“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” – Max Planck
I’ve said it before, in these book reviews, in articles on this and other sites, and in my own books: there is no more vexing problem for astrology than an understanding of how it works. In the materialist paradigm that dominates Western academic thought, astrology must be impossible. It simply cannot work, apart perhaps from a few seasonal trends in behavior and the powerful but nebulous effects of the Moon.
Yet if we step outside of that materialist paradigm, we may find ways to understand how astrology does work. The trick, it seems, is to get folks to take that step outside, even tentatively. Among Western materialists, outside of cool scientific rationalism there is only, to use the title of astronomer Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon Haunted World. Beyond materialism lies superstition, ignorance, and chaos. And astrology is right there with those fearful things.
An honest astrologer has to recognize that there is some validity to the materialists’ fears. Before the advent of scientific rationalism – and its inherently materialistic bias – it was indeed hard to separate fact from fantasy. Evidence was secondary to belief, and dogma ruled in many places: the Earth was the center of the universe, and if you didn’t like it, some very nasty consequences awaited. By comparison, we breathe easier today, knowing that astrologers may be marginalized and ridiculed, but are unlikely to be burned at the stake.
The problem with scientific rationalism is that while it is very good at measuring the material world, it has never quite got off the ground in other areas. Social sciences try, and make valuable contributions, but there is nothing in psychology or sociology as universally accepted as, say, the second law of thermodynamics. When we enter into the realm of meaning and value, the materialist perspective falls short: it’s like trying to measure the circumference of a tree with a very finely calibrated, but straight, ruler.
In How Astrology Works, James Lynn Page challenges the criticisms of skeptics with both power and precision. It’s a short book that combines logic and narrative to make an entertaining read. The book covers a lot of ground, which helps to keep things fresh for the reader, while going into adequate depth on each topic. That’s possible because Page is concise and direct in his writing style.
The first chapters of the book are devoted to understanding – and undermining – the criticisms of skeptics. He points out the weakness of their arguments, centering on their lack of knowledge about what astrology actually is but also tackling errors in logic and failure to keep abreast of the changes within their own fields. He does a very good job of showing that the apparently cool, rational, Spock-like demeanor of skeptics tends to hide a fierce Dishonest Skepticism (he also uses the term guerilla skeptics, while I would prefer Gary Schwartz’s phrase devoutly skeptical).
Yet debunking the debunkers doesn’t explain how astrology does work. After his treatment of skeptics, the author goes on to tackle this greater question. His approach is interesting, in that he starts with some foundational astrological concepts, for example the four elements, and examines whether these concepts map onto our experience of reality. Only later in the book does he tackle the philosophical and practical questions, bringing in the idea of an entangled universe in which consciousness is an active, creative force.
How Astrology Works is a valuable contribution to a growing literature in the field of astrology. For the interested astrology enthusiast or an astrologer who wants or needs to know more about the topic, it is perhaps the best available introduction. As for skeptics, I’m sure few will read, and no minds will be changed.