As a physicist and follower of Jesus, I never thought I’d live to see the day when truth itself—the heart and soul of science and Christianity—would be under attack. But it is, and we must react in a powerful, positive way. For “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17, esv).
For starters, we must react wisely.
We must be fully aware that today’s cancel culture is nothing new. Even the vaunted history of science is polluted with many examples of darkness trying to snuff out light.
Consider the tragedy of Ignaz Semmelweis, an early nineteenth-century Hungarian physician. Back then, women giving birth routinely died of puerperal (childbed) fever, and no one knew why. But Semmelweis noticed something interesting. Quite often, students went straight from the dissecting room, where they inspected diseased corpses barehanded, to the maternity ward, where they attended women giving birth.
For Semmelweis, this was an aha! moment. Based on a hunch, he began requiring the students under his supervision to wash their hands with a chlorinated lime solution after being in the dissecting room. Sure enough, the rate of puerperal fever plummeted in 1847.
Today we know that puerperal fever is mostly caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, but scientists back then were largely ignorant about microscopic pathogens. So Semmelweis was summarily cancelled—ridiculed, rejected, and fired from his position at the famous Vienna General Hospital.
Semmelweis had always been an excitable person. But this brutal, years-long takedown by his peers greatly unnerved him, and his behavior deteriorated. The calamity reached an appalling climax in 1865 when he was duped into visiting a mental hospital. He was ambushed, straight-jacketed, and savagely beaten. Two weeks later, he died of an infected hand wound . . . an infection that easily could’ve been prevented if only the attending physicians had taken his landmark protocol seriously.
Second, we must react firmly.
We must not cave to those who would extinguish the light of truth. Nowhere is this epic battle between good and evil more evident than in the history of Christianity.
The onslaught began when Herod the Great ordered the slaying of the baby Jesus, resulting in the Massacre of the Innocents described in Matthew—an extreme form of cancellation. The deadly offensive continued when Jewish leaders successfully connived to crucify the adult Jesus.
After Jesus himself was beyond their reach, anti-Christian zealots turned their wrath on his followers, people just like you and me. Saul of Tarsus, Nero, and other powerful cancel-culture extremists did everything possible to exterminate Christianity—a persecution that continues today.
And yet, because enough Christians stood firmly by their beliefs, the religion survived—flourished, in fact. Because of that extraordinary heroism, Christianity is both the largest and most widely dispersed religion today.
Finally, we must react lovingly,
which sounds paradoxical when today’s enemies of truth are behaving so unlovingly. But that’s the point, isn’t it?
It’s always oh-so-tempting to cancel those who seek to cancel us. Yet Jesus condemns our natural impulse to fight evil with evil. By telling us to “turn the other cheek,” he’s proclaiming that the best way to defeat today’s cancel culture is with the all-powerful one-two combination of truth and love.
Likewise with science. The scientific method envisions treating all scientists with respect and letting hard data—not a bullying consensus—adjudicate the truth. In other words, like Christianity, the scientific method sees truth and love as the best way to defeat human benightedness and its vile spawn, cancel culture.
Therefore, today’s cancel culturists—people who live to annihilate truth, and you along with it, whenever it clashes with their cherished beliefs—are not just being flagrantly anti-scientific and anti-Christian. They’re not only perpetuating an ugly, cruel darkness with a long history of extinguishing the light of knowledge but also embracing truth’s oldest adversaries: hatefulness, ignorance, and intolerance.
Michael Guillen, PhD, is a graduate of UCLA and Cornell University with degrees in physics, math, and astronomy. The former Science Editor for ABC News, he was also a physics instructor at Harvard for eight years, host of the History Channel series Where Did It Come From?, and producer of the award-winning family movie Little Red Wagon. He hosts the weekly podcast Science + God with Dr. G—sponsored by K-LOVE and Air1 radio networks—runs a film and television production company, and shares the stage with best-selling author Rice Broocks at speaking engagements on college campuses worldwide.
His latest book is Believing is Seeing: A Physicist Explains How Science Shattered His Faith and Revealed the Necessity of Truth (Tyndale, 2021). For more information, visit his website www.michaelguillen.com.