Oh, gosh….this is going to be one of those “Pollyanna” articles that is quite literally telling you “it’s all going to be ok.” However, not only deep down in my soul, but just under my surface, I know that it is. Why do I know, like really know that this is true? Faith, time, and experience…though not necessarily in that order. I guess if I had to put it into any particular order, it would be the following: faith, experience, time, faith (that is not a typo).
Let me first give some context, as I fully intend for this article to become world-renowned and will be looked back upon in 50 years (haha).
Since the start of 2020, we were faced with one of the biggest challenges this generation has ever known- a little tiny nemesis known as SARS COV2, or COVID 19. Very quickly we came to learn, despite early advice to the contrary, that this virus was highly contagious, and could be deadly. Panic ensued. Toilet paper was purchased in bulk. We locked our doors, shut down commerce, prayed for and mourned our own personal loved ones who became afflicted, and glued ourselves to the news to try to glean any inkling of new information that would help us battle this pandemic. We wore masks, washed groceries, sanitized surfaces, and watched more news.
We were told time and again to “trust the science,” and we were assured that policy would follow the science as new scientific developments were made.
Now, though I often write light-heartedly, by no means was the above synopsis written facetiously. That is what happened. Good or bad, but hopefully indifferent, the summary above is just that: a summary. Whether we were right or wrong in our actions or inactions, we were all trying to do what was safest for ourselves, our families, and our communities. I think it is safe to say that is universally true.
“We all do the very best we can based on the information we have at the time we have it.”
The intent is genuine. It is the application that is subject to change based on evidence. So it was, and so it continues to be, that there is a mantra that we have come to know: “Trust the Science.” However, what I have been seeing unfold, is that while this statement was meant to be unifying in its solace, it has become quite divisive in its context. I am not sure that anyone has taken a breath long enough to break down exactly why this phrase is so unsettling for some of us. I would like to take this opportunity to do just that.
Quite simply put, science is not faith. (This could actually be the abrupt end to this article, but 1. it would make for a very brief article, and 2. those who know me, know that I am 100% incapable of just shutting up now). Science is NOT faith. Now, the converse is true as well. Faith is not science, but it never claimed to be. At the very core definition of faith is the belief in something that one cannot prove. The opposite is true of the sole foundation of science. Science is based on observation, questioning those observations, collection of data, drawing conclusions based on the data, and then being able to reproduce those results and draw the same conclusions again and again. There is no act of trust that comes in the ability to prove something again and again. Take an obstinate child, for example (not that I know any personally). You, as the parent, tell the child not to jump on the furniture because they will get hurt. The child proceeds to jump on the furniture and gets hurt.
If you are lucky enough to do this “experiment” with a 2-year-old, they smile at you while they are doing it, and then proceed to get hurt…again…and tears ensue. You ask, albeit rhetorically, “how many times do I have to tell you not to jump on the furniture?” And, if you have met my children, they will respond, “At least once more.” (Welcome to my household).
In any event, the example above is a science experiment. A statement is made: “you will get hurt if you jump on the furniture.” The child must prove said statement and does so through trials (does that term sound familiar?) Now, through those trials, the child will learn that he will not always get hurt, but will get hurt often enough that it is no longer a good idea to jump on the furniture, which is also known as data collection. Through questioning whether Mom was right, multiple trials, data collection, and formation of conclusions, the child has gathered that Mom’s hypothesis was right after all. That is not the same as trusting Mom. A trust in Mom would be called faith. Attempting to disprove Mom’s hypothesis (only to prove her right again and again) is called science.
Another reason that we cannot trust the science is that it is invariably flawed. There are very few exceptions to this statement: The law of gravity, the laws of motion. These represent some of the VERY few examples that scientists got it right. These scientific laws are very few and far between, and we can now have faith in them…but not because they are ethereal laws. We can believe them to be true because they have been proven time and again. They are reproducible. We get the same conclusions every time we redo the experiment. These are the exceptions to the rule of science being flawed. Why is it flawed? Because it is designed by humans, and humans are fallible. Faith, on the contrary, is derived from a belief in the Divine, and the Divine is infallible
Let me make the distinction that fallible is different than malicious. Fallible is also different than culpable. Just because we are wrong, doesn’t mean we meant to be. If we take malintent and fault out of the equation, and just assume that all scientists involved have our best interests at heart, it will still hold true that scientists will get it wrong. We have gotten it wrong time and time again, particularly in the field of medicine. #thalidamide, #lobotomy, #DDT. Oftentimes, by design, our scientific trials are going to fail precisely because they are based on so many assumptions and controlled variables. “Such as what?” you might ask. We don’t operate in a vacuum in real life. In a lab, we can control many circumstances: the climate, the diet, the medication administration, etc (or controlled variables). We assume that the subjects of the study are essentially the same. We can study one variable at a time: the intervention in question, for example, medication vs placebo, or medication dose 1 vs dose 2, and see what happens.
