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Dear Skeptic: An Open Letter To The James Randi Educational Foundation

posted by Matthew Currie

beliefnet astrology matthew currie james randi skepticDear JREF:

I really love some of the work that professional skeptics like you do. Your take-down of phony faith healer Peter Popoff was an absolute classic. There’s no question that there is good money to be made in fleecing the gullible and playing on their preconceptions, and that sort of thing is reprehensible. Well played, folks. It bothers me though that you at JREF claims that your “mission is to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today,” when your booklet entitled “Astrology: Superstition Or Science” is, to be honest with you, the biggest load of hogwash I’ve read in a long time… and I say this having recently read both The Institute for Creation Research web site and David Icke’s site lately, so you’re in some pretty hogwash-y company there. I wrote an entry here on Beliefnet called “Eight Things That Skeptics Of Astrology Don’t Get,” and I used your “Astrology: Superstition Or Science” as a primary source. A lot of astrologers will tell you that we as a profession shouldn’t even bother engaging skeptics: that ours is a spiritual practice that cannot be held to the same standards that, say, psychology or economics can be. Those astrologers will tell you that skeptics of astrology are simply naysaying for its own sake, or because being a skeptic is simply a comforting worldview where anything that doesn’t quite fit can be dismissed as unscientific nonsense, and that skeptics are skeptics as a comfort to themselves. I am not one of those astrologers. I tend to the skeptical myself about a lot of things, and just as there are a lot of smart and decent astrologers out there, there are also smart and decent skeptics who aren’t opposed to asking questions and looking for answers to Life’s Big Mysteries. You might be surprised to know that there was a time I dismissed astrology in much the same way you do now, but my experience and study led me to conclude that, crazy as it may sound, astrology actually works. This probably rubs you the wrong way, as it once did me (and still can on a bad day, despite the fact that astrology keeps working anyway despite my opinions). But one thing I’ve learned in life is that just because something doesn’t fit your worldview doesn’t make it untrue. That principle, it seems, is at the heart of what we call “science” and “rationalism”: whether what I propose sounds perfectly logical or completely insane to you, if I present my evidence and it holds up, then we have a basis upon which to discuss which of us may be wrong and which one may be right, and to what degree. If your mission is to promote critical thinking, frankly, you’ve done a terrible job of it with your “educational booklet” on the subject of astrology.  To be honest with you, it sets up so many Straw Men that it looks more like a Scarecrow Catalog than a Critical Thinking Text. It’s pretty obvious to me that in your attempt to debunk astrology, you didn’t make much of an effort to figure out what it was you were really debunking. I suppose it’s because James Randi is a stage magician — a job which is heavily dependent on deception — that the organization is so sensitive to the presence of “scams” everywhere. I understand that: I used to be an insurance adjuster, and I till tend to see things at times in terms of “assumed risk” and “force majeure” and so on. But I think you guys would be the first to agree that a firmly-entrenched world-view can lead a person to some incorrect conclusions, and I’m afraid that’s where you guys have ended up with your take on Astrology. So in a spirit of rational thinking, on tomorrow’s blog I’ll be presenting a detailed listing of the errors I found in your booklet. Please feel free to respond, or not. Either way, here’s to your continued success in keeping a high public profile, and may your fund-raising efforts continue unabated. Yours truly, Matthew Currie, Professional Astrologer Play along at home! Download the JREF booklet HERE and come back tomorrow!

PS: I admit I don’t know much about ESP Research or faith healing or fairies or dowsing, but my experience with your take on Astrology makes me really want to reconsider my stand on those too, and I never believed in fairies in the first place.

(Read on: here’s Part Two… Dear Skeptic: Please Curb Your Dogma)

(And hey… before you leave any comments about “The James Randi Million Dollar Challenge”… read THIS, okay?)

