Science and Superstition – The 21 Real-Life Conflicts Between These Two

By: Katherine Abraham

By: Katherine Abraham

Have you ever heard of any superstitious beliefs?

Do you believe in any?

Do you think that science and superstition ever coincide?

Well, it is a fact that superstition is everywhere!

Across the world, superstition has infiltrated numbers, objects, actions and even religious teachings. On the other hand, science opens doors to realities that superstitions once shut.

In this episode, we will explore the longstanding rivalry between science and superstition.

Science Defined!

Science define

Science has existed since the world’s beginning.

The Science Council defines science as the quest and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world using a systematic method based on evidence. (sciencecouncil.org)

Science is the foundation of all engineering and technology, along with mathematics.

Superstition, on the Other Hand...

The definition of superstition, according to the dictionary, is fascinating. It is a belief or practice stemming from ignorance or fear of the unknown. It may also result from a false conception of causation or trust in magic or chance.

Superstitious beliefs are mostly associated with luck and fate. It was popular back in ancient times before science was formally established.

Absurd and bizarre it may be, but superstition continues to thrive in this modern advanced world. This is thanks, in part, to the many celebrities and popular icons who still patronize it!

21 Real-Life Conflicts Between
Science and Superstition

science and luck

In this context, we will be looking at 21 real-life conflicts between these two.

Feel free to render your comments at the end of this article, should you find anything lacking, overwhelming or just want to contribute your thoughts.

1 – What superstition makes fearful, science makes safe!

The dreadful number and day…

There are many cases where superstition causes fear, one of which is the fear of the number thirteen. This well-known superstition has had a worldwide influence on architectural designs of buildings, commercial transactions and even day to day activities.

This fear, in particular, stems from when the thirteenth day of a month coincides with a Friday. This deadly combination was instigated by an American soldier, Captain William Fowler, during the late 1800s. Thomas William Lawson added fuel to the fire in his 1907 novel ‘Friday the 13th’

Today, many people are still driven by such fear. They choose to remain cautious throughout the day holding off, as far as possible, any activities until that fearful Friday has past. 

The reality about this…

Ironically, a 2008 study by the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics disagreed with this claim of bad luck. They reported that on this particular Friday 13, fewer traffic accidents occured than on other Fridays. It also revealed that cases of fire and theft had declined. Perhaps this was due to the more cautious behaviour of people!

The media outfit Vox, who produce studies by German and Finnish researchers, published that accidents and hospital admissions were no different, and even the stock market performed slightly better on average, than when compared to other dates.

Thus, “the constant paranoia” created by superstition has been scientifically proven as safe or of no effect at all.

2 – Where superstition wrongfully accuses, science points to the real culprit.

Ignoring Evidence or Seeking Hard Facts?
Superstition and science always clash when it comes to hard facts. The former ignores evidence. It focuses only on the result rather than applying rational investigation. 

The Black Death that spanned Europe and Asia during the 1300s was history’s worst pandemic. The WHO estimates there were at least 50 million victims in Europe alone. 

University of Glasgow Professor Samuel Cohn revealed that the fleas on rats were carriers of the bacteria that caused this plague.

Europe in the 14th century had practically eradicated cats on the pretext that they were agents of the devil. This reaction against felines had resulted in the increased population of rats. 

Look at what can happen with limited knowledge and the heavy influence of irrational superstition. Lives were lost!

3 – Superstition is hearsay. Science creates tools to see reality.

The scientist who proved superstitions wrong…

Thanks to Galileo, every child knows that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. Greek astronomer Eudoxus first formulated the earth-centered theory as early as 380 BC. Subsequently, astronomers such as Ptolemy concurred. 

The geocentric theory was primarily based on a visual interpretation of heavenly bodies compared to the stability of the earth. This firm belief came close to superstition. 

The astronomer Nicolas Copernicus laid out the mathematical calculations but Galileo’s invention of the telescope in the 1600s finally sealed the argument. The earth-centered theory was debunked. 

Technology scales the vast difference between superstition and science. Science uses technology to open the reality behind what is perceived by the senses. In so doing, it makes mere superstition hearsay.

4 – Darkness: What superstition and science have to say about this?

Do you trim your nails at night? Superstition says you should not!

The conflict between science and superstition covers light and darkness to some extent. Anything dark has a superstitious connotation that it will lead to bad luck. Science sees darkness as merely the absence of light. 

Popular superstitions in India, Turkey and South Korea forbid the trimming of nails at night because doing so may shorten your life.

