In her New York Times opinion piece, “The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response,” Katherine Stewart’s logic is riddled with non sequitur fallacies.[1] The presupposition of Stewart’s article is that President Trump is mishandling the coronavirus (COVID–19) pandemic due to his allegiance to anti-science “Christian nationalists.” My previous EPEC article, “The Virus, The Mayor, and Religious Freedom,” demonstrated that Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, denied the seriousness of the pandemic.[2] However, de Blasio’s denial is never mentioned by Stewart, who places sole responsibility on President Trump’s allegiance to anti-scientific “Christian nationalists.” Stewart justifies her opinion with a skewed view of contemporary events. Stewart’s strategy of falsely impugning Christians for the national disasters of the day is an old but often effective tactic that should make believers count the potential cost of her accusations (Luke 14:28).

One of the many problems with Stewart’s claim is that she does not offer supporting evidence. She does not define the meaning of the term Christian Nationalists nor does she cite an actual Trump Administrator in her article. There are no Christian Nationalists in President Trumps Cabinet. Stewart’s only approach is to characterize the majority of conservative Christians as Christian Nationalist. This is simply not the case. Michelle Goldberg, in her article, What is Christian Nationalism?, differentiates between conservative Christians and Christian Nationalists. She writes:

It’s an important concept to understand, because the threat to a pluralistic society does not come from those who simply believe in a very conservative interpretation of Christianity. It comes from those who adhere to a political ideology that posits a Christian right to rule. Christian nationalists believe in a revisionist history, which holds that the founders were devout Christians who never intended to create a secular republic; separation of church and state, according to this history, is a fraud perpetrated by God-hating subversives.[3]

Goldberg’s summary represents Christian Nationalists well. There are no conservative Christians that seek to bring about a political dominion that is based upon the faulty premise of Christian Nationalists. To characterize conservative Christianity in such fashion is poor journalism. In fact, it is a smear tactic.

False Assumptions

Stewart’s faulty premise is that the President’s lack of response may only be blamed on “the determined assistance of a movement that denies science.”[4] First, there is no “lack of response.” The New York Times article, written by Michael Corkery and Annie Karni, reported on January 31 that, “the Trump administration said Friday that it would bar entry by most foreign nationals who had recently visited China and put some American travelers under a quarantine as it declared a rare public health emergency.”[5]

President Trump also place travel restrictions on people traveling from China and directed all incoming flights to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. In addition he enacted a 14 day mandatory quarantine for Americans returning from the Hubei Province in China.[6] Considering the Presidents swift action, one fails to understand Stewart’s premise that President Trump had a “lack of response.”

Second, Stewart appeals to the historically repudiated Confederate proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) as a representative of those who “have a hostility to science.”[7] Stewart’s citation of Dabney is a transparent and feeble smear tactic by which she projects the disavowed position of an archaic figure onto the contemporary church. As further evidence, she cites the recent rejection by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation of “environmental science [i.e. global warming] as a ‘Cult of the Green Dragon.’”[8] Stewart claims these examples are representative of a “false theology” that oblivious “Christian nationalists” embrace.[9]

Stewart connects President Trump with an array of allegedly anti-science evangelical pastors in an effort to prove guilt by association. She writes, “By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base.” Consequently, Stewart holds “right wing Christians” responsible for the Trump administration’s purported mismanagement of the coronavirus. “In the current crisis we are reaping what the movement has sown.”[10]

Stewart’s article assumes that President Trump is mishandling the coronavirus because he is aligned with and beholden to those who distrust science. Two non sequiturs involved in Stewart’s argument are the fallacies of false cause and composition.

Third, Stewart blames Trump’s alleged incompetence on her claim that he is in office due to anti-science Christian nationalists. She purports that the causes behind the United States’ delay “to develop mass testing capability that might have saved many lives” is due to “the contribution of the Christian nationalist movement in ensuring that our government is in the hands of people who appear to be incapable of running it well.”[11] However, both Trump’s assumed incompetence and so-called allegiances are false causes of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) COVID–19 test fiasco involving defective test kits. Among the multiple factors suggested for the CDC test failure, the MIT Technology Reviewand the New Yorker, both cite FDA regulations that predate the Trump administration for the cause of the failure—regulations which were overturned by the Trump administration to facilitate broader testing.[12]

Fourth, Stewart’s claim that Christian nationalists are anti-science is based on the fallacy of composition or of falsely “assuming that a whole must have the properties of its parts.”[13] Although it cannot be denied that some Christians in the two thousand year history of the church have mistrusted science, Stewart offers a few debatable examples and applies them to the whole group as a false generalization. A historical review of Christianity’s relationship to science demonstrates her false characterization to be based on the fallacy of composition.

