What is Astrology?
Today we will:
1. Define what astrology is
2. Answer the question "Is astrology a science?"
WHAT IS ASTROLOGY?
Astrology is the study of correlations of celestial events with behavior on earth, particularly correlations which cannot be explained by gravitation, magnetism, or other forces that are well-established in physics or other sciences.
A "celestial event" is any event in the sky. For example, the Sun rising is a celestial event, or any two planets appearing in the same place in the sky is a celestial event. The celestial event can involve any celestial body, whether it be the Sun, Moon, a planet, an asteroid, comet, star, black hole, quasar, or other celestial object. The celestial event may also not involve any physical body at all, such as when, for example, the Moon's North Node (as we shall find out later, the Moon's North Node is not a physical object) is on the eastern horizon. The eastern horizon is, of course, simply where the sky meets the horizon of the earth in the easterly direction, and therefore is also not a physical body like a planet or star.
Some people mention that the Moon's position affects the tides of the ocean, as an example of an astrological influence, but the correlation of ocean tides with the Moon's position can be explained by gravitation so it is not really astrological in that the rules used by astrologers generally cannot be explained by gravitation or other forces known in the sciences.
Astrology has been used by virtually every advanced civilization for thousands of years, but it has almost always been very controversial as well. Today, skepticism about astrology is as strong as ever, and there are many good reasons for this. Astrology has its roots in ancient times when less scientific methods were employed and superstition was rampant in many of these civilizations. The only exposure that many people have had to astrology is the sun sign columns in the newspaper or a glamorous psychic astrologer on television. Thus, it is hardly surprising that astrology is generally not accepted as a legitimate and valid field of inquiry by academia. Resistance to astrology in academia is strong. The Kepler program and other fine work being done in the field of astrology today will hopefully open the eyes of many people to a valuable tool that is being overlooked.
Some people confuse astrology with astronomy. Astronomy is the science that studies celestial phenomena physically. All objects in the sky are studied in terms of their constitution, position, history, etc. Astronomy, of course, is a science and no one disputes its validity. Astrology goes a step beyond astronomy by making correlations of celestial phenomena with events on earth, and these correlations are not of a nature that can be easily explained by traditional scientific concepts. Astrology is highly controversial, and currently (as of 1998; this may change in the near future) an accredited college degree is not available in astrology, which exemplifies the fact that astrology is currently not well-received in most academic circles.
Note that no one has proven how astrology works. There are many different views on how or why astrology might work, but there is not single conclusive answer that has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of all astrologers. Astrology is the study of the correlation between celestial phenomena and behavior on earth but why should this correlation exist? There are many possible answers and I will not go into those now. Note that the lack of a clear explanation of why the correlation should exist, or the fact that the existence of such a correlation seems absurd to many scientists and non-scientists alike, does not in itself make astrology unscientific. Scientists can analyze correlations and perfect their ability to predict based on these correlations without knowing why the correlation exists. Experts in scientific methodology emphasize that science ultimately is about making observations and theories help us understand the observations. The ability to predict that an apple will fall to the ground if dropped is a scientifically verifiable statement and it does not require the theory of gravitation to make it more scientific. However, the theory of gravitation allows us to understand not only why the apple falls to the ground, but also a myriad other phenomena such as why planets revolve around the Sun and the Moon revolves around the Earth. The power of a scientific theory is that it expands our ability to make predictions about other phenomena, but the lack of good theories does not make a replicable experiment less scientific.
IS ASTROLOGY A SCIENCE?
Much of astrology sounds like superstition. For example, most astrologers believe that Mars is a planet of aggression and if you were born when Mars was rising, setting, or over your head ("culminating" is the more technical astronomical term for "over your head") when you were born, then you have the characteristics of Mars: aggressive and ambitious. In addition to sounding superstitious, there is no way to explain such an influence. Does this mean that astrology is not a science?
The answer to this question is hotly debated. Even some astrologers prefer to look at astrology as a cosmic art rather than a mundane science.
Interestingly, the scientific method, contrary to popular opinion and even the opinion of some self-proclaimed scientists, has nothing to do with "common sense". Science is founded on the scientific method, and the scientific method requires only that rigorous procedures be employed to verify that the observed phenomenon is "real", not an artifact of other influences ("extraneous variables" is the term used by scientists). Much of modern physics, in fact, does not make "common sense". The discoveries of Albert Einstein and other 20th century scientists have destroyed the "common sense" science that developed through the 18th and 19th centuries. Modern physics postulates a vast number of concepts which sound absurd to common sense, but they are indisputably scientific because they are congruent with observations made using the rigorous procedure of the scientific method.
