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The Truth of Astrology
Competition entries illustrate faulty reasoning

Geoffrey Dean

An abridged and updated version of an article that first appeared in Correlation 1997, 16(2), 40-56.

Abstract -- Artifacts and faulty reasoning by astrologers lie at the heart of every dispute about whether astrology works. But instead of avoiding artifacts and applying correct reasoning, astrologers retreat into irrelevant but high-sounding arguments about truth and reality. In this article you meet a diversity of such arguments, all devised by astrologers in response to a competition to show that astrology is true. In each case you are shown how artifacts and faulty reasoning have led the arguments astray. Read this article if you want to see how astrologers view astrology, and why critics find those views unsound. It started in July 1997 when the UK Astrological Association Newsletter Transit invited astrologers to submit articles demonstrating "the Truth of Astrology -- whatever that may mean to the author". The best articles would receive prizes of £200, 100 and 50. A total of 29 entries were received, including 8 from outside the UK, only slightly less than the 34 entries received for the $US5000 superprize of 1983. Only the prize-winning entries have been published, so all entries are summarised here. Roughly half the entries conclude that astrology provides meaning and emotional support but not factual truth, which is unattainable due to the fallibility of astrologers despite the underlying Greater Truth. The other half conclude that astrology does provide factual truth, as confirmed by implication, experience, or statistical tests. Apart from this disagreement, nearly all entries show a disturbing level of artifacts (especially the consider-only-confirming-cases artifact) and faulty reasoning even among the big names. The critical thinking skills that are essential for any respectable discipline are generally absent. If nothing else, the competition confirms an urgent need for astrologers to acquire such skills. Interestingly, this unwelcome conclusion produced a storm of protest from astrologers and led to the sacking of the editor. So it seems most unlikely that astrologers will ever worry about artifacts or take up critical thinking. The similarity to a fundamentalist religion is disturbingly clear.

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