Has science banished superstition?wants to know why science banished superstition , how and who??? when, the year, and some example???? Is superstition still exist???

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marilynn07's profile pic

marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

One only needs to look at the minutes of state and local school board meetings in hard-core "red states" to see evidence that superstition is alive and well, despite science's advancements over centuries. Boards of education have no problem deciding that "creation science" must be taught alongside the theory of evolution. Parents routinely pull their children out of high school biology classrooms rather than have them exposed to the teaching of evolution; in extreme cases, they homeschool them.

Another piece of evidence that superstition is alive and well is the blithe dismissal of global warming as "junk science." Right-wing elements in the United States are remarkably swift to dismiss clear and convincing evidence that scientists have produced to demonstrate the greenhouse effect.

Therefore, I would have to say no, science has not in fact banished superstition.

  Do you think that it is a matter of we believe what we want to believe in spite of the evidence all around us?

I personally have no problems with the idea of the "divine hand", but I don't see any reason to have that taught in public schools.

I do have a problem that politicians and others have simply dismissed out of hand that the liklihood of a major storm could threaten New Orleans (Oh, that happened already) and refused to upgrade the levee system to withstand a category 4 hurricane.

I also simply do not understand how the "greed" mentality overwhelms good science in the pursuit of medical research, food and drug safety, and yes, global warming.  Good research does not always give us the desired answer. Sometimes good research produces the opposite result of what we want to hear. (tobacco industry for example)

So, superstion aside, many simply have to be convinced that the probablities that science offers are stronger than what we want to believe.  I want to believe that I can drive my jeep forever...but I know better.

As long as the grass is green, the sky is blue, everything is ok. Right?

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

One only needs to look at the minutes of state and local school board meetings in hard-core "red states" to see evidence that superstition is alive and well, despite science's advancements over centuries. Boards of education have no problem deciding that "creation science" must be taught alongside the theory of evolution. Parents routinely pull their children out of high school biology classrooms rather than have them exposed to the teaching of evolution; in extreme cases, they homeschool them.

Another piece of evidence that superstition is alive and well is the blithe dismissal of global warming as "junk science." Right-wing elements in the United States are remarkably swift to dismiss clear and convincing evidence that scientists have produced to demonstrate the greenhouse effect.

Therefore, I would have to say no, science has not in fact banished superstition.

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hi1954 | Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

Hi jillyfish.  I respect your opinion and your obvious intelligence. I agree that, ideally, scientists should be dealing with straightforward and unemotional facts.  That's what the scientific method is about, a way to rationally and systematically seek proof of things which we will then know as facts.

I totally agree with you in terms of "science" in the abstract, but scientists are people.  How many "professional scientists" do you know?  I've been surrounded by them most of my life.  I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, my father was head of research and development for the US Army Missile Command 1955-1975.  My parents' friends included people like Robert Oppenheimer and Arthur Rudolph, head design engineer of the Saturn V.  Until I was in my 20s nearly all the adults I knew were scientists.  One carried what he called "my lucky rabbit's foot," and another always wore the same bowtie to important meetings, for luck.  Both were central to the Apollo moon missions, and dedicated scientists.

My closest friends include a mathematician, a computer scientist, a chemist, a physicist and three engineers with defense/aerospace industries.  I'm sure I've known at least 150 professional scientists through my life, people who work in projects and positions of responsibility, not simply having a degree in something that is termed a science.  Hardcore scientists while at work, many believe in aliens and UFOs.  Several NASA scientists of the '60s wrote books about this.  Others I know are "New Agers" and believe a variety of spiritist stuff, reincarnation, tarot, etc.  Most scientists I know scoff at most of these beliefs, of course, but not by an overwhelming majority.

Now, some of the above list are not considered superstitions by everyone.  Reincarnation in particular is a widely held belief.  Still, since they believe these things, does that make them not scientists?  Or should we take these things more seriously, since there are scientists who believe in them?  Or just assume scientists are normal people after all?

