On The Differences Between Science And Religion
Something interesting caught my eye when I was browsing through the table of contents of the latest issue of Nature: "Nobel Prizewinner's Paper Retracted."
The story is only mildly controversial, outside of a relatively small group of olfactory neurologists and/or Nobel enthusiasts: Dr. Linda Buck, who won the prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for her work studying the olfactory system, published data in 2001 that she cannot now reproduce. Since scientific certainty is dependent on experimental reproducibility, she's decided to retract the paper from the literature. Over one hundred other papers have cited her work in the meantime, and they'll all probably be a bit nervous until they've been able to reproduce their results as well.
Nothing is particularly amiss in this situation- human error is assumed in the scientific process, and although stringent controls are employed to avoid its effects, no experiment is perfect. It speaks to the strength and reliability of the scientific method that it allows for this self-correction as a matter of routine. The neurology community will absorb the correction, adjust their hypotheses, and move forward, slightly more confident that they're uncovering nature's true form.
The same thing does not happen in religious circles, however. Let's say that a certain person had remarkable success praying for some random attribute... courage, perhaps... back in 2001, and now needs it again. The person prays... but nothing happens. Would it now be reasonable to ask if the original courage truly was of divine provenance? Certainly for the scientist, less so for the more religious-minded. Failures in a religious process should inspire correction of that process- at least, if religion was as rigorously committed to reality as the scientific process.
Instead of human error being cited as cause to revise the process, as with science, for religion it is cited as reason to trust the process even more strongly. This kind of backwards-thinking in no way commends religion as a reality-based enterprise.