Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Is Astrology A Science?

            Astrology is the study of celestial bodies' purported influence on human behavior and worldly events. Astrology has captured the minds of so many millennials that they read their horoscope every day.1 “According to a new survey by the National Science Foundation, nearly half of all Americans say that astrology is either "very scientific" or "sort of scientific." By contrast, 92 percent of the Chinese public think horoscopes are a bunch of baloney,” reports an article in the UPI.2     
            In an effort to validate astrology, its staunchest believers term astrology as a science. In fact, an Indian High Court pronounced astrology as a science, “India's Bombay High Court has ruled that astrology (which took a recent and very public drubbing after an astronomer pointed out that astrological signs have changed over millennia) is not merely a harmless diversion but instead a science, presumably on par with biology, astronomy and physics.”3

            Is astrology a scientific discipline?

            NASA emphasizes that astrology is not science and that it should not be confused with the scientific discipline of astronomy, “Astronomy is the scientific study of everything in outer space. Astronomers and other scientists know that stars many light years* away have no effect on the ordinary activities of humans on Earth.

            Astrology is something else. It's not science. No one has shown that astrology can be used to predict the future or describe what people are like based only on their birth date.”4

            An article in The Wire authored by Dr. S.K Arun Murthi, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, offers a scientific rebuttal to the notion that astrology is science:5

If astrology is about how planetary positions influence humans, then what exactly does the ‘strength’ of a planet mean as far as humans are concerned? This is not made clear. Meanings in such cases have to be made clear in empirical terms – by deriving meaning from observational correlations.
For example, there is a certain astrological concept called shukra asta, a period of around two months or more during certain parts of the year. According to astrological traditions, no auspicious ceremonies are to be performed during this period.
An internet search revealed that, according to astrological texts, planets come very close to the Sun at certain times of the year. As a result they lose their brightness, or lustre, with respect to the Sun. This is symbolic of a planet losing its strength, resulting in shukra asta (Sanskrit for ‘combustion of a planet’). The implication for astrology is that shukra asta robs the beneficial effects of the planet.
From this, we can infer that a planet’s strength stands for the intensity or brightness of its light, and such strengths or brightness symbolises certain good and bad effects for human lives. However, this explanation is puzzling because no planet has a light of its own. It only reflects the light of a star. Thus, to speak of the brightness of a planet being blunted because of its proximity to the Sun is empirically meaningless.
There are many people who have been exposed to school-level science and who attempt to provide a rational defence of astrology. Their superficial argument of how planets influence human beings, stemming from an evident lack of understanding, goes typically like this: Planets (in astrology, this includes the Sun and the Moon) influence Earth. Therefore, they influence water bodies that, in turn, influence the lives of living beings. This is essentially an appeal to Isaac Newton’s and Albert Einstein’s laws of gravity.
But this is demonstrably naïve. Of course, the gravity due to one object influences every other object – but the assumption is that these objects ought to be quite heavy for their effects to be perceptible. Second: the attractive force between two massive bodies is a physical force. So the question arises: how can the gravitational force exerted by a planet be able to affect out love lives, matrimonial prospects, business affairs, etc. – in other words, the typical issues that astrologers deal with? Can astrologers or astrological texts establish a literal causal relationship?
The flyer for the workshop proposed in the IISc campus (which stands now cancelled) described astrology as “a scientific tool for individual progress”. Individual progress is a matter of human activities (such as those listed in the previous para) and aspirations. Other animals that we inhabit our Earth with do not have to bother with these things and so astrology does not matter to them. Then again, this is precisely the point: how can there be natural influences on our socially constructed practices and behaviours, the evaluation of which is also socially constructed?
For example, to be successful at something is to achieve a specific set of outcomes that our society has evolved. So planets guided by natural laws can’t have any say in whether a person will achieve those outcomes. In fact, any such connection in this context will either be completely alien to us or, of course, simply meaningless. The astrological texts that do claim to make this connection will have resorted to metaphors. There is, as a result, a complete lack of meaning and evidence.
Such analytical demand for meaning and evidence is usually met by appealing to something unquestionable, such as a tradition. However, the excuse of a tradition is easily invoked as a shield whenever beliefs like shukra asta are threatened by rational sensibilities. If a tradition is taken as ground for belief – a ground where neither reason nor empirical thinking operate – then tradition becomes connected to ignorance, such as is the root of all superstitions some people adhere to in the name of tradition. It is time that a society guided by such baseless traditions works to right itself, and that TV channels stop airing nonsensical programs on astrology.

            So these are very reasonable objections (from non-Christian sources) against astrology being a scientific discipline.

            Finally, let us consider the objection of another non-Christian source, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, who is one of Hinduism’s most popular proponents, debunking astrology. When questioned whether we are defined by the stars or self, Sadhguru alludes to the notion that astrology does not impact our lives:6

Questioner: I have studied Vedic astrology and I am wondering, does astrology work? Are we defined by the stars, or by intention and mind, or by the self?
Sadhguru: You need to understand, India is not just about the Vedas or Vedic culture. Sage Vyasa, the person who compiled the four Vedas – his father was an Aryan and his mother was a Dravidian. In spite of that, in South India, they don’t ascribe to the Vedas.
Dravidian culture never went for astrology by looking at the stars, they made predictions by looking at people. Here, we have what is called Nadi Joshyam. But the Aryan culture came with astrology. Astrology is an interpretation of astronomy. If you try to interpret something, invariably you miss a lot of points. So it is a mis-interpretation because you missed a lot of things.
Anyway, the choice is this: either you try to live your life by predictions or you have the capability to make a plan and fulfill the plan. All those minds which are incapable of a plan will look for a prediction. The stars that you see in the sky are far away, so very far away that they have nothing to do with you. Just one star has a big influence upon you – the Sun. And its satellite, the Moon, also has some influence upon you. This planet has an even greater influence upon you. But above all, what is within you has the biggest influence upon you. All those who are incapable of committing themselves to a plan and fulfilling it, want a prediction. The advantage with predictions is, you can keep changing them. But if a plan has to work, you have to pay enormous attention in creating one. Then you have to stick to it.
I only hope all predictions go wrong for you. Then it means your life is happening wonderfully. Otherwise you are going by the script that was written by some fool. In India, for twenty-five rupees, or fifty cents, they will write your life. Let your life not be so bad. It does not matter what the hell happens, let something other than the prediction happen to you. Is that okay? May your predictions and dreams not come true. Because a prediction is just a compromised dream (Emphasis Mine).

            To conclude, astrology is not a science, and significantly, it does not impact our lives. Therefore, Christians should not practice/consult astrology (Deuteronomy 18:10-14; Acts 4:12, 16:16-18; Hebrews 12:2).







6 https://isha.sadhguru.org/in/en/wisdom/article/does-astrology-work

Websites last accessed on 30th April 2019.

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