Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Did science banished superstition?

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. "Why the 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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