“There are no two individuals who are alike.”
Even when we “control” (or consider) height, weight, ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status and then see what an intervention does…we might not be taking into account the subjects’ metabolic rates, activity levels, environmental factors such as molds/toxins, alcohol consumption, personal relationship health, etc. ALL of these factors may alter how a person responds to an intervention in actual practice as opposed to what initial studies look like in a laboratory setting. This is why, at its core, science MUST be questioned. We have an obligation to try out our hypotheses (or assumptions), and then try again, and try again to see what works and what does not. Faith and trust have no role here, other than to give a “pass” to those performing the experiments. Putting faith and trust in the scientists puts them on the level with the Divine and assumes that they are infallible, which we have already established is untrue.
Another problem with science is the involvement of ego. Ego is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. I think it is something that drives integrity. We have a desire to get things right, because our name, reputation, and ego are behind our findings. However, ego can often get in the way of growth and learning. If I, for example, have made a statement and stood by it (particularly publicly), then when I have new information that is to the contrary of what I have previously stated, it is exceedingly difficult for my ego to accept that I was wrong. In fact, for most, it is almost impossible to admit our errors and change course. This is pure human nature. I believe that this concept alone is responsible for why many of the earlier adopted policies have been so difficult to shift away from, even as we have evidence to the contrary. Too much ego is involved on behalf of the policymakers for them to be able to “walk it back” and say, “gosh, we were wrong here…maybe we should do this differently based on the newer data.” That is an extremely difficult undertaking, that most are incapable of. However, I believe if medical professionals had less ego and more humility, we would get a lot further in our advancements. I often say
“If I already know everything, I can learn nothing.”
(someone far smarter than I coined that phrase, I just can’t remember who). I use medical examples of amputations before the advent of anesthesia. We now know better, so we do better. No one was “wrong” per se, when we did amputations with a hacksaw and a bullet to bite on, we just didn’t know anything different. Once we learned about anesthesia, we now use it. We now know so many more things about this current pandemic than we did in the beginning, yet we are reticent to change, since it implies that we were wrong, as opposed to ignorant (which are not the same thing). Add ego into that mix, and it is a sure recipe for disaster. Ego complicates the equation further since it accounts for our faith being misplaced: I trusted/believed in the science, and the scientists…and they were wrong, which means I was wrong to have believed in them. That is a HUGE blow to the ego, and, again, one which many of us are unable to tolerate…so we don’t. At the expense of growth and advancement, we continue in our misguided faith in disproven science, in the interest of the comfort of our egos.
This is quite the quagmire that I have laid out. So why do I say “it is all going to be ok?” How can I possibly know such a thing? Let me get back to what I initially laid out: faith, experience, time, and Faith. (Again, not a typo).
Let’s go back in time (just a little bit). We started as wide-eyed, trusting (faithful) infants. We had faith in our abilities. We didn’t question why we knew what we knew, we just subconsciously knew it to be true. For example, walking. We had faith that we could walk. So we tried. And tried. And tried again, until we got it right. So, initially, it wasn’t experience that taught us to walk, it was blind faith. If experience would have taught us anything, it would have been that we are incapable of walking. How many times did we have to try? At least once more, as my children put it. While the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome, we did it anyway. We tried again and again until we got it right, based on a belief that we were capable of something more than ourselves. It required faith and growth, not ego.
Fast forward to the next element on our timeline. Let’s now look at experience. Take the teenage years, for example. How many times was our world coming to an end? We failed the math test, our crush didn’t like us, we didn’t make the swim team. These were all very REAL failures, that genuinely affected us. They were BIG at the time, and just about all of us felt the depth of their impact to some degree. But it all ended up being ok, didn’t it? We persevered, and passed the next test by studying harder, found a better partner eventually, and either tried out again for the team or found a passion in band. Either way, we adapted and grew and learned that what seemed overwhelming, often isn’t in the long run.
