BELIEF IN THE PSEUDOSCIENCE OF ASTROLOGY

HOLDS US BACK

 

Barry Fagin

 

Colorado Springs Gazette, January 18th 2000

 

 

ďWhatís wrong with believing in astrologyĒ?

 

Iíve done some writing and lecturing about science, and this question comes up a lot.Many people believe in things that are, to say the least, highly unlikely, but astrology is the one I get asked about the most.††

 

A few days ago, I was tickled pink to find that my local paper had killed its horoscope section.Hoping against hope that the editors had decided to put the space to better use, it turned out to be just a technical error.Even worse, the paper was flooded with calls demanding where the horoscopes were.Clearly, when it comes to educating the public, scientists have a lot of work to do.

 

People shouldnít believe in astrology, because it is wrong.More accurately,itís an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence, evidence that its supporters have not provided. Every objective test of astrologers to see whether or not they can perform better than chance has failed; you might as well roll dice or flip coins.In fact, one organization I belong to has an ironclad prize of one million dollars waiting for the first astrologer who can do better than guessing.So far, no takers.

 

Thatís the standard answer skeptics are supposed to give to believers in astrology.And yet, over the years Iíve come to understand that for many itís just plain unsatisfying.Astrology can offer a visceral connection to something greater than yourself, as well as a sense of the mystical.Can scientists offer anything to match that, something that engages people on a different level? I think the answer is yes.

 

For one, belief in astrology is dishonest.Astrology wraps itself in the trappings of science, stealing credibility that it cannot earn.It uses scienceís hard-won knowledge of planetary motion to impress and intimidate, not enlighten.Astrology is not science, but pseudoscience:it starts with the answer, collects data to support it, and then claims to be true.Thatís just lying, pure and simple.Whatever belief system you adopt, it shouldnít include lying.Personal dishonesty, in the long run, canít lead to a satisfying life.

 

Furthermore, when you believe in astrology, youíre discounting yourself as a free, self-actualizing person in charge of your life.The great moral thinkers and religious leaders of humanity have always understood that taking personal responsbility for what you do and why you do it is essential to leading a fulfilled life.Thatís why astrology has no place in a life of responsibility and integrity.

 

But for me, on a personal level,I donít believe in astrology because I think it holds humanity back.Let me explain why.

 

Although I donít think the evidence is completely in yet,there may be a purposeful direction to human life on earth.We used to be savage brutes struggling to survive in an incomprehensible and inhospitable world.Now we understand and control much of the world around us, and can ask questions about ourselves and our universe.No other species can make that claim.

 

Just as we have explored and populated our world far beyond the place where we began, so will our unique human nature lead us off our home planet and out into space.Our increased biological knowledge will soon permit us to manipulate genes directly and dramatically extend our lifespan.Once we figure out how to replace our physical bodies with something that lasts a little longer, we could even live long enough to travel to the stars. I know I wonít live to see any of this happen.I hope, however, that my descendants will.

 

But we canít get to the stars until we stop pretending that they have power over us.Belief in astrology, along with therapeutic touch, UFOs, alien abductions, crystals, homeopathy, and other forms of pseudoscience, is a throwback to the past.We donít need it in the present, and it doesnít belongin our future. If we are ever going to grow into our incredible potential as a species, we must put away childish things.

 

I canít speak for others, but I find this spiritually inspiring.The universe as we find it is glorious, mysterious, and ineffable.Faced with such awe-provoking reality, what could be noblerthan taking responsibility for who we are and what we do?One of humanityís greatest poets said it best:ďThe fault is not in our stars, but in ourselvesĒ.Indeed.

 

Barry Fagin is a professor of computer science, a contributing writer for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and a member of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics.He can be reached at fagin@rmi.net.