More Astrology Follies
A commenter named Robert has taken me to task for my recent post denouncing astrology and relativism. Robert was a member of my parents church organization for several years, during which time he heard a lecture I gave in 1987 about the "evils" of rock music. I’ve long since repudiated that position, but people who have heard or read that statement often use it to discredit me. Nonetheless, Robert raises some interesting points, which I address here:
After reading about your encounter with the new age astrologer I had to laugh, thinking about you standing up in front of thousands of people and telling them how evil rock music is and how you believed so strongly in your belief system and how you had to prove to us sitting in that tent in Montana how right you were. You sound like the same guy I heard back then, you just flipped your belief system. You went from white to black and didn’t realize that there are millions of colors.
Robert, thanks for reminding me of that infamous rock ‘n roll lecture. For the past 15 years, I’ve been on record as being a strong supporter of the validity of all types of music as freedom of expression. I have three sons in rock bands. (One is about to go on a major tour of the U.S. and Canada.) But you raise an interesting point: why should anyone listen to anything I have to say, then or now? I have a two-part answer to that question:
First of all, everything I had to say in my brief career as a minister, was based on statements from Scripture and authority, namely the teachings and authority of my parents. I was strongly encouraged–coerced would not be too strong a term–to take the position I took, do the research, and denounce rock music. It’s no secret that I always liked rock music from the time I first heard it as a child. Part of my coming-of-age in Church Universal and Triumphant involved taking a strong stand against the music I loved. It was a sort of loyalty test, an initiation, if you will, to prove that I would be the good son, following in the footsteps of my parents.
The second part of my answer involves my realization that Scripture and authority are not good indicators of truth, and in fact often lead to acceptance of glaring logical fallacies. So my new approach, hopefully tempered by my education, and 20 years of additional life experience, is to rely on empiricism and measurable, testable facts. So your statement that I went from white to black is really a false dichotomy, and ignores my well-documented attention to the nuances of reasoned argument. I have rejected all beliefs and belief systems. My stance against relativism is strongly grounded in the knowledge that information must always be held to a high standard of proof. My statements on rock music were little more than someone else’s opinions. My current philosophy is fact-based. If I can be shown that I’ve made a factual or logical error, I’m perfectly willing to recant and/or reconsider any of my positions.
Your encounter was with someone who did not have much education or knowledge and could not possibly argue science or logic with you. Therefore I will take over in her place, I have a B.Sc. degree, was in your parents church for 6 or 7 years and have studied astrology for 25 years.
I also have a good science education, having studied engineering at Northwestern University. I quit school, just a few credits short of my BSEE degree to go and work on the church’s bomb shelters.
Through the scientific method of trail and error I have concluded that a lot of the stuff in CUT was bullshit although not all, some was very good and enlightening and opened my eyes to many interesting ideas and thoughts and I enjoyed those years overall, it was kind of like living in Disneyland, or being in a movie, a very Neptunian experience, to put it in an astrological way. After 25 years of astrology I would say it is the most amazing science on this earth and it proves itself over and over again and fills me with awe every time I experience things in my life and when I observe it in others and I can watch the astrological correlations at the same time.
I’m highly skeptical of your claims about astrology, and I can cite multiple sources of double-blind tests showing that astrological readings fail utterly to predict anything about human beings or human events.
You wondered how the planets might affect us being so far away and that gravity is a force arising from the presence of mass, or a planet. Sean you should study some astronomy sometime and if you did you would realize that about 10% of the mass in the universe is made up from visible celestial objects and that almost 90% of the mass of the universe is composed of "dark matter". This dark matter has shaped the universe as we know it and without the gravitational pull of dark matter, the galaxies, stars and planets would not have formed. Given the fact that astronomers know very little about this dark matter and how it controls the universe and are just beginning to understand it, how can you say the planets and Sun and moon do not affect us they flow through this dark matter which must affect us and maybe is a part of us? The point is you do not know how the planets affect us, know one does, we can only put forth a hypothesis, and yours is that they have no effect on us, and mine after 25 years of observing them daily, is that they do have an effect on us.
Actually, Robert, I did study astronomy, and I am well aware of the existence of dark matter as well as many of the other modern cosmological theories. Also, you are making a positive claim, while I am merely asking for better evidence. The two are not equivalent.
Now don’t take my word for it, lets bring in some others with far greater knowledge and intelligence than me. Lets starts with Kary Mullis. Dr. Mullis received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993, for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Dr. Mullis earned a Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1972 and wrote a book titled, "Dancing Naked in the Mind Field," published by Pantheon Books in 1998. In his book he has a chapter titled, "I am a Capricorn" where he explains how he found astrology and did some tests to prove it and he concludes that it should be used by all counselors as it is an effective and valuable tool for understanding oneself and others. He concludes the chapter with his birthday and time and tells us we can know far more about him from his birth data than from reading his book.
