The theory of evolution has damaged science in many ways. It has reduced the progress of science, trapped scientists within an inconsistent framework, and promoted a dogmatic view of science that squelches opposing views. It has also had one other effect: It has reduced the stature of science in the public’s eye. After all, if so many scientists are willing to believe a theory that is opposed by the vast majority of the data, how can you believe anything that scientists say? Many anti-vaccination advocates prey on that perception. They claim that a belief in the safety and efficacy of vaccines is much like a belief in evolution – nothing more than a desire to stay within the “mainstream” of science.
That claim ignores one very important difference between vaccines and evolution: direct, repeatable experiments. Simply put, you cannot put the theory of evolution to the test with an experiment. You can look at data such as fossils, radioactive decay, etc., and then you can INTERPRET those data, but you cannot do any direct experimentation testing the theory. Since your only option is to INTERPRET data, any conclusion that you reach will be very tentative, because interpretation of indirect data is prone to all sorts of problems. Your world view will color the interpretation; the interpretation will be built on many untestable assumptions; and the very data you are using may not even be relevant to the theory. As a result, no matter how careful you are, you may very well be wrong in your conclusion. This is certainly the case when studying the theory of evolution. The data you are studying are indirect, so any conclusion that you reach must be very tentative.
This is definitely not the case when you are studying vaccines (or any other medical procedure), because you can do direct experimentation to determine their safety and efficacy. For example, before a vaccine can be licensed, it must go through several levels of controlled studies. First, it must be tested on animals. A group of animals is given the vaccine, and another group (the control group) is not. They are all then exposed to the germ that causes the disease. If the rate of the disease is significantly lower in the vaccinated animals than in the unvaccinated animals, and if there are no undesirable health effects in the vaccinated animals as compared to the unvaccinated animals, then the vaccine can be tested on human volunteers.
In the first level of human tests, a small group (usually less than 100) of volunteers is given the vaccine. If, over the next few months, there are no adverse effects noted in the small group compared to the population at large, then the vaccine can move on to the next level of clinical testing. In that level, a larger group (usually several hundred volunteers) is given the vaccine, and they are followed for up to two years. The rate of the disease in the testing group is compared to the rate for the nation as a whole. In addition, the rates of several health maladies in the testing group are compared to the rates of those maladies for the nation as a whole. If the rate of the disease is lower in the testing group as compared to the nation as a whole, and if the rates of the health maladies are no higher than the corresponding rates of the nation as a whole, then the vaccine is allowed to go to the final level of testing.
In the final level of testing, a huge group (typically several thousand) of volunteers is given the vaccine, and their health is tracked for several years. Once again, the incidence of the disease in the test group is compared to that of the nation as a whole, and the incidence of several health maladies in the test group are also compared to those of the nation as a whole. In order for the vaccine to be licensed, the rate of the disease against which the vaccine works must be significantly lower in the testing group than in the nation as a whole. In addition, the incidence of health maladies in the testing group must be no higher than that of the nation as a whole.
Notice, then, how vaccines are studied. They are put through direct experiments. First, animals are used. Then, humans are used in three separate kinds of direct experiments. The nation as a whole acts as a control group (those who make up the statistics did not get the vaccine), and those who get the vaccine are compared to that control group. The vaccine can only be licensed if the group that gets the vaccine has a lower incidence of the disease and no more health maladies than the control group. This is the basic scientific method.
In addition to all of these studies, follow-up studies are done once the vaccine is being used in the general population. Groups of people who get the vaccine are constantly compared to groups of people who (by choice or religious conviction) do not get the vaccine. In order for the vaccine to continue to be used, the group getting the vaccine must always have a significantly lower incidence of the disease as compared to those who do not get the vaccine, and they must have no greater rates of health maladies than those who do not get the vaccine. These are direct studies. There is no interpretation involved.
Compare this to the theory of evolution. In the study of evolution, there are no direct experiments. You can look at the fossil record, for example, but you must first assume how those fossils were made. Were they the result of slow accumulation over millions of years or fast, catastrophic processes? There seems to be evidence both ways. I think that the preponderance of evidence favors fast, catastrophic processes, but many scientists would disagree with me on that point. As a result, their interpretation of the fossil record will be different than mine, leading them to a completely different conclusion.
When studying vaccines, we need not make such assumptions. We directly compare those who get the vaccines to those who do not. There is no room for interpretation – if the testing group has a lower incidence of the disease than the control group, then the vaccine is effective. If not, the vaccine is not effective. If the testing group has the same (or lower) rates of health maladies as compared to the control, then the vaccine is safe. If not, the vaccine is not safe.
Because the data related to vaccines is direct, the conclusion that the standard vaccines are safe and effective is a solid, scientific conclusion. As a result, the vast majority of scientists, including young-earth creationists, agree that vaccines are safe and effective. For example, one of the leading young-earth creationist groups in the world is Answers in Genesis. On their website, they have posted a very positive discussion on vaccines. Some of their readers were obviously upset by this, and they wrote in to complain. The scientist at Answers in Genesis had very little patience with them. In addition, I am currently working with three other authors on a college-level biology textbook for use in Christian Colleges. The three authors working with me are all young-earth creation biologists. When I spoke with them about the anti-vaccination movement, they all shook their heads. They were familiar with the anti-vaccination movement, but they were also familiar with the science behind vaccines. As a result, they were just amazed that anyone could believe the anti-vaccination movement.
Now, does the very fact that most young-earth creationists agree that vaccines are safe and effective prove the case? Of course not. However, the point is that if any scientist is willing to buck the “mainstream” of scientific thought, it would be a young-earth creationist. However, the vast majority agree with the scientific mainstream when it comes to vaccinations. Why? Because the data are so clear on the subject.
Probably the best admonition to Christians comes from Answers In Genesis. In their response to anti-vaccination advocates, they state:
“But we urge people to always check what they read, especially on the Internet where anyone can publish anything. The vast majority of websites do not have the many checks and balances by highly qualified referees as the AiG site does.
We also remind Christians that AiG is primarily pro-Bible, especially on its teaching that death is the result of sin. Our anti-evolution/millions of years stance is the corollary of this, not the end in itself. By extension, we are not anti-establishment for its own sake. We oppose the ‘establishment’ only where they conflict with the Bible. So we urge Christians to return to a pro-Bible stance, not an anti-establishment one.”
I truly pray that every Christian takes that admonition to heart!
Dr. Wile is not a medical doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, he does not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family.