Oh My Stars

Oh My Stars


Is Astrology A Science?

posted by Matthew Currie
beliefnet is astrology a science matthew currie

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

First of all, if you haven’t read it yet, here is my March Editorial — Why Panic Over Astrology? — in which I discuss the recent American National Science Foundation poll that shows Americans appear to be getting smarter about science… and are also embracing astrology more.

For me as an astrologer, the big question raised by all this remains the one the poll actually asked : “Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?” Unfortunately, there wasn’t an option for my answer: “Sure… now ask me how science itself is ‘sort of scientific.’”

***

Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote books like The Panda’s Thumb and Wonderful Life (which will blow your mind in exactly the way science books ought to) was a proponent of the idea of “non-overlapping magesteria”: essentially, the idea that science has a realm in which it is the legitimate way to address questions, and that religion/spirituality has its own realm, and never the twain shall meet. Or as Gould put it: “the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).”

There’s lot to be said for this formalized phrasing of “let’s agree to disagree,” and in a perfectly ordered Universe this scheme would prevent a lot of name-calling in Internet discussions and dinner parties alike. The problem is that Science and Spirituality aren’t really two well-fenced nations living side by side and blissfully ignoring each other — they’re more like two different countries with unmarked borders and a heavily bombarded Crimea / Kashmir / Falkland Islands between the two of them. And to many, when something they think doesn’t belong in one territory attempts to claim citizenship there, shots ring out faster than you can say “Richard Dawkins.”

We all know which magisterium is equipped to answer questions like “does two plus two equal four?” or “what will happen when I let go of this brick I’m holding?” or “is Faith alone without Works enough to get into Heaven?” or “will it balance my Karma if I kick this dog now but adopt one from the shelter later?”

If you are a fan of the Scientific Magisterium, it’s easy to ignore that (despite billions of dollars every year in research) anti-depressants are often depressingly (ha!) little more effective than a placebo (despite psychology being “a science”)… and it’s all too easy to pick apart the many studies done by the much more poorly funded branch of psychology called “parapsychology” that precognition can, in fact, beat “random guessing.” On the other hand, if you traditionally root for Team Spiritual, it’s pretty easy to ignore that the objective evidence for life after death in any form is pretty slim, for example.

Me? I personally love to point out that “Economics” is considered a science… and yet the average Capuchin Monkey’s successful stock choices tend to match or beat those of the experts over time. And don’t get me started bout “nutritional science.” Oat bran and margarine… saving your life or making you fat? Discuss.

When someone tells you something is “scientific” or not, often it’s an “appeal to authority” rather than an answer to what is often the real, unspoken question: “does it work?”

So… re you asking me if I think astrology is scientific? Well, it follows rules, it gets results, and it keeps on working despite all the objections. Want to call it science? Let’s do some research and establish that with greater clarity… and as long-time readers of my blog already know, there are those with a vested interest in making sure things like astrology never get that kind of attention. Yes, I’m looking at you, Michael Shermer. and yes, I’m looking at you, James Randi Educational Foundation and your shoddy debunking.

So call me loony if that makes you feel better about yourself. I haven’t got all day to argue it with you. I’ve got clients who I’m busy giving real help and guidance. Get back to me when JREF responds to my Ten Dollar Challenge.

 

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  • Matthew Currie
  • Matthew Currie

    Greetings, Last Son Of Krypton. First of all, I love me some Sagan. Now, some points:

    -I’ve seen the clip you presented here before, and Sagan makes the same fundamental mistakes about Astrology that JREF does in its booklet on the subject… click and have a look at the links in the article above. It’s comparable to someone who dismisses evolution based only on Piltdown Man.

    -Also: you’d be surprised that there are astrologers who actually DO understand and appreciate and even love science,. and don’t cringe in superstitious terror every time someone turns on a microwave oven… myself included.

    -I’ve done a lot of things for a living: counselor, insurance adjuster, customer service, delivering pizzas, Internet provider sysop, receptionist, personal care worker… and you know what they ALL have in common? They ALL pay better than being an astrologer. Let me give you an example of that sort of thing: “Astronomers get fat grant money and tenure looking for something they made up called “dark matter,” and after decades they haven’t found a single thimbleful of it, because they re playing universities for suckers.” See how that works, Clark?

  • Clark Kent

    Well this is easy enough – Being as Mcurrie is an astrologer, he would say all of the above. Simple as that really.
    And to answer the polls question on astrology, it’s what is known as pseudoscience – not science at all.
    What Mcurrie has said here shows he either has little understanding of science, or, he does have an understanding of science, but he’s got to make a living out of credulous folk, therefore misrepresent science. (What a surprise to see an astrologist do that!)
    The “results” that astrology gets is money. Doesn’t matter if it’s scientific or not (which it isn’t), as long as gullible people buy into it.

    I guess making a living out of astronomy, rather than astrology, is a little out of his capabilities.

    Anyway…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iunr4B4wfDA

  • Clark Kent

    What a load of hosgwash I just read. Anyway…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iunr4B4wfDA

  • Matthew Currie

    I wish I could remember where I heard this story from, but: Someone asked a practicing Hindu astrophysicist if he really believed that The Sun was *really* Surya’s blazing chariot and not a star… and his answer was “Of course… when I’m in the temple.” :)

  • Ryven Cedrylle

    Funny you should mention that. My coworkers are primarily Indian so I get quite a bit of support from them, actually. Now where I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut is at church; if chemistry and astrology isn’t already a bizarre enough mix, I’m also a practicing Christian (mostly Catholic, though that’s a discussion for another day). I’ve run into a handful of religious-conservative Christians who find it interesting but most of the time you keep your trap shut.

    It’s ok though. I get my quiet joy when the icons of the four Gospel writers show up (often a bull, eagle, lion and human) or anyone starts talking angels or Revelations. We’re there, they just don’t know it’s us. :)

  • Matthew Currie

    Thanks for writing! You know… I pretty much entirely agree with you. Although I think that in many cases, what comes across as “science envy” is prompted by the handling a lot of astrologers get from skeptics… automatically dismissive to the point of hostility whenever the slightest sign that there might be some validity to astrology (whether we call it “science” or not) crops up. If you’re a professional chemist and an astrology enthusiast (which is waaaay cool, IMHO) you’ve probably encountered some of that attitude among some of your fellow scientists… or have learned how to politely avoid the issue coming up in the first place. :)

  • Ryven Cedrylle

    As an astrology enthusiast and professional chemist, I stand firmly on the view that not only is astrology not a natural science, attempting to reconcile the two does no benefit to either. Astrology borrows from natural science for calculating charts and orbits, but the work of astrology is symbolic and interpretive. Mars can have any number of different valid meanings in different contexts – a position that natural science can not deal with. To be fair there are symbols and interpretations in natural science, but those symbols and interpretations are generally single-duty. A proton does not sometimes have a negative charge nor does a magnetic field ever generate naturally at any angle to an electric field other than orthogonal. The problem with this question is that astrology still suffers from ‘science envy’ – the need to be repeatable and provable to be valid. The social sciences (thus my reason to keep writing natural sciences here) has the same problem; it attempts to make people provable and repeatable and in doing so fails those who fall outside the expected values due to race, gender identity, social class, neural functioning (such as autism) etc. We are an art, a process by which people are shaped by new perspective. There is no shame in that.

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