On Saturday, April 22, 2017, I did something I’d never done before: I participated in a political march.
Weather forecasters promised a cold and rainy day for those of us planning to gather in Washington DC for the March for Science. Nevertheless, despite my back and knee issues, I stood, walked, and marched for 10 hours in near-constant rainfall with only an umbrella and a small grove of trees for shelter.
And I didn’t care. I was marching for science.
To be more accurate, I was marching in support of an endeavor that German astronomer Johannes Kepler allegedly called, “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”
I was marching because the more I learn and understand about His awesome creation, the closer to God I feel.
For me, science is a form of liturgy. When I marched for science that Saturday—to paraphrase Olympian Eric Liddell—I felt God’s pleasure.
The week after President Trump’s inauguration, a postdoctoral research fellow friend informed me about the March for Science. I dismissed the idea because I didn’t want to involve myself in what I initially thought would be a partisan event, but I remained intrigued as discussion of the march increased on social media.
Eventually, I investigated the March for Science organizers’ website, which stated explicitly their intent to conduct a non-partisan event. I also took notice that a number of non-partisan scientific organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU), had partnered with the organizers. The March was certainly taking on a different flavor.
Of course, I knew that individual participants could very well hijack the event regardless of the organizers’ intent. Nevertheless, I committed myself to participating to show my support for scientists and their important work. Perhaps I could defy people’s expectations that I, as a conservative-leaning individual, didn’t care about science or its role in public policy.
Five days before the march, I received an interview request from Christianity Today’s science editor. During the interview, she asked me why I planned to participate in the March for Science amidst continued charges that the march was both partisan and anti-religious. That really got me thinking:
What should I do if I found myself in the midst of a roiling mass of mad scientists and even crazier science supporters carrying anti-God signs and lobbing flaming beakers at the White House?
In the end, I could only trust my own motivations, place a measure of faith in the organizers, and be prepared to bail out should things get overly partisan or anti-religious.
My March Experience
Just as I hoped, the March didn’t turn overly partisan, and it was an answer to prayer that it also didn’t become a platform for atheism or philosophical naturalism, against the March organizers’ explicit statement that scientists and supporters of science from all belief systems were welcome to participate.
As Providence would have it, I engaged with a number of scientists at the march who were comfortable discussing science within the context of their faith. During the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)’s pre-March rally, I was also heartened to hear the head of the the organization’s Education and Human Resources Program, Dr. Shirley Malcom (see video beginning at 28:33), calling for “people of faith and hope” to march.
I appreciated that only several of the official speakers made blatantly partisan comments. Most presenters on the main stage were respectful of the current Administration, expressing their valid political views while behaving in a non-partisan manner, telling their personal stories, and explaining how science works and why it’s relevant to our everyday lives.
The presenters urged our Congressional representatives to fund scientific endeavor with our hard-earned tax dollars, producing a rate of return that would exceed what is spent in terms of quality of life. They encouraged us as private citizens to donate our money and volunteer our time to scientific organizations conducting important research.
I also noted that only 10-20% of marchers’ signs I saw were explicitly anti-Trump, and not one was anti-religious. Most were clever and thoughtful.
What surprised me the most about the March for Science was the organizers’ decision to end its pre-march program by projecting a tweet from Pope Francis onto the main stage’s giant video screen—a plea to God that he would bring healing to our lives. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to Washington DC’s March for Science than a prayer to the One who makes science—and love for our world and one another—possible.
Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 22, 2017
Lord, bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Scientists as Political Animals
I acknowledge that many of my fellow conservatives might be befuddled by my choice to defend the March for Science as a non-partisan event. I want to explain how I came to that determination, in the hopes that it will help others work through these complex and challenging matters.
As an apolitical endeavor, science’s primary role in society is to expand and disseminate human knowledge about the universe God created. What society does with that knowledge is a different, albeit related, question. This is also where the discussion about politics comes into the picture, as we struggle to apply scientific findings to issues regarding health, the environment, and the economy.
Thus I believe it was proper for the March for Science to be political. As a political movement, it demands that our elected representatives—regardless of party—consider very carefully the knowledge we’ve obtained and shape policy to better not just human lives but the entire world.
In other words, science should be used in the service of the common good and not just for a particular partisan agenda. Of course, differentiating between political and partisan is extremely difficult, especially when people with different partisan leanings arbitrarily draw the line to favor their own ideology.
It doesn’t help that certain partisan camps treat acceptance or skepticism of controversial issues such as climate change and evolution as litmus tests to prove factional loyalty. Thus, I completely understand why most people would perceive the March for Science as a partisan protest, especially considering the unfortunate socio-cultural divide that defines the current political landscape.
I suppose what divides me from others of my political persuasion is that I have a high amount of respect for the rigorous process of science, and how it yields true and useful information about God’s world. I have come to trust that mainstream consensus science can, on balance, be trusted to provide this. I understand that many people feel that mainstream science cannot be trusted, and thus it’s natural they perceive events like this differently.
Addressing these deep trust issues is no simple matter, and organizations like BioLogos are on the front lines of these efforts. And I feel that the presence of conservative Christians at events like the March for Science is a positive and important step. I want to encourage scientists and science supporters of all political persuasions and religious creeds to do the same.
March to express your love for scientific endeavor. March to show how scientific discovery has impacted or has the potential to impact your life and the lives of others. March to show that science isn’t in contradiction to your faith. Defy partisan expectations. Tear down misperceptions that one party or the other is anti-science.
Perhaps through the promotion of improved science education across the political spectrum, the shared study of God’s creation and the positive application of our endeavors will become yet another way we can heal the partisan divide.
I hope to see you at next year’s march. Just please leave your flaming beakers at home.