Christian Anti-Vaxxers Damage Our Credibility

With all the different beliefs in history, there are good reasons that science first arose in Christianity. We do not divinize the natural forces but have a God who makes the whole of creation according to rationality. Priests have repeatedly been at the forefront of scientific development. In the 1800s, Fr. Gregor Mendel was the first to notice genetics, such that a normal form of inheritance is still called Mendelian inheritance. In the 1900s, Fr. Georges Lemaitre was the one who first proposed the big bang. Recently, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco was developing a COVID vaccine that wouldn’t need to be refrigerated so it could go to the poor.

Vaccines (Andrea Bierema for Michigan State University under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This is a great sign for the Church. It is valuable as a sign of the credibility of Christianity. Especially when we see that the supposed conflict between faith and reason is given as a top reason for those leaving the Christian faith. Showing how we are pro-science eliminates this large objection to the faith and turns it from a weakness to a strength.

Too many Christians Believe False Vaccine Myths

A survey I read a few months back of autistics and those related to us made me think about this with one chart near the bottom. Chris Bonnello is an autistic Christian who runs Autistic Not Weird. He has done large surveys a few times. In his most recent survey, he asked about the supposed link between autism and vaccines. The claim that vaccines cause autism has been refuted by so much research that is no longer reasonable to believe it. There is no excuse to believe vaccines cause autism now. There are literally stacks of studies showing no connection, and one study with 12 kids that later retracted for various issues. (Some sources from among many: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and even when anti-vaxxers funded a study, it found no link.) Now science cannot absolutely exclude something, but to claim vaccines cause autism is now so contrary to the evidence as to be irrational. We also know the biggest factor for autism is genetics.

However, what does his chart show when he breaks it down by religious belief? (As this is a US study and autistics have a higher rate of atheism, I assume religious people are generally Christian.)

You will note that there is a correlation between religious belief and the belief that vaccines cause autism. If we simplify the chart, we can see this simpler. I just took the top, and bottom rows, combined (dis)agree and strongly (dis)agree, and ignored neither and no answer. I get the following:

You will notice that very religious people are about 4.7 times more likely to think vaccines cause autism. Even if you include those in the middle, we are 3.8 times less likely to recognize that vaccines do not cause autism. This shows either a complete lack of scientific knowledge, gullibility for pseudo-science, or some other cognitive error.

Two Ways This Harms Us

I think such scientific ignorance among religious people can be harmful in two main ways.

First, the supposed conflict between science and religion is why many young people claim they leave the faith. In this recent study, it ranked fourth above items like “[1] loss of belief in God…, [2] reaction to the sexual abuse of minors committed by Catholic clergy, or [3] A tragedy or death affected me and I began to question my faith, or [4] Found a religion I like more, or [5] Did not feel welcome in the Catholic community, or [6] Believe the Catholic Church has become too liberal or progressive/too traditional or conservative, or [7] The Catholic Church wasn’t meeting my spiritual needs, and [8] a dozen others.”

There is no conflict between Catholicism and science, but we must show this to young people if we want them to remain Catholic. We can’t be proposing pseudo-science beliefs that even rudimentary knowledge on the topic would show to be false. The Church views this science positively and has been pro-vaccine since vaccines existed.

Second, we are called to evangelize the peripheries, including the autistic community. Many have gone through harmful but useless procedures to attempt to purge the vaccine toxins and prevent autism. The “vaccines cause autism” movement portrayed us in a negative light. It is still used as an insult against us. We have researched this at a much higher rate than the general public and are generally more certain its a myth. Thus, when a person claims vaccines cause autism, autistics often react strongly inside. This often results in a lack of trust in the other views of the person. This can sometimes even harm another cause that person fights for more widely.

Please Stop This Nonsense

Please stop this scientific nonsense that harms autistic people. We Catholics need to present the truth in all matters and not assume we can ignore it when it is not religious truth.

Note: if you are interested in what autistic people think, I would highly recommend the whole Autistic Not Wierd survey. I have written about it before.

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