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Validity of astrology

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The validity of astrology is a controversial subject. The case for and the case against astrology's objective validity are presented here. Astrologers argue that astrology works by a mechanism or mechanisms that are unknown to science, or perhaps outside of the scientific paradigm. They believe it is validated by their personal experience when applied in real life cases. Many argue that it does not make the hard predictions science requires, but informs the user of subtleties to decisions that would otherwise be missed. Skeptics see astrology as repeatedly failing to demonstrate its effectiveness in controlled studies.

How astrologers view astrology

Most astrologers, whether they believe astrology has objective validity or not, consider astrology to be a useful tool by which people may come to better understand themselves, others, and the world in general. Some argue that astrology's objective validity is a non-issue, and that astrology's primary value lies in the introspection and self-examination it may provoke. Others are quite insistent that astrology has objective validity.

Part of astrology's continued appeal may rest on its ability to link an individual's life to the wider cosmos, and so give a feeling of uniqueness, meaning, and connection to the totality of things. Many argue that astrology contains archetypal symbolism, which, according to some schools of thought (such as Jungian psychology), can be found universally throughout humanity.

Most astrologers make no claim to be practicing a science and see their skill as an art or spiritual discipline conferring a structure to a dialogue with their client. Rather than the mechanical prediction of events, an astrologer's success would need to be measured in terms of the happiness and well-being of his or her subjects.

How skeptics view astrology

Skeptics think that astrology should be considered a form of pseudoscience, attempting to lay claim to the prestige of science without submitting itself to the discipline of scientific method. Skeptics consider astrology to lack falsifiability.

Newspapers and mass-market magazines often publish horoscope columns with the title "Astrological Forecast," perhaps implying that they should be considered on the same footing with weather forecasts. However, astrology has so far failed carefully designed empirical tests of its predictive claims [1], unlike meteorology, which—although not always correct—has been proved to be significantly more accurate than what some astrologers have been able to produce so far.

As is often the case with pseudoscience, skeptics argue that the proponents of astrology respond to such disproof either by changing their claims, or by refusing to accept the scientific method as a valid test of their claims.

On the other hand, if scientific method is to be rejected entirely, many skeptics assert that the difficulty of disproving astrology lies in the disagreement between astrologers on an alternative method of verification.

Astrology hypotheses

A number of hypotheses have been put forward concerning the mechanism behind astrology:-

Synchronicity - The vast majority of western astrologers in the world today believe that astrology is a purely correlative study which reflects the underlying patterns in various systems, without any mechanism for a causal planetary influence needed at all. Proponents of this theory usually point to the work of the German psychiatrist Carl Jung, and his theory of synchronicity.

Fractals - Some astrologers suspect fractal associations between the geometry of events in the sky and those on Earth.

Chaos theory - It could be argued that the mechanism behind astrology might operate less in terms of Newtonian laws, and more in terms of chaos (e.g. a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil leads to a tornado in Texas).

Gravitational influence - The argument that since the gravitational forces of the Moon cause the movements of the tides, then by extension they must also have an effect on human life, was one first put fourth by Claudius Ptolemy in his 2nd century work known as the Tetrabiblos. While today few believe that gravitational or tidal forces are the mechanism behind astrology, the idea that tidal forces affect biological organisms has some scientific support.

Frank Brown's Experiment

In 1954, a biologist named Frank Brown transported a shipment of oysters from New Haven, Connecticut several hundred miles away to Evanston, Illinois. Oysters open and close their shells in synchronization with the tide, and up until this time the accepted explanation for this phenomenon was simple—the physical force of the water gave the oysters some cue as to when to open and close their shells.

Dr. Brown placed his oysters in a controlled environment, and at first they responded as expected, opening and closing their shells in accord with the tide in New Haven. However, within a week, they began to get out of sync. Within two weeks, they had once again settled on a unanimous rhythm, opening and closing in correlation with the tidal forces of Evanston, despite the fact that there was no physical motion of water to prompt their action. Clearly, some mechanism in the oyster was "detecting" the tidal force.

One explanation advanced by biologists is that the Earth's magnetic fields are affected by tidal forces, and nearly all biological organisms (including humans) are affected by the Earth's magnetic field. While this has little bearing on the practice of astrology, it is strong evidence that tidal forces do indeed have an effect (albeit indirect) on living organisms.

The Mars effect

The Mars effect is based on some of the statistical analyses of French psychologist and statistician Michel Gauquelin published in the late 1960s. It claims that Mars occupies certain positions in the sky slightly more often (21%) at the birth of sports champions than at the birth of ordinary people (18%). Specifically, the claim is that sports champions are more likely to be born when Mars is rising in the eastern horizon or culminating in the upper meridian, known to astrologers as the ascendant and midheaven. Among hundreds of possible correlations Gauquelin tested, this was one of the most striking results that were found to statistically significant, but it was not the only one.

However, there is a problem with ambiguity (who qualifies as a "sports champion"?) known as the eminence factor, where the Mars effect only shows up in the most prominent athletes in their fields of prowess. Also, significant correlation does not prove that two variables are related or connected through some sort of causal mechanism per se. This is a common logical fallacy known as correlation implying causation.

The thirteenth zodiacal constellation explained

Many people cite the fact that there are 13 constellations of unequal size along the astronomical ecliptic, and not twelve equally-sized constellations, to try to discredit or otherwise disprove astrology. To astrologers, the size of the actual astronomical constellations is not an issue because most Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac, where the ecliptic is divided into 12 equal portions exactly 30 degrees each to get the 12 astrological signs. (12 signs x 30 degrees each sign = the 360 degrees of the ecliptic). The tropical zodiac is therefore aligned more with the seasons and the length of daylight in a given portion of the year during the course of the Sun's annual cycle.

