A Case Against Astrology

In an online forum, I had a debate with someone who believes ‘Astrology is a Science.’ Whether it predicts something accurately or not is another matter and I’ll post on the statistical interpretation of Astrological predictions in some other post, other time.

Why is Astrology not a science?

To answer this question, we need to know what science is. Who better than Jon von Neumann can answer this question:

“The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work.”

In other words, real science, as opposed to the pseudoscience of Astrology, is the following: Person X gives a theory; it is tested rigorously against the observational evidence and it is accepted unless it explains all the observed phenomena. Or, some mathematical theory or model is proposed to explain the existing observation. The science always tries to be consistent in theory, practice and observation, and it constantly keeps modifying its models according to the newly found evidence — evidence that is available to anyone who seeks to inquire. Astrology does nothing of that sort! Why? Let me ask you a question in hope of answering “why”: An astrologer tells a statement ‘P’ to someone, say X. He tells a statement Q to Y. There is no way to verify, objectively, if P and Q were correct, or if Q is told to X, it’d hold correct. While, for a scientific inquiry, if Prof. Z tells you that an electron has the charge of -1.6 \times {10}^{19} C, you can verify it in a suitable laboratory setup.

The scientific model that von Neumann mentions deals with the problems whose parameters (at least) are tractable. In Astrology, or Tarot, I can’t see the model, the analysis and the rigor of sciences. Even the parameters that are taken into account –e.g., motion of distant stars and planets– sound absurd! Quoting “Objections to AstrologyA Statement by 186 Leading Scientists” [1]:

“In ancient times people believed in the predictions and advice of astrologers because astrology was part and parcel of their magical world view. They looked upon celestial objects as abodes or omens of the gods and, thus, intimately connected with events here on earth; they had no concept of the vast distances from the earth to the planets and stars. Now that these distances can and have been calculated, we can see how infinitesimally small are the gravitational and other effects produced by the distant planets and the far more distant stars. It is simply a mistake to imagine that the forces exerted by stars and planets at the moment of birth can in any way shape our futures. Neither is it true that the position of distant heavenly bodies make certain days or periods more favorable to particular kinds of action, or that the sign under which one was born determines one’s compatibility or incompatibility with other people.”

Of course, science does not explain everything, neither does it try to, not as yet at least. I was given an interesting argument in favor of astrology, and against science, viz, in some medical situations the person debating the issue found out that the patient was told that (s)he would eventually be dead, but some astrologer predicted that (s)he won’t, and (s)he survived. However plausible the argument seems, we have a strong case against it: were the predictions correct in all the cases you observed? If they were wrong in some cases, did astrologers do anything to patch their “theories”, like science does? The medical science may not be able to predict or cure everything, but it is constantly evolving, and it never claim that it can predict or cure everything! But then, can astrological predictions provide a cure? They provide hope, but what if those are false hopes?

Why do people believe in astrology?

Coming to the psychology part of it: The best astrology can do is to hide all the gory details and tell people all “politically” correct things (diplomatically) and hope that they fit someone, or that people (mostly believers) interpret the cryptic language their own way to fit their lives.

“In these uncertain times many long for the comfort of having guidance in making decisions. They would like to believe in a destiny predetermined by astral forces beyond their control. However, we must all face the world, and we must realize that our futures lie in ourselves, and not in the stars.” — from [1].

And then there is the age-old example with an inherent pun: If some astrologer predicts that I’ll do all good today, I’ll most certainly punch his nose and plead guilty in the court of law. My interpretation of this, if I were a believer, would be that I did good for the society by teaching the liar a lesson! If I were to guess how your day would go today, mine is just as good as any astrologer, or anyone else’s guess. Seriously!

The most important things missing in such predictions are social dynamics and the interaction of the concerned person to its peers and colleagues. It might be an interesting statistical (empirical) problem to find out “to what degree astrological predictions are correct.” 😉

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14 thoughts on “A Case Against Astrology”

  1. Dear friend

    With the criteria you impose – what is “scientific” – Psychology too should not be considered a science at all! Would you mind explaining this?

    And modern Astrology is not just about predictions! It is mostly concerned about the relation of Man/Woman and Cosmos!

    1. Dear Thomas,

      That’s a very interesting question you posed. The only criteria I impose on what is ‘scientific’ is ‘the scientific method for inquiry’. All sciences share a common method of investigation, which includes the following three basic criteria: empiricism that needs to be logically deducible and not just some hot air, objectivity and openness to objective questioning. Psychology uses the scientific method. Since you mention Psychology, I assume you have had a little or extensive exposure to it, and you would know that psychology is a comparatively young science, that is why it is not static.

      About the second part of your valuable comment: Modern (or any kind of) astrology is not concerned about ‘man/woman relations’. It is psychology. The branch that is concerned about the cosmos is not ‘Astrology’, it is ‘Astronomy’. Why do I have to tell you that? I’m sure you already knew it. And if your claim is that ‘Astrology’ is a scientific method that has come about combining psychology and astronomy, I’ll take it for granted if you could tell me if any astrological study can be reproduced by the practitioners of it for the inquiry later. Moreover, astrologers have been practicing their ‘art’ for thousands of years, but it has not yet passed the stage of more than empiricism (let us not talk about their empirical way; several hundred pages can be filled in writing a critique), while psychology even in its nascent stage is considered ‘scientific’.

      I could be all wrong about it, but perspectives are allowed to be wrong… right? If you believe astrology is a science, you should continue doing so, for nobody can change perspectives, like my writing could not change yours, your comment could not change mine. Hopefully, experiences will teach you or me. 🙂

  2. Dear A.G. thank you for your answer. Would you please watch this video to understand why Astrology is a science – if we take in consideration Aristotle’s 3 prerequisites of what a science is:

    If your idea of an astrologer is that of a lady telling predictions at a morning TV show then I must tell you that that’s not true astrology. True astrology has enormous culture in it, is mostly concerned with the relation of man/woman to Cosmos (and Cosmos is not astronomy, it’s our universal womb. Have you ever wondered on a dark night under the stars “what’s up there”? or “what Am I doing here”?). True Astrology is mostly about knowledge, knowledge of ourself and of the others and not just mere predictions.

    If you would like to read some trully scientific astrology stuff then I suggest that you visit this site:

    http://cura.free.fr/#

    I’ ve got a small, modest science-astrology blog toο:

    http://science-astrology.blogspot.com/

    Thank you

    Thomas Gazis

    1. Let P denote the statement “2+2=4”.
      Let Q denote the statement “Your mom will die tomorrow”.

      And I say “P therefore Q”. That’s how astrologers do their science: A dash of logic and mathematics. Make some calculations, and “impress” people that it is “derived”!

  3. Kindly read my book ‘Astrology Tested Fake’ (Hindi version ‘Jyotish Jhooth Saabit Hua’) and you will know the ‘truth’ of astrology. I have advertised an award of Rs. 1000000 for anyone who can prove that astrology really works. The book is available at http://www.godvslife.com….please stop discussing and arguing …read this book first!

  4. Kindly read my book ‘Astrology Tested Fake’ (Hindi version ‘Jyotish Jhooth Saabit Hua’) and you will know the ‘truth’ of astrology. I have advertised an award of Rs. 1000000 for anyone who can prove that astrology really works. The book is available at http://www.godvslife.com. Please stop discussing and arguing …read this book first..period!

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