 



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  • http://matthewtheastrologer.com/ mcurrie

    Apparently, Anonymous, you didn’t catch these 24 words near the end:

    “So in a spirit of rational thinking, on tomorrow’s blog I’ll be presenting a detailed listing of the errors I found in your booklet.”

  • Anonymous

    How can you use so many words and not give one single reason for the reader to come around to your point of view?

  • http://matthewtheastrologer.com/ mcurrie

    Hey Matt… I saw your Google+ profile picture. Yep, there’s no way you could fall for a logical fallacy with a hat like THAT.

  • Anonymous

    How amusing that you praise him for exposing quacks, yet when it’s you that’s being exposed for the psuedo-scientific hogwash you present you get all insecure and upset.

  • tornadomatt@gmail.com

    Your header pic alone was worth the trip here. Douchey, disconnected from reality, laughable. After that, I just think “Please – make your serious, scientific argument.”

  • Anonymous

    Your header pic alone was worth the trip here. Douchey, disconnected from reality, laughable. After that, I just think “Please – make your serious, scientific argument.”

  • http://seriously? llr

    some of these people need to add some bran to their diets. The anger and venom that is spewing out of them left and right — and over what? the challenge to research something for themselves rather than hiding behind a flawed characterization?

    If nothing else, most of these comments have validated Matthew’s original point. You can pontificate and posture and thump your self-righteous chests all you want, but if you don’t even bother to look into what real astrology is (and what real astrologers do) you’re no more better off(and no more ‘scientific’) than the folks you take such pleasure in sneering at.

  • http://Astrologyworks? eug

    Astrology does not work for shit. We KNOW the time of the year when you were born (and hence the position of the stars) has no effect on your personality, criteria or character. We KNOW for a fact that people born on the same day, week or month do not necessarily share any personal traits. We KNOW horoscopes are expressed in such ambiguous terms that most people will feel related to them no matter what they say.. We KNOW the zodiac as commonly used by astrologers is wrong with respect to the actual positions of the stars and constellations. We know astrologers make money out of knowingly scamming people. That much we know, with evidence.

  • http://podcast.sceptici.ro/ Sceptic in Romania

    Skeptics merely require a systematically obtained proof to your claims (something that aspires to be as objective as possible). If you would be so kind and stop trying to tell people how they just ”don’t get it” and if you provided some evidence, you would have us all convinced.

    Also, I am very proud to see skeptics at work!

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  • Anonymous

    Can’t be held to the same standards as psychology or economics? If what you’re talking about is a real phenomenon it most certainly could and should be held to the same standards. ‘I believe so it must be true.’ An argument as old as the hills and still not worth a damn.

  • Michelle Araújo Silva

    As for the Million Dollar Challenge: If you believe astrology works then accept the fucking challenge. What you will have to lose if astrology is really genuine and it works? Nothing! Not only you will win a million dollars but you will also shut James Randi’s mouth! Wouldn’t you love that, Sylvia Browne (I guess I can call you that, right?)

    Unless you are afraid to lose your dignity when James Randi proves astrology is – as we skeptics already know – nothing but a scam/pseudoscience that still fools gullible people.

    >> “As far as providing proof that Astrology works…”

    Provide that instead of just sending a complaining letter saying “astrology works because it works because I believe it works”.

    What I usually see in people who claim to have psychic abilities such as reading minds, talking to dead, bending spoons and stop clocks, moving pages of phone books with their minds or those who claim that astrology, palm reading, reiki, radiesthesy, numerology, homeopathy, etc, are the real deal is that they put the blame on us skeptics for doubting their so-called special abilities. This is not only also a straw man but also ad hoc.

    You guys make up a lot – and I mean a loooot – of excuses to avoid the issue here: to prove yor ability or your method of divination is genuine. Since we both know you can’t do that, it’s easier and more comodist to put the blame on the skeptic than you to provide concrete evidences that prove astrology really works.

    After all, you can’t blame us for doubting the veracity of something – in that particular case, astrology – for not having evidences (concrete and verifiable) that proves that.

