There was a battle for who owned truth brewing in the the 19th century. On one side, people said that the scientific method was the only possible way to truth. On the other side, people said that religion based in a revelation from God was the only possible way to truth.
As with most battles, it was both unnecessary and full of consequence.
It was unnecessary because there is a third option: Science is our best way to understand the workings of the cosmos, the earth, and human bodies; while wisdom traditions offer distilled reflections and ongoing exploration of the meaning of human life and community.
Science and wisdom traditions are complimentary to one another.
We can see this old battle playing out about COVID vaccines.
When people say, “I believe the science”, they are echoing this old, unnecessary and misleading battle. The word “believe” triggers a deep response among many. It implies, in the ears of many, a competitive claim of the superiority of science over wisdom traditions. It would be better say something like, “So far, the scientific method suggests these vaccines are safe and effective. I’m going to get one.”
I know that is more clunky. Maybe you can come up with a better way to say it in your own words.
I don’t “believe” in science. I appreciate it. I listen to it. I am fascinated by the theories that the scientific community proposes. I respect how scientists are open to new data that break old theories and lead to new ones. My microwave works to heat my lunch! Thank you scientists and the scientific method! Many scientists know that the universe is big and complex and mysterious. They respect and are fascinated by that mystery.
I do believe that there is a meaning for human life and for human community that lies beyond any measuring. Wisdom traditions are a distilled conversation about the meaning of human life and how we form human communities. They remember stories, offer deep truths, probing questions, practices, and a capacity for self-critique. They offer a path toward truth, at their best, without claiming to possess all truth. They respect mystery, the Truth that all our truths point to.
I am saddened that this old, sad competition continues to play out today about the vaccines for COVID.
Truth be told, I took the vaccine both because of science and because of my wisdom tradition. I saw that the scientific community has been working on the mRNA vaccine process for a long time. They tested it, peer reviewed the data, and gave us their best. There is certainly a risk. But the far greater risk is in not taking the vaccine.
I also took the vaccine because my wisdom tradition tells me to love my neighbor as I love myself. Part of loving our neighbor is to risk ourselves for the well-being of ourselves and others. Getting to a collective immunity is our best chance to manage this pandemic.
It is time to set the competition between science and wisdom traditions aside and see them as partners with distinct and respected roles, gifts, and challenges, within the ever awe-inspiring mystery of life.