As for opinion and emotional attachment in the minds of scientists, let's take M-Theory, or string theory.  Most scientists are taking the "wait and see" approach, but there are many who believe in string theory and will argue (dispassionately or otherwise) in favor of it.  There are many who disagree, some of whom are dispassionate, some are not.  What does the cold, hard scientific proof tell us?  It tells us that there is no proof at this time, we really don't know.  So those who strongly argue either side are arguing from opinion.  These may be opinions based on known fact and accepted theory, filtered through the experience of the individual scientist, but it is still opinion.  Scientists, like everyone, often find only what they are looking for.  That's science, too- the Heisenberg Principle.

 

 

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hi1954 | Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The short answer is, "No." Unfortunately scienctists and the concept of "science" itself falls prey to superstition as often as anyone (or anything) else.  The scientific method is a great concept- observation leads to hypothosis, which leads to experimentation, which leads to theory.  This is usually as far as it takes us, but theories which hold up fairly well are often referred to as "facts" while they are actually still only theories.  If all works well, theory leads to more experimentation and observation and deduction, which leads to more of the same and (hopefully) eventually to knowledge of fact.

So, ideally, the scientific method leads us from observation to knowledge of fact. An example of this would be the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, which we know to be facts because in 100% of experimental instances in which these can be measured they are found to be correct.  There are, however, comparatively few things so thoroughly known.  We tend to stop when we have theories which can be usually but not always relied upon, because that is most often as far as the scientific method can take us, for a variety of reasons.

Even if everyone were completely indoctrinated with "modern science" we would still have superstitions, because superstitious behavior is human behavior, and scientists are human. For instance, today we tend to think of the 17th century as the beginnings of modern thought- Bacon invents the scientific method, Boyle redefines the elements which leads to modern chemistry, and Newton discovers gravity and writes the Calculus.  We forget that these three men spent most of their time studying the occult.  Modern scientists are no less conditioned by the society they live in.  Scientists are as subject to ideas like "These are my lucky socks" as anyone else.  All you have to do is be around scientists a lot to understand that their ideas differ from one another about almost everything, and they have opinions as strong as facts, pet theories, etc.  For instance, I believe science has proven that we cannot depend on anything as foolish as astrology, and yet I personally know a number of scientists (including a couple of physicists, a mathematician and several engineers in the space program) who firmly believe in astrology.  I grew up around many of the foremost scientists of the last half of the 20th century, largely involved in NASA and the defense industry, and they agreed about very little as far as I could see.  They all understood clearly that species change, but what "evolution" meant or if it was actually the true process of that change never seemed to be agreed on by any three of them at a time.  They clearly saw that genetics, mutation and "natural selection" in genetic breeding caused species to change, but also that all of that put together did not equal the "theory of evolution", and still doesn't today.  There are hundreds of mainstream scientists (the vast majority of whom are not "creationists" and a great many of whom are not Christians) who have written hundreds of books using pure science to disprove "evolution" as we usually understand the term, but this does not keep scientists from arguing about this theory any more than boxing fans might argue over who was the greatest heavyweight champion, Ali or Dempsey or Marciano or Louis.  Opinions and emotional attachment to our favorite ideas and superstitions are as rampant in science as in any other field of human endeavor.

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udonbutterfly | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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There are times that I like to think that science and superstition like to work hand in hand. For example take how many people will say that you'll catch a cold if you get caught in the rain. Although the idea has tested as inconclusive many times. However it has been proven that some peoples health fluctuates with the weather. (links under references)

There is also the instance where many people in the old age were under the impression that the sun revolved around the earth because Copernicus said so in the 1500's. Which was later debunked by Galileo during the Renaissance. (link in reference)

Sources:
frizzyperm's profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Before we start a discussion on "if science has banished superstition" we need to be clear about what these terms mean.

Superstition is a deep rooted but unfounded general belief, and science is knowledge ascertained by observation, experimentation and logic, systematized under general principles.

If we accept these defintions of superstition and science, and can establish that unfounded beliefs of large sections of population has been replaced knowledge acquired through scientific methods of observation, experimentation and logic, then we can claim that science has replaced or banished superstition. On face it appears that science has replaces superstition, but a careful examination shows something different.

