Although I would imagine that a lot of COVID-19 material has been written on WordPress and other blogospheric sites, I find myself compelled to speak on the matter at least one more time. I do not do this out of anxiety or fear (although, I am well aware of how quickly and easily such things can grip your heart), but out of a desire to point out something that people need to seriously consider: The Unknown.
As a pastor, I’ve had to keep up-to-date on the daily news briefings related to this particular virus. I will admit up front that I am a conservative, and as such I prefer Fox News over other media sources. However, that is not to say that I take whatever Fox News says for granted. In my relatively short life, I have learned that I need to be critical of all teachings regardless of their proposed source. Therefore, I also watch other personally less than desirable media outlets like CNN and MSNBC, and I have been known to read the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, as well as the NY Times. Not from enjoyment, but I find it necessary to hear what the other side has to say.
In particular, I have paid attention to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) websites and their running number of verified cases vs. deaths. Why? To familiarize myself with the actual data, rather than extrapolated data based on models created with variable assumptions ingrained in them.
Two Important Articles put the Issue to Light
Last week I read an article by John Ioannidis an “influential Stanford University epidemiologist.” You can read his article HERE, but the gist of the argument provided by this highly respectable and cited researcher questions whether or not our response is akin to an elephant running from a cat and then subsequently falling off a cliff, due to fear of the unknown. In this humorous analogy the cat represents the data present on COVID-19, the elephant represents the totality of our response, and the cliff represents the unforeseen danger or unthought about consequences of acting without all the facts.
There was an immediate rebut of Ioannidis article provided by “prominent Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch” which you may also read HERE. Lipsitch argues that,
“if we don’t apply control measures, the number of cases will keep going up exponentially beyond the already fearsome numbers we have seen. Scientists have estimated that the basic reproductive number of this virus is around 2. That means without control, case numbers will double, then quadruple, then be eight times as big and so on, double with each ‘generation’ of cases.”
Knowing How to Read
When we read our reading will vary depending on what type of literature it is. We all do this to some extent. No doubt some are better at this than others, but for the most part we do not read every piece of literature with the same interpretative lens.
For example, you read the comics for enjoyment. You’ll read the obituary to see who has passed on (either for a sentimental value or just curiosity). You read a sports section to see where your team (if you have one) has been competing against the other, etc.
When it comes to reading, I can get through a nice entertainment piece (novel, short story) very quickly. If my reading is research oriented then this take considerably more time. I highlight, draw lines, and scribble notes on any anything available. Recently, I started using “sticky notes” on my computer and was mildly impressed with their simplistic value for keeping my notes on various works organized. When I study my Bible I’m slower still.
An Appeal to Ignorance…
One of the things that I look for when perusing articles like the two I’ve mentioned thus far is identifying certain key terms. I do the same thing when I’m listening to various media outlets. Or, even when in conversation with others (much to the chagrin of my wife). When it comes to the COVID-19 crisis what I am constantly hearing is “…we don’t know how bad this thing will get,” “…we don’t know how many people have it, carry it, or will die from it.” In short, while the virus is certainly novel (new) there are many unknowns about it. What seemingly has people in a stir is the possibility of danger.
To be quite frank, I hate “What if…?” scenarios. Why? Because they are mere conjecture. The only person influenced by them are those invested in them. When a person or a group “makes a statement of ignorance about their respective [subject], and yet proceeds to draw a definite conclusion based on their non-evidence” they have just committed a fallacious (false) argument; an Appeal to Ignorance. That is to say they have taken an “unknown” and then reasoned to a supposed known. This argument can be used in the same way from the opposite position; thus, it proves nothing.
Lipsitch in his article uses the terms “estimate,” “perhaps,” “unknown,” “nearly certain.” All of which amount to what? They are guesses, educated guesses…sure, but guesses nonetheless. How then can he claim that without the current measures enacted upon much of the current population that this virus will burn out of control doubling, quadrupling, even multiplying by a factor of 8? These are “what if” scenarios that may or may not occur.
This is what spurred Ioannidis to write the article he did. We are making decisions, in some cases radical ones, in order to fight an uncertainty…all the while pretending that we are certain our efforts will give a good outcome. This seems to be a wonderful case of the shifting sands argument. No foundation, but we keep building as if we are firmly established in our convictions on a rock. Assuming that our house will stand, when in fact it is near collapsing in on itself.
If you look at the current data, even as it seemingly grows as more and more cases/death totals come in, what do we find? That on average the mortality rate is about 1.2-1.5% in the U.S., and if we take the grant totals from around the world, we see about a 4.4-4.8% rate. There is no apparent rise. This does not remove a possibility of drastic increase, but it does seem to offer further support to arguments presented by those of the same mind as Ioannidis. Moreover, it highlights that one ought to make effective, logical arguments based on the data we do have. Not a mirage of data that is yet to be seen. If you argue, “Yes, but it could be worse,” then the rational questioner retorts “on what basis?”
A couple days ago, the president mentioned that on average 37,000 American citizens die every year from the flu (influenza). In 2017, it was nearly 80,000. Influenza is the 8th leading cause of death in the United States of America in 2018. His point was that we’ve never done anything like this before; shutting the entire nation down out of fear. He didn’t say that last part, I did.