The truth is…

Since classical blades were made using a raw-steel refinement process, as opposed to today’s finer finishes, the trimming of nails at night could lead to accidentally cutting the flesh. However, it is the bacteria residing in the rust that posed a potential danger. 

If only people would take advantage of adequate lighting and practice good hygiene when trimming their nails, bad luck would be a far cry. All it takes is science-inspired lighting.

Cheng-Chi Lee studied circadian rhythms at the University of Texas Medical School. He related one remarkable experiment in 2013 which showed that a period of complete darkness could help restore bad eyesight. What a stark contrast to the bad-luck, darkness-inspired superstitions! 

5 – These two are oceans apart when it comes to sound reason! 

What should you do after a sneeze?

With superstition luck matters, whether good or bad. Science substantiates this as clearly as it is possible to do so. 

A common superstition is that we should say “Bless you” when one sneezes. This very normal reaction dates back at least as far as the sixth-century in Europe. One theory is that it became a reaction to sneezing when the plague raged. Another reflects a belief that the soul departs the body during a sneeze. 

Folklore librarian at the Washington Post, Moira Smith, describes how the soul was believed to escape the body when dreaming or even yawning, and could not return if sneezing occurred. 

The truth about sneezing.

Tim Mynes, a physician in emergency medicine at MedExpress Urgent Care in Virginia, thinks otherwise. Sneezing is a simple involuntary release of air. It aids the body to expel irritants (like allergens, dirt and dust) from the nose and throat. 

Sneezing expels harmful bacteria from the body. 

It might be absurd to think of this superstition as bringing “good luck” but, oddly enough, the scientific explanation for sneezing agrees in this sense.

6 – Superstition, science and anxiety. 

Beginner’s luck: frankly superstitious or truly factual?

Science seeks a remedy to ease, if not eliminate, problems. Superstition adds weight to stress levels due to unknown fear.

Beginner’s luck is a superstitious belief in the notion that a novice wins at the first attempt. 

There are no accurate statistics to prove this point. Quite possibly, the “unstressed” mind of a novice may be a contributing factor. The belief that they are likely to fail may lead to a degree of relaxation.

What science has to say about beginner’s luck.

A study by Dr. Kaufer from the University of California, found that good stress improved cognitive function. 

Creating a new game in the form of an adventure or challenge develops good stress resulting in more useful mental function. 

Beginner’s luck is simply a relaxed mind winning over the anxiety caused by superstition.

7 – Where superstition favours the senses, science looks at the benefits.

Eating curd and sugar brings good luck. Ooops… that’s according to one superstition!

These two beliefs have different interpretations of good taste. While both share sentiments on literal taste, science goes further into the details. 

A famous Indian superstition states that eating curd and sugar before heading out brings good luck.

Science explains the benefits of eating curd and sugar…

Indian nutritionist Karishma Chawla states that curd is a good source of probiotics, which are beneficial for digestion as well as immunity. Sugar is a source of energy and glucose is an essential requirement.

Eating curd and sugar may energize a person, but science debunks the theory that the nutritional value of sugar maintains health. It’s more about the promise that it will provide energy to fuel our daily activities. 

8 – In some instances, science and superstition agree! 

Why should you avoid falling lizards?

In some cases, both agree on the outcome of an event. 

For instance, Indian superstition says that if a lizard falls on you it’s bad luck.

Science explains why…

The New York Health Department warns of the danger of salmonella from lizards or frogs. Lizards that dwell on the walls and roofs of buildings may come into contact with humans. The potential risk of bacterial transmission on contact can cause adverse health effects, especially in children.

It is easy for superstition to claim bad luck for our ills. But science reasons the actual source of health hazards.

9 – One practice, different perspectives!

Bathing: An odd instance where the two thoughts agree!

An Indian superstition recommends bathing after attending a funeral. This seems to be a good hygiene practice. However, it’s important to note that the extensive protocols on preparing the dead today are far removed from those rituals of ancient times.

The spread of bacteria was more likely in those days when vaccinations were not readily available. At least the Indians were smart enough to think that bathing was an effective deterrent. Their superstition may well have saved them from the devastating effects of bacteria-borne disease when science was well out of reach. 

10 – Why looks matter. The do’s and don’ts according to science and superstition!

Ugliness is next to misfortune—according to superstition.

Anything “awful-looking” is often associated with bad luck, according to superstition. Bats, lizards and black cats were considered strange-looking creatures and all too-easily blamed for many of the world’s misfortunes.

Bats are considered a bad omen in India, especially if they enter a house. Science says that the bacteria carried by these creatures is the real danger, not the bats themselves.

