Science in technical terms is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. If we consider Aristotle as the first person on record in this world with major contributions to science, then according to him Science refers to the body of reliable knowledge itself, of the type that can be logically and rationally explained. So that means if we can define something that is logical and that appeal to the reasoning then it can be considered as science. Then why we don’t consider ‘supernatural’ and ‘superstition’ as a part of science? Or is it that superstition instead of being a subset of science is indeed appearing to a superset of science? So let’s know something about superstition before entering into the main topic of discussion.
Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events. Now we have a definition for superstition. But what about the supernatural that it is talking of? Supernatural is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature. Superstition and supernatural are terms that are in use even before the use of the word ‘science’. But then with the advent of time science started annexing the territories of superstition and supernaturalism.
In the ancient times the production of fire by brushing two stones was considered as a supernatural event where the God of Fire bestowed his blessing to people for their good work. Then some scientist invented the cause of sparkling and the grace of supernatural was converted into a simple mechanism of friction. Millions and millions of such supernatural or superstitious believes were proved by the means of science. But then the question that arises “is science superior to superstition?” Science proved that the waves in the sea are high during full-moon and new moon days are not because of the anger of God of Rain but because of the lunar and solar pulls. We confidently say that radio-waves are heard because of the vibrations produced but are we not forgetting that Madam Curie’s this discovery was also considered a superstition for a long time. The point that the writer wants to make here is science is not different from superstition. There is a very thin line of difference between the two. If you believe then it is science if you don’t believe it is superstition.
The question that needs to be answered now is whether superstition is a challenge for science or not? If this question would have been asked in the centuries before 18th century then probably the answer would have been “there is no science above superstition or supernatural. Science itself is a superstition” Now if we come to post 18th century period one would say science is a challenge for superstition and not vice-versa. But in that case the people who say this should be aware that just by saying superstition is absurd superstition doesn’t become one. European folk’s belief fell under the definition of superstition inasmuch as it contrasted with Christian theology and liturgy. With the development of folklore studies in the late 18th century, use of the derogatory term superstition was sometimes replaced by the neutral term “folk belief”. Both terms remain in use; thus, describing a practice such as the crossing fingers to nullify a promise as “folk belief” implies a neutral description from the perspective of ethnology or folklore studies, while calling the same thing a “superstition” implies its rejection as irrational.
This is the dilemma which the people of post 18th century are facing. Science is not allowing superstition to take its place in peoples mind but superstition is entering their minds in some other name. So the definite responsibility that lies on us of the 21st century is to take a step in resolving it. The science of this era is challenged by superstition not just in one two or three events but in many events. Even with so much of advancement in the field of science we have not been able to find out the actual cause of formation of the earth. The ‘Big-Bang’ theory is still not fully satisfying. This lacuna helps in fuelling the believe in superstition as anything that cannot be explained by existing laws of nature is supernatural and hence the formation of the earth is a supernatural event. Where science is claiming that with a seismometer it can predict about earthquakes and people can be saved from dying, unexpected earthquakes are occurring and deaths are happening. When science is claiming that it can make the people disease free there is some supernatural event that creates new diseases before it. AIDS is still an unconquered field; cancer is still not 100% curable, liver cirrhosis still terminates with death.
Science may tell that Down’s syndrome is because of trisomy21 but it cannot fully explain the cause of such a genetic disorder because of some hundreds of mutations. Those hundreds are not science as not all is observed, recorded and proved logically and rationally. Anything that is not logically proved is superstition. The very genesis of human being becomes more and more complex as science keeps going deeper into it. This supports the fact that there is some unique supernatural power that controls all this. If superstition is not a challenge for science then the world’s best surgeons won’t be praying before God for the safety of their patient before operating them. If superstition is not a challenge for science then no doctor will write a prescription starting with ‘Rx’i.e given in Thy or God’s name. Science itself is breeding a superstition that there is life outside earth and in such conditions it believes in the concept of UFO landing.
In civilizations’ mythology the stories of bravery of great warriors, Gods and Goddesses that are there are not just stories but they have some relationship with the prevailing war between science and superstition. Creating a clone was only in fictional stories until ‘Dolly-the sheep’ was born. Science took lot of appreciation for having created life after that but the joy was short-lived as the cloned sheep died young. The death of Dolly made the people more inclined towards believing in the existence of supernatural and that not all superstitions are vague. In 1948, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner published an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, in which he described his pigeons exhibiting what appeared to be superstitious behavior. This is called the partial reinforcement effect, and this has been used to explain superstitious behavior in humans. To be more precise, this effect means that, whenever an individual performs an action expecting a reinforcement, and none seems forthcoming, it actually creates a sense of persistence within the individual. This strongly parallels superstitious behavior in humans because the individual feels that, by continuing this action, reinforcement will happen; or that reinforcement has come at certain times in the past as a result of this action, although not all the time, but this may be one of those times.
Science until satisfies the human psycho that a particular event happened because of this and not merely due to any supernatural power then the side of superstition will always be heavier than science. The thin line of difference between science and superstition is a big threat to science as science will have to make the people walk a path less travelled every time it comes out with a new concept that challenges the superstitious believes. The path is very difficult as compared to the path of superstition, given trend of today’s people’s mentality anything fast is acceptable fast, no one has time or patience. In such a situation science that requires lots of patience is definitely challenged by superstitions. Whenever there is any defect in scientific objects like a rocket-malfunctioning or a ship-drowning or a medicine-not curing science and its spirit of advancement is challenged by superstitions like appearing of bad omens before travel, anger of God leading to natural disasters.
In India superstition is a part and partial of science. The diversity in culture, language and religion has made India a place of mixed diversity. Even today when a girl child is born in many places there is grief as it is considered to be a bad omen. Today when a black-cat crosses the road we consider it to be sign of danger and wait for someone else to cross the road before us. There are many tribes in the country whose method of treatment is totally against scientific factors but still they are practiced with successful results. Science has not been able to explain how a dip in Ganges cures may diseases or some ‘mannat’ before Gods and Goddesses makes unachievable works achievable. Where science is not able to justify that there is no supernatural power superstition prevailing since ages only strengthens the belief in the superpower. In India even today with so much advancement in science there is still famine, flood and cyclone that force the people to believe in superstitions and supernatural. Today in India every new born child is considered a gift of God and not just the fusion of sperms and ovum. People believe in God more than a doctor as a doctor cannot cure someone dying but prayers do give chance to live again. Superstitions like ‘lucky-pen’ ‘lucky-number’ ‘lucky color’ are having great significance in the society and cannot be eradicated so easily.
The roots of superstition are so deep in the civilization that no advancement can be free from the fear of being toppled by superstition. No matter how much we advance in the field of science somewhere someday and in some way the supernatural will make His presence felt. Then not only the word science or its advancements but also its very spirit of quest will be challenged by superstition. Hence what seems to be clear is that superstition is a challenge as well a catalyst for the spirit of advancement in science.