’t yet a consensus on whether face masks were helpful. There wasn’t yet a consensus on whether the virus spread through the air or via surfaces; whether it affected only the elderly or whether it could affect young adults and children. There are many kinks to still be worked out, which is to be expected with a new virus strain that the world has never seen before. Not even the people who study pandemics for a living can understand it overnight.
Because of those discrepancies in the beginning, many of my Christian friends have decided that pandemic experts are untrustworthy as a whole. Scientists apparently aren’t allowed to make mistakes, or revise their hypotheses when presented with new information. Yet, this is how science works. We have an opportunity to see the scientific method working in real time, with all its errors and disagreements, which is rather fascinating to me.
But in a world where certainty is king, you’re not allowed to be wrong. Ever. Any admission of wrongness leads creationists like Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis to gleefully proclaim that all of science is broken and therefore untrustworthy.
No wonder so many theologians in history were excommunicated or burned at the stake. There’s nothing wrong with having humility and admitting we can’t know everything, while passing the mic to people who are more educated on certain subjects than most of us will ever be.
Scientists aren’t inerrant, and the scientific process never claims to be. There may be some disagreement about how to flatten the curve, but all the experts are in agreement that the pandemic is dangerous and should be taken seriously. If there’s anything “inerrant” about the coronavirus, let it be that.
Fear of uncertainty can lead to toxic theology, which is problematic on its own. But in this case, it’s a literal matter of life and death.