    Or you expect us to believe in that just because you – as professional astrologer – says astrology works? That’s not going to happen. We are not gullible to believe in that bullshit!

    Ps: Have you never stop to think – by using again your own words – that your firmly-entrenched worldview in favour of astrology can lead you to the incorrect conclusion that astrology is legit and really works?

    That just because astrology fits your worldview it doesn’t mean it’s true?

    >> “And so far I’m not seeing a whole lot of arguments against the actual points I presented.”

    Really? There are a lot of comments that goes to the points you presented! I myself used your own very words to refute your arguments.
    What happens is that you chose to ignore them…simple as that.

    And so far I didn’t see you provide any single evidence or argument – without a shadow of doubt – that supports your claim that astrology really works. Funny, isn’t?

  • http://Astrologyisgibberishandyouknowit. blair

    Stop conning people.

  • http://matthewtheastrologer.com/ mcurrie

    Hello everyone, and thank you — mostly — for your comments.

    Any further comments from me about this matter will appear in the Comments section for Part Two of this blog entry. However, I would mention that comments both here and there have been read and absorbed by me, and I have a few general responses.

    As for The Million Dollar Challenge: there are a few problems with that. Since that would take another very long blog entry which would take me even further from the scope of my blog here, and since even I can’t get away with posting a link in a comment here without ending up in the spam filter, I recommend you Google “The Myth of the Million Dollar Challenge” on a site called DailyGrail for a detailed look at the problems with the Challenge. It does a fairly through job of it… thorough enough that Randi himself felt the need to respond.

    As far as providing proof that Astrology works… whether your are a Total Believer or a Total Skeptic or anything in between, it should be obvious that’s beyond the scope of a single blog entry, here or anywhere else. My purpose was to point out that a non-profit organization is pitching a product claiming to encourage critical thinking skills in students, yet is based entirely on Straw Man arguments and untruths and snark, which seems a little… well, if not hypocritical, then at least painfully ironic. And so far I’m not seeing a whole lot of arguments against the actual points I presented.

    Finally, as for all the ad hominem stuff: Tsk. really? Is that the mouth you present logical arguments to your mother with? Such manners. Tsk again. As (I believe) Euclid said in the introduction to his Stoicheia: I’m rubber, and you’re glue.

  • John

    What a load of hokum!

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  • Anonymous

    I saw this on facebook and was prepared to read a bunch of comments from a bunch of new age apologists but I was wrong. the skeptical community is still alive and not just well but thriving! my hat is off to you

  • Anonymous

    Can we have a link to the writers blog attempting to debunk your arguments against astrology? When the writer says “my own experiences has shown me astrology actually works” it reminds me of a Christians argument a out prayer.. so the blog will probably be hilariously unscientific.

  • Anonymous

    The Million dollars is obviously yours

  • Chris B

    A skeptic is someone who desires a higher level of evidence to accept something as real and true. In fact, a skeptic is only asking for ONE good piece of evidence to prove something. For you, that one piece of evidence would bag you ONE MILLION DOLLARS to give to whichever charity you see fit. Not a pretend million dollars, this is a real, long-standing offer of one million real dollars if you can prove astrology works under controlled conditions. No more ‘open letters’, no more meaningless blatherings on the comics pages of every crappy newspaper in the world, just step up and prove you are not just another boring bag of wind droning on about childish made-up stuff. Do you have what it takes? Do you?

  • Anonymous

    Posso dimostrare che ogni essere Umano a minimo 3 Angeli Numerici che lo proteggono,li può vedere,toccare,e tutto si avvera se ce la loro presenza, e se non ci sono quelli che ci sono, sono portatori di messaggio…spero che mi date risposta …..pepelercara@gmail.com

  • Mark Waldron

    Well, I played along as requested in part 1 of the post, downloading and reading the resource from the JREF site, and tried to spot the errors that you had promised to reveal in part 2. When I couldn’t see any obvious errors, I followed your link to the post on “Eight Things That Skeptics of Astrology Don’t Get” in the hope of finding some clues, but all I found there were a series of refutations based on false equivalences, none of which seemed to address the points raised in the workbook.

