Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science

Robert L. Park
Copyright Date: 2008
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    From uttering a prayer before boarding a plane, to exploring past lives through hypnosis, has superstition become pervasive in contemporary culture? Robert Park, the best-selling author ofVoodoo Science, argues that it has. InSuperstition, Park asks why people persist in superstitious convictions long after science has shown them to be ill-founded. He takes on supernatural beliefs from religion and the afterlife to New Age spiritualism and faith-based medical claims. He examines recent controversies and concludes that science is the only way we have of understanding the world.

    Park sides with the forces of reason in a world of continuing and, he fears, increasing superstition. Chapter by chapter, he explains how people too easily mistake pseudoscience for science. He discusses parapsychology, homeopathy, and acupuncture; he questions the existence of souls, the foundations of intelligent design, and the power of prayer; he asks for evidence of reincarnation and astral projections; and he challenges the idea of heaven. Throughout, he demonstrates how people's blind faith, and their confidence in suspect phenomena and remedies, are manipulated for political ends. Park shows that science prevails when people stop fooling themselves.

    Compelling and precise,Superstitiontakes no hostages in its quest to provoke. In shedding light on some very sensitive--and Park would say scientifically dubious--issues, the book is sure to spark discussion and controversy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2877-7
    Subjects: Religion, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.2
  3. INTRODUCTION: Lessons from a tree
    (pp. vii-x)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.3

    Almost a year had passed since the tree had fallen, but it was not hard to find. A large red oak almost three feet in diameter, its roots had pulled out of the soft ground on the steep slope of the ravine after a week of heavy rain. It hit the ground with such impact that the heavy trunk snapped in two. The broken end of the trunk still pointed straight down the slope, reaching almost to the edge of the trail. The rest had been cut up and carted off to clear the trail. I had imagined that seeing...

  4. CHAPTER ONE A BIGGER PRIZE In which we discover scientists of faith
    (pp. 1-22)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.4

    Emerging from the limousine, Charles Townes might have paused for just a moment if his eyes, still sharp at eighty-nine, had caught the characteristic flutter of a butterfly’s wings. Years of butterfly collecting trains the eye and the brain to pick out that distinctive movement among the clutter of images carried by the optic nerve—and Townes had collected butterflies since he was a schoolboy in South Carolina. It was early spring in London and it would not be surprising if a Camberwell beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) had sought a perch on the west face of Buckingham Palace, where it could...

  5. CHAPTER TWO THE SECRET OF LIFE In which Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection survives
    (pp. 23-55)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.5

    Sarah Tishkoff, a young molecular anthropologist at the University of Maryland, believed the out-of-Africa migration ofHomo sapienscould be tracked by looking for their footprints in the DNA of living humans. It was such a great idea that with funding from a variety of sources, she soon found herself heading an international team of geneticists collecting and analyzing blood samples from populations around the world.

    She must also have an adventurous streak. She covered Africa, where modern humans are thought to have originated. It meant driving a Land Rover over hundreds of miles of primitive roads through remote areas...

  6. CHAPTER THREE MIRACLE AT COLUMBIA In which both sides pray for victory
    (pp. 56-78)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.6

    President George W. Bush proclaimed a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance to honor the memory of the thousands of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack and to comfort those who lost loved ones. His proclamation included the gentle promise of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Americans mourned, but there was little comfort. While we grieved for the victims, prayers of thanks were being offered in parts of the world where the terrorists were hailed as martyrs. It was the darkest of all Septembers.

    People speak...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR GIVING UP THE GHOST In which we search for the soul
    (pp. 79-92)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.7

    Her job description called for her to be a “champion for women’s health,” and for the five years Dr. Susan Wood served as the head of the Office of Women’s Health at the Food and Drug Administration, she was a true champion. In 2005, however, Dr. Wood felt compelled to resign to protest FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford’s decision not to approve the emergency contraceptive “Plan B,” for over-the-counter sales. The FDA’s own scientific advisory panel had overwhelmingly recommended approval.

    Since becoming available in the early 1960s, oral contraceptives, fondly called “the pill,” have opened doors that had remained shut to...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE THE SILENT ARMY In which we search for an afterlife
    (pp. 93-103)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.8

    The grey figures of the life-size terra-cotta warriors seem to swallow up the artificial light beneath the huge dome that covers the excavation. They stand there in the gloom, column after column in battle formation, weapons in hand. Seeing them for the first time, you find yourself speaking in the hushed tones people use at funerals, but the funeral was 2,200 years ago. The army was assembled to guard the first emperor of all China in the afterlife.

