Is the scientific approach relevant to astrology?
Abridged from articles that appeard in Correlation 12(2), 1-4 (introduction); 13(1), 11-18 (results); and 13(1) 19-52 (commentaries and rejoinders).
Abstract -- Summarises results from the first of four collaborative discourses that attempted to reach consensus on topics in astrology that, despite their importance, had seldom been debated or even recognised. This first discourse asked Is the scientific approach relevant to astrology? and was prepared by recycling each draft among astrologers and scientists until consensus was reached. The consensus was: Yes, but only to those parts testable by observation. What about causality? To test whether a person fits his chart better than a control requires no causal assumptions whatever. Why do scientists and astrologers diagree on whether astrology works? Mainly because they tend to look at different things. Scientists are mostly concerned with controlled tests whereas astrologers are mostly concerned with client satisfaction. So their views can disagree yet both can be right. (The other three discourses looked at philosophical problems; theories of astrology; and artifacts; with results summarised elsewhere on this website.)
The founders of the Astrological Association in 1958 and the Urania Trust in 1970 saw the split between spiritual and material values as the major cause of the world's ills. In their view astrology spoke to both sides better than anything else and was thus the best hope of healing that split. It was therefore inevitable that the philosophies of the AA and UT should include the use of the scientific approach to show that the tenets of astrology are true and can be seen to be true. Indeed, it was as a forum for the scientific approach that Correlation in its present form was launched in 1981.
Nevertheless all but a tiny minority of astrologers remain indifferent to the scientific approach. Does this mean we must abandon the possibility of astrology healing the split between spiritual and material values? Is the commitment by the AA, UT, and Correlation to the scientific approach simply misguided?
To explore these and related issues a series of collaborative discourses appeared during 1994-1999 in Correlation that invited debate on key topics in astrological research. However, unlike most debates, the discourses were recycled between authors and commentators to improve consensus before publication.
The first topic was: Is the scientific approach relevant to astrology?. The others were: (2) Some philosophical problems of astrology, (3) Theories of astrology, and (4) Artifacts of human judgement. A fifth topic (future directions for research) was planned but folded due to an ironic lack of interest following a change of Correlation editor. Eventually the four discourses totalled more than 120,000 words and 200 references, no mean achievement. Results for the first topic in June 1994 follow below.
Is the scientific approach relevant to astrology?
The topic began as a draft discourse prepared by relevant researchers, in this case Dean and Mather. It was sent to over 100 potential commentators mostly astrologers, mostly non-subscribers to Correlation, and about 50% female, of whom 23 responded. Their opinions ranged from "excellent and provocative" to "virtually valueless."
Dean and Mather revised the discourse in the light of comments and then sent it back to the 23 respondents for further comment (13 replied). It was also sent to several key astrologers who had not responded to the initial discourse (2 replied), and to 10 interested scientists (8 replied). Where possible each reply was recycled with its author to eliminate avoidable arguments and to cover questions that informed readers might be expected to ask. Altogether 33 people responded of which 4 were female. Recycling was continued until everyone was happy, which process is rare in astrology. The discourse was then published in Correlation for further comment by others. The AA covered the cost of photocopying and mailing.
The discourse had invited astrologers and scientists to address two issues associated with the scientific approach, as follows:
(1) Is the scientific approach relevant to astrology?
Responses from the 33 commentators: 11 agreed with the discourse, 4 indicated qualified agreement (yes provided it allows for the fuzziness of words; yes but astrology is also relevant to science; yes but astrology is not also relevant to science; yes but not when the astrology is only spiritual), and 14 made no specific response. The other 5 disagreed (no because materialism cannot explain astrology; no because formal causation is outside science; no because science is mechanistic; no because I reject the underlying materialism).
The overall vote was therefore 15:4 in favour of yes. Interestingly the disagreement was more between astrologers than between astrologers and scientists. The dissenters argued that science is mechanistic and therefore incompatible with a non-mechanistic astrology. The assenters (in agreeing with the discourse) argued that testing whether a person fits his chart better than a control requires no mechanistic assumptions whatever.
(2) Why do scientists and astrologers disagree on whether astrology
Responses from the 33 commentators: 8 (mostly scientists) agreed with the discourse, one effectively agreed (scientists test claims, astrologers do not), 18 made no specific response, 3 were indecisive (allowing for the fuzziness of words might help; reconciliation is a hopeless endeavour; they cannot agree on what astrology is), and the other 3 (all astrologers) favoured other factors (attitude; methodology and paradigm; paradigm) -- the reference to paradigm was another way of saying that science requires mechanistic assumptions. In some cases a more important reason on either side may be dishonesty, ignorance and arrogance.
The overall vote was therefore 9:3 in favour of the discourse. Interestingly the disagreement was mostly between astrologers and scientists, ie they disagreed on why they disagreed. Internally, as before, the astrologers showed more disagreement than the scientists.
Fast forward to 2013
But in the two decades since that comment was made, research has moved on, and nobody should now debate anything in astrology without being aware of the findings, especially those about the unreliability of experience. As it happens the relevant findings have been collected together and are now available in Astrology under Scrutiny, the printed book containing updates of the best from this website. For details see bottom of home page.