Debunking astrology – Tales of a skeptic

By in Inspiration on 2006/09/29

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, an excellent book where science seems so fascinating.
This made my view of the world these days a little science biased. So, when chatting about the role of Astrology and my feelings toward this pseudo-science, i got my opinion a bit confused, so I’d better write about it. Here goes:

A long, long time ago, in a land called Babylon, people tried to make a sense out of Nature and God. To help them in their lifes, calendars were created, based on the stars and natural cycles. The zodiac map was also created, conveying a generic illustration of the placement of the stars and their influence on human life. And so, Astrology was born.

Later came the Romans, that adapted this doctrine, changing the names of the Babylon gods, to their own mythological gods. And so, Astrology became accepted, based on the ancient philosophical Principle of Correspondence, were diferent categories were related if some of its features were similar. This principle gave Astrology the perfect excuse for being accepted and gaining historical relevance.

Fast forward 2000 years.
(Quite easy since nothing really important happened to Astrology meanwhile).

In the 20th century, the principle of correlation is no longer valid, since it makes no sense to relate categories that have no logic relation between them – correlation doesn’t proves casuality.
Astrology doesn’t seeks relation in the physics or astronomy, but instead in an arbitrary set of magical names and in a old generic representation of the celestial map.. Which is to say that it stands in clay, believing in a 3000 years old set of rules, but still aiming to be as valid as a constantly evolving Science.

We can start by questioning the zodiac map, since the precession of the equinoxes and soltices has moved about 30 degrees in the last 2000 years, making irrelevant any prediction, as we probably would be born in a complete different astrological solar sign. Regarding astronomic factors, is also worth considering why the different astrologies (Eastern vs. Western) give such different interpretation on the same set of stars, or what was the star influencing Armstrong when he set foot on the Moon.

If we really believed that certain patterns could influence our lives or predict the future, we must also admit that those who knew it were maximizing their advantage. In a darwinistic approach, if such capabilities were possible (predict the future), i’m sure that the human being would already evolved to took advantage of such an amazing feature.
Maybe stars can influence our lives (mass, gravity, energy) but in such a small scale that it could never change our boldness, wealth or future telling.

Modern astrology is quite more refined than the traditional one, appealing to concepts such as social equality and the power of the individual, a sort of compatibilism related to Humme and Thomas Hobbe. But this modern astrology logic of free will, becomes it’s own end. If free will exists, we really should’t be needing this astro-mambo-jumbo, since we really only depend on ourselves.

Questions that upset most of the average Joe, weren’t given any satisfying and verifiable answer by Astrology. The fact that 2 identical tweens could have such different lifes or why 2 astrologers could draw 2 complety diferent maps, or even why to choose specifically the birth moment (when does a fetus becomes life?) haven’t been put under scientific scrutiny as far as i know.

A true science sets his own prediction based on a organized body of theories, and understands and explains how the predictions are valid. As for Astrology, it uses argumentative falacies, such as ambivalence or confirmation bias, and the more it runs away from critical thinking, the closer it gets to religious fundamentalism.

The arbitrariness of astrology is common to other pseudo-sciences, that are not based on universal and verifiable data, but rather in historical and cultural traditions. What should be universal (name of a star), becomes an instrument (qualities of Jupiter) to predict something.

The benefits that Astrology brings,based on positive heuristics such as comfort and simpathy, stand in the same ground with other new-age doctrines, but never near Science, since it never achieved anything significant to the evolution and knowledge of mankind.

The truth in Astrology ends up in techniques such as selective thinking, role playing, obscurity by complexity, parciality in the interpretation, the use of stereotypes and Barnum principle, rapports and positive emotions.

In conclusion, the debate about astrology will always be of epistemologic nature, for each individual would have his own set of beliefs. If we believe in something, even if it is false, then it will always be true. If we find it false, it is false. What seems more logical to you?

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