When Einstein published his complete theory of general relativity in 1916, he proposed three tests of general relativity, one of which was the deflection of light by the sun. Science could already predict the timing of eclipses, and knew that one would occur in a few years where the darkened sun would allow them to test Einstein's prediction that the sun deflected light. In 1919, an expedition set out to observe the deflection of light by the sun during an eclipse, in to the west African island of Principe. The expedition leader was British astronomer Arthur Eddington who acquired photograph negatives showing the deflection of light of stars that were near the sun.
The resulting observation precisely matched Einstein’s predictions. That is, Einstein had made a precise prophecy about the future down to meters of precision and within seconds of accurate timing. This is the kind of accuracy in prophetic ability one never sees in religion.
Religion, speaking for God, seems to have enjoyed a monopoly of claimant powers; that is did, until science and technology caught up with and now surpasses its predictive and miracle claiming abilities. Science has gone a long way to eradicating famine, if not turning one loaf into thousands in terms of farmland efficiency. Medical science finds cures for plagues, mends the lame and gives sight to the blind, with numerical healings that far far exceed the onesy-twosy healing claims of ancient priesthood holders. Claims, I repeat, because in modern times, faith healing has never been truly verified, while modern science healing is verified daily in tens of thousands of hospitals and clinics. These days, the prophets seem silent and science vociferous in predicting all kinds of future events--from the gender of unborn children to eclipses and tsunami, and even general trends in climate change. Science is beginning to look forward in ways only God was once claimed to do.
Carl Sagan once wrote the following: "...if you want to really be able to predict the future -- not in everything, but in some areas -- there's only one regime of human scholarship...that really delivers the goods, and that's science. Religions would give their eyeteeth to be able to predict anything like that well. Think of how much mileage they would make if they ever could do predictions comparably unambiguous and precise."
We don't really have to imagine, though, do we? When white European conquerors of ancient America were received as gods with their guns and eclipse predictions, they abused the power by controlling whole civilizations and fetching gold and slaves from the subordinate worshipping masses. If modern religions had the power of modern science (while hiding the source of their power), we'd hardly have to imagine the outcome.
But herein lays one difference between science and religion: religions cloud the source of their acclaimed powers in obscure passages and murky definitions of God. Science openly reports, competitively referees and carefully accredits each advancement to the whole world (if the world would but take the time to read the publications). Again, Sagan explains that while the scientist is human, science as a whole attempts to be objective and available to all: "Science has built-in error-correcting mechanisms -- because science recognizes that scientists, like everybody else, are fallible...Scientists do not trust what is intuitively obvious, because intuitively obvious gets you nowhere."
Another interesting difference between science and religion: churches have no laboratories. What I mean is that if a scientist has a clever thought (hypothesis), before he turns it into a belief (theory), he will comb the journals to see if it was already out there and tested. If not tested, he will go to the lab and painstakingly experiment until he has validated or--most often--eliminated the idea. It is in the lab where good ideas and bad ones are sorted out. Churches have no laboratories. Just belief systems.
(Ok, church do have laVatories of white porcelain thrones, which in the Mormon-brand, members must clean.)
Furthermore, the scientific methodology requires that any good finding should be re-found (repeatedly) and verified (openly) before it can be said to support hypothesis. Scientists pride themselves to be published in refereed journals, where honors go to those that can disprove findings or hypotheses with new findings--as Einstein did of Newton. It's a hard career at times--hard on the ego and personal life--but rewarding because of its unparalleled consistency and trustworthiness.
As a former Mormon--who happily believed in modern prophecy--I used to wonder why the prophets are so reluctant to predict as they did only a hundred-fifty years back. Why have miracles become no more than rumors and subtle coincidences visible only to the chosen faithful? By comparison, technology and science deliver health and happiness in brightly printed packages available to all regardless of faith, creed, race or nationality. It would seem that the prophets have privately given into science. I believe it is because they know they haven't a chance to be so successful when science has been so wonderfully accurate. A smart man doesn't claim to be guided by the supreme intelligence and give predictions that could so easily be countered by lab-coated scientists whose probability calculations are greater than 90% correct.
Okay, yes, it would seem I am giving far too much credit to science. It can't heal everything nor correctly predict many things--from tomorrow's weather to next week's stock market. Yes, science is still dealing poor predictions often enough. But in comparison to latter-day seers and apostles, it is uncannily and openly predictive.
Happy Halloween, all.