October 24, 2017

August 2013-Life in the AstroBlogosphere: Adventures in Astrology

Gazing upon astronomy’s astrological past…

(Photo by author).

I was first bitten by the astrology bug in the 6th grade.

This was in the late 1970s, when Weekly Reader (remember Weekly Reader?) offered students mail order books to purchase. Astrology and new age mania was also at a fevered pitch.

I eagerly absorbed a book on astrology, like I did with every new subject I came across. (UFOs and Bigfoot were big then too). How simple and clear cut it all seemed! All of humanity could be divvied up into 12 trouble-free houses, all dictated by birth date. All triumphs and tribulations could be attributed to the heavens. After all, as the book stated, “If plants grown in different seasons are dissimilar, then why not people?”

But then I turned twelve.

I was lucky, I guess, that Sagan’s Cosmos came as a voice of evidence-based science in the 70’s, a voice that rescued many of us from magical thinking…

But, you ask, what brings these halcyon days back to the fore? Recently, we wrote a syndicated article on what astronomy has to say about astrology and the birth of the royal baby. This was a great jumping off point to discuss the precession of the equinoxes and the wondrous universe we inhabit.

The article itself did really well. Many praised our beacon of reason in the dark as we reached out across the aisle to a dubious audience.

But a few astrologers were not happy with our Dave Barry-meets-Neil DeGrasse Tyson style of delivery, to say the least. If a mea culpa is due from us at all, it’s for sarcasm in the face of the cosmos.

In fact, it led to at least one endearing cut-and-paste hack job by a  blogger who attempted to site the astrological error of our ways, all while not actually presenting any logic-based counter arguments, no easy feat.

How could you, they asked, make such an “Astrology 101” mistake as confusing the modern constellations with signs and houses?

I do not have a PhD in astrology (although they’re easily available via mail-order on the ye’ ole web), but I do have an education grounded in science. We have discussed the difference between the tropical and sidereal year (‘bout 20 minutes, give or take, thank you). It’s a valid position to point out where astrology and astronomy diverge from their hoary roots in the past. The trouble is, the best arguments that astrologers seem to mount are variants of the logical fallacy known as the “Gish Gallop” (throw in so many “facts” that no one would ever think of sitting down and dissecting all of them in a debunk). Like fundamentalists, they also argue from the point that the certainty of astrology is a given, and view reality from this lone perspective.

Don’t get me wrong. I love those who are curious about astrology- but I loathe astrologers. An interest in astrology stems from our deepest need to belong, to find where we fit in as a puzzle piece in a lonely and indifferent universe. And guess what? The universe does impact our lives, but not in the mundane sense of improving our love lives or helping us to get a job. The Sun fuels life on the planet. The elements in our bones were forged inside of stars. The very existence of our large Moon may be why life arose here in the first place.

I’ve had friends stop by, interested in seeing a close planetary conjunction or occultation. Rather than give them the “astrology is bunk” spiel, I simply show them the wonders of the cosmos, each can take from it what they will.

But the harm comes from those who deliberately con the curious, often to the tune of huge book advances and daily columns on astrology. How much damage has been done by those who follow the advice of astrologers for financial and even political advice?

Ironically, we also get blowback from the other direction, when we mention astronomical terms such as “retrograde” and “occultation” to the astronomy crowd. How could you, they implore, as they unwittingly echo their astrology Bizarro-world counterparts, taint our science with astrology?

It doesn’t have to be this way. While astronomy has parted ways from astrology, we both have a common passion and ancestor. Perhaps the only true fear is that light will be shed on the very few that make a profit and scam the unwary.

All in all, it was a fun and insightful week, venturing into the other camp. Be sure to keep an open mind (yes, you too, astronomers!) about the universe around us… but not so open that your brains fall out!

Comments

  1. You can solve your all problems by Astrology. Like: Business problem, Relationship problem, Marriage problem, Job problems, Study problem, Family Problem etc. You may get your love back by Astrology.

  2. Adam says:

    I quite liked your point about how we both share a common passion for the universe and the stars. I can sometimes forget that when I get irritated by some of the nonsense that gets thrown out their by followers of Astrology.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Astrology and astronomy also have an intimate and hoary history, as many astronomers up until the time of Kepler financed their astronomical studies by casting royal horoscopes. And we still use terms such as appulse, conjunction and occultation, which have roots in astrology. [...]

  2. [...] the two with the unaided eye? We once showed off a similar conjunction of Saturn and Venus to an astrology-minded friend on the morning of August 26th, 2006… we can only hope they came over to the ‘light [...]

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