    So it was with great interest that I began to read part 2 of your blog, in order to identify the errors I’d missed. However, it seems that what you meant by “errors” was in fact “points with which I disagree”. I don’t believe this is a valid use of the term. The basis of your objection to the points raised seems to be the same as the classic objection raised by Jim Carrey’s character in Liar Liar: “Because it’s devastating to my case.”

  • Anonymous

    Hi!

    I love to see you standing up for your beliefs! Did you know that Randi offers up one million dollars for someone like you who can prove the validity of things like astrology? You should contact JREF and relieve them of their cash!

  • Anonymous

    sorry, but astrology doesn’t work, that’s a fact.

  • george kaplan

    Placebos also “work” but that doesn’t mean they’re anything but placebos.

  • Anonymous

    evidently astrologers believe in many incredible things but they don’t believe in proof-reading.

  • Anonymous

    Prove it works in any meaningful way, and you’ll have me convinced. Proof is not an overly demanding thing to ask. I could write a piece about how other “ologies” work and back it up with lots of proof. Why should astrology get an exemption from this burden of proof?

  • Mike de Fleuriot

    Well you do know that there is one way that you can prove your position, and kick James Randi to the curb and the same time.

    Yup, just take the Million Dollar Challenge, oh Hell, I have just seen dozens of folk have just said the same thing. Go ahead, take the Challenge, I double dare you to prove your skill as being real

    If you do not do this, then we have the right to call you Slyvia.

  • http://It'snotamatterofdogma Lorne

    If astrology works, then why has it not contributed to science for a number of centuries? After all it seems astrology has not taken into account the movement of the earth over the centuries and how this has changed the so called signs. In addition how do the planets and stars influence our lives. If there is an effect it must be measurable and we know gravitational forces are too small from distant planets and stars to have any discernible effect on people and their lives.

  • Suzanne

    I just hope that James Randi recovers from his severe thrashing with a small, wet fish. Honestly, putting on sunglasses and a wistful look while sporting a 70s hairstyle does not an argument make. Neither does just saying that astrology is real. Astrology, like so many belief systems, belongs to the infancy of human reason. It began as an early attempt by humans to understand the patterns of nature. All well and good at the time, but well past any form of usefulness now – other than as a source of income, of course. Astrology has no basis in reality, as Karl Popper and others have demonstrated. Those who make a profession out of it do so either out of ignorance or because they wish to exploit the credulity of others. Which kind of astrologer are you?

  • Hi

    All you’ve managed to pull out of this piece is a whole lot of people saying “prove it.”

    It’s not even people being overly skeptical. Just people saying go win that million. Show us the evidence that persuaded you, as anyone who expected to be taken seriously would do, and make yourself a bit of gambling cash on the side.

    I’d imagine that if astrology were real, and you unlocked the secrets, Vegas would be a good place to start.

  • Anonymous

    Why is it every other day someone comes up shouting “NA NA NA NA BOO BOO” about the JREF instead of simply going to claim the million dollar prize.

    All you have to do is do better than random chance one day. Astrology has it easy. Just have a good guessing day, and you’ll be a million bucks richer.

    Although I do like it when people run around with their fingers knuckle-deep in their ear canals shouting “I can’t hear you!!!”

  • Anonymous

    bless your heart, you offer not one whit of proof astrology works as anything but a way to line your pockets

  • Dude

    To be fair, you talked about evidence but presented none in favour of astrology.

  • Anonymous

    Truth is not a “worldview”, a one man opinion.

  • Michelle Araujo Silva

    >> ” But one thing I’ve learned in life is that just because something doesn’t fit your worldview doesn’t make it untrue.”

