"More than one-third of American adults believe astrology
has some scientific merit. Nearly one in seven regularly reads
horoscope columns." (Los Angeles TIMES, May 10, 1992).
Except possibly for the persisting public preference for
"creationism" over evolution, nothing more clearly indicates the
dismal failure of science education in the United States than the
public acceptance of Astrology.
Never mind, that this ancient superstition is devoid of any
theoretical structure and routinely fails all controlled attempts at
validation. To wit:
It is never explained just what independently identifiable universal forces, laws or principles should link the
positions of the stars and planets at the time and date of one's
birth, with one's subsequent personality or the events in one's
life -- much less, how this linkage takes place. As one
skeptic has pointed out, the tidal force of Jupiter is less than
that of a truck driving past the hospital delivery room. So why
should Jupiter's position at birth be of any significance
Astrologers triumphantly report their "hits" (first formulated
in vague and ambiguous language), but never their "misses." For an
annual New Year's amusement, try saving the "psychics' predictions
for the next year," as published in the supermarket tabloids, then
read them a year later. The best years yield about a two-percent
success-rate. (I entertained my classes with this stunt throughout
most of my teaching career).
Numerous experiments inviting astrologers to correctly
associate birth dates and times with individuals have failed to
come up with "matches" far removed from statistical random chance.
(I have conducted many such experiments in my own classes, with
the same results).
Astrology developed in ancient civilizations (Egypt and
Babylon) amidst astronomical beliefs (e.g., geocentrism) which are
universally rejected today. Yet astrology, with all its
foundational cosmology stripped away, is still believed.
(And this is my personal favorite): Even if, however
incredibly, there were something to astrology at the time it was
formulated some four-thousand years ago, it would be invalid
today, since, due to the precession ("wobbling") of the Earth's
axis, the apparent positions of the zodiacal constellations are
quite different than they were when astrological principles were
And that is just the beginning. A large book could be written,
collecting such objections and reporting the abundant empirical
refutation of this ancient superstition. In fact, many have. (To find
some of these, check out the website of the Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal:
And yet, a third of our compatriots "believe that astrology has
some scientific merit."
Well, so what?!
For starters, a public capable of believing astrology (and
disbelieving evolution) is capable of believing anything. If
you doubt this, just consider the state of our our political
discourse. And if you think that public credulity is harmless, tell
that to the McMartin family in Long Beach and to other victims of the
thankfully subsiding witch-hunt for "child-abusers" accused by
"victims" of "repressed memories." It is a chilling thought that one
day we might be judged by a jury of such "peers."
Perhaps the most disagreeable aspect of the popular belief in
astrology and other public superstitions (e.g. the Bermuda
Triangle, Water Dowsing, Atlantis, Noah's Ark, Alien Abductions, Rosswell, etc. ad nauseum) is that this kookery is promoted on
the public airwaves by individuals who should (and in all probability
do) know better. What they surely know is how to count "market
share," and that is all that matters. The ensuing corruption of the
public intellect is an "externality" of no interest to them.
Cases in point: "The History Channel," "The Discovery
Channel" and "A&E." These cable channels, which claim to be
"educational outlets" have instead become marketplaces of the occult
-- television equivalents of The National Enquirer. We
normally stay clear of this nonsense, unless drawn now and then by a
morbid curiosity about just what is being fed the public these days.
Usually, what we find is much worse than we feared. In one series,
"In Search Of," we are greeted by the smooth Vulcan voice of Leonard
Nimoy. ("Gee, Maude, there must be something to it: that's Mr.
Spock and he's the Science Officer of the Enterprise!). In a
recently viewed half-hour episode on astrology, we heard perhaps two
minutes of debunking by a professor of astronomy. The rest consisted
of a promotion of the superstition, featuring extended interviews
with the likes of Sidney Omarr.
But don't look for "equal time" on commercial TV from the
scientists or the skeptics, except on an occasional episode of PBS's
excellent "Nova" series. Yet there are learned and eloquent
individuals in abundance, ready to present the case for reason and
"intellectual sales-resistance" -- individuals such as James Randi
and Steven Jay Gould, and organizations such as the American
Association for the Advancement of Science and the Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).
Unfortunately, so long as the public, encouraged by the media,
prefers astonishment to enlightenment, and entertainment to
education, there is little prospect for improvement. "The Mushroom
Rule" prevails: "Keep 'em in the dark, and feed 'em
That splendid Scottish skeptic, David Hume, said it best:
The passion of surprise and wonder, arising from
miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a sensible tendency
towards the belief of those events from which it is derived. And
this goes so far, that even those who cannot enjoy this pleasure
immediately, nor can believe those miraculous events, of which
they are informed, yet love to partake of the satisfaction at
secondhand or by rebound, and place a pride and a delight in
exciting the admiration of others.
"On Miracles," Section X of the
Concerning Human Understanding