Sceptical Astrology
How and why Astrology became an outcast from the mainstream
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Astrology the vital piece of the big jig-saw has been discarded but not lost.

  • Why isn't astrology part of the mainstream?
  • Why do, otherwise rational, people condemn it without reason?
  • Does Astrology conflict with mainstream science?
Finding meanings and patterns in the heavens has preoccupied shamans, priests and scholars for well over five thousand years.[1] However, in the last 500 years astrology moved from a pivotal role in the academic system and in the minds of polymaths Copernicus (1473-1543), Cardano (1501-1576), Dee (1527-1608), Bruno (1548-1600) Galileo (1564-1642) and Kepler (1571-1630) to an outcast from mainstream thinking.[2]

How did this happen? The answer is complex but when we look at the history of astrology and how astrologers adapted to the crises caused by advances in our knowledge and philosophy, the question turns around. How did astrology survive a paradigm shift where materialism, reductionism, scientism and mechanistic views became the modi operandi for a powerful intellectual clique?

The Causes of the Decline

  1. Four major astronomical discoveries that seemed to break the astrological model:
    1. Precession:
    2. Following the discovery of precession of the Equinoxes at least by the time of Hipparchus around 130 BC[3], western astrologers opted to work within a tropical zodiac based on the solar system instead of a sidereal zodiac based on stellar positions. This tropical zodiac is a mathematical construct used to position the planets on the ecliptic. Some believe that using the Earth's orbit within the Solar System as a coordinate system is more appropriate than positioning the planets relative to the distant stars. Without knowing whether the distance or size is a factor in the mechanism, this remains speculative. What is without question is that both mapping techniques are accurate and valid even though they use the same terms for different signs. It is rather like comparing an Imperial Gallon with a smaller US Gallon - same terms for different measures, but both systems work. [More. Are the Signs of the Zodiac Wrong? Is Ophiuchus the 13th Sign?]
    3. Copernican Heliocentric System:
    4. As scholars reluctanly came to accept a heliocentric cosmology with the Sun at the centre (16th to 19th century), they started to assume that a geocentric system like astrology must be false. Even today, this misconception persists. In 2000, Stephen Hawking claimed "When it was discovered that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, astrology became impossible".[4] This false assumption might have been a popular criticism of astrology by astronomers in the 18th century but is it was not correct then as it is not correct now.

      So it is ironic that Copernicus' reasons for putting the Sun in the centre (published 1543) were more metaphysical than physical. He wrote "Not unfittingly do some call it the light of the world, others the soul, still others the governor. Tremigistus calls it the visible God: Sophocles' Electra, the All-seer. And in fact does the sun, seated on his royal throne, guide his family of planets as they circle around him." (Burtt 1932)[5] So the astrological model was not rejected at this paradigm shift as some have been misled to believe. As happened in previous transformations, astrology was a valued part of the inspiration that lead to modern science.

      This new Heliocentric model was a revolutionary and shocking revelation for astronomers, philosophers, religious authorities and many whose minds could not imagine anything other than a flat-earth as the centre of the Universe. At the time, the reaction to this new 'truth' was mainly ridicule, anger, fear, resistence and prejudice rather than investigation and rational enquiry. It was only after the sceptics died that a new generation were able to grasp a Sun centred cosmos. In fact in the sixty years after his death, the main promoters of Copernicus' 'heretical' system in the face of huge mainstream resistance: Galileo, Kepler, Bruno, Maestlin, Gasser and Rheticus were all (among other fields of expertise) astrologers.[6] These astronomers continued to practise astrology and saw no incompatibility in the two systems.
      You don't have to be a cosmologist to work out that an ideal map should be centred on your locality. Would you insist that a map of the Hawaiian Islands should be centred on the US capital, Washington, DC some five thousand miles away? Hawking, like many astro-physicists is misinformed about one of the most basic facts of astrology. Geocentric celestial maps are still viable in a heliocentric system. And why not a Galactic Centric System? Regardless of the fact that any centre of our universe is not known, a map must be designed to serve its purpose.
      So unlike most theories of the day, the Copernican paradigm shift had no effect on the calculations of the birth chart. Having a slightly more plausible (though still imperfect) astronomical account for retrograde motion only served to provide superior calculations and epemerides (Planetary tables) for astrologers. Some astrologers now use heliocentric charts to analyze world-wide events like the pattern of seismic activity. However, natal astrology requires a horoscope based around the location of the individual. This requires a celestial map with a terrestrial centre. Until we are born on the Sun (or in the Galactic Centre), a geocentric natal horoscope placing the individual in the centre of his or her universe, makes perfect sense.
    5. Discovery of the Outer Planets:
    6. The greatest shake up of astrology came with the discovery of Uranus. The ancient system worked neatly with seven 'planets' for thousands of years. It must have been a shock to the astrologers of the day. Now, the system of rulerships had to be questioned and reworked. It coincided with the Age of Reason, Revolution and in France, Madame Guillotine. Astrology was seen as a 'magickal' predictive art for the benefit of credulous monarchs that no longer complied with an increasingly democratic, secular and scientific world. So as change swept through the corridors of power, astrology fell from grace and favour.

