Oh My Stars

Johannes_Kepler_horoscopeDear Mr. Kearney:

This is in response to your letter to the editor of the Frankfort Kentucky State Journal, dated January 15th of this year.

Your reaction to “Planting by the signs,” written by Phillip Case, highlights a number of misunderstandings that skeptics of astrology often seem to have. I’d like to clear some things up for you.

First of all, you make a statement about confusing the scientific with the supernatural. Strictly speaking, “supernatural” is defined as something attributed to a force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature. Lumping astrology in with werewolves and vampires is a fun rhetorical trick to dismiss astrology, but kind of misses the point.

I may be an astrologer, but I’m as big a fan of science as anyone. Who in their right mind doesn’t love and respect brain surgery or the internet or a microwave burrito?

Phrenology and the practice of throwing virgins into volcanoes to ensure a good crop may have come and gone, but astrology is still very much with us. That doesn’t necessarily make it true, but it should make astrology a worthy subject for scientific investigation. The problem is that anyone attempting to secure the funding required for a proper scientific study has to face the general academic opinion that astrology is nonsense. This is akin to a scientist of the 1700s laughing it off if a shaman offered him willow bark tea to “drive out the demons of pain in his head.” That same scientist would be very unlikely to do the research that would have led to the discovery of salicin, which is now a common pain reliever.

Just because science has not proven something to be true does not make it false. That is a fallacy called scientism, and it is as easy for rationalists to fall into it as it is for religious extremists to fall into dogmatism.

Your statement that “during the time when astrology prevailed, it was assumed the Earth was flat and at the center of the universe” is a common misconception. Although in some times and places that was the prevailing view, many ancient cultures noticed the shape of the Earth’s shadow passing across the face of the Moon during a Lunar Eclipse and correctly deduced that the Earth is round. In my experience, the Flat Earth/geocentric arguments that are used to dismiss astrology demonstrate a lack of understanding of both astrology and ancient history in general.

Also, I’m sorry it had to be an astrologer who broke this to you, but your statement that “every star is located within a constellation, just as every city in the United States is located in a state” is inaccurate. The stars of any given constellation don’t usually bear any particular relationship to each other as far as their physical location. We’re simply going by the patterns the appear to form in the sky from Earth. If you were to relocate a few light-years away to a planet orbiting another star, you would be seeing different constellations.

That might sound like an argument against astrology, but it’s actually not. Astrology concerns itself with the movement of the planets through a specific sector of the sky that we call the Zodiac, or the plane of the ecliptic if you are an astronomer. We divide the Zodiac into 12 segments, based only in part on the actual visible constellations in that portion of the sky.

if you’d like to learn more about the common arguments skeptics use against astrology, please click here where I’ve written about them in detail. Those arguments don’t stand up under scrutiny nearly as well as you might think.

Although, personally, I suspect you are not inclined to do so. Had you referred to the “Planting By The Signs” group on Facebook referenced at the end of the article you were criticizing, you would have seen that there are a lot of people who find that using astrology as a guide to planting and gardening does actually work. That may not be scientific proof, but it’s certainly an indication that something or other is going on.

Yours truly,
Matthew Currie, astrologer.

PS: You may have noticed the illustration at the top of this blog entry. It is the astrological birth chart of Johannes Kepler, one of the pivotal figures in Western science. He’s the guy who discovered the laws of planetary motion and was able to correctly describe how the planets move around the Sun. That birth chart, by the way, is in his own handwriting. Kepler, like Isaac Newton, was also an astrologer.

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