In the periodical La Civiltà Cattolica published by the Jesuits in Rome, Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno wrote about the COVID-19 vaccine and the nature of science.
“We trust the (COVID-19) vaccine not because it is perfect, but because it greatly increases the probability of not getting sick. The real and obvious problem lies in the fact that most of us cannot understand how probability works: that is why casinos and lotteries are so successful.”
Speaking about the popular slogan “Trust the Science,” he said it “does not convince those who most need to be convinced, especially if it reinforces the fear that science is challenging the authority of religious faith.”
“At first glance, the expression does not lack a certain charm, also because it refers to that trust in science as a path to truth that our society has learned to accept since the Enlightenment. But the evidence of the facts around us suggests that instead this slogan is not so motivating. Large sectors of the population … have continued to reject vaccination.”
He added that blind faith in science with the phrase Trust the Science “embodies a popular conception of science that is not only misleading, but makes it vulnerable.”
“The expression itself sounds like an answer to an unexpressed question: what or whom should we trust? In some ways, it echoes the phrase addressed by Peter to Jesus in John 6:68: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’ And perhaps those scriptural echoes are noticeable to those who, like an evangelical Christian, are familiar with that passage of scripture, but probably not as familiar with science, and therefore perceive those words as implying that ‘trusting the science’ is being proposed as a substitute for trusting the Lord. To such a person, that slogan may unknowingly do more harm than good. Treating scientists as members of a sort of priesthood of truth is a questionable tactic, especially in a society where true priests are viewed with suspicion.”
Consolmagno said people may not want to admit science is fallible, but “science sometimes makes mistakes.”
“Anyone with real familiarity with science knows that this is not the case at all. There is a grain of truth in that fear of granting unconditional trust in science. Yes, the vaccine prevents disease in the vast majority of the vaccinated and reduces the severity of disease even in cases of so-called ‘breakthrough infections.’ But vaccines are not perfect. Fully vaccinated people can become ill with COVID-19, and indeed this does happen, although rarely with serious effects. To those who oppose vaccines, the fact that such failures happen not only suggests that the vaccine is not perfect, but confirms the fear that blindly trusting science can be dangerous. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, that fear of placing unconditional trust in science contains an element of truth.”
Consolmagno did say however, he is “entirely pro-vaccination” and science is a gift from God.
“Science can provide insights into how to see and recognize the truth. And it can tell us what the probability of success is for a given formulation of that truth. We are happy that God has given us the ability to understand and appreciate his creation through our science.”
He did add that “it is not inconceivable that a circumstance will arise in which the worst fears of the antivaccine community may actually come true.”
“The history of vaccines is also not without flaws. As we mentioned, COVID-19 vaccines occasionally allow for ‘breakthrough infection.’ The vaccination process has common side effects, the severity of which can vary from case to case. Both safety and efficacy are aspects that require a long period of study before a vaccine is approved for general use; and yet errors can and do happen even after that prolonged process.”
For “those who oppose vaccines, the fact that such failures happen not only suggests that the vaccine is not perfect, but confirms the fear that blindly trusting science can be dangerous.”
“As much as we don’t want to admit it, that fear of placing unconditional trust in science contains an element of truth.”
Read Consolmagno’s essay translated via Google translate here.