An astronomer against astrology

"Ten embarrassing questions" for astrology answered

Part one


In a section called "Activities with astrology" on the website belonging to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), astronomer and teacher Andrew Fraknoi (not pictured above) complains about how he and his fellow scientists are always drawn into debates about astrology. How he finds it hard to respond politely to anybody who takes this ancient superstition seriously. He then goes on to pose what he calls "ten embarrassing questions" for astrology. As an astrology enthusiast, I found myself unable to resist the temptation of trying to answer him. I include Fraknoi’s questions, and where it seems necessary, a little also of his elaboration on the matter.

1. What is the likelihood that one-twelfth of the world's population is having the same kind of day?
(Proponents of newspaper astrology columns […] claim you can learn something about your day by reading one of 12 paragraphs in the morning paper...)

This is an easy one. The question could have been left out altogether if only a little time had been devoted to investigating the principles of astrology. No astrologer of any esteem would hold that one twelfth of the world's population will have the same kind of day. I am convinced even that very few of the writers of weekly/daily horoscopes themselves would. The point of these horoscopes (based on Sun signs) is mostly entertainment, and they should be handled accordingly. The horoscopes are based on very general trends originating from the relative movement and position of the sun and the planets.

2. Why is the moment of birth, rather than conception, crucial for astrology?

This is an important question, one of not so many here worth attention.

My personal argument is this: The moment of birth rather than of conception is crucial for astrology because it deals primarily with individuality. When is it reasonable to consider a human organism to have become an "entity" of its own? A sound response seems to be at the moment the fetus is first separated from its mother, at the moment of birth. This is not to say that astrology is completely unconcerned with the moment of conception or the nine months between conception and birth. According to some traditional sources, there is a connection between the moments of conception and birth that can be expressed in astrological terms. I believe the chart erected for the moment of birth probably represents a culmination of influences that were present at the time of conception; the "resulting" individual.

When it comes to questions about genetics and heredity, I think most proponents of astrology (including myself) would say that astrology and genetics "agree". Astrologers would support this theory by pointing to the important astrological links that frequently is observed between the birth horoscopes of parents and their children, and between siblings. One is born at a point in time that to some degree harmonizes astrologically with inherited psychological and physical characteristics. It is not my belief (nor, I believe, that of most modern astrologers) that planetary radiation or magnetism is responsible for the intricate facets of personality. More about this later. In any way, it seems to me that the issue of conception versus birth presents a problem more related to the internal coherence of astrology than to the general "scientific" status of its basic idea.

3. If the mother's womb can keep out astrological influences until birth, can we do the same with a cubicle of steak?
(…could we delay the action of the astrological influences by immediately surrounding the newborn with a thin cubicle of steak until the celestial signs are more auspicious?)

This question is partly an attempt to be humorous and otherwise related to the question above. I explained my view on the reasons for acknowledging the actual time of birth as the moment of importance in astrology. As for what happens thereafter, well...I doubt there is an astronomer with the nerve to attach a cubicle of steak to a woman in labour, although I'm convinced the steak served at the ASP headquarters’ restaurant (if there is one) is tender enough to safely enwrap a newborn. I don’t think we can delay astrological influences, except through a naturally delayed birth, and what happens after the physical birth is pretty much up to the parents. They might even encourage their youngsters to study science and later become worthy members of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. I should also add that whether a birth occurs later or earlier than expected is ultimately quite irrelevant to astrology.

4. If astrologers are as good as they claim, why aren't they richer?
(…astrologers could amass billions by forecasting general stock-market behavior or commodity futures, and thus not have to charge their clients high fees.)

Well, there are probably enough rich astrologers anyway. Had astrology been a precise science, and more importantly uncomplicated enough to be summarized in terms of a few, irrefutable maxims, I bet the astrologers who’d venture deeply in to the subject of financial astrology indeed would become rich. Unfortunately, the astrological interpretation of trends relating to finance, stocks and business endeavours can be just as impenetrable by human intelligence as the galactic, infinite questions of time and space and the true nature of causality.

5. Are all horoscopes done before the discovery of the three outermost planets incorrect?

This is an interesting and somewhat justified question. For obvious reasons, traditional astrologers used only the Sun, Moon and the planets leading up (out) to Saturn in their observations. (With the addition of things like "fixed stars", "Arabic parts" and since the 1840s, asteroids.) Are all horoscopes erected before the discovery of the outer planets wrong? No. Only more limited. The later introduction of the outer planets into human awareness doesn’t mean they counteract or contradict wisdom gained from the "older" planets. The planets are not forces at war with one another, and should I choose to ignore some entities as relevant, I won’t be left with complete nonsense. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto represent subtle energies and states of consciousness that simply were not incorporated by the ancient astrologers. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that they weren’t astronomical realities. Also, it doesn’t have to imply that the outer planets did not wield any astrological influence at the time in question, though it is possible and reasonable to argue for such a view. This theory would likely point to the intimate connection between astrology and the human psyche.

An astronomer against astrology Part II (questions 6-10)

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