A news item today presents a useful example of the difference between science and religion, something that continues to confuse many people. The announcement, confirming that the oldest fragment of the early Earth is 4.4 billion years old, is based on a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience, appeared in various media including NPR, Sky News, and even Fox News. (Yes, really.)
The study is based on new techniques for measuring the radioactive decay of uranium isotopes in zircon minerals and in accounting for the various geological processes affecting the samples in that vast time span. But what may be most interesting in the account is not the age itself but rather the process of the investigation as it seeks to answer past criticisms of techniques. What comes through clearly is that science is a self-correcting process in which data are openly discussed in a skeptical forum of educated specialists. This is much different from religion because that is based on dogma, something that is meant to be defended and for which skepticism is heresy.
This example is, I submit, a particularly worthy one because it just happens to have as its subject something that many fundamentalists dispute: the age of the Earth. I have to wonder how Fox News viewers/readers avoid cognitive dissonance on this one? I found it interesting too, even amusing, to compare the news accounts on NPR with that on Fox News. If you read them, you’ll see what I mean. They are aware of their readerships.