    The Chinese have a tragic history of granting too much power to their leaders, and Qin Shi Huang’s power was absolute. The...

  9. CHAPTER SIX THE TSUNAMI GOD In which the innocent suffer
    (pp. 104-115)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.9

    In North America it was Christmas day. On the other side of the world in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, it was the morning of December 26, 2004. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful land. Children played on the beach, mothers prepared breakfast, fisherman set out in their boats. When the ground shook, people rushed outside to look and to call their children, but there was no significant damage, and they soon went on with their day. A few people who happened to look westward over the Indian Ocean, however, noticed a strange line stretching along the horizon.

    When the...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN THE NEW AGE In which anything goes
    (pp. 116-128)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.10

    Adam Dreamhealer became a millionaire before his twentieth birthday. A college student, whose real name is kept secret to protect his privacy, Adam is the author of several profitable books, and his “seminars” in a five-hundred-seat auditorium are sold out weeks in advance. Adam describes himself as an “energy-healer.” On stage he goes into a trance-like state in which he projects his mind into the bodies of cancer victims to “see” their cancer. Without touching them, Adam eliminates their cancer using only the power of his mind. He calls the technique “quantum-holography.”

    He will also treat people privately—even if...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT SCHRÖDINGER’S GRAVE In which quantum mysticism is found to be superstition
    (pp. 129-141)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.11

    For twenty-eight years, the cramped little laboratory in the basement of an engineering building on the Princeton University campus was famous around the world for rigorous scientific studies of the influence of human consciousness on machines. On February 10, 2007, however, Robert G. Jahn, founder of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory, abruptly announced that the lab would close its doors forever at the end of the month.

    At seventy-six, Jahn had been a Princeton man for his entire adult life. An exceptional student in the class of 1951, he graduated with highest honors in engineering physics. He once described...

  12. CHAPTER NINE THE BARBARY DUCK In which the body heals itself
    (pp. 142-160)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.12

    As the flu season approached in the fall of 2004, the media, as they do each year, ran stories about the terrible flu pandemic of 1918 that killed 100 million people worldwide. The stories were accompanied by warnings from public health officials that it could happen again. The warnings are an annual ritual aimed at motivating the public to get their flu shots. There were troubling signs, however, that in 2004–2005 flu might be unusually severe.

    Although it contributes to the death of thousands of humans every year, influenza is primarily a disease of birds. The flu virus mutates...

  13. CHAPTER TEN THE DEER In which the placebo effect is explained
    (pp. 161-187)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.13

    The ambulance crew eased me from the stretcher onto a rented hospital bed. My wife had it set up in the dining room beside two large windows to give me a view into the woods that come up to the back of the house. Since I had last seen the woods, the season had changed from summer to winter. In winter, without the dense screen of foliage, you become much more aware of the animal life. Movements of birds and squirrels on the bare branches of tall oaks and beech could be seen deep into the woods. Beneath the tall...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN THE MORAL LAW In which we instinctively know right from wrong
    (pp. 188-201)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.14

    The red granite dome of the Texas capitol still reflected the rays of the setting sun while the rest of Austin was already in the shadows. It was an inspiring view from the high cab of the truck as we crossed over the Colorado River on Congress Avenue. The avenue ran straight through the downtown business district and up to the capitol atop the highest point in Austin. At nineteen, I had never seen a building that big or that grand.

    The driver stopped to let me out when the truck route turned off about halfway up the hill, and...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE THE LAST BUTTERFLY In which there is no place else to go
    (pp. 202-216)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.15

    I walked barefoot down the gravel lane through citrus groves sagging with almost-ripe fruit to my grandparents’ farm. Both sides of the road were lined with graceful palm trees—except where it passed Mr. Woods’s place. Without the palms he could plant another row of grapefruit trees. “How much fruit do them palm trees produce?” he would snort.

    As always, the flowering shrubs in my grandparents’ yard had attracted clouds of butterflies. My brother and I once counted fifteen species of butterflies fluttering around a single bush. The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas was the northernmost range of many...

    (pp. 217-220)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.16
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 221-230)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7pg32.17