Do You Believe In Astrology?
Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in witchcraft? Do you believe in astrology? Or, for that matter, do you believe in God?
What is a belief, anyway and how do we come by our beliefs?
In an epistemological hierarchy (epistemology is the cognitive science that investigates how we know what we know) belief ranks as one of the least reliable indicators of truth.
Even dictionary definitions of belief are fraught with vagaries. To wit, this description from the Oxford American Dictionary: Belief: “the feeling (italics mine) that something is real and true, trust, confidence.” To believe: “To accept as true or speaking or conveying truth; to have religious faith; to have faith in the existence of; to feel sure of the value or worth of.” Not something I would confidently bet my money on. Nonetheless, belief is widely used as a yardstick, especially in areas where scientific proof is lacking, deemed irrelevant or where truth is relativistic–like religion and philosophy.
Historically, commonly held beliefs originate with trusted authorities; they take hold and survive either on faith or by consensus of opinion. Over time, beliefs can become so deeply entrenched that few bother to question their origins let alone challenge them. Many personal beliefs result from interpretations of individual experience. Beliefs, thus constructed, are often based on incomplete information or naive perception and subsequently buried in the subconscious mind where they remain eternally unquestioned. Once stored, they become hidden determinants of behavior and emotional reactivity. More insidiously, from this ground of being, they create our outward reality.
The Gospel Truth
Collective beliefs are vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation- for power or profit.
For example, the Catholic Church codified the gospels in the third century, positioning itself as the only dispenser of truth (the gospel truth!) and of salvation. Non-believers were persecuted. To protect its cherished beliefs (and maintain its control) the church also became the chief adversary and suppressor of science.
One may recall, that the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, Galileo’s heliocentric universe and Newton’s laws of physics, eventually rendered the Church’s prior positions indefensible, forcing it to make a bargain with the devil (science). The physical world was ceded to the scientists while the spiritual realm remained religious territory. While science was no longer branded as heretical, at this critical juncture the Western world, as well as the Western psyche, became split into two camps-faith (belief) vs. science (proof). In the ensuing centuries these positions became increasingly antithetical and irreconcilable. We are still battling over the teaching of evolution in our schools in twenty-first century America.
It may surprise many, that as a practicing astrologer, I will be the first to admit that I don’t believe in astrology. That is not to say that I hold astrology at the same level of diminishment as the friends, family members and acquaintances who are continually reminding me that they “don’t believe in that stuff”. I agree. My quip, however, is with the nature of belief, not with the legitimacy of astrology. I arrived at this perspective late in life and by a circuitous route.
My agnostic parents were rational scientific thinkers who taught me, at an early age, the value of an inquiring mind. In lieu of religious dogma, I was indoctrinated with the certainty that science could and would provide a rational explanation for everything. However, in my twenties I was exposed to various psychic phenomena; I began to feel strongly attracted to the occult, and unable to renounce experiences that flew in the face of scientific criteria. I longed for a resolution. If only paranormal phenomenon could be proven scientifically!
I was not alone in my quest. For the better part of the twentieth century, astrologers, desperate to restore credibility to the profession, have been preoccupied with the search for the elusive scientific proof of astrology. As a testament to the fervor of their quest, a Google search under “scientific proof of astrology” yields more than 24,000 entries. The science crusade spawned a multitude of empirical studies, the best know of which was conducted by two French psychologists, Michel and Francoise Gauquelin. Over a period of thirty years, they painstakingly documented thousands of charts in order to illustrate how various astrological principles held true to a high degree of statistical validity. Results of the study were first published in the 1970s, but an internet search on their name will still turn up web pages by skeptics who delight in denouncing them. The results of their study threatened the scientific community to the extent that researchers actually falsified data (and later admitted to it) in an attempt to disprove the findings.
An article entitled “Debunking the Debunkers” appeared in the September 1998 issue of The Mountain Astrologer (TMA) magazine. The author, Valerie Vaughan, who has a master’s degree in information science and has been a practicing astrologer for twenty-five years, attempted to rebut many criticisms of astrology by those who regard it as little more than superstition.
The top three debunkers’ complaints are:
- Astrologers fail to do research.
- Astrologers ignore the scientific approach.
- Astrology lacks scientific evidence. In fact, not one shred of empirical, statistical evidence has ever succeeded in establishing the scientific validity of astrology.
If you, the reader, are thinking that this author is going to take up the banner in hopes of succeeding where so many have failed, you are mistaken. From my perspective, the problem lies not in the unscientific nature of astrology, but in the fact that astrological researchers have been barking up the wrong scientific tree, or at very least, hanging onto the wrong branch.
Webster’s International Dictionary defines science broadly as “a systematized and formulated knowledge obtained through the study, practice and concern with the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws”.
Empirical science is defined as “a branch of study concerned with the observation and classification of facts… and the…formulation of verifiable general laws…by induction and hypothesis”. Empirical science reduces data down to mechanistic explanations.
Most of the so-called scientific studies of astrology have limited themselves to this perspective and “therein lies the rub”. To employ empirical science as the ultimate tool for discovering Reality/Truth is just dead wrong.
Science has many branches. There is hard science- natural science (biology, geology) and physical science (physics, chemistry) and soft science (psychology, anthropology, etc).
The twentieth century saw the birth of the new humanistic sciences as well as breakthrough transformations in physics. Quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity turned the old reductionist clockwork scientific paradigm on its head and altered our understanding of the nature of reality.
We now know that we are living in a universe of energy rather than matter, of vibration rather than solidity and of uncertainty rather than predictability. These new discoveries augered for a new metaphysical scientific model, a world of quarks and strings and parallel dimensions that could include and finally explain so-called paranormal phenomenon.
A contemporary physicist observed “the universe may not be a great machine, but rather a great thought.” Metaphysics is not quantifiable; it is demonstrable. Much still remains that is mysterious and inexplicable. This expanded worldview has not yet been anchored in the mainstream mindset and its more radical tenets are rejected by traditional scientists. However, its potential impact is enormous. Not only does it open a window into a future that resembles today’s science fiction, it holds the promise that we may someday come to intimately know the mind of God. Even if we don’t believe it.
by Judith Goldberg