Of the 13 modern signs of the zodiac (constellations of the ecliptic), Ophiuchus is the only one not counted as an astrological sign. Some astrologers argue that this is because the area of Ophiuchus intersected by the ecliptic previously belonged to more than one constellation. The constellations were redefined by the International Astronomical Union in 1930 and include a portion of Ophiuchus(Serpent-Bearer) on the ecliptic, to get 88 constellations. Prior to 1930 some areas of the sky did not belong to a constellation, forcing astronomers to refer to "the area between constellation X and constellation Y". Some areas, like the foot of Ophiuchus, belonged to more than one constellation. The modern constellation boundaries were defined to resolve this problem, so that every part of the sky belongs to one clearly defined constellation. However, Ptolemy recognised in ancient times that the sun passes through Opiuchus. Therefore some argue that, even by the ancient defintion, Opiuchus is a sign of the zodiac, and the arguments about the IAU 20th century redefinition of the constellations is specious: according to this view, the use by modern astrologers of only 12 signs is erroneous. This argument would only have bearing on the sidereal zodiac of the constellations, and not the tropical zodiac which is based on the seasons.

The case against astrology

Given that some astrologers claim to make predictions about future events, it should be possible to construct an experiment that measures its accuracy. No such experiment has ever demonstrated the objective validity of astrology. In addition, scientific double blind tests (example) have shown that many astrologers fare no better than random chance when matching astrological charts to personalities.

Here are some common arguments used by astrology skeptics.

Gravitational forces

There are various claims by astrologers that distant planets affect us through either gravitation, electromagnetism, or some other undetected force. However, scientifically we know of no force attributed to distant stars and planets capable or affecting our lives and personalities here on earth.

  • It is pointed out that the moon causes tides on earth, and it is reasoned that the gravitational pull of other heavenly bodies affect us. This is invalid for the following reasons:
    1. The gravitational pull from e.g. Saturn, when calculated for its effect over an area the size of the human body, is equal to the gravitational pull from a car 1.7 meters away. Yet astrologers are uninterested in the positions of cars at the time of birth. In fact, the gravitational pull of Earth itself varies more from place to place than the gravitational pull of even the largest planets.
    2. If direction and strength of the gravitational field is important, then surely nearby massive objects (cars, mountains, houses) and the birthing position would play a greater role than distant planets.
    3. Astrology does not offer any explanation of how the gravitational pull from other planets, regardless of intensity, affects personality, nor why we are susceptible to gravitational influence during birth, nor how the gravitational influences at one point in the past affect our outlook for the future.

Magnetic influence

Another attempt at scientific explanation is that heavenly bodies affect the Earth's magnetic field, and that the magnetic field at the time of birth affects the person. To what extent this is true is largely irrelevant: The Earth's magnetic field is quite weak, and varies from 0.3 to 0.6 Gauss according to location. One would get a considerably stronger exposure to a magnetic field from an ordinary refrigerator magnet.

The question of distance

Astrology does not address how distance to a stellar object affects its astrological impact. If distance is relevant, astrological charts do not take it into account.

Extra heavenly bodies

Astrological charts do not consider all stellar objects, including planets, moons, and distant stars, although some fixed stars are included in most astrological systems.

Inconsistency of effect

Astrology shows an inconsistency on its terms. Assuming a theoretical force emanated by any celestial body, it is unclear how such a force could influence so differently two people located on Earth only hundreds of miles apart. Only the angle of incidence is left as a parameter. If this force exists, it shows a very singular behavior, unique in the physical laws, yet to be observed.

Astrological and astronomical zodiac differences

  • The zodiac system used by astrologers has never fully aligned with the constellations. The tropical zodiac and the sidereal zodiac both divide the ecliptic into 12 equal portions of 30 degrees, but the constellations of the zodiac all vary in size, from 44 degrees across for Virgo to 20 degrees across for Cancer.
  • The tropical zodiac used by most western astrologers begins at the vernal point, which gradually changes its position due to the precession of Earth's axis, known as the precession of the equinoxes. Over the course of 2000 years, the tropical zodiac has shifted about 24 degrees, so any celestial object said to be in one sign in the tropical zodiac will, upon observation of the present night sky, usually be found occupying the next zodiacal constellation.
  • The sidereal zodiac, used by many eastern astrologers, currently deducts about 24 degrees to account for the precession of the equinoxes, but it still does not align perfectly with the constellations because the constellations are of unequal sizes, rather than each being 30 degrees across, as the sidereal zodiac requires.
  • Many astrologers ignore this, while some consider (see [2]) the discrepancy between the tropical signs and the sidereal constellations is irrelevant because the astrological signs and constellations are considered by astrologers to be two distinctly different, non-equivalent things. The actual constellations are seldom used by western astrologers, except for those who use the sidereal zodiac or the fixed stars.

The thirteenth constellation: Ophiuchus

The constellation Ophiuchus, the serpent holder, was recognized by the ancient Greeks (although not as a specific sign), and is partially in the path of the ecliptic. It contains the sun once a year (in early December), and the planets at various other times. Even Ptolemy—one of the great astrologers of antiquity—recognized it as a constellation, but not as a tropical sign in it of itself.

Knowing about things which can not be changed. A paradox?

Many say that astrology does not necessarily claim complete immutability. Nonetheless a thought-provoking question can be raised: Future prediction necessarily implies a degree of immutability: it is the very reason which makes any prediction possible. But if the future is immutable, then what is the point of knowing what can not be changed?


External links

Non-skeptic sites

Skeptic sites