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