Historical Review of Science and Christianity

Philosophical historian of science, James Hannam, and author of the prize-winning book, The Genesis of Science, writes:

In reality, the medieval Church demanded that every student should study math and science in the new universities. More people were exposed to these subjects than at any time in the past. And because the universities were self-governing bodies answerable directly to the Pope, students and masters enjoyed an unprecedented level of academic freedom. Of course, this was circumscribed by the demands of the faith, but it turns out that Christian theology itself was especially conducive to science.[14]

While there are disagreements between theology and science, there are also many areas of agreement. Hannam demonstrates that modern science thrived on the platform of medieval science which had its moorings in Christianity.

The landscape of science is replete with renowned Christians. The following believers are just a small sampling of the many scientist who were also Christians. Scholars such as Hildegard of Bingen (a female who worked in the male dominated world of science), Blaise Pascal, and William Turner (known as the father of botany and who was known for being arrested for preaching in the Reformation) engaged in the various sciences.[15] Contemporary scientists who are Christians include: Francis Collins (former Director of the Human Genome Project), Katherine Hayhoe (Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University), and David Elliott (former project developer of Gillett, current Louisiana College professor, and holds twenty patents).[16]

Unfortunately, Stewart has neglected history and characterized all Trump supporters as anti-science Christians who are of “the Religious Right.” She uses the phrase religious right pejoratively as if conservative Christians are non-thinkers. Since the historical evidence indicates there are many famous Christians who made notable contributions to science, then Stewart’s claim that Christian nationalists are anti-science is a false characterization based on the fallacy of composition.

Conclusion

Stewart’s article consists of more bias than basis against President Trump and Christianity. Her tactic is an old one. She is reminiscent of Emperor Nero who burned Rome. When an angry public wanted to know “why?”, Nero blamed the Christians of the city. Nero’s false accusation cost the lives of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. In the same way, Katherine Stewart’s opinion piece smears President Trump by laying the responsibility of his alleged incompetence on the shoulders of Christians. One has to wonder what Katherine Stewart’s false narrative will cost Christians today.

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/opinion/coronavirus-trump-evangelicals.html. As noted by the NYT, Ms. Stewart is the author of, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism (Bloomsbury, 2020); https://www.amazon.com/s?k=The+Power+Worshippers%3A+Inside+the+Dangerous+Rise+of+Religious+Nationalism&ref=nb_sb_noss

[2] https://epecarticles.com/2020/04/03/the-virus-the-mayor-and-religious-liberty-marvin-jones-ph-d/

[3] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-is-christian-nationa_b_20989

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/opinion/coronavirus-trump-evangelicals.html

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/31/business/china-travel-coronavirus.html?auth=linked-google

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. On the Christian repudiation of Dabney’s views of slavery see: http://www.pcahistory.org/ebooks/; https://opc.org/GA/hermeneutics.html

[8] Ibid. cf. https://cornwallalliance.org/2010/11/sounding-the-alarm-about-dangerous-environmental-extremism-explosive-new-dvd-series-resisting-the-green-dragon-now-being-distributed-nationally-and-abroad/; http://www.cornwallalliance.org/docs/americas-leading-voice-of-faith-on-stewardship-issues-announces-new-initiative-to-expose-serious-dangers-of-green-dragon-environmentalism.pdf

[9] Ibid.

[10]Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/03/05/905484/why-the-cdc-botched-its-coronavirus-testing/; https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/what-went-wrong-with-coronavirus-testing-in-the-us. For other causes of inferior US COVID–19 testing in comparison to Germany, South Korea, and other countries, including but not limited to: differences in relative population size, public health strategies, etc. see: https://www.propublica.org/article/how-south-korea-scaled-coronavirus-testing-while-the-us-fell-dangerously-behind; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/02/coronavirus-testing-how-some-countries-germany-south-korea-got-ahead-of-the-rest; https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/03/25/fact-check-trump-claims-us-excels-covid-19-testing-omits-key-detail/2906983001/; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/world/europe/coronavirus-testing-world-countries-cities-states.html

[13] Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), 85.

[14] https://biologos.org/articles/rediscovering-the-science-of-the-middle-ages. Cf. James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, Reprint ed. (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2011).

[15] The catalog of 18th-21st century scientists is too exhaustive to list. There have been many Christians who have engaged in scientific disciplines. Cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christians_in_science_and_technology

[16] These scientists are not listed as Trump supporters. They are listed as Christians who are scientist in the academic   and vocational pursuits.