But is Mencken right? The appeal of true scientific explanation generally does lie in its simplicity. There are obvious exceptions - the proof of the four colour theorem for example. But consider the explanation of an eclipse. That is pretty simple. The moon goes round the earth, the earth goes round the sun. The sun lights up the earth. Occasionally the moon gets in the way and casts a shadow. How simpler could it get? The theory that the eclipse is caused by a dragon crossing the sun, by contrast, requires a theory of dragons, and no theory of dragons - at least not one that gives a comprehensive treatment of them, including their metabolism, genetic structure etc - could be simple at all.
Or consider Augustine's explanation of why evil exists:
That the whole human race has been condemned in its first origin, this life itself, if life it is to be called, bears witness by the host of cruel ills with which it is filled. Is not this proved by the profound and dreadful ignorance which produces all the errors that enfold the children of Adam, and from which no man can be delivered without toil, pain, and fear? Is it not proved by his love of so many vain and hurtful things, which produces gnawing cares, disquiet, griefs, fears, wild joys, quarrels, lawsuits, wars, treasons, angers, hatreds, deceit, flattery, fraud, theft, robbery, perfidy, pride, ambition, envy, murders, parricides, cruelty, ferocity, wickedness, luxury, insolence, impudence, shamelessness, fornications, adulteries, incests, and the numberless uncleannesses and unnatural acts of both sexes, which it is shameful so much as to mention; sacrileges, heresies, blasphemies, perjuries, oppression of the innocent, calumnies, plots, falsehoods, false witnessings, unrighteous judgments, violent deeds, plunderings, and whatever similar wickedness has found its way into the lives of men, though it cannot find its way into the conception of pure minds? (City of God, Book 22 chapter 22)The explanation - that Adam and Eve offended God, and that these evils are a punishment - appears simple at first sight, just like the dragon explanation. But it is not, for it requires a theory of God, and also a theory of Paradise, which is problematic. Sociobiology could probably provide a simpler one (although I'm not sure it has, yet).
Superstition is not necessarily a simpler theory. So, what distinguishes superstition from science?