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Responses to Common Scientific Criticisms of Astrology

Responses to Common Scientific Criticisms of Astrology

Responses to Common Scientific Criticisms of Astrology

In this episode astrologer Samuel F. Reynolds joins the show to talk about some common criticisms of astrology from the scientific and skeptical communities, and how astrologers respond to those criticisms.

Astrology occupies a unique position in society where it has historically been the subject of criticism from both the scientific as well as the religious communities.

In this episode we set out to address some of the criticisms of astrology from scientists, and then in a followup episode we plan to address other criticisms from different religions.

You can find out more information about Sam on his website at UnlockAstrology.com, as well as through the astrology group that he organizes called The Zodiac Lounge.

Below you will find a synopsis of some of the points that we covered during the course of the episode, followed by links to listen to the recording. First, one announcement:

Next Webinar on September 27

We are going to do a live recording of the astrology forecast and auspicious elections episode for October on Sunday, September 27, 2015 at 2:00 PM Mountain Time.

Listeners who sign up to support the podcast through our page Patreon at the $5 or $10 tiers can attend the recording of the episode and take part in the live Q&A session.

The format will be similar to the free astrology webinar that we hosted earlier this month, except that only Kelly, Austin, and Chris will be on the panel this time. The video and audio of the webinar will be posted online for free a day or two after we are done.

If you would like to attend the live recording of the episode then all you have to do it sign up to become a patron at the $5 or $10 tier through our page Patreon, and then you will receive an email with an invitation and instructions for attending the event.

Synopsis of the Episode

  •  Astrology has historically been the subject of criticism on both scientific and religious grounds.
    • Our plan is to address some of the former in this episode, and then the latter in a later episode.
  • The common phenomenon of astrologers who started out as skeptics, trying to debunk astrology.
  • Addressing misconceptions about the history of astrology and how it fell out of favor around the time of the scientific revolution.
  • Addressing the presumption that the fall of the Ptolemaic world view is still a relevant point today in criticisms of astrology.
  • The question of whether astrology is a science.
  • Astrology versus statistics, and the distinction between quantitative versus qualitative studies.
    • Is astrology a hard science like physics, or a behavioral science like psychology?
  • What is the mechanism underlying astrology, and if it works then how?
  • To what extent are astrological notions derived empirically versus through symbolic reasoning?
  • The argument that even when astrology seems to work that it is only due to cold reading.
    • Or, alternatively, if not cold reading then confirmation bias.
  • Popular criticisms in the past 10 years:
    • The zodiac controversy in 2011.
    • Astrology as a form of bigotry or prejudice is becoming a more popular argument.


A full transcript of this episode is available: Episode 46 transcript

Listen to This Episode

You can either play this episode of the podcast directly from the website or download it as an MP3 to your computer by using the buttons below:

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  • I just want to thank you from the bottom of my astrology obsessed heart for that podcast. I’ve had so much anger directed at me for being an astrologer, a podcast like this one helped me think about arguments I could put forth when I need to defend my profession.

  • Check out this explanation of how astrology works from Sam Geppi. I particularly like the perspective that the planets are building blocks of the universe and we as humans don’t assign or project qualities onto them. They existed long before us and are building blocks of the universe. That was my interpretation of what he said: https://youtu.be/jZHvPwdOqCI

    • Thanks for the link Cassandra, that was a great video. I actually was reading these comments to see if anyone picked up on that reference in the podcast about “why astrology works” as it is one of my favorite topics. I was hoping Chris would do an episode on that subject sometime……….

  • This show was fantastic. For the next show I would be curious to know what was the convincer for Sam, and other skeptic-turned-astrologers,? Skeptics do astrologers a favor by emphasizing the numbers and keeping their research tight, and also by pointing out flaws in their thinking. Wholesale adoption of astrology by almost any authority COULD turn it into the worst kind of profiling, astro-profiling, with unfortunate results.. Chris Brennan, I am awed by your vast knowledge of history. Looking forward to Part 2 of this subject.

    • Doing a show on the potential downsides to astrology might be an interesting topic. I kind of covered some of that in episode 50 with Patrick, although that is kind of an interesting topic that might be worth exploring more. Astrologers often take it as a given that the world would be a better place if astrology was widely accepted and adopted, but it might be interesting to talk about some of the potential downsides.

  • I wanted to say that I like your podcast. I don’t believe in astrology but I have a lot of friends that do. I started listening to your show last year because I needed to understand my friends’ points of view better. I especially like your academic bent and process. You also bring a calmness and neutrality to all of the discussions that is important to examining any topic. Just thought I’d give a friendly wave from the skeptic side. I’m looking forward to the more frequent shows.

