COVID has changed the lifestyles of almost every American (and even most citizens of the globe) since March 15 when quarantine orders, stay-at-home orders, mask orders, work limitations, social distancing, and many other such measures began. In many locations, these orders are in effect “until a vaccine for COVID is available.” The presumption is that a vaccine will render a person immune to serious infection from the virus.
Naturally, the world awaits the production of a safe and effective vaccine, not just any vaccine. What do we mean by this? A safe vaccine means that neither the disease for which the person is being vaccinated (in this case COVID) arises from the vaccine nor do any unwanted side effects (such as seizures or extensive allergic reactions). “Effective” means that the vaccine must actually protect against COVID, or at least against its consequences. In other words, the vaccine should prevent the viral infection in the first place, but if infection does happen, the vaccine would prevent it from being severe. In most vaccine trials in the US, scientists test and monitor thousands of people to establish that a vaccine is both safe and effective. The standards are rigorous, because unproven vaccines can have side-effects.
The development of a vaccine alone will not be sufficient to protect the population. We also need to think about production and implementation, given the extraordinary global demand. The scale is simply unprecedented. While some animal testing of potential COVID vaccines has been done in pre-clinical trials, there are very few people that have been immunized against COVID with any type of vaccine at this point.
Despite these great efforts going into the vaccine, many Christians in the US and abroad have asserted that they will not take any COVID immunization. The justifications for this have ranged from questions about what can be “slipped into” the vaccine to concerns about sources of cells used to grow the vaccine to distrust of scientific data in general. Let us look at each of these arguments.
The Orthodox Church and scientific knowledge typically parallel each other. In the event that a reconciliation appears unreachable between the Church and science, it signals that it is time to reconsider past traditions in light of current scientific evidence. Science cannot in any way dictate Orthodox theology, but rather provides a contribution to the theological aspects of the Church and to society in general.
The Orthodox Church is generally not opposed to scientific knowledge and scientific endeavors. In fact, many early theologians and saints of the Church (including St. Basil and Ss. Cosmas and Damian) considered themselves to be scientists exploring nature and using nature’s pharmaceuticals to treat disease. When the Orthodox Church finds itself opposing science, it should take a clear look at both the present and tradition precedents and be certain that the stand it is taking is correct.
This is not to say that science dictates theology, rather that theology is open to consider all things in the world, including nature and how it is described. Scientists (like members of the Church) are obviously influenced by their culture, prejudices of their time, and false understandings. In the not-so-distant past, for example, scientists agreed that since women had smaller brains than men, they should not be allowed the same education, and that education must in some way adversely affect their reproductive abilities.
The Church should consider all perspectives when taking a position on any issue. Of course, theology is paramount, but the science of the day should also be reviewed as contributing to how we understand our world. Continue reading →
Recently in Serbia “a group of interested citizens” with signatures from more than 50 academicians and 100 additional people with postgraduate degrees (including 5 clergyman) released a petition to “revise the curriculum for study of evolution.” This petition was circulated to Serbian universities, as well as to several government bodies responsible for education including Ministry of education, science and technological development. In essence, this petition requested that theory of evolution be taught as “just a theory,” and (more or less) literal reading of Genesis be taught alongside it in science classrooms in Serbia. This problem is not new to Serbia; a similar effort was initiated in 2004 by the former Minister of education, but this was put on hold and thus efforts have been renewed to modify the school science curricula again.
What is remarkable in this discussion is the response from a group of orthodox theologians, teaching at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology at the Belgrade University. (For a version of this document in Serbian, please see here; for an English version, see here.) A group of 11 faculty members released an official statement explaining why this petition is inappropriate and even anti-Orthodox. Continue Reading…