O would some power the gift to give us,
to see ourselves as others see us.
Those who spend some time on the ANS website will find a number of excellent articles pointing out the shortcomings of skeptics of astrology. From misinformation about the essentials of astrology to logical fallacies, the problems with skeptical arguments are clearly and rationally presented.
To no avail, generally speaking. Making a good case for an open-minded approach to astrology is unlikely to do much to persuade those who are, in the words of consciousness researcher Gary Schwartz, “devoutly skeptical.” Describing the shortcomings of skeptics doesn’t change the mind of astrology’s critics so much as bolster the intellectual courage of astrologers.
The intellectual rigidity of skeptics isn’t surprising; despite the fact that astrology’s most vociferous critics are often members of the scientific community. Scientists consider themselves objective and impartial, but it is not scientists but the scientific method that has objectivity. Participating in the scientific method doesn’t wipe out the partialities and prejudices that are endemic to human experience, although it can provide an excellent opportunity to sweep them under the rug and project them onto others (and astrologers make a very convenient screen for those projections).
Unintelligent criticisms can come from intelligent people, and astrological skeptics often display great intelligence when they aren’t talking about astrology. A useful strategy might be to look at the context in which skeptics are operating and the perspective from which they view astrology. Astrologers may actually find some sympathy with skeptics, even in the absence of agreement.
Science’s Greatest Successes
First, we should note that the greatest successes of science have come in the explanation of physical phenomena. In the vast expanses of human knowledge, few things have the objectivity and consistency as, say, Boyle’s Law. A resulting materialistic perspective has become dominant in intellectual culture in the West. While some aspects of astrology might be explained via sunspots and lunar phases, it is a stretch of the imagination to think that the symbolic associations of the planet Venus or the sign of Aries are due to any known physical force. Astrology therefore appears impossible – no further explanation needed – to those who hew to a materialistic perspective.
Wouldn’t we expect that scientists would be eager to apply their method to non-materialistic things? Social scientists do, although with a frequent tendency to reduce psychological and social phenomena to material factors. In general, however, scientists steer away from rather than apply themselves to anything that suggests the supernatural, non-ordinary, or simply nonphysical.
The historical context for this one-sidedness may be found in the history of science. Although science is the dominant intellectual paradigm today, it had a difficult birth process with an extended labor, constricted by the Catholic Church. The trial of Galileo informs the psyche of every modern scientist, and leaves a trace of fear of anything that appears to be irrational. Nor are the threats all in the past – some contemporary high school curricula suggests that the world was created, as is, five thousand years ago. This is a threat not only to evolutionary biology and the entire discipline of geology, but to the scientific method itself.
Scientists and modern intellectuals might be expected to be more discerning, rather than lumping together astrology with religion (religion would certainly appreciate the distinction, as it shares science’s disdain of astrology). But, like religion, astrology is old and it doesn’t meet modern criteria to be considered science, and so the two are grouped together, pragmatically if not precisely.
Lest we forget, the good old days before modern science and the dominance of modern rational thought were hardly idyllic – they weren’t even very good. Our culture may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater in some respects, but that bathwater was very, very dirty with superstition, xenophobia, and prejudice. We have become too oriented to the material side of existence, but we have also made great strides in technology, medicine, law, education, and just about everything, thanks to the rise of science and rationality.
Authority Trumps Evidence
In the old days, authority usually trumped evidence – the earth was literally made in six days because The Bible said so – and disagreement with authority could land a person in very uncomfortable circumstances. Skeptics are fighting against the kind of limited, traditional thinking that hemmed in progress – and freedom – for millennia. In their zealousness to keep antiquated superstition out of modern life, they mistakenly throw out anything that does not meet their standards of materialistic science. Spirituality is discarded along with religious dogma, psychic phenomena are lost along with the notion of spontaneous generation, and astrology is disposed of in the same refuse bin as phrenology. Skeptic’s thinking is erroneous, but their intentions are generally good.
It isn’t solely a matter of concern at the collective level, either. Each successive generation is pulling itself away from limited, prejudicial thinking slowly, one person at a time. People who grew up in very traditional households – religious, cultural, or otherwise – may find themselves in rebellion against the limitations on thought and belief that are imposed by family and community. Anything that appears to be looking backwards is suspect, and astrology certainly looks backwards much of the time. Convincing skeptics that some things they see in their rearview mirrors are worth looking at is difficult, because at heart they so desperately want to move forward.
Can any contemporary astrologer blame them? We have only tenuously reached a point where sexual, economic, and political freedoms are accepted ideals, and we have a long way to go before they are realities. Skeptics are trying to keep us away from the traditional beliefs and rigid thinking that made these things impossibilities for centuries. Astrology is hated because it is seen as traditional (literally, based on tradition), and tradition typically limits freedom of thought and action.
In my discussions with skeptics, I find that they don’t question the mechanics of astrology very much. They don’t think that astrology could work, because there is no good physical explanation for it, but that isn’t their main concern. Rather, they tend to focus on the perceived limitation to freedom that they see astrology implying. They don’t want their life to be fated – they want to have control over their destinies. This is a perspective with which many astrologers could be quite sympathetic. While there are branches of astrology that assume a rather fatalistic perspective, there are also many schools of thought within astrology that posit at least some degree of freedom, and some that assume a great deal of independence is possible.
Those who are working within a materialistic perspective already have plenty of things that will hamper their freedom. Genetics, for example, can be seen from this perspective as determining the length and quality of life, and those who take a sociobiological viewpoint see almost everything as prescribed by the genetic code. Why would they want another set of factors to limit them further? Besides, genetics is theirs while astrology is alien to them.
As an astrologer, I take issue with skeptics. I don’t like that they judge astrology without really knowing about it. Some of the worst of the skeptics have actually forged data to try to prove that astrology doesn’t work. Imagine that! Forging data to protect science! But most skeptics aren’t overtly dishonest, even if they are a bit too one-sided. They aren’t malicious in their intent, even if they are pernicious in their effect. Ironically, they are trying to prevent the very blind ignorance they visit upon astrologers. Yet they do so to keep the world free from some of the ugliest forms of stupidity, and I thank them for that.