I read Dr. Mullis book, about five years ago, and I liked his writing style, and I’m clearly impressed with his discoveries of the polymerase chain reaction. That however does not make him an authority on astrology. And arguments from authority are suspect in any case. Even Stephen Hawking has been wrong at times–that is the beauty of science. Scientists constantly reevaluate their own theories and opinions, and know to avoid making conclusions outside of their area of expertise. Scientists are the first ones to look for corroboration, and to be skeptical of their own claims. Plenty of scientists also make the mistake Mullis made, when they speculate on philosophy and the nature of reality. Francis Collins, also a pioneer in the field of human genetics, recently went on record in his new book The Language of God, claiming positive proof of the existence of God. This is nonsense. Scientists are human beings, and they are subject to the same foibles as the rest of us. They have no corner on epistemology. They have merely been trained in the techniques of observation, theory, experiment, and proof. Sometimes their hubris and subjective feelings lead them to forget their training. This happened also with Dr. Mullis, when he claimed to have seen a "glowing raccoon." He knew it was not possible, but yet he chose to follow his subjectivity rather than his training. I fear, this has also happened with his penchant for astrology.
Next we can look at Gunter Sachs. Sachs set out to test the assumptions off astrologers by gathering a team of scientists and statisticians which, over two years, analyzed the lives of nearly one million men and women. "In every case, there were significant results, way beyond what is explicable through mere coincidence." he is quoted as saying by the Daily Mail newspaper on November 6th, 1997. To facilitate the research he set up the "Institute for the Empirical and Mathematical Examination of the Possible Truth of Astrology in Relation to Human Behavior". Then, using established statistical techniques and with help from the official statistics office in Switzerland (where the authorities have recorded the date and hour of birth of every citizen since 1875 his team gathered statistics on every aspect of human life.
Nice skimming from the Wikipedia article on Gunter Sachs! But again, we are short on specific evidence. I looked at the same article, and many people question Sachs’ statistical methods, and other studies have shown quite the opposite.
Michel Gauquelin was a French psychologist and statistician who, along with his first wife Françoise Schneider-Gauquelin conducted very important statistical research on astrology from the beginning of the 1950s to the present day. Up to his death, he tried first and foremost to show the inanity of astrology, in reaction to his father, who was an enthusiastic defender of the practice. Although he always remained highly critical of astrology in general, his attitude towards its existence changed as his studies progressed in the study of the diurnal cycle, which is related to the astrological houses. "Subsequent results only confirmed and amplified my initial discovery about the physicians. On the whole, it emerged that there was an increasingly solid statistical link between the time of birth of great men and their occupational success. … Having collected over 20,000 dates of birth of professional celebrities from various European countries and from the United States, I had to draw the unavoidable conclusion that the position of the planets at birth is linked to one’s destiny. What a challenge to the rational mind!" (Neo-Astrology, 1991)
Even if double blind peer-reviewed evidence were to bear out these claims, correlation is not causation. You seem to acknowledge this later with your clock-hands analogy. In order for any of these studies to be meaningful, a theory would have to be presented showing how the planets, or stars, or dark matter actually impacted human life. Beyond this, astrologers would also have to present scores of detailed causal case-studies, showing how trines, squares, conjunctions, etc. actually resulted in concrete measurable effects, and exactly what those effects were. Then, and only then, would astrology enter the realm of science.
Last but not least I call Richard Tarnas to the stand. Richard Tarnas, author of The Passion of the Western Mind and Cosmos and Psyche, is a cultural historian and professor of philosophy and psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and founding director of its graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness. He graduated from Harvard with an A.B. cum laude in 1972 and received his Ph.D. from Saybrook Institute. From 1980 to 1990, he wrote The Passion of the Western Mind, a narrative history of Western thought which became a bestseller and continues to be a widely-used text in universities throughout the world. His second major work, Cosmos and Psyche, challenges the basic assumptions of the modern world view with a new body of evidence that points towards a new perspective on the human role in the cosmos. Based on thirty years of research, Cosmos and Psyche is the first book by a widely respected scholar to demonstrate the existence of a consistent correspondence between planetary movements and the archetypal patterns of human experience, also called astrology. Cosmos and Psyche suggests a new possibility for reuniting religion and science, soul and intellect, ancient wisdom and modern reason in the quest to understand the past and create the future.
First off, I have to say you are awfully stuck on arguing from authority. Nobel Prize this, Ph.D. that–it all sounds very impressive to the layman. But again, even Ph.D.’s and Nobel prize winners still have to document their results. Your last two sentences (which I’m assuming are lifted from the promotional copy for Richard Tarnas’ book) are chockablock with unsupported claims and sweeping generalizations:
"Cosmos and Psyche is the first book by a widely respected scholar to demonstrate the existence of a consistent correspondence between planetary movements and the archetypal patterns of human experience, also called astrology." Would you care to be a little more specific as to which planetary movements have been correlated statistically with which archetypal patterns of human experience? Would you care to seriously claim that all other factors of genetics, birthplace, circumstance, nationality, economic station, and education have been eliminated, and such effects are based solely on an unexplained action-at-a distance?
