Our medieval ancestors’ practices were based on mistaken beliefs about how the laws of nature actually operates. If you and political authorities truly believe that witches cause disease, crop failures, sickness, moody partner, catastrophes, and accidents, then it is not only a rational act to burn witches, it is also a moral duty. But supernatural and religious description are bad explanations for what is natural and scientific.
Today we know that crops can fail due to disease. We study this through science of agronomy and etiology. Crops can fail due to insects – entomology and further control through chemistry. Bad weather we understand through meteorology. Ecologist and biologists can tell us why populations of fish rise and fall. Psychologists can explain why a wife might not be as responsive as her husband may wish (and vice versa). Statisticians can assess the rates of failure and misfortune – or as the bumper-sticker philosopher formulates it: Shit Happens.
Science debunked the witch theory of causality, as it has and continues to discredit other superstitious and religious ideas – mostly in the West. We refrain from burning women as witches not because our government prohibits it, but because we do not believe in witches and therefore the thought of incinerating someone for such practice never enters our minds. What was once a moral issue is now a nonissue. It has been pushed out of our consciousness by a naturalistic, science- and reason-based worldview. But it's not all rosy.
There are isolated pockets in Papua New Guinea, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Tanzania, Kenya or Sierra Leone where “witches” are still burned to death. A study from 2010 found that as many as 55 % in sub-Sahara Africa believe in witches. In the West we still have politicians that believe in “higher powers” – or they believe that the majority of their voters are religious.
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