I've been seeing this word here a lot, and I'm puzzled as to what it means. It gets used in a lot of contexts, about a lot of things, and seems to be a fairly relative concept.
I was trolling though the British Museum yesterday and I noticed a line concerning ancient Greek medicine; that it was "a mixture of science and superstition." This made little sense to me, as clearly the scientific method didn't exist in any real way when Greek medicine was invented, and it seemed to me that the medicine that worked ("science") was discovered by the same minds and in the same fashion as the medicine that didn't ("superstition"), so where does one become the other? Alechemy is superstition, and yet the alchemists managed to discover phosphorous, antimony and any number of alloys. Again, when does the superstition become the science?
I'm reminded of all those old witches' plants (poppies, mandrakes, willow bark) that the superstitious masses had been taking for years, only for scientists to realise in the 19th century that they actually had medicinal properties. Put them in pills, call them morphine, atropine and aspirin and suddenly they're not superstitious anymore. It's a bit like Terry Pratchett's definition of discovery: simply living on an isolated island for a hundred generations doesn't qualify as discovering it; your land has to be seen by someone who matters.
Perhaps it is in the discoveries made, but in the mindset of the discoverer. Science is in many ways a state of mind. However, if superstition is defined in this context as "unscientific thinking" then where does that leave the study of unprovable concepts such as ethics, love, or truth? Even science has these brick walls; at some point we may come across a series of equations that unite the theories of quantum and relativistic physics into a nice, comfortable whole. But we will never be able to prove that the equation is an accurate picture of reality, because we only have one universe and no way to conduct experiment. If such equations are devised, accepting them will be a matter of faith, rather than reason. When would that become superstition?