      Yet, over the centuries, far from undermining astrology, the discoveries of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto have greatly added to our understanding of astrology and its huge potential in bringing enlightenment. In my opinion, the system is still missing pieces of the complex jigsaw puzzle and astrologers speculate about the discoveries of the minor planets such as Chiron, Chariklo, Sedna and Eris.
    7. The vast distances in space:
    8. In 1975, Professor Paul Kurtz, chairman of sceptical group, CSICOP persuaded 186 leading scientists to affirm their objections to astrology based on this reasoning: "In ancient times people...had no conception 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."[7]

      Still on the distance theme, astronomy professor, Andrew Fraknoi asserts: "As you might expect in an Earth-centered system made thousands of years ago, astrological influences do not depend on distance at all. The importance of Mars in your horoscope is identical whether the planet is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth or seven times farther away on the other side."[8]

      I have written a paper A Formula for Orbital Synthesis (2012) showing many reasons why these criticisms are unfounded. [9] The key points are that:
      1. This criticism is based on an assumption that the only possible mechanism for astrology must be one that follows the Newton's Inverse Square Law.[10] There are other possible mechanisms that are not distant dependent. These include quantum entanglement, synchronicity, solar tidal patterns leading to variations in the geomagnetic field as proposed by Percy Seymour[11] and the interconnectivity of the Solar System reinforced by gravitational resonance.
      2. Two common astrological techniques account for distance:
        1. Most birth charts state whether a planet is in direct or retrograde motion. Since when Mars (or any outer planet) is retrograde, the planet is further away from Earth than when travelling direct, astrologers can account for planetary distance should they wish. The reverse is true of planets inside the Earth's orbit.
        2. Some aspects are indicative of distance. For example, the Sun/Saturn geocentric opposition occurs when Saturn is near it's perigee (nearest to the Earth) and the Sun/Saturn conjunction occurs near Saturn's apogee (furthest from the Earth).
      3. Distance is inversely proportional to planetary angular velocity so a transit of Saturn is much longer than one of the Moon and transits of the slowest moving outer planets like Neptune are interpreted by astrologers to manifest on a generational and collective level.
      4. Unlike physics, astrology is primarily focussed on quality of experience rather than quantity of experience.
  2. Astrology long seen as subversive by the Church.
  3. The Church has had a history of unease about the power of astrology and at different times declared it as heresy. There were Papal Bulls against astrology in 1586, 1681 and the recent Pope John Paul II condemned reading of horoscopes.
  4. Prediction is not conducive to free-will
  5. Nowadays, most practicing astrologers allow for individual free-will and try to identify potential and opportunities. Only a small part of astrology (mundane or financial) lends itself to prediction. However, the tradition that the 'stars determine fate' was totally out of sync with the changing consciousness during the Age of Enlightenment. Today many people still expect astrology to be predictive and see it as a failure that astrologers do not make predictions.
  6. Academic Dualism:
  7. Astrology played a central role in the classical curriculum: the Quadrivium.[12] By the 18th century astrology no longer belonged in the evolving academic curriculum - which was dividing between the Humanities (Arts and Theology) and Science and Maths. Science, then known as natural philosophy was emerging as a discipline for addressing processes, objects, machinery and nature. Beyond medicine, early science was not compatible for the complexities of the human psyche and patterns of behaviour. While religion saw astrology as a rival in their recruitment drive for human souls.[13] Gradually science and religion established their independent "legitimate magisterium" (domain of teaching authority) resulting in a "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA). Neither camp wanted astrology and astrology did not fit into either domain.[14]

