Despite its claims to accuracy and logical thinking, "science" is actually misunderstood by many people.
There are several legitimate definitions of science today:
- The observation of natural phenomena in order to develop explanatory theories and laws about them
- A body of knowledge about natural phenomena that can be tested through further investigations
- Specific branches of knowledge derived from systematic observation and testing
Science is distinguished from other branches of knowledge by the scientific method, whereby scientists pose hypotheses, devise methods and collect data to test them, and then determine whether or not their results confirm or negate the hypotheses. Their data are usually quantitative (numerical) or are rendered into quantitative form for analysis. Scientific research often takes place under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, but it can occur in outdoor field sites, and via telescopes trained on distant galaxies.
The natural sciences include biology and geology. Physics, some branches of chemistry, and astronomy represent the physical sciences. The social sciences such as sociology and political science may or may not be strictly scientific in the conduct of research, because much of their work is more qualitative and does not follow the scientific method. Psychology is often termed the “behavioral science.” Some of its sub-fields overlap with neuroscience, whereas the themes best known to astrologers are more humanistic and qualitative.
The history of science shows that its definition has varied considerably over time. The term “scientist” was not coined until 1834. Before then, scientists might be called philosophers, mathematicians, or naturalists. The science of Aristotle, Galileo, and even Charles Darwin are only precursors of the way scientific research is conducted today in universities, government research facilities, and corporate laboratories. Although science stresses the accumulation of facts and understanding how those facts fit into patterns, scientific “truths” are frequently subject to scrutiny and revision.
It is important to distinguish science from scientism, or a belief popular in the mid-twentieth century, that science was the only valid form of knowledge and that science could solve all of society’s problems. Science as a practice should also be separated from scientists as human beings. Although they are educated to be rational, critical thinkers, they are only human and thus susceptible to the range of opinions and prejudices that affect the ordinary run of humanity. Science is also differentiated from fields in the humanities and fine arts, such as literature and philosophy. Some humanities fields are highly empirical and investigative, such as history, but they do not use the scientific method or focus specifically on natural processes.
Science and Astrology in the Past
Although disrespect from scientists irritates many astrologers today, astrology was a fully accepted member of the scientific fraternity into the early seventeenth century. Babylonian and Hellenistic advances in astronomy were equally advances in astrology. Indeed, the goal of some of the more scientific astronomical discoveries of Antiquity was to improve astrological technique. As centers of learning and universities developed in medieval Europe, astronomy was part of the standard Quadrivium curriculum including arithmetic, music, and geometry. “Astronomy” largely meant astrology after the twelfth century. Medieval medicine relied on the insights of astrology for diagnoses.
Despite the astrological interests of Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei; the marriage of astrology and science ruptured in the seventeenth century, with continuing advances in heliocentric models of the solar system (the Copernican Revolution) and advances in medicine that had no necessary link to astrology.
During the eclipse of western astrology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, astronomy and science as a whole advanced at a rapid pace. When astrology re-emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it had lost its scientific connection. Although many modern astrologers adopted personality theories of psychology, the bigger problems for scientists were errors in astrological prediction, and the lack of an explanatory, if not causal, mechanism as to why heavenly bodies should influence human events. Gravitational and electro-magnetic influences from planets, as well as the more advanced holistic theories on the nature of the post-Newtonian universe, are unable to explain the planet-person connection at the level of specific character traits typical of natal astrology textbooks, let alone horary astrology.
The Science-Astrology Debate
Some scientists became outspoken opponents of astrology, calling it a baseless superstition. Most astrologers react to scientists’ criticisms either by ignoring them or countering that scientists know nothing about astrology as it is practiced by experienced professionals.
Some astrologers address scientists’ prejudices by arguing that astrology has a scientific basis. Their methods are based mainly on statistics which they believe will confirm astrology's validity. They point to the studies of French statistician Michel Gauquelin, although his results are debated within and beyond the astrological community. Suitbert Ertel, Theodor Landscheidt and Peter Niehenke are some of the most important figures in Germany who tried to rehabilitate astrology's image among scientists.
Some astrologers doubt that statistical tests will ever support astrology’s validity. Dennis Elwell, a critic of both sides of the science-astrology debate, argued that many astrological statements (such as “Sagittarians appreciate candour”) cannot be judged by scientific criteria unless psychologists first develop new extensive personality inventories. Categories like “alcoholism” and “suicide” may not even have single astrological or psychological profiles that would easily lend themselves to statistical analysis.
According to Elwell: “If we accept that it is science’s place to pronounce the final word on whether astrology is or is not valid (and that, I think, is a very big if) then, it seems to me… [that] Astrology as most of us practise it today has not performed well in most scientific tests. And we need to face this fact before we can progress – whether this ‘progress’ consists in the formulation of more relevant tests, or in the conclusion that, whatever astrology is, it cannot be tested and measured in the same way as simple physical processes.”