Though what people believe to be true in today's world, may be in line with the knowledge created by science, in most instances, the people have not acquired it by the scientific method. They just believe in this knowledge. This means that the the basis of what people believe to be true was their belief, and it continues to be their belief. The scientific facts people believe are ascertainable by scientific methods, but largely people do not apply the apply the scientific methods before believing every scientific fact they come across. They just believe in everything that comes to them from credible source of scientific knowledge. Take the example of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Hundreds of millions of people believe it to be true, but how many of them can even state this theorem completely and correctly, leave alone prove it?

People of all times have believed in information coming to them from the sources considered credible by them. So the difference between then and now is not in replacing belief by science. The difference is only in the sources of information considered credible.

But can we say that all the sources of information considered credible by people 2000 years back were gave out only unscientific facts and all the sources considered credible in 21st Century give out pure scientific information? There were great scientists born centuries before Copernicus and Galileo established scientifically that the earth is spherical rather than flat. Can we say that they were superstitious because they believed that earth is flat?

I think label of superstition is appropriate only for the behaviour of people who who refuse to give up their old beliefs even when sufficient evidence to the contrary is available with them. If we accept, this view of superstition, then science has not banished it. It is in the nature of humans to to resist change and new ideas, and people today are as resistant to new ideas as they were thousands of years ago.

A good case and well made!

You're right to say we 'believe' experts and don't satisfy ourselves from first principles that things are true. I could no more prove that pixies live in my cellar than prove the existence of quarks. But science has proved quarks for me. It may only be the current theory, but it's better than the previous one. 

This is not 'faith' in science. As a normal intelligent person I understand the mechanisms of science and the reputation of the scientific community and concluded that science is factually based and more likely to be right than other sections of society.

Sadly, not everyone is consistent in their trust. People are quite happy to accept the science that they like, (TV, Cell phones, medicine etc) but when science discovers something they don't like (global warming, stem cell research etc) then they illogically reject it and accept any old nonsense like "global warming is a tax con" or "man made climate change is impossible" without facts to support their belief. THAT is wilfull superstition of the highest order.

But consider this... when the British empire change from the Julian calender to the Gregorian in 1752, the date jumped forward by 10 days. There were riots in London because the public wanted their ten lost days back!

So, thanks to science, we're not as superstitious as we once were, but there's a long way to go.

krishna-agrawala's profile pic

krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

Before we start a discussion on "if science has banished superstition" we need to be clear about what these terms mean.

Superstition is a deep rooted but unfounded general belief, and science is knowledge ascertained by observation, experimentation and logic, systematized under general principles.

If we accept these defintions of superstition and science, and can establish that unfounded beliefs of large sections of population has been replaced knowledge acquired through scientific methods of observation, experimentation and logic, then we can claim that science has replaced or banished superstition. On face it appears that science has replaces superstition, but a careful examination shows something different.

Though what people believe to be true in today's world, may be in line with the knowledge created by science, in most instances, the people have not acquired it by the scientific method. They just believe in this knowledge. This means that the the basis of what people believe to be true was their belief, and it continues to be their belief. The scientific facts people believe are ascertainable by scientific methods, but largely people do not apply the apply the scientific methods before believing every scientific fact they come across. They just believe in everything that comes to them from credible source of scientific knowledge. Take the example of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Hundreds of millions of people believe it to be true, but how many of them can even state this theorem completely and correctly, leave alone prove it?

People of all times have believed in information coming to them from the sources considered credible by them. So the difference between then and now is not in replacing belief by science. The difference is only in the sources of information considered credible.

But can we say that all the sources of information considered credible by people 2000 years back were gave out only unscientific facts and all the sources considered credible in 21st Century give out pure scientific information? There were great scientists born centuries before Copernicus and Galileo established scientifically that the earth is spherical rather than flat. Can we say that they were superstitious because they believed that earth is flat?