The Legacy of this Decline

  1. Academic misinformation:
  2. Being out of the academic loop for over two centuries and without funding, astrology has been increasingly judged from a position of ignorance and prejudice. An overview of astrology should be taught to all astronomers at University as it is integral to the history of their field and they will be frequently asked questions about their irrational sister subject (given the shared provenance). Unfortunately, there remains a high level of ignorance and when education does occur, academic standards lapse. Teachers pass on their warped beliefs to the next generation like a self-perpetuating game of 'Chinese Whispers'. Their primary sources are books by astronomers who find it easier to recycle old 'dogma' than consult modern practitioners or bother to research the field. Stephen Hawking's luducrous notion that astrology failed in a heliocentric system suggests that for all his brilliance, he is a product of a sloppy educational practice that is incongruous with the standards of science.
  3. Subverting the Media:
  4. When a new story comes up about astrology, journalists often misguidedly contact an astronomer. Unfortunately, most astronomers know very little about the topic due to a lack of education. However, if pressed, he or she will be capable of parroting the sceptical party line from their days at Uni - sometimes leading to embarrassing hoaxes.

    The Press are duped in other ways. Sceptical groups operate pressure groups like CSICOP's "Council for Media Integrity" to influence the media at journalistic, editorial, proprietorial and share-holder levels.[15] As a result astrology is portrayed either as sensational Sun-Sign entertainment or utter 'tosh'.

    The BBC is a classic example of institutional bias. Their rules stipulate balanced of views on a controversial subject like astrology. However, in practice there is only ever criticism or ridicule and any right of reply is blocked. There is simply no way that the BBC could or would present an informative program on astrology from a neutral point of view. Someone in the Bigoted Broadcasting Corporation would be unable to resist putting on their slant. Following widespread complaints about their coverage on astrology and other subjects such as climate change, the BBC initiated a clever ruse to whitewash their institutional bias with a self-styled 'independent' report. For this purpose they recruited a well-known militant atheist, Steve Jones with an marked intolerance towards deviant views. In his report, which even managed to misquote my own comments, Jones inevitably declared that the Corporation were being far too lenient to these minority views.
  5. Bias masquerading as scepticism
  6. can even infect top scientists and otherwise respectable scientific journals, who prefer a flawed test debunking astrology to a real test verifying astrology. [More ...]

Yet, Astrology survives


Astrology has survived several paradigm shifts. Unlike beliefs like creationism, modern astrology does not conflict with science and there is a growing accumulation of scientific evidence that supports the basic tenets of astrology and demonstrates the objective validity of astrological practice. In the last twenty years, a great many astrologers are filtering back into academia and there are more astrologers with doctorates than at any other time.[16]