    • Thanks, I’m really glad to hear that! One of the things that I’ve always wanted to be able to do is explain what astrologers think and do to the general public, so that even if a person doesn’t necessarily believe that astrology is a legitimate phenomenon they can at least see what the thinking process is behind it, and what would attract people to it. So, I’m glad to hear that you appreciate my approach and that you feel like you’ve gotten something from it that helps you to understand your friend’s views better. Let me know if you ever have any suggestions about specific topics that you think I should address or shows I should do.

  • Current issue (Oct/Nov 2015) of The Mountain Astrologer has an article by Melanie Reinhart which addresses this concern regarding validation by the scientific community. The title of the article is Saturn in Sagittarius and the Future of Astrology.
    It seems to me that credibility can only come with proof of some sort. Reinhart claims we do not need to prove anything, that there is nothing to prove.
    When we re-read predictions made, in print, by astrologers who have correctly foreseen historic events or thematic occurrence, then that is evidence is it not? Many who practice astrology cannot explain why it works – and as you cited, disagree about it. I cannot wait for the day the missing information that ties all this together is made evident. Historically, when prediction was made by divination based on astrology, no one questioned it. There was a reason for that – there was a history of accuracy. I am still stunned when I read about the detailed prediction of the death of Henry the II, in his forties, by an injury to the head through the eye !

    • Thanks, I’ll check that article out.

      I’m not sure that it is a given that astrological predictions were always treated as sacrosanct historically, since there were skeptical attacks or critiques of astrology from the time of the Roman Empire forward. Also, while there have been some notable astrological predictions that were correct, there have also been some notable failures as well. The big conjunction of planets in Pisces in 1524 that was predicted to coincide with a great flood is one of the more widely talked about examples, although there are others as well. So, I feel like we have to be careful when we talk about issues like this, because I don’t think that it is the case that astrologers are above reproach.

  • Whether an idea will be taken seriously depends less on the idea and more on whose idea it is. 

    In academia, the theory of “non-locality” — sometimes called “entanglement”, sometimes called “The Many Worlds Interpretation”— is considered a serious area of scientific investigation. Used to be, all we had were Hypotheses and Theories. Now we have “Interpretations” as well. Apparently, since the advent of particle physics and quantum physics and condensed matter physics and string theory and D brane theory and Gauge Theory and a God particle and Dark Energy, and my personal favorite, The Uncertainty Principle. (Idea: Instead of calling it “Astrology”, howsabout we re-brand it “The Geocosmic Uncertainty Field Interpretation” GUFI.) But I digress.

    As I’m sure everyone is aware, this is the question of whether particles of the sub-atomic persuasion become “entangled” and therefore beholden to each other regardless of “locality”; that is to say, proximity. Action at a distance? You bet your armillary it is. And, it has never been seen in the real world. It lives only in the clever manipulations of numbers on blackboards. Yet. Because its proponents are way up in the Halls of Ivy, “scholars”, it is taken very seriously. Seriously to the point of millions of dollars in grant money for research. Billions even; if you count Large Hadron Super Duper Conducting Super Colliders searching for the particle called “God”. On the other hand, just mentioning the word “Astrology” will send the very same scholars spinning on their heels faster than Carl Sagan in his grave. (Sorry ‘bout that Carl, or whoever you are, if you happen to be reading this in your present incarnation).

    Okay. But here’s the really shady part.

    When you take a test, you will either pass or fail. But only in the case of scientific testing can you actually fail by being — as it is called — “untestable”. In other words, you’ve already failed the test simply by not being able to take the test. “Can it be measured?” If not, it can’t be tested and so therefore fails. “Can it be repeated in multiple trials?” If not, it can’t be tested and so therefore fails.
    Conveniently exempted from testing are all the things that cannot be measured and repeated. The unexplainable, in other words isn’t worth the candle. Reincarnation, and Astrology, and, ere I forget, Love. Next time you find yourself in something approaching a conversation with Richard Dawkins, ask him if he ever loved someone. After he says “Yes, of course I have”, tell him to prove it.
    “Well, I gave her flowers.”
    “Okay then, I married her, that proves it”.
    Again, verily you say, “Nope”.
    At which point, Dr. Dawkins will have no choice but to tell his wife that he only thought he loved her; but try as he might he has no way of proving it. Hey, call me a romantic (after all, what is astrology if not astronomy with a little romance attached to it?) but action at a distance by any other name would smell as sweet.

    To sum up. The ongoing effort for astrology to acquire the designation “science” is a mistake. In fact, it’s worse than a mistake. It’s unnecessary. Astrology is simply an alternative form of counseling no less valid than any other.