For top U.S. virus experts, faith and science work together

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FILE - In this Thursday, April 16, 2020 file photo, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, depart after accompanying President Donald Trump as he speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Faith and science are both under unprecedented pressures during a pandemic thats asked them to deliver comfort or certainty while at times straining their relationship. But for some leaders of the U.S. pandemic response, the two have worked in concert. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

NEW YORK – The relationship between faith and science has faced its share of strain during the coronavirus pandemic — but for some scientists leading the nation's response, the two have worked in concert.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins founded a nonprofit focused on “the harmony between science and biblical faith.” Anthony Fauci, NIH’s senior infectious disease specialist, has said he isn't active in organized religion but credited his Jesuit schooling with burnishing the values that drive his public service.

And Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes his faith and his public health work as mutually reinforcing.

“One of the great things about faith is, you can approach life with a sense of hope — no matter what the challenges you’re dealing with, that there’s a path forward,” Redfield told The Associated Press.

The influence of faith on some of the government’s top coronavirus fighters illustrates its complicated connection to science. While tensions over public worship’s effect on public health arise amid the pandemic – with President Donald Trump declaring religious services “essential” – personal spirituality, in all of its forms, remains an unquestioned guidepost for some scientists guiding the U.S. response.

Redfield said that during major crises he's faced, such as his role responding to 2010's Haiti earthquake and the death of his son, his faith had helped orient him toward the potential for “greater good” to arise from tragedy. Faith and science have not been in tension for him, Redfield said.

During the early weeks of the pandemic, the 68-year-old virologist was not as much of a fixture at the televised White House briefings as Fauci, his fellow Catholic. But Redfield’s modesty is itself a facet of how his faith plays out in his public persona, as his longtime friend William Blattner put it.

Redfield sees people of faith as “not holier than anybody – we’re just who we are,” said Blattner, who co-founded University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology alongside Redfield and a third prominent AIDS researcher, Robert Gallo, in the mid-1990s.