References

  1. Though there is circumstantial evidence suggesting pre-historic practice of astrology (notably through Megalithic site alignments such as the Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney (~5k years ago), Nabta Playa, Egypt (~7k.y.a), our first records of documented stellar movements date back to Bronze Age Mesopotamia. The 'Venus Tablet of Ammizaduga', the 63rd tablet of the series Enūma Anu Enlil has been dated to around the mid-seventeenth century B.C.E.
    Aaboe,A. (1996) "Babylonian Mathematics, Astrology and Astronomy," The Cambridge Ancient History Volume III, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth Century to the Sixth Century (eds: Boardman,J.; Edwards,I.E.S.; Hammond,N.G.L. & Sollberger,E.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp.279-80. via Hobson,Russell (2009) Chapter 4, page 60.
  2. Thare were many other outstanding astrologer/polymaths of the period:
    • Georg Peurbach (1423-1461) discovered the deviation of the magnetic compass.
    • Johann Mller de Monte Regio (Regiomontanus) 1436-1476, author of the most complete trigonometric treatise of his age, De triangulis omnimodis, writing in the introduction: "You, who wish to study great and wondrous things, who wonder about the movement of the stars, must read these theorems about triangles. [...] For no one can bypass the science of triangles and reach a satisfying knowledge of the stars. [...] A new student should neither be frightened nor despair." Constructed many astronomical instruments. Invested in a printing press in 1471 and became the first scientific publisher.
    • John Napier (1550-1617) was a Scottish scholar who is best known for his invention of logarithms, but other mathematical contributions include a mnemonic for formulas used in solving spherical triangles and two formulas known as Napier's analogies. According to William Lilly, "Napier was a great lover of astrology,..." (Whittaker 1886)
    • Bonaventura Francesco Cavalieri (1598-1647) introduced a method of "indivisibles" which was a step in the development of integral calculus. Wrote on dynamics, conic sections, otpics, trigonometry, and astronomy; published several books on astrology.
    • Thomas Fincke (1561-1656) Devised new trigonometric identities.
    • Jean-Baptiste Morin (1583-1656) was first to incorporate lunar parallax into the method of lunar distance for determining longitude at sea. The "Morinus" house system is his although he did not intend it to be a general house system, his purpose being to determine horoscopic rulers in very high latitudes where other systems failed.
    • Nicolaus Mercator [Niklaus Kauffman] (1619 - 1687) Mathematician, known for the Mercator series of Logarithms, designed and constructed the fountains at the Palace of Versailles and composed a manuscript Astrologica rationalis, which was never published. (not to be confused with Gerardus Mercator the map maker).
    • Thomas Simpson (1710-1761) developed fundamental work in numerical integration; unified methods of calculus and published a textbook which was to be the European standard in his generation.
    Credit to Axel Harvey for some of this information from the MacTutor History of Mathematics - University of St Andrews ~
  3. The works of Hipparchus are lost but Ptolemy describes two of them: "On the Displacement of the Solstitial and Equinoctial Points", and "On the Length of the Year". For references to the phenomenon see Ptolemy Almagest, II.7, III.1 and VII.1-3; Ptolemy Tetrabiblos I.11. (via Houlding)
  4. Stephen Hawking (2001) Albert Einstein Lecture, 'Predicting the Future: From Astrology to Black Holes' at the Siri Fort auditorium, New Delhi, India. Jan. 17 2001. "The human race has always wanted to control the future, or at least, to predict what will happen. That's why astrology is so popular. ... The experimental evidence for string theory, and the effects I shall be talking about, is even less than for astrology. However, we believe them, because they are consistent with tested theories. ... When it was discovered that the Earth was not the center of the universe, astrology became impossible."
    Hawking is not an isolated example, Professor Steve Jones was less equivocal "It [Astrology] is drivel because it flies in the face of four centuries of evidence, from Galileo to the latest space probe."
    Jones, Steve (2011) BBC Trust review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC's coverage of science. With an independent assessment by Professor Steve Jones and content research from Imperial College, London
    In 2001, astro-physicist, Neil de Grasse Tyson made a similar assertion to the Washington Post: "Astrology was discredited 600 years ago with the birth of modern science."
    So these quotes beg the question: what event occurred 600 years ago to discredit astrology, if it was not astrologer, Copernicus' paradigm shift and what evidence, did astrologer, Galileo produce to refute astrology? It's all very well assuming that it was discredited ... and if it was, does a 500 year-old belief stand up today?
  5. ~ Burtt, E.A. (1932) The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, Kegan, Paul, Trench & Trubner, London. p.45
  6. Danielson, Dennis Richard (2006) The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution. Walker & Company, New York
  7. Kurtz, Paul., Bok, Bart., Jerome, Lawrence et al. (1975) Objections to Astrology. A Statement by 186 Leading Scientists. Jointly published by the American Ethical Union and the American Humanist Association. September/October 1975. The statement claims to have been signed by 186 'astronomers, astrophysicists and scientists in other fields'.
  8. Fraknoi, Andrew (1989) The Universe At Your Fingertips Activity: Activities With Astrology: Your Astrology Defense Kit Sky & Telescope,Aug. 1989 p. 146 retrieved July 2012 Bob Marks replied to 10 questions on Fraknoi's Defense kit: Astrology for skeptics. Who really has the burden of proof?
  9. Currey, Robert (2012) A formula for Orbital Synthesis, Correlation. Vol.28, November 2012
  10. Newton's Inverse Square Law states that the strength of a radiating energy or force such as gravitation, electromagnetism or sound is inversely proportional to the distance from the source. Yet our understanding of these forces - most especially gravity is far from complete.
  11. Percy Seymour's model is based on conventional physics involves all the planets in the solar system despite the huge distances. He posits that "the movement of the Sun about the common center of mass of the Solar System is controlled by the orbiting of the outer planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus". Dr Seymour continues: "All the planets at various stages of the solar cycle will through their tidal tug on the magnetic canals of the Sun, contribute to the triggering of sunspot activity. At the start of the cycle, the conjunction of Mercury and Venus will play a major role." Fluctuations in the solar cycle lead to variations in the geomagnetic field via the solar wind resulting in biological and other consequences on Earth.
    Seymour, Percy (1997), The Scientific Proof of Astrology, Quantum pp.176-177
  12. Martineau et al. (2010) Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, & Cosmology (Wooden Books) "The quadrivium the classical curriculum comprises the four liberal arts of number, geometry, music, and cosmology. It was studied from antiquity to the Renaissance as a way of glimpsing the nature of reality. Geometry is number in space; music is number in time; and cosmology expresses number in space and time. Number, music, and geometry are metaphysical truths: life across the universe investigates them; they foreshadow the physical sciences."
  13. Pope, John Paul II (1992) Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 3, Life in Christ, Section 2, 10 Commandments, Chapter 1., Article 1. 2116 "Consulting horoscopes, astrology, ... conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers." The 12,500 word catechism also rejects: homosexuality (as an act of grave depravity and contrary to natural law ), premarital sex, artificial birth control including coitus interuptus, sterilisation, abortion and the ordination of women. Gambling is acceptable but only in a modest form presumably this means it's still ok to raise money for the church through a sweepstake or lottery.
  14. Gould,Stephen J. (1998) "Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms" Jonathan Cape, p. 274
  15. Frazier, Kendrick (1997) Council for Media Integrity CSICOP to Become Shareholder in TV Networks Skeptical Inquirer. Volume 21.3, May / June 1997 "We are deliberately targeting each of the four major television networks, which is to say, the well-known media conglomerates Westinghouse (CBS), General Electric (NBC), NewsCorp (Fox), and Disney (ABC),"
  16. Some of the most well-known western astrologers with PhDs include: Pat Harris, Nicholas Campion, Bernadette Brady, Geoffery Cornelius, Rick Tarnas (Professor), Liz Greene, Bruce Scofield, Lee Lehman, Ben Dykes, Glenn Perry. Armand M. Diaz, Jude Currivan, Joseph Vidmar (Professor) plus Vedic astrologers: Dennis Harness and Robert Powell. Support and interest in astrology comes throughout the academic world, however the taboo is such that scientists can only 'come out' when their reputation is established.

