Idelba's vision of science had it as being progressively improvable, just as a matter of making it more scientific. That aspect is one of the ways you define science, as against many other human activities or institutions. So to me this makes it a kind of prayer, or worship... It is a devotional labour.
I just love this thought – that, far from being opposed to faith in God, the search for truth about the natural world is actually part of what it means to worship God.
By the way, if you've read the book (The Years of Rice and Salt) you might just remember that the little part I left out of the quotation rather changes the meaning. In the book, it says 'So to me this makes it a kind of prayer, or worship of the world'. I was struck by the idea that the scientific endeavour is an act of worship, not of the world but of the God who set it all in motion. I love it when novels send my thoughts off in interesting directions and Kim Stanley Robinson is fast becoming my favourite author!
Note to self: ideas are all well and good but I must not use them as defence mechanisms that shield me from the demands that Jesus makes on my life if I'm to be His disciple...