I think label of superstition is appropriate only for the behaviour of people who who refuse to give up their old beliefs even when sufficient evidence to the contrary is available with them. If we accept, this view of superstition, then science has not banished it. It is in the nature of humans to to resist change and new ideas, and people today are as resistant to new ideas as they were thousands of years ago.

jillyfish's profile pic

jillyfish | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Science has not completely banished superstition from society because not all of society is scientifically educated, but science has removed a lot of superstition and will continue to do so.

What do we mean by 'superstition'? I guess we mean 'false beliefs' or belief in things that aren't real. For example belief in bad luck, or lucky charms or goblins or fortune tellers etc. Very few people believe in Goblins now, but plenty of people still believe in ghosts and fortune tellers, which is folkish, superstitious belief.

Basically science can destroy superstition thanks to Sceintific Method. SM is the rulebook for science. If you said 'Ghosts are scientifically provable' you would need to write a scientific report with details of your experiments and your measurable, repeatable evidence to support your claim of ghosts. Then other scientists can read and test your report and the entire scientific community can check your claims. They would use 'scientific method' to see if your report is right or not.

All the current 'proof' for ghosts (blurry photos, people who say they've seen them etc) fail to meet the strict requirements of Scientific Method and so cannot be considered scientific evidence. Nobody has ever produced a satisfactory science report on Ghosts because ghosts are a superstitious fantasy with no real, firm evidence.

An example of a currently held superstition that science can banish: Horoscopes - the belief that the stars can reveal your destiny.

Horoscopes are as old as history. Ancient people believed they were the centre of the universe and the stars went round the Earth. They had no idea how incredibly big or old the universe is and they thought that Earth and Humans were the most important things in it. They had no idea what stars are so they decided they were codes and messages, God's secrets etc. and they created a system of predictions called Astrology.

Modern Astronomy rips Astrological beliefs apart, making them look extremely childish. We now know the universe is not our 'backyard' with the Earth at the centre. Very very far from it. The Stars do not know you exist nor are do they describe each person's future. To believe they do is palpable superstitious nonsense.

So, to answer your question, Nikolai Copernicus's astronomical discoveries were first published in 1543. His work began a series of scientific advances that increased our understanding of the universe and radically reduced humanity's belief in superstition, not least, the pseudo-scientific superstition of Astrology.

jillyfish's profile pic

jillyfish | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Scientists are as subject to ideas like "These are my lucky socks" as anyone else.

@Hi1954. I really disagree with your statement, politely though obviously :-)

There are, I suppose, scientists who display illogical, emotional thinking. But as a group, if we look at the impact of professional scientists on society and compare them to professional superstitious people (fortune tellers, mediums etc) then I'm surescientists will be infinitely more rational than the mediums. And scientists can claim far more than just 'shaky theories they believe to be true'. Scientists have indisputable technological advances based on their work.

Everything from the mobile phone, the heart transplant, day-glo mice, the automobile, the silicon chip, aspirin, the large hadron collider, vulcanised rubber, space-probes, nuclear power, the CD, geo-stationary satellites,  everything confirms that scientists are not working from ambiguous theories.

Scientists have sent probes to the outer planets by accelerating them 'slingshot' style round the Earth and Moon before flicking them off to their faraway destination. Apparently getting a probe to Mars needs the same level of accuracy as a 25 mile golf shot where the ball flies straight into the hole. And they get it right. That is not thanks to 'fingers crossed' and 'lucky socks'. That is not just a theory. It is 100% provable, rational sceintific genius. 

You said...

Opinions and emotional attachment to our favorite ideas and superstitions are as rampant in science as in any other field of human endeavor.

I disagree most strongly. While scientists are as vulnerable to emotional attachment to their own ideas as anyone else, science demands cold, rational, unemotional PROOF. That is the point of scientific method, it removes biased human emotions from the equation. Science says, "what you think is very interesting, now go away, and come back when you can prove it." Scientists work with evidence. Of course, at the cutting edge of science there is uncertainty and dispute, but the fruit of science's labours is incontravertable evidence that science has the ability to find the true nature of our environment. Science is demonstrably not the victim of wooly superstition.

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