Some astrologers are disinterested in seeking the approval of scientists because they view astrology as a metaphysical or experiential discipline. One example is Ernst Ott who states "Horoscope interpretation is not an exact science. It is art, a creative method which uses a symbolic language. Astrology never describes what is and what will happen but rather the inner significance of events." Richard Vetter puts it this way: Astrology has nothing in common with science. The natural and the spiritual sciences belong to fundamentally different worlds. They don´t understand each other. They have totally different conceptions of objectivity and truth. ... Interpreting symbols is a deep subjective matter. According to astrology´s paradigmatical presuppositions the only way that the astrological process of research and interpretation can start is with the biographical - that is, with the individual, and subjective facts that are then provided
After launching a spirited critique of scientists in his book The Cosmic Loom, Dennis Elwell speculated that astrology is actually a spiritual discipline. Many psychological astrologers view astrology as a tool for self-awareness, rather than as a deterministic relationship between planets and human affairs.
Today astrology is gradually returning to universities: not as a science or field to be practiced, but as a suitable topic for history, literature, classical studies, and comparative religion. The history of astronomy is one area of common interest with scientists. As astrology was unquestionably important in past societies and in the work of some established writers and artists, humanities scholars investigate astrology to gain a clearer picture of its influence.
If astrology were an entirely subjective field, however, there would be no need to track the changing position of planets or to apply sophisticated techniques in order to read a horoscope. Some modern astrologers follow new discoveries of asteroids and Trans-Neptunians and explore their role in nativities. It matters that astrologers consider planetary movements, vs. reading tea leaves or crystal balls to predict the future. The science-astrology debate is likely to remain an issue for years to come.
- Wikipedia: Astrology and science
- Wikipedia: Isaac Newton's occult studies
- Wikipedia: Frances Yates
- astrology-research.net (Research Grants for the Critical Study of Astrology (RGCSA))
- An Astrophysicist’s Sympathetic and Critical View of Astrology (Victor Mansfield, 1997)
- Astrology & Science (Many links and articles by Ertel, Gauquelin, Dean et al; Astrology in the Year Zero/ Garry Phillipson)
- Dennis Elwell's Dialogue With Sceptics (starting in 2001)
- Prejudice in Astrological Research (Mike Harding on the sceptics, 2000)
- astrology-and-science.com (Sceptical articles and links)
- Moment Supreme. Why astrologers keep believing in astrology (Rudolf Smit, 1993)
- Research results (91 abstracts)
- The Concepts of Modern Astrology. A Critique - notes and references (Ivan Kelly, University of Saskatchewan/ Canada)
- Astrology: The Manifesto 1/4 (Patrice Guinard, 1996-99)
- A Dialogue between Astrology and Science (Maarit Laurento, 2002)
- The New Paradigm And Postmodern Astrology (Glenn Perry, 1991)
- Landscheidt Cycles Research (Theodor Landscheidt)
- The Astrology of Marsilio Ficino: Divination or Science? (Angela Voss, 2001)
- Empirical Astrology: Why it is no longer acceptable to say astrology is rubbish on a scientific basis (astrologer.com, 2016)
- Why Many Scientists Consider Astrology to Be a Pseudoscience (David Cochrane, 2015; youTube 13 min)
- Astrology: Divination or Science (Cochrane, 2014; 27 min)
- How to Conduct Astrology Research: A Course of 25 Tutorial Videos (Cochrane, 2015)
- Why astrology is not a pseudoscience (Discussion on Skyscript, 2015)
- Science Debunked (Bob Makransky; selfgrowth.com)
- Astronomy and Astrology: The Siamese Twins of the Evolution of Science (Thony Christie) (Andreas Sommer; Forbidden Histories, 2018)
- The mood-altering power of the Moon (BBC Future; Linda Geddes, 2019)
Astrological Classes and Colleges
- MA Cultural Astronomy and Astrology (University of Wales)
- National Council for Geocosmic Research (USA)
- Kepler College (USA)
- Faculty of Astrological Studies (UK)
- Sophia Centre (UK)
- Lynn Thorndike: The True Place of Astrology in the History of Science, in: Isis 46/ 3, 1955
- Michel Gauquelin: Astrology and Science. Translated by James Hughes. 1st edition, 1972. Mayflower Books Ltd., London. Paperback. 238 Pages. ISBN 432055657
- Hans Juergen Eysenck & David Nias: Astrology: Science or superstition? 244 pages. Maurice Temple Smith, London 1982 ISBN 978-0851172149
Notes and References
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Jim Tester, 1987, A History of Western Astrology, Ballantine Books, pp. 99-103
- Nicholas Campion, 2009, A History of Western Astrology Vol. II: The Medieval and Modern Worlds, Continuum, 136-150; Tester, 222-224.
- Astrology, Scepticism and Knowledge: A Dialogue between Dennis Elwell & Garry Phillipson]
- in: Astrology's Paradigm Considerations XV:4, p.84-94, 2000 online
- Dennis Elwell, 1999, The Cosmic Loom, rev. ed., Urania Trust; Astrology is a Foreign Language
- Painting by Tintoretto, ca. 1605