The Unseen Enemy
This fight against COVID-19 is caricatured as a war against an invisible enemy. Okay, but what “invisible” enemy are you truly fighting? A virus or the unknown?
When you attempt to argue from ignorance (i.e., Appeal to Ignorance) you are essentially building your position on fear (i.e., Appeal to Fear, a subset of Ignorance argument above). This is where a person or a group of persons “[argues] for a position on the basis that negative consequences will follow if a person [or group] does not accept the position.” Which is precisely the manner in which the current media storm, along with members of the medical community, and other “experts” argue. If you don’t do “this” (and you can fill in the list of demands already being placed upon the American people), then “that” will happen. But “that” is unproven because “this” is not really known.
Who is this Enemy…?
I do agree that we are fighting a war against an “invisible enemy,” and not I’m not talking about the devil although I do not deny that he is invisible to the naked eye, and a truer enemy one will not find. But the real enemy we are fighting against (and we are losing) is our own hearts/minds.
Just another day…
Every day we face death. Every stinking day. We do not know when our deaths will come. I’m deathly allergic to all forms of bee venom (all manner of bees, wasps, and hornets). According to my allergist 1/10th of a normal injection of bee venom from say a “yellow jacked” would more than likely cause anaphylactic shock. Back in 2011 I circled the drain once.
“So what,” you say. “What’s the big deal? What’s that got to do with the current COVID-19 discussion?” you ask. My bee allergy is not relatable to COVID-19 as one is a virus and the other is a reaction to venom. Its not that type of analogy. What I am arguing is that I do not let that truth of the deadliness of the venom rob me from my way of life.
My family lives in the country. We live on a wooded 5-acre lot next to other larger wooded chunks of land. Bees, wasps, and hornets are everywhere. About every other year I have to have an exterminator come out and destroy a bald-faced hornet’s nest. Last year, the kids noticed one at the end of our long driveway. It was the size of a basketball, and there were huge hornets everywhere. They are extremely aggressive.
I cut over 2 ½ acres of grass every week. I also run 3 to 4 times a week on our property doing 5-K’s. We have an above ground swimming pool that attracts every type of bug around, including all of those that I am allergic to.
If I were to get stung, I run the risk of dying. The mortality rate for a bee sting for me even with an Epi-pen and antihistamine meds is very high. Much higher than the current death rate of this virus that has so many in a frenzy. But I do not let that dictate my everyday life. If you drive a vehicle, you likewise do the same thing; you put your life and the life of others at risk. Should we ban the use of automobiles because they are the 3rd leading cause of death of American citizens (around 163,000 in 2018).
Freedom or Slavery…
My question is this? Are you really willing to give up your freedom to live in order to grapple with a false sense of security? Because guess what, you can still die at home. You can still get an illness at home locked up in quarantine. You can still break your neck, have a blood clot travel to your heart, lung or brain. Death is around the corner. It is the invisible enemy that is always hunting you (in a figurative sense). You will die, but it seems to me that an important question is “How are we going to live?”
If a depression does hit this nation, what will the ripple effect look like here in the U.S. and the rest of the world? Will we see parents destitute in poverty unable to take care of themselves or their families? Will we witness suicides rates rise as depression begins to set in? What about pillaging or war as people try to fight for resources? Will famine and other diseases see an increase? Do you think that is just an example of fear mongering?
What about the next time an unknown enemy descends upon us? Will the response time of governmental takeover be shortened? Are we really willing to sacrifice our freedoms for a false sense of security? I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I find them laughable. But do you really suppose that these scenarios are somehow less realistic than the one so many are holding to now in blind fear?
Currently, we are pretending the cat in the room is more dangerous than the unseen cliff that we were precariously dancing around? I’m not fear mongering here. These are real realities. This situation we find ourselves in regarding COVID-19 needs to be examined from more than one angle. It reminds me of the part in Jurassic Park where you see the one velociraptor straight ahead, all the while you’ve missed the other two about to pounce on you from their hiding spots.
Our field of vision has become so narrowed that we are missing other life-threatening realities. Are you really willing to sacrifice your freedom for a false sense of security? Sadly, I think many people just might be. Time will tell.
 Kelly Crowe, “Prominent scientist dares to ask: Has the COVID-19 response gone to far?” CBC News, modified March 19, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/coronavirus-covid-pandemic-response-scientists-1.5502423.
 Notice that Lipsitch does not know this, but assumes it. This will be identified later in the article by pointing to certain key terms in his writing. He argues from what is not known, and then makes a definite statement of what is known (or what he states is known) although this is not proven, but merely taken for granted. By stating this will happen, although the data to support his conclusions is lacking, is to appeal to the fears of people; evidently fears that Lipsitch personally has. Unfortunately, he is not alone.
 Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic in Theory and Practice: Refuting the Fallacies of Humanism, Darwinism, Atheism, and Just Plain Stupidity (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2011), Kindle Edition, loc 6176.
 This information is not hard to find if you are willing to set aside your social media accounts and do a little research on some reputable sites.
 Jason Lisle, Discerning Truth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 20 ), 54, Adobe Digital Editions.