Why we shouldn’t discriminate according to looks…

On a positive note, bats are beneficial to the environment. They aid in the pollination of plants and their manure is an excellent organic fertilizer. The US National Park Service estimates $3.7 billion in pest control is saved due to insectivorous bats. 

As a harbinger of evil omens, bats are an example of how science and superstition differently view “awful” creatures. Science does not discriminate based on looks alone but goes further into the details. It certainly doesn’t make outright judgments. 

11 – Methods applied to superstitions are rebuked by science as absurd. 

Wistful wishing: why do we throw coins in fountains or rivers?

Indians (as well as many other nationalities) believe that throwing coins into fountains or rivers brings good luck. 

Modern theme parks today contain wishing wells in support of this belief. Most coins in ancient times were made from copper. 

Contrary thinking: why should we not do so?

Shimaa Shahin’s research at Mansoura University showed that the antimicrobial properties of copper make it an effective water-treatment agent. He did not merely throw copper coins into water but undertook a thorough study. The process involved the use of a wide variety of chemicals and machinery. 

The excessive amount of copper coins thrown into rivers by believers had actually polluted them rather than serving to “cleanse”. The superstition of bringing good luck has become nonsense.

12 – Science sees what superstition finds invisible.

The senses limit superstition.

Superstition and science have different sight lines. While superstition is limited to the senses, science sees the invisible components of gases.

The Indian superstition that ghosts reside in peepal trees reveals how superstition is limited to the senses and aided by fear. 

Looking beyond what is perceived—that’s what science does!

Peepal trees actually take up immense quantities of carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide inhaled by people poses a health hazard, affecting the heart and nervous system. 

The adverse effects of carbon dioxide poisoning may have caused the strange, ghost-like behaviour of those affected. The peepal trees, on the contrary, are hugely beneficial to the population. 

13 – Superstition believes luck equals success; science calibrates the mindset.

Success is motivated by luck, according to superstition.

When it comes to learning about motivation, superstition and science work quite differently. Superstition employs lucky charms to aid motivation in order to accomplish something. 

Lucky charms form a control illusion for the superstitious person. Psychologist Stuart Vyse, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, confirms this. 

There is power in positive thinking according to science.

A study in 2010 concurs. A group of students in a soccer game were persuaded to think that the ball they used was “lucky”. This thinking caused them to outperform the students who used a regular ball.

Science uses an objective set of actions coming off a recalibrated mindset. The power of positive thinking recondition the mind towards better performance. This right thinking provokes better activity and best results.

14 – The two battle more than agree in some health practices.

Do not wash your hands after working or else…

There is a famous Filipino health superstition that forbids the washing of hands after extensive labor. Violation leads to unsteady hands or “pasma.” 

Health experts disagree. Shaky hands are only one of the underlying symptoms of diabetes, thyroid disease and nervous dysfunction, to name a few.

Hear ye, according to science! 

There is no more significant way to debunk this claim than to take a look at soldiers. Special forces like the Navy Seals and Marines undergo grueling training that exposes them to extreme heat and cold on a regular basis. Yet they display excellent marksmanship and superior shooting skills, something spasmodic hands could never achieve. 

15 – Superstitious healing power is what science calls a placebo effect.

The edge of quack healing

Superstition in healing is leading the way in some locations. It has the edge because it is sometimes more easily accessible when compared to science.

Rural communities often resort to quack-healing remedies, rather than competent physicians when it comes to health problems. 

Access to professional healthcare in rural areas is a problem, not to mention the distance between towns and transportation modes available. This widens the gap between these two perceptions. 

The placebo effect explained!

Interestingly, many people claim to have been “healed” by medical quackery. Health professionals call this the placebo effect. 

According to Fabrizio Benedetti, a placebo research pioneer, there is not just one placebo effect. In fact there are many.

What does a placebo do? It may serve as a painkiller to trigger the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. People think that magical healing has resulted through the use of rituals or enchantments. The healing is more likely to have been caused psychologically by the body’s natural pain killers or immune system.

In summary, while superstition offers “first aid,” it is the inner working of science that finishes the job.

16 – Superstition quickly makes moral judgments; science lays facts.

Concluding hastily, or slowly but surely?
One thing easily noticeable about superstition is that it can come to outright conclusions or make hasty moral judgments. Science barely makes judgments at all but lays a lot of hypotheses based on readily-available information. 

The two views are extensively at odds with each other when it comes to conclusions.

Would breaking a mirror really cause seven years of bad luck?

According to many countries around the world, there is a superstition that  seven-year bad luck awaits anyone who breaks a mirror. Apart from being injured by the shards of glass, avoiding bad luck is relatively safe as far as science is concerned.

