EDITOR’S NOTE: Since it was first announced several months ago, a lot of people have been asking us what we think about the upcoming March for Science, which is scheduled for Saturday, April 22. Many people in our network are excited about the March, and a good number are participating. While some have expressed concerns about the inherently political nature of the event, the scientists who wrote this article believe the cause behind the March is important and timely. Consider their arguments (and consider marching yourself) and tell us your thoughts below.
The great reformer John Calvin famously wrote, “All truth is from God.” As Christians who believe that God is the Ultimate Source of light and life, we couldn’t agree more. As scientists who believe that the laws of nature can be carefully expounded through empirical investigation, we say wholeheartedly, “Amen!”
We do not see reality through two mutually exclusive spheres of faith and science. Rather, we see through a unified vision, where science enriches Christianity, and Christianity gives us a framework to appreciate science. Our faith compels us to seek truth in every aspect of our life, whether that is the ultimate truth about God or the more mundane truths about how the world and universe in which we live, works. It also compels us to stand against attempts to hide or suppress the clear results of scientific inquiry, even when they are uncomfortable (e.g. that some human activities may be harming the country that we live in, the health of our fellow citizens, or the welfare of the whole world).
Scientists in academia and public institutions, by the very nature of our profession, seek to serve the common good. We strive to advance not just the scientific community, but also the larger communities that we are a part of. Whether we’re researching how to create high strength steels for safer motor vehicles, which neural circuits are altered in disorders of brain development, or how to “see” the tiny machines that make up our cells and develop better medications to control them, we labor with the hope that our research would one day be useful beyond the immediate scope of our respective scientific niches.
Any ill-informed opposition to science and scientists, therefore, is not only an affront to the pursuit of truth but also to the pursuit of the common good. Attacks on science should be concerning not only to scientists, but to Christians as well.
The March for Science
On April 22nd, hundreds, potentially thousands, of people will gather in more than 500 cities and towns across the world to march in support of science. Calls for this worldwide march did not occur in a vacuum but have been spurred by the consequence of different world events, which cumulatively threaten the way science is currently practiced, taught, and applied to policy. If left unchecked, this could have potentially devastating consequences for our generation, but more importantly, the next generation.
The March for Science began in the United States (US) as a fledgling call to action by a small group of scientists and science advocates in the face of certain non-evidence-based policy proposals by members of the then-incoming US administration. In no small part due to social media, what started out small became a global movement with millions of followers joining the cause. What began as a concerned response to the proposed policies of a single nation’s leaders grew to a movement to further the embrace of science internationally and to defend the principle that nations should support scientific research regardless of any party’s political considerations.
As stated on its website, the core principles of the March are something any public-minded scientist or science enthusiast can get behind. These principles include supporting “Science that serves the common good”, “Open, honest science and inclusive public outreach”, and “Funding for scientific research and its applications” among others. As Christians, we believe these principles dovetail well with the church’s call to pursue truth and advance the common good. It is worth emphasising that openness and transparency in publicly-funded science is critical to ensuring that scientific integrity is upheld and that benefits from said science are accessible to all, irrespective of socioeconomic status. We suggest that Christians should care about these principles just as much.
Is the March political or apolitical?
The question of whether the March is political or apolitical has been dogging the organizers since the time it gained press coverage. It’s fair to say that the recent Presidential election has been the catalyst for the March, as many people have been alarmed by some anti-science postures taken by the new administration. But in a larger sense, the March is about the importance of science for the public good, which transcends partisan concerns.
To us, first and foremost, the March is in support of rigorous, solid, evidence-based science. We acknowledge that science is a human endeavor, prone to bias and error. However, the scientific norms and practices that we in the scientific community subject ourselves to, work to limit this bias and error. Just as democracy embraces checks and balances as a tool to combat the potential corruption of any one branch of government, science embraces a long, arduous peer review process by independent researchers as a tool to combat the biases, mistakes, and blind spots that may plague any one researcher or team. When a multitude of scientists overwhelmingly agree on a finding or explanation, that consensus is a result of an intense and careful process, and should be taken seriously. Scientific consensus is thus a key step toward a better understanding of the world. When the overwhelming scientific consensus is dismissed on the basis of partisan interests, this is cause for great concern.
Second, the March is in support of policy that is informed by scientific consensus and evidence. It is in this regard that we acknowledge that science is political, though it need not be partisan. Sadly, many important scientific issues have been misappropriated as partisan issues. Fellow scientist and Christian Katharine Hayhoe, who will be participating in March-related events, sums it up very well in this tweet regarding climate change:
A thermometer isn't democrat or republican. It won't give you a different number depending on how you vote. #climatefacts— Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) January 26, 2017
Not surprisingly, the March has been criticized by some commentators as potentially compromising its own goals by marching on Washington DC, an act that could come across as being highly partisan in the US. While the organizers do define the March as a “political movement,” they also take a strong stand against partisanship by declaring: “…we will not let our movement be defined by any one politician or party nor do we try to advance the prospects of any party or individual.” The oft-repeated cultural stereotypes that only Democrats are pro-science or that only Republicans are anti-science is a myth. In the US, there is no one-to-one relationship between science funding and the ruling majority party. In fact, it was a team of GOP lawmakers that two years ago secured the largest increase for the NIH budget in a decade. This resulted in a $2 billion funding increase, translating to an increase of more than 1000 NIH grants distributed across the US. Grants awarded through the NIH and other federal agencies result in advances that spur economic growth. That federal science funding in the US is now facing deep cuts only increases the motivation for scientists to speak out.
Keeping this in mind, all three of us were initially wary of the March being co-opted by fractious partisanship, but we are reassured by the explicit statements of non-partisanship by the organizers and the focus on broadly acceptable values.
@ScienceMarchDC Is this only Democrat science?— Brandon Drake (@Got2LuvTheDrake) January 25, 2017
Moreover, one of us is not even US-based and is working in a completely different political framework. The March for Science in this author’s country (Scotland) has received enthusiastic support from every major political party:
Since this March was first suggested, it has resulted in 517 planned satellite marches in countries on every continent except Antarctica, so while it may be a call to action for politicians, it is completely beyond any simple partisan divide.
The March is a beginning
We believe, along with our scientist colleagues, that the March is an opportunity to truly show how many people love science all across the globe. The March will also demonstrate how many of us are willing to stand up and speak out for science and scientists. This will be accomplished not only through peaceful demonstration, bringing attention to the different ways in which the practice of science is currently being threatened, but also through teach-ins on how to do better science advocacy. We find this to be one of the most important goals of the March. As Christians, we are called to love God with our minds. As scientists, we love to share the beauty, order, and rationality we observe in nature with our fellow Christians. As supporters of BioLogos, we believe that scientists who are also Christians serve as bridge-builders to our congregations, as well as to our fellow non-believing scientist colleagues.
We are fully aware that some people at the March will use “science” as a synonym for political or anti-religious agendas. This is unfortunate. However, the antidote is not to shun the March altogether (as some Christian groups have suggested), but to demonstrate the harmony between science and Christian faith through our presence and our voices.
As scientists and fellow Christians, we invite you to come join us, and march!