"Cosmos and Psyche suggests a new possibility for reuniting religion and science, soul and intellect, ancient wisdom and modern reason in the quest to understand the past and create the future." Wow, I hate to be sarcastic here, but can this book also solve the energy crisis and end world hunger at the same time? I mean, Robert, I’m in the promotions business, it’s what I do for a living. The first thing you learn is not to oversell your product. I’m not even sure it’s possible to unify religion and science let alone the soul and intellect. Religion is one of the most confused and contradictory of all human enterprises, and as far as the human soul is concerned, we don’t even know if it exists. Ancient wisdom might just be the ultimate oxymoron. The ancients ‘knew’ what they knew because their perspective was limited. There’s almost no information that hasn’t been updated and refined with time. We stand at a pinnacle of knowledge, but we know our knowledge will be superceded. Understanding the past? That’s called history. Creating the future? We all create the future every day.
From "An Introduction to Archetypal Astrological Analysis" Richard Tarnas writes; "From this point of view, the birth chart is not the randomly allotted prison-structure of our inexorable fate, but can be seen rather as defining the basic structure of our potential unfolding–suggesting the personal gifts and trials that we have chosen for this lifetime to work with and evolve through. Astrology illuminates the fundamental archetypal dynamics that profoundly condition our lives, which is not to say they absolutely determine our lives. Because our personal response to life always contains an element of unpredictability and potential freedom, and because astrology gives a greater understanding of our basic archetypal complexes and their timing, then a knowledge of our birth chart and transits can significantly increase the range of options, flexibility, and intelligence with which we approach life. The study of astrology can be extraordinarily liberating.
Finally, the issue of causal mechanism, or why astrology works: It seems unlikely to me that the planets send out some kind of physical emanations that causally influence events in human life in a mechanistic way.
I can’t tell if you’re quoting Tarnas, or speaking yourself, but either way, thank you for admitting here what my relativist friend would not. But you still seem to contradict yourself. Because earlier you were talking about “dark matter.” You used the classic argument from ignorance to say "how do we know the dark matter does not affect us. And maybe is a part of us?” Well, this question amounts to less than nothing. Obviously, you can’t prove a negative. That’s why scientists look for evidence before making claims or formulating theories. Any theory that can be proven also must be falsifiable.
The range of coincidences between planetary positions and human existence is just too vast, too experientially complex, too aesthetically subtle and endlessly creative to be explained by physical factors alone.
Whoa Nelly! That last sentence is practically a verbatim recitation of the teleological argument, used by "intelligent design" advocates to teach creationism in modern science classrooms. Your next statement is equally nebulous and appeals to your belief, with a vague reference to Ken Wilber’s overarching and controversial concept of "holons."
I believe that a more plausible and comprehensive explanation is that the universe is informed and pervaded by a fundamental holistic patterning which extends through every level, so that a constant synchronicity or meaningful correlation exists between astronomical events and human events. This is represented in the basic esoteric axiom, "as above, so below," which reflects a universe all of whose parts are integrated into an intelligible whole.
Again, Robert, come on. Are you actually trying to convince me of the efficacy of astrology based on the statement "as above, so below?" Sounds like primitive mirror-image morphology mixed with glib verbal simile to me. What kind of a science degree did you say you had? Or Tarnas?
From this perspective, the planets themselves are not "causing" anything to be happening in our lives, any more than the hands on a clock are now causing it to be 7:30 PM. Rather, the planetary positions are indicative of the cosmic state of the archetypal forces at that time. The fact that the planets constantly seem to indicate these things with such accuracy simply suggests that the cosmic order is much more profound and pervasive than our conventional beliefs have assumed.
So am I to conclude that you have rejected your "conventional scientific training?"
But the relationship between a specific planetary pattern and a human experience is best seen as one of meaningful correlation or correspondence, not one of simple linear causality. There is, however, a sense in which causality does enter into the astrological perspective, and this is in the sense of archetypal causation (comparable to Aristotle’s concepts of formal and final causes). While the physical planets themselves may bear only a synchronistic connection with a given human experience, that experience is nevertheless being affected or caused–influenced, patterned, impelled, drawn forth–by the relevant planetary archetypes, and in this sense it is quite appropriate to speak, for example, of Saturn (as archetype) "influencing" one in a specific way, or as "governing" certain kinds of experience. But why should the cosmos have established a systematic correspondence between planetary patterns and archetypally patterned phenomena in human lives? There are many possible answers to this question, not the least of which might point toward a kind of intrinsic aesthetic splendor in the universe, an overflow of cosmic intelligence and delight that reveals itself in this continuous marriage of mathematical astronomy and mythic poetry. But in more pragmatic, human terms, my sense of astrology is that the constant coincidence between planetary positions and human lives exists as a kind of universal code for the human mind to unravel, so that we can better understand ourselves and our world, rediscover our deep connection to the cosmos, and be more complete human beings."
Robert, I’m sorry, but both you and Tarnas have spectacularly failed to prove your case. If you can’t cite specific double-blind studies, I would suggest that you reassess your reliance on these questionable assumptions. I stand by my assertion that these links between heavenly bodies and human events are insufficiently supported by any existing evidence.