Therefore, the fact that astrology does not make common sense or cannot be explained by known physical laws does not disqualify it as a science. What would disqualify astrology as a science would be repeated failure to validate any of its precepts in scientific studies. But scientific studies by John Addey, John Nelson, Ann Parker, Theodore Landscheidt, Mark Urban-Lurain, the Gauquelins, and many others have already validated some astrological influences. These studies cannot be officially declared to be scientific proof, however, because a study must first meet the criteria required by the scientific method: peer review and replication of the results are required before being considered to be scientific validation. A study must be published in a recognized scientific journal to ensure that the study has been conducted properly. Also, a well-designed study typically requires huge amounts of time and money to fund. Astrology today is caught in a chicken-and-egg dilemma: Because the funding and support is not available, the studies have not been validated and published in major scientific journals. However, some of the studies are very impressive. The following is a list of books that contain very impressive research in astrology:
Astrology and Alcoholism, by Ann E. Parker
Cosmic Cybernetics, by Theodor Landscheidt
Astrology As Science, a Statistical Approach, by Mark Urban-Lurain
The book Recent Advances in Natal Astrology by Geoffrey Dean has an extensive summary of a great deal of research done in astrology. Dean's conclusion is that almost all of the research was not done with sufficient scientific rigor to be completely conclusive.
As part of your studies in Avalon College, we do NOT expect you to read the books listed above! In the advanced lessons we will discuss some of the material in these books in more detail. We are mentioning these books at this time simply to document the basis for the statements made above.
Because astrology is the study of the correlation of celestial phenomena with behavior on earth and both the astronomical phenomena and the behavior on earth can be measured very precisely and clearly, astrology is very amenable to scientific research. For example, a researcher can study the correlation of planetary positions with well-defined behavior or characteristics such as accidents, alcoholism, or medical problems such as diabetes, heart problems, etc. There are some very significant technical challenges that arise in conducting astrological research, such as how to establish control groups in the experiment. I will not discuss these subtle and technical issues of research in any detail now but suffice it to say that in some countries during some periods of time more babies are born just before sunrise, and more babies are born in the spring than at other times of the year. Because people are not born randomly throughout the year or throughout the day, and planets do not move at steady speeds from the earth's point of view, the researcher must be very careful to make sure that the control group of the experiment or the assumption about how often the celestial event would occur by chance is correct. While these challenges to astrological research are not insignificant, they do require great care on the part of the researcher. Another issue to consider is this: although scientific research can be done in astrology, some astrologers, like Glenn Perry, for example, believe that research in astrology needs to be more complex or qualitative in nature than most traditional research studies. According to this view, astrology works in a very wholistic and complex manner, and simple research studies are too fragmented and limited to produce results of any great importance. Many astrologers also believe that astrology does not work by cause-and-effect influences but rather by a non-mechanical means. Some astrologers would also argue that astrology's purpose is to reveal meaning and significance to our lives, not to describe phenomena. According to this view a human being is more than a conglomerate of mechanical processes, and astrology can feed the soul of a person, and from this perspective, whether astrology can be validated scientifically is irrelevant and unimportant. Some astrologers view astrology more as a language rather than as a science. As you can see there are many varying viewpoints on astrology's relationship to science!
To answer the question "Is astrology a science?", the answer that I would give (although as explained in the previous paragraph, not everyone would agree) is "almost" or "not yet". Sometimes a discovery in science is made in a single "Eureka" moment, but other times the data slowly and gradually supports the theory until at last a clear and definitive discovery is made. The studies in the books listed above, and in other books, are extremely promising, but by strict scientific standards probably cannot be considered yet to be validation of astrology.
Opinions about whether astrology is a science vary, even among experts in scientific methodology as well as experts in astrology. I think that to answer this question, we must first carefully define what astrology is and what a science is. Astrology is a correlation of celestial events with behavior and characteristics of things on earth, especially those that cannot be explained by current scientific theories. A science is a field that has been validated by experiments and research that adhere to the tenets of the scientific method, and have been published in qualified journals. Publication is important because this ensures that the research was conducted correctly, with appropriate experimental controls, statistical analysis, etc. Since astrology has been virtually ignored by accepted scientific journals, it is my opinion that astrology does not qualify as a science currently, but when such research is done, it will, in time, produce statistically significant results and then astrology will be a science. It may seem odd that something can not be a science one day and then the next day it is, but science is not only an objective phenomenon, it is also the inquiry of human beings into an area, adhering rigorously to the scientific method. Many astrologers believe that astrology will one day join the ranks of the other sciences because the work of researchers mentioned above and other researchers are very impressive and only need to be replicated and expanded upon in rigorous (and therefore usually expensive!) scientific studies. Some astrologers, believe that astrology requires more emphasis on qualitative techniques and more complex forms of analysis rather than simple statistical quantitative analyses. According to this view, astrology can advance as a science but it will require a radically different kind of scientific approach than is traditionally taken in order to make great strides, and also that "soft science" techniques are not necessarily inferior, and in fact can sometimes produce more useful results than "hard science" techniques.
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