This superstition cannot confront science directly since no theory can relate a broken mirror with luck. 

Science cannot jump to conclusions for all phenomena, no matter how simple or challenging. 

17 – Taking into account genetics (superstition vs. science)

Genetics: what superstition fails to consider!  

A pregnant woman who likes ugly things will make her baby look like that thing. 

Medical experts have long countered this claim. Yet many women still fear to stay near anything “ugly” even if it’s beneficial for them. 

Some people believe that a person affected by elephantiasis was conceived by a mother who either loved or hated elephants. Others would say that someone in the family may have wronged somebody, explaining the “curse”.

The folklore stories keep being passed on like a strand of DNA.

Ironically, superstition has no genetic component. But its “folklore stories” keep being passed down, even today. 

Science has long established the genetics to explain the heredity of offspring. But superstition also has its version of “traits” based on resemblance to nature or wildlife.

18 – Ironically, science and superstition coexist in some cultures.

Being superstitious doesn’t mean disposing of science.

According to Haruna Akiyama of Times Japan, black cats are considered good luck. In contrast, other cultures perceive they bring bad luck. 

The sheer size of Japan’s economy and its high standard of living is entirely attributed to its people. While the Japanese are superstitious, they are also considered to be one of the most technologically-advanced countries globally.

Realities like this only prove how superstition and science can ironically coexist in some cultures.

19 – Superstition and some scientific events.

Some scientific phenomena are explained by superstition.

There are scientific phenomena that are associated with superstition on the grounds of coincidence with an unfortunate event.

Comets were considered to be the bearers of bad omen right up to the 16th century  and maybe more recently in some cultures. Much of humanity failed to welcome the appearance of comets, believing that war and tragedy would inevitably follow these rare sightings. 

Science explains that superstitions have nothing to do with bad omen.

Robert Kohlenberg, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington,explains why comets were always associated with bad omen. This was because mankind had no means of determining their existence or collecting any information. The comets were basically out of reach and control. 

Science and superstition began to diverge during the onset of space exploration. Astronomy replaced superstitiously-backed astrology in understanding fundamental celestial behavior.

20 – Superstition and science are poles apart when it comes to problem solving.

Irrational thinking is replaced by sound decision making.

Superstitious people rely on chants, rituals and lucky charms to give them positive outcomes. When the probability of bad luck is high, a long, tedious task is set to counter and overturn the looming disaster. 

By today’s “millennial” standards, one might appear ridiculous if driven by anxiety and sound decision-making is replaced with irrational thinking.

Scientific process: a determiner of what is factual or false.

Sir Francis Bacon laid out the scientific process of solving problems that applies to science and practical living to answer the complicated speculative-based approach.

In such a manner, reactions to events are proactive and calculated, making the result more realistic.

21 – Superstition is relative; science is objective

Theories are the result of proven processes…

While both use the primary senses, science goes further into the rigorous study to formulate an academic theory. 

The application of these theories is what makes ease of living possible. 

These theories even eliminate absurd superstitions and solve problems that were once conceived to be supernatural, beyond human control. 

Superstition is based on luck, while science is a result of discipline.

Many athletes have a unique routine to bring them luck. These superstitious behaviours include their clothing, their food and even their schedule. 

Published research entitled “Hard Work Beats Talent Until Talent Decides to Work Hard” proves that lucky charms have nothing to do with performance.

In this study, sports scientists helped athletes to apply theories and techniques in order to boost muscle memory and optimize performance through appropriate training. 

Unlike superstition that quickly judges the external appearance, science simulates real-time scenarios using scientific theories and precise calculations. 

Is There an End to this Conflict Between Science and Superstition?

Superstition fails to reach obsolescence despite its centuries-old existence.

But why do so many people still cling to superstitions despite unfounded claims or reliable data disproving it?

Faith: The Final Arbiter Between Science and Superstition

faith over science and superstition

These queries all lead to one’s faith.

When Jesus was on earth, He denounced anything associated with evil practice and paganism. His miracles demonstrated His power to be beyond the reach of any scientific knowledge or mathematical calculations.

Luck has never been part of God’s vocabulary. For the wisdom of man is folly to God. Albeit that science has authority over any superstition, faith in God is the only ultimate answer to man’s endless needs and questions.

So, do you have any superstitious beliefs that have affected your way of living? Have you tried scientific methods? How about faith in God?

Let us know your thoughts about this topic and share them with us in the comment section!

Do you like what you read? Tune in to Chasing hope podcasts and blogs for more amazing facts and exclusive contents.

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