No. Really. Astrology is not science.
I know this won’t come as a surprise to you, because, well, obviously it’s not science. Astrologers use some scientific data, like the position of the planets at a particular time, and often some good statistics, but you could never do a double blind test on astrology. How would you work that one out? Too many factors and too much complexity are involved.
I do have hypotheses about particular configurations or placements, which I test by looking at a lot of charts and talking to a lot of people. That is sort of scientific but definitely not rigorous enough to be a science. However, psychology, which certainly fancies itself as a science, works in a similar way.
And when it comes to actually reading a chart, the number of factors and possibilities is too large to dissect and go through step by step. An astrologer reading charts for people or events needs to allow her intuition to work. Learning to listen to that intuition, filtering out personal prejudices and received opinions, is absolutely key.
For me, this often happens in conversation. The truth reveals itself. The chart opens out like a flower and suddenly everything works. This is far closer to how writers describe writing stories than to science. And interestingly, I’ve talked to day traders on the stock market who work in the same way, because again they are calculating too many factors simultaneously to make a rational decision. It has to be intuitive. Sometimes it takes a night for me to sleep on it.
|The poet William Blake in conversation with
astrologer and artist John Varley by John Linnell
A few years ago, Richard Dawkins, my famous neighbour (actually he lives several streets away), made a television programme entitled Enemies of Reason, in which he attempted to debunk “fringe” interests such as astrology. The test he came up with was hilarious. He got people to read a very short Sun sign horoscope for that day and decide if it fitted them. You can guess the results…. but since that’s not a test of astrology anyway, what was the point?
Dawkins obviously hasn’t got the time to, you know, do anything as facile as study the subject. The full interview with the astrologer Neil Spencer that was used for that programme has found its way onto the web. It was cannibalised and edited: the purpose of the programme was not to shine light on astrology, but to bolster Dawkins argument that astrology is charlatanry.
So I was amused to see that Donna Cunningham has written a piece just this week prompted by a similar TV show in the States, Still Ticked Off By The Debunkers.
Dawkins exactly fits the description of a pseudo-sceptic, defined by sociologist Marcello Truzzi back in 1987 thus:
- Denying, when only doubt has been established
- Double standards in the application of criticism
- The tendency to discredit rather than investigate
- Presenting insufficient evidence or proof
- Assuming criticism requires no burden of proof
- Making unsubstantiated counter-claims
- Counter-claims based on plausibility rather than empirical evidence
- Suggesting that unconvincing evidence provides grounds for completely dismissing a claim
I offer you this definition because it might come in useful some time. You know when you find yourself – probably against your better judgment – engaged in a debate about astrology. Just remind yourself that explaining astrology to a pseudo-sceptic is like trying to explain economics to someone who’s just heard of money – and thinks it’s silly. You’re never going to get anywhere because their argument is ideological, not rational.