Sin, Science, and a Corona

Sir Francis and Saint James Understood the Power of Sin to Distort Reality

Because Sir Francis Bacon was born to a Puritan mother, he was no stranger to the notion that humans were profoundly flawed, embracing what we might look down our own “enlightened” noses and think of as the anachronistic doctrine of sin.

While today we can barely even tolerate the idea that there is such a thing as “objective sin,” this was not the case for those living in 16th and 17th century Europe, when the scientific method was being developed by Bacon and practiced by others (Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Robert Hooke). So profoundly informed was the cultural milieu at the time by the biblical doctrine of the Fall, it permeated every institution, informing philosophies, statutes, laws, and practices.[1]

Bacon and others recognized that when God formed Adam from the substance of the earth, he was perfect – not merely morally, but cognitively as well. So mentally superior was prelapsarian Adam, he was regarded as possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of all of nature, rendering him rather adept at naming the animals as God presented them to him. Sixteenth and seventeenth reformers and scholars supposed that the first man could even peer inside the animals, as if with an x-ray machine, and ascertain their essence. Reformer Martin Luther even credited Adam with telescopic vision, enabling him to see into the farthest reaches of space.

Then sin entered. Adam’s rebellion did more than imbue him and his descendants with a penchant for immorality.  It impaired the ability to reason fairly and objectively. In Francis Bacon’s view, sin not only truncated humanity’s ability to think, reducing its effective IQ, but foisted on all the menace of distorting reality. In his writings, Bacon likened this to looking in a mirror, and rather than perceiving a true image, the mirror bespeaks enchantment:

For the mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence; nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced.[2]

Marred by the selfish ambition and corrupt envy that Saint James warned us about in his epistle,[3] Bacon recognized that education and culture only added to the “infinite errors and vain opinions” that reigned in the minds of humans. It was this cynical view of humanity that necessitated a new way of acquiring knowledge. Enter Bacon’s empirical methodology.

Today, more than ever, we would be wise to revisit the timely wisdom of Sir Francis and St. James. Both the saint and scholar caution their readers that whenever “wisdom” or knowledge is bit and bridled by selfish ambition and envy, corruption abounds. With the current COVID-19 rhetoric, the public has been harnessed by the corrupt interests of politicians, lifelong bureaucrats, teachers’ unions, and pharmaceutical interests. Information has been so distorted that it's fostered only confusion and animus.

One can argue that it was not the president’s place to tout the benefits of hydroxychloroquine during a mid-March press conference (and, later by a Tweet). But, the people who knew better, who would have been privy to its efficacy and safety in treating malaria patients for decades and as a possible treatment for COVID infection bear much culpability in their promulgation of “bad science.”

While we might exercise some mercy on an American president for not understanding the pain-staking process and patience needed for experimental drug therapies, there is no excuse for peer-reviewed medical journals (such as The New England Journal of Medicine[4] and The Lancet[5]) for publishing research in haste perhaps because these studies contradicted the president’s narrative. Jubilant by the research, the Trump-hating media was all too euphoric to report on these later-retracted studies. No doubt many saw very little media coverage on the retractions.

Thankfully, it was the exercise of the scientific method that saved the day, when more than 100 scientists and clinicians questioned the validity of the study’s findings in an open letter to The Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, and the paper’s authors. One of the signatories, Dr. Adrian Hernandez, noted that The Lancet article contained many troubling anomalies, most notably that the data informing the research came from a huge database comprised of more than 600 hospitals, yet no one had known about its existence. Still other scientists requested that the seemingly fictitious database be made public, or at the very least independently audited.

With pressure mounting against the journals and the articles authors for more concrete evidence and independent peer reviews, the journals could do no less than post a retraction. In this instance, it was scientists in true Baconian form who facilitated real science. But one must wonder how many people lost their lives because they were denied access to a life-saving drug on account of ill-dispensed science? Still yet, we have to question how many people today, whose minds have been enchanted by a Trump-hating media, would refuse treatment with hydroxychloroquine – simply because it was brought to national attention by a president they despise.

Sir Francis and Saint James would be appalled today to see the degree to which that anachronistic idea of sin facilitates confusion, disorder and just plain bad science. Oh that we as a nation could understand just how powerful sin is, no matter its form, and recognize its ability to distort reality and impair our consciences.

[1] Harrison, P. (2007). The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science. Cambridge University Press.

[2] Bacon, F. (1952). Advancement of Learning, second book, for Mortimer J. Adler.

[3] James 3:16: For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice (English Standard Version).

[4] Mehra, M. R., Desai, S. S., Kuy, S., Henry, T. D., & Patel, A. N. (2020). Retraction: Cardiovascular Disease, Drug Therapy, and Mortality in Covid-19. N Engl J Med. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2007621.

[5] Mehra, M. R., Desai, S. S., Ruschitzka, F., & Patel, A. N. (2020). Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis. The Lancet.

graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno, with a BS in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics - having published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and projects in scanning tunneling microscopy. Having recently completed an M.Ed. from University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, Emily is currently an instructional designer/content developer for Moody Bible Institute and teaches organic chemistry and physics. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily now regards the intelligent design arguments more credible than those proffered by Darwinists for explaining the origin of life.

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