My Astrology Challenge was to the proponents of astrology – tell me how the ancients worked out all those detailed rules astrologers use. I raised this issue because I don’t think anyone can tell me how they worked it all out, because they didn’t work it out – they just made it up. And if they just made it up, I contend it’s highly unlikely to be true. Even more so when you remember that astrology fails when tested (ie it doesn’t even work).
Still, I’m always willing to have someone prove me wrong, and so I emailed seven reasonably high-profile astrologers to see if they could do so. After all, you would expect someone who makes a living doing this stuff to have some idea about its origins. I indicated I was skeptical of astrology and provided a link to the “Astrology Challenge” article, inviting them to respond on the blog if they wished. None did, but four of the seven emailed me personally. They were all aware I was blogging a series of articles skeptical of astrology.
A summary of their replies would be that yes, astrology really is just made up. Of course, that’s not how they articulated it, although their actual replies are an interesting window into a rather strange way of thinking. I present some of their comments here, with my analysis. My intention is not to ridicule their beliefs, but to examine how their beliefs stand up against reasoned analysis. I have quoted some relevant bits, with my comments, and am genuinely interested to see how many people think their replies make any kind of sense. To prevent these posts from being too long and boring, I’m just going to write about one astrologer’s reply per post. I’m going to start with Rob Hand.
Hand’s reply started with an evasion followed by a red herring:
Unfortunately there is an entire academic discipline built around the study of the history of astrology and there are no snappy answers that one can give a skeptic or anyone else for that matter. It is (seriously) a bit like asking a physicist to give a quick answer to the question how strong theory works.
“No snappy answers”? Real science can usually come up with some “snappy answers” for a lot of how we know what we know (see my original Astrology Challenge article for examples). He then tries to confuse us with a reference to string theory (I presume that’s what he means by “strong theory”), because if real scientists can’t explain string theory how can he explain astrology? Unfortunately for Hand, there are numerous accessible explanations of the origins of string theory (note, not how it “works” – which was not what I was asking), as there are for any scientific theory you care to mention. Never mind. His next point gets to the crux of it, though:
The shortest answer that I can give is that rules were probably not derived in a manner that we would regard as scientific. The problem is that it is not clear to many of us that the scientific method is the only source of truth.
Following this, you would expect him to describe some other method that is a source of truth, with some evidence that it is. Also, how this other method was used to derive astrology. No such luck. What I did get was this list of texts to consult. I replied, asking if the listed items would, in fact, answer the question, and if he could give me a brief summary of the method used. He replied:
if you wish to get the answer to your questions, you are going to have to do the research.
Regular readers of this blog will recognize this gambit as Five Apples, number 5 – the classic redirection of the burden of proof. Of course, the burden of proof is upon the claimant. If Hand or anyone else wants me to believe astrology is real, it is up to him to demonstrate it is real, it is not up to me to research his subject for him. That’s how real scientists work, anyway. Of course, I recognize he doesn’t have to reply to me at all, but suggesting that I will have to do the research is fallacious reasoning. What follows though, is a surprisingly candid answer to the question:
Astrology represents a very different way of looking at the world and reality from what you are probably used to. Part of the process is getting familiar with that way of looking at things. If Science is for you the only possible way of getting at any sort of truth, then it is unlikely that you will find anything in this that will satisfy you. If I tell you that astrological ideas are closer to revelation than to scientific theory (closer does not mean "the same as"), then you will probably dismiss the idea that there could be any kind of truth in it.
I am not aware that any method “closer to revelation” has ever revealed anything true or useful. I am aware that the scientific method is the most consistent and reliable method so far discovered for revealing the truth. I would tend to say, “the only” such method. As with a lot of pseudo scientists, Hand is trying to discredit science by implying it is the wrong way of looking at certain things. But science doesn’t mean lab coats and test tubes. Science just means that results are tested against reality to see if they work. If a thing has a real effect, it can be measured and tested by science. If it has no real effect, then it might just as well not be real.
Hand’s method “closer to revelation”, sounds to me like “making stuff up based on pictures in the sky”. Which, if you recall, is where I came in.
I’ll write about the other replies later this week.