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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, 2012-03-21.  Author’s Note: This column was drawn from invited presentations at Temple Shalom and Classical Academy High School in Colorado Springs. Editor’s Note: This is a Friday Follow-up for a article written by Ken Stuczynski years ago, published here.}

Seven hundred million miles an hour. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

Remember the hullabaloo last fall, when scientists at CERN reported particles traveling faster than light? The secular media went crazy: “Einstein wrong!” “Laws of physics to be rewritten!” “Time travel possible!”.

Religious writers got in on the action too. To them, scientific truth changes more often than Mitt Romney’s views on health care. If scientists can change their minds, why should we believe them? How can scientific truth be ultimately satisfying? Instead of trusting scientists, we should cling to the One Real Unchanging Truth: that of [insert personal religious doctrine here].

Fortunately, not everyone drank the Kool-Aid. Colorado’s own Phil Plait, our state’s best-kept secret when it comes to critical thinking, urged caution and skepticism. Writing in his “Bad Astronomy” blog, he pointed out all the things that could have gone wrong, and why we need to let the process of science work things out. Turns out he was right.

Last week, the CERN experiment was repeated, and the results overturned. (See any headlines? No? I’m shocked). Neutrinos in fact travel at the speed of light, exactly as humanity’s enormous and hard-won body of scientific knowledge over the past fifty years predicted. It looks as if the original results were flawed due to a bad cable connection. Hey, it happens.

What’s the lesson here? When it comes to understanding what the heck is going on in the world, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that neutrinos can travel faster than light is extraordinary, because it means time travel is possible and effects can precede causes.

(Science joke: The bartender says “We don’t serve superluminal particles here.” A neutrino walks into a bar.)

This is what the secular media miss about science: It’s a process for getting at truth, carried out by imperfect people with imperfect tools. It’s a process that takes longer than the news cycle and the attention span of the average reader. Astonishing results require replication before belief. Particularly in particle physics, where we are trying to measure the smallest, fastest things in the universe.

But there is a moral lesson here too. Join me in congratulating this week’s Outstanding Man of Integrity: Dr. Antonio Ereditato, one of the scientists who did the original CERN work. When asked what he thought of the result that cost him a Nobel Prize, he said: “This is the way science goes. What matters is the global progress of scientific knowledge.” Doc, you are my inspiration. With that one quote, you made five years of grad school worthwhile.

The integrity of men like Dr. Ereditato is what I think the religious press missed in this story. Some claims of religion are beyond evidence, perhaps its most important ones. But others are not. The Exodus story, the life of Jesus, the specifics of the Book of Mormon, those are all factual, evidence-based claims.

When it comes to those, shouldn’t believers (and non-believers) show the same integrity as Dr. Ereditato? How many religious leaders are truly willing to modify their beliefs if evidence says they should? Consider these hypothetical news clips:

“When asked about the existence of over two hundred thousand Greek New Testament fragments, no two of which are alike, the pastor replied ‘That’s the way theological scholarship goes. I’ll have to reevaluate how certain I am about what Jesus really said.’ ”

“When asked about the DNA evidence that American Indians came from Asia, the LDS bishop replied ‘That’s the way science goes. Perhaps our understanding of the Book of Mormon is wrong.’ ”

I believe these conversations do happen, but not nearly enough. Ethical people should demand them as a matter of intellectual integrity. Honest faith, it seems to me, changes its factual claims when the evidence says it should. That’s how we distinguish truth from stuff people make up.

Neutrinos travel at the speed of light. Changing people’s minds, apparently, takes a little longer.