    A case in point is Chemistry Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis. Mullis,Kary (2010) Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. "A scientist of boundless curiosity, he refuses to accept any proposition based on secondhand or hearsay evidence, and always looks for the "money trail" when scientists make announcements. Mullis writes with passion and humor about a wide range of topics: ... from scientific method to astrology. Dancing Naked in the Mind Field challenges us to question the authority of scientific dogma even as it reveals the workings of an uncannily original scientific mind." Also from New York Times Oct 28, 2007"Kary Mullis, after grabbing a piece of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, dove head first off the platform, expounding on the virtues of LSD and astrology"

      Partial list of university professors researching astrology:
    • Dr. Franz Halberg, Chronobiology, (University of Minnesota)
    • Dr. Giuseppe Bezza
    • Dr. Greg Bogart
    • Prof. Pierre R. Brind'Amour (Universite d'Ottawa)
    • Professor Nicholas Campion (University of Wales at Lampeter)
    • Dr. Peter B. Ellis
    • Prof. Gordon M. Fisher (James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia)
    • Dr. Elmar R. Gruber
    • Dr. Patrice Guinard
    • Dr. Jacques Halbronn
    • Dr. Maarit Laurento
    • Prof. Daryn Lehoux (Queen's University, Kingston)
    • Dr. Lucien de Luca
    • Prof. Aldo Mazzucchelli (Brown University, Providence)
    • Prof. Jesus Navarro Artigas (Universidad de Zaragoza)
    • Prof. Alain Negre (Grenoble University)
    • Prof. Kenneth G. Negus (Princeton University)
    • Dr. Lester Ness (Changchun University of Technology, China)
    • Dr. Peter Niehenke
    • Prof. Martin Pozzi (Universidad de Buenos Aires)
    • Dr. Carlos Raitzin (Catholic University, Buenos Aires, Argentina)
    • Prof. Charles Ridoux (Universite de Valenciennes)
    • Prof. Percy Seymour (Plymouth University)
    • Prof. Sergey Smelyakov (Kharkov University)
    • Dr. Slawomir Stachniewicz (Institute of Nuclear Physics, Cracow)
    • Dr. Angela Voss (University of Kent)
    • Dr. Rory Coker-University of Texas at Austin (skeptical researcher)

  17. T Whittaker (1886) Henry Briggs, Dictionary of National Biography Vol VI, London pp.326-327. "William Lilly,wrote that:- ... Napier was a great lover of astrology, but Briggs was the most satirical man against it that hath been known." "... significant though Briggs was as a mathematician in his own right, his greatest importance was as a contact and public relations man." Briggs was firm friends of James Ussher, Bishop of Armagh with whom he corresponded. Ussher was famous for his calculation in 1656 that the date of the Creation was nightfall preceding 23 October 4004 BC (sometimes ridiculed to be 9pm on a Thursday) and an inspiration to Young Earth Creationism.

Why it is no longer acceptable to say astrology is rubbish on a scientific basis.

Robert Currey
www.twitter.com/RobertCurrey


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