As we move forward a bit more, we learn that time plays such an important role in the equation of life as well. The tincture of time…time heals all wounds…blah blah blah. All the sayings of our parents and grandparents stand the test of time (ironically) and prove to be true over and over again. With time, we gain more experiences, more failures, and grow to be stronger on the other side. This is the grand science experiment of our lives; this is our data collection. I am faced with adversity again and again and repeatedly overcome it. I can now reasonably conclude that, if faced with adversity again, I will overcome it. We can come to rely on this conclusion as much as the law of gravity itself (and trust me, the law of gravity combined with time is a REAL phenomenon! Ha!).
Lastly, we come back to faith. Perhaps this reference to faith should be capitalized, as with this Faith, I am referring to the Divine. While with the above, I laid out a scenario of the data collection and science experiment of our lives, we can come to conclude that perhaps the reason we come out ok on the other side of adversity isn’t only because of our mad ninja skills, but may also have something to do with Divine Intervention. While this, to some intellectuals, can seem very basic and naïve, there is solace in the belief that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Something, or someone “has our back” and ultimately ensures our safety. With that belief in the Divine comes the belief that there is a plan that we are a part of, but not entirely in control of. On the surface, that may seem extremely disconcerting (especially to my “type A’s” in the room). However, studies have shown that the opposite is true. When we can recognize where our control ends and the Divine begins, we can let go. At that intersection, we can find peace in knowing that no matter what happens it is part of our story and part of what is supposed to pass. Therein lies the peace that many of us experience at the end of our lives. If we are at peace with our spiritual health, our Divine entity, and a plan that is greater than ourselves, it leaves little room for fear or doubt. That peace is based in Faith. Even if we lose our health, for example, it is part of the Divine design. When we are spiritually prepared for that transition, we are at peace.
Like it or not, we, as humans, are faith driven. Again, it is present from our very inception. We are born with a drive to believe. If we do not believe in the Divine, then we will direct our faith toward the secular, which, as I have laid out, is fallible. As the fallacy becomes apparent, we either become ingrained in the disproven due to the drive of our egos (what many call cognitive dissonance) or disenchanted and conflicted as we learn our Faith was misplaced. For many years, I think there has been a belief that science and spirituality cannot coexist. You either believe in the Divine or you “believe in the science.”
There has been an undercurrent of assumption that if you have a strong Faith, you must not believe in science, and, conversely, if you are a scientist, you cannot possibly believe in the Divine. However, I think there has been no more accelerated demonstration than this last year as to why this could not be further from the truth.
Both science and Faith can and do coexist.
However, there should not be a fundamental “belief in science.” Science is designed to be questioned, proven and disproven, modified and improved upon. Its foundations are based on questioning that which is observed in order to find the truth about that which is provable. Faith, on the other hand, is the acceptance of certain truths without proof. There is a certain underappreciated freedom in that acceptance that I think is often overlooked.
If we look at humankind, on the whole, I can reiterate that it is all going to be ok. We, collectively, are going to get through this. We have gotten through Hiroshima, Chernobyl, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bubonic Plague, and the Flu of 1918. We will get through this. We will get back to normal.
We will learn some lessons and adapt in some ways. We will not be unchanged. However, my hope is that we change for the better; we change to become stronger; and we change in a manner that teaches us where to place our Faith and where to place our science; and to have a better understanding of both the differences and the intersections between the two.
Jacquelyn Cortez Sammons, D.O.
Jacquelyn Cortez-Sammons, DO, is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. She has practiced in Orange County for more than a decade and serves patients at Transformation Health & Wellness in Anaheim, California. Educated in Southern California, Dr. Cortez-Sammons completed her undergraduate degree at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, followed by an internship at the University of California, Los Angeles. She finished residency training at the University of California, San Diego, before returning to Orange County to practice.
As a provider, Dr. Cortez-Sammons brings an outside-the-box, problem-solving approach to health and wellness, along with a unique mindset. She views the human body as a dynamic unit of function. As a practitioner, Dr. Cortez-Sammons has studied a multitude of paths of healing. Philosophically, she believes each disease process usually arises out of an unseen obstacle in the body. Removing the obstacle helps to unlock the key to optimal health.
Dr. Cortez-Sammons sees the role of a physician as more of a facilitator of healing, rather than a mere administrator of medicine. She recognizes the fundamental role of the mind, body, and spirit connection in restoring good health.