I recently came across a blog by Konrad Talmont-Kaminski, a university lecturer in Poland, in which he discusses the nature of superstition. As a psychiatrist with a keen interest in astrology and tarot, I am fascinated by this topic, especially because most scientists, without ever having investigated the subject, dismiss divination as “mere superstition” on the basis of their scientific belief system.
In his blog, Talmont-Kaminski begins with a definition from the Penguin Dictionary of Psychology which defines “superstition” as “any notion or belief held in the absence of what one not holding that notion or belief would consider to be adequate evidence to substantiate or support it sufficiently to maintain such belief.” This is a curiously circular definition. It would imply, for example, that the scientific belief that astrology is without merit is a superstition held by the scientific community because astrologers, who do not hold that notion, have sufficient evidence from their work with charts to substantiate an different view.
Take another example. A fundamentalist Christian who believes that the Bible is the literal word of God will believe that dinosaurs never existed and will feel that belief in a Jurassic period is a scientific superstition. Scientists will believe that any belief based on religion is superstition because there is no scientific evidence to support such beliefs.
If I hold a belief that you disagree with and you feel there is insufficient evidence to support it, then by definition you can call me superstitious. But if I disagree with you for the same reasons, then by definition I can regard you as superstitious. In the end, the word “superstitious” becomes simply a means of name-calling and disparaging those who have a different world view. The Inquisition executed those who did not share the orthodox view of the Church. The liberal use of the ambiguous word “superstitious” is evidence of similar intolerance.