    Very interesting. However, just because something fits the worldview of someone – in this case, your worldview in defense of astrology – doesn’t make it true.

    >> “But I think you guys would be the first to agree that a firmly-entrenched world-view can lead a person to some incorrect conclusions.”

    Being a skeptic myself, I totally agree with that argument. But the same thing goes with you. Using your own words, your firmly-entrenched worldview in favour of astrology can lead you to the incorrect conclusion that astrology is legit and really works.

    Funny how we can use your own words to refute your arguments.

    Now, let’s go the more important here. If you claims to be the “real thing”, to be a legit professional astrologer and claims that astrology really works, why don’t you put your astrological abilities to the test? Accept James Randi’s challenges to prove astrology is really true instead of just sending a complaining letter .

    Come on! You will win a million bucks and – in the top of that – you will shut James Randi’s mouth by proving he’s wrong and you’re right! Don’t you have the balls to that?

  • Michelle Araujo Silva

    >> ” But one thing I’ve learned in life is that just because something doesn’t fit your worldview doesn’t make it untrue.”

    Very interesting. However, just because something fits the worldview of someone – in this case, the worldview ot this “professional astrologer” – doesn’t make it true.

    >> “But I think you guys would be the first to agree that a firmly-entrenched world-view can lead a person to some incorrect conclusions.”

    Being a skeptic myself, I totally agree with that argument. But the same thing goes with this professional astrologer. Using his own words, his firmly-entrenched worldview in favour of astrology can lead him to the incorrect conclusion that astrology is legit and really works.

    Funny how we can use his own words to refute his arguments.

    Now, let’s go the more important here. If he claims to be the “real thing”, to be a legit professional astrologer and claims that astrology really works, why don’t he put his astrological abilities to the test? Accept James Randi’s challenges to prove astrology is really true instead of just sending a complaining letter . Come on! He will win a million bucks! Doesn’t he have the balls to that?

  • Anonymous

    Jesus

  • http://Goodgrief.Cultlunacy Fredric L. Rice

    Somebody has their head lodged up Uranus. Such insane lunacy.

  • Anonymous

    So what you’re saying is, Astrology works, because it works? Wow, thanks for clearing that up!

  • Matthew Bailey

    I did not see anything in the article here other than “NUH-UH!”

    If Astrology has ANY sort of practical use that isn’t just random luck, then it can be tested.

    If it ISN’T luck (that is, if an Astrologer can make reliable predictions), then that is measurable.

    THE ONLY MEANS of measuring things that are not just random events happens to be the Scientific Method.

    So EVERYTHING that is measurable falls under its umbrella .

    And if it isn’t measurable in some fashion, then it isn’t reliable, and is just a random event, with no significance in terms of a reliable prediction or guide.

  • Anonymous

    Submit your methods to scientific scrutiny. If they’re effective, they will exceed the success rate of chance. Since you claim they ARE effective, you will certainly not object to such a simple and reasonable test. Maybe you can be the very first astrologer ever to demonstrate the effectiveness of astrology. You could open up entire new fields of study. Won’t that be exciting? And, all you have to do is prove that your hocus pocus beats chance. We all eagerly await your peer-reviewed scientific journal article documenting your successful demonstration of astrology’s effectiveness. Oh, this SHALL be a glorious feat!

  • Anonymous

    All you have to do to keep skeptics from bashing astrology is demonstrate that it’s valid. Submit your methods to scientific scrutiny. If astrology actually works, it will be born out in the results of the experiments in a predictable and consistent manner. If chance is on equal footing with your methods, then it’s bunk. Seems rather simple, yet everybody who’s done so thus far hasn’t beaten chance. Will you be the first?

  • Denis

    This is great news ! Please can we send an invitation to take the JREF challenge – thiis would be the most amazing discovery , and probably rank up there with the theory of evolution and general relativity.

    Clearly the author is convinced, and as a skeptiic would WANT to be tested to prove his claim – right ?

  • Anonymous

    This is great news ! Please can we send an invitation to take the JREF challenge – thiis would be the most amazing discovery , and probably rank up there with the theory of evolution and general relativity.

    Clearly the author is convinced, and as a skeptiic would WANT to be tested to prove his claim – right ?

  • Leo

    So… if you’re so confident, allow your astrological predictions to be put to the test. I mean, you’re the real thing, right? You’re not a fake like all the others, right? So, naturally, you wouldn’t be averse to being tested, would you?

  • Anonymous

    The cognitive dissonance inherent in this article is staggering. Listen, sporto, if you’re so sure that your woo works, step up and take the JREF challenge.

  • Anonymous

    Your responses against skeptics assume that because some other phenomena in the universe are not explained (ie the hypothosized dark matter to explain the observed rotation of galaxies) then astrologers have no burden of proof to show that there is any substance to astrology. This is called a false comparison. The highly tested and validated theory of gravity fails to correctly predict the behavior of matter across vast areas (like galaxies). They then hypothosized a substance to explain it which is nicknamed Dark Matter. Astrology may be compared to this only if you can show any reliable and repeatable phenomena which you can’t yet explain. If you can’t do a horoscope and make predictions that are testable true reliably more accurate than chance, and if you can you are the very first, then there is no comparison between physics and astrology.

  • A Reasonable Man

    “Being a skeptic is simply a comforting worldview where anything that doesn’t quite fit can be dismissed as unscientific nonsense, and that skeptics are skeptics as a comfort to themselves.” I think not. Being an astrologer or astrology believer is simply a comforting worldview where anything that doesn’t quite fit can be dismissed as non-astrological nonsense, and that astrologers or astrology believers are astrologers or astrology believers as a comfort to themselves. Sounds like a strong argument? You do realize that skepticism is the default position, correct? However, as others are reminding you, there is a lot of money to be won from James Randi, if you can demonstrate that astrology works. I wonder, does MIT have astrology classes?

  • Anonymous

    Come on, I try to keep an open mind about these things, but when you say things like “You might be surprised to know that there was a time I dismissed astrology in much the same way you do now, but my experience and study led me to conclude that, crazy as it may sound, astrology actually works.”, and then can’t be bothered lifting a finger to back this up with anything at all, how can you expect anyone to take you seriously?

  • http://LOL Anonymous

    I’m sure Randi is cutting into your income, and I’m right there with him – astrology has never proven itself better than chance, and usually comes out worse than chance, which leads me to consider that there’s an over-arching power in the universe that doesn’t like you and your hokester kind very much. I await your “error log” with fact-checking, baited fingers. Shame on you for bilking stupid people out of money!

  • Anonymous

    Why didn’t the author offer any facts or arguments to support his claims?

  • Shane

    Absolutely. If what you say is true, this can be tested and the million dollars is yours. There are many others as well. Australian Sceptics are also offering 100k, and there are many more. Easy money. I look forward to seeing your evidence to support these claims.

  • Anonymous

    You dismiss the JREF take down of your bunkum but dont offer anything to support your ideas. Just neigh saying isnt enough. Why is the JREF analysis wrong? It reads very well to me.

  • Anonymous

    If you are so correct take the million dollar chalenge and donate the money to charity

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see anything special about this man, it is like “I don’t believe in astrology because it is crazy, but homeopath works, I just don’t see the link between them”

  • http://Nonsense George Glen

    Astrology is as ‘bunkum scam’. If you can prove otherwise, why not do so and claim a million dollars? Simple!

  • Anonymous

    Astrology is a bunkum scam. If you can prove otherwise … Have a million dollars … Simple!

  • earl

    You have a good opportunity here, they have thrown astrology in with bunkum scams like faith healing and such. You probably have a decent shot at the million dollar challenge in light of that.

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