University of Alaska, Anchorage
Revised December 14th, 2021
Since the beginning of time, humans have looked to the natural world to make connections to their everyday lives. From these observations, we have formed two competing concepts: Science and religion. Regardless of what you believe, both of these concepts are valid and naturally coexist in our society today. Astrology is a belief that the celestial bodies in our universe have an impact on our day to day interactions. Although widely regarded, it is considered a pseudoscience for a variety of reasons. To understand this concept, we must first discuss what astrology is, the lack of scientific connection, and how this belief plays a role in our everyday lives.
What is pseudoscience? This concept refers to practices and beliefs that are “erroneously regarded as scientific” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) meaning they are mistaken to be scientifically accurate. However, before we can apply this to astrology, we must first understand the basis of what astrology is, and how it is used in modern times. By definition, astrology is the idea that due to the position of the stars and celestial bodies in the sky, there are “influences […] on human affairs and terrestrial events”(Merriam-Webster, n.d.) such as being able to predict the outcome of future events, or determining key traits in an individual’s personality. At its root, astrology came from a time long before we had proven scientific answers for phenomena in our natural world. Humans have always participated in science, and by observing the constellations, made their own conclusions as to what they meant. Astrology first began in Mesopotamia, between the 18th to 16th century B.C (Pingree, D. E. and Gilbert, Robert Andrew, 2021, August 9), and was an observation of ancient deities’ influence on sun, moon, and other natural occurrences, such as solar eclipses and phases of the moon. (Pingree, D. E. and Gilbert, Robert Andrew, 2021, August 9). For centuries, this belief travelled around the Middle East, before making its way to Western Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. (Pingree, D. E. and Gilbert, Robert Andrew, 2021, August 9) It wasn’t until the 17th century that the scientific knowledge of the planets revolving around the sun became a popular view, thus disproving the need for nature deities to explain astrological concepts. (Pingree, D. E. and Gilbert, . Robert Andrew, 2021, August 9). The need for astrology died down in the Western world, until the 1960’s, when the “hippie” movement brought back the connection between the mind, body, and nature, often dubbed “The Age of Aquarius” (University of Miami, n.d). This social ideology has held its ground into modern times, with commercialized horoscope readings and the 12 Zodiac Signs being common topics around millennial and gen-z groups today. (Ross, Braden, 30 Nov. 2020)
There are countless reasons for why astrology is disregarded as factual in the modern world, but primarily this is due to there being no proven scientific evidence that these claims are true. Astrology is scientifically misleading, as it uses astronomy as its root. However, the conclusions made are not scientific, rather mere predictions or observations. An interactive checklist by The University of California Berkeley prompts readers to evaluate the scientific value of astrology based on key characteristics of science. The most important on this list being, is astrology testable, does it rely on scientific evidence, and is the scientific community involved. (The University of California Berkeley, n.d) In response to all of these prompts, the answer is simply “No.” Although astrology does take into account accurate measurements of the stars and celestial bodies, the conclusions made from these readings are simply too general and broad to be considered an accurate conclusion.
An article written by Venessa Quinn in the American Biology Teacher, Volume 77, discusses the importance of discerning pseudosciences from falsifiability claims. With her students, she notes that it’s important to note that a falsifiability claim is one that can potentially be disproven through experiments, and oftentimes people will cite theories that support this claim as evidence, also known as Ad Hoc hypotheses. Quinn proposes several reasons why astrology should be regarded as a pseudoscience. The first is that “Science is a process that corrects and refines scientific ideas…over time by multiple individuals” whereas “pseudoscience does not change or refine its ideas over time”(Quinn, V. S., 2015). An example of this, she points out, is that upon the discovery of a 13th constellation, “Ophiuchus,” the astrology community disregarded this constellation as an addition to the 12 zodiac signs, which are based on constellations in the same area (Quinn, V. S., 2015). The unwillingness to accept new data isolates this theory from the scientific community, who strives to discover new information daily. Quinn’s additional rationale of astrology’s lack of credibility is that evidence is typically based on an individual’s personal experiences, rather than a measurable piece of data. Because of this, followers often fall into a confirmation bias, meaning they use their own positive experience as evidence of a truth and disregard claims that were not applicable to them. Quinn also notes that “predictions should be specific and measurable. Instead the predictions are vague and could be applied to a wide range of people” (Quinn, V. S., 2015). She goes on to add that astrology has no mechanism to collect its data. While astrological charts use mathematical calculations and astronomy to identify star positions, the path to making a conclusion does not have any specific area of science that can provide a method to the calculations. Due to these limitations, it cannot be regarded as a science but rather as theory.
When it comes to professional astrologers, they often publish papers that are not peer reviewed or evaluated through a scientific lens, therefore lacking the credibility needed to be accepted. (The University of California Berkeley, n.d). However, there have been various studies that have tried to measure the success of astrologers’ claims. In 2005, a study was published by the Department of Psychology at University of Aarhus, Denmark, in collaboration with with Justus Liebig University of Giessen, Germany to determine “The relationship between date of birth and individual differences in personality and general intelligence” (Hartmann, Peter, 2006). This study was focused on two large groups. The first was over 4,000 middle-aged men who were a part of the Vietnam Experience Study, conducted by the CDC in 1988. (CDC, 2010) The second group consisted of 11,000 young adults from the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (Hartmann, Peter, 2006). Using data from over 15 thousand individuals, they compared the time, date, place of birth, and astrological positions, to aptitude data from intelligence and personality tests conducted within each respected study. What they concluded is that there was no correlation between “date of birth and individual differences in personality and general intelligence”, (Hartmann, Peter, 2006), thus disproving the theory that astrology affects human matters.
Although it is important to note that correlation is not causation, that is not to say astrology does not have significance in many people’s lives. Even though it may not be scientifically accurate, astrology in many forms has been around for thousands of years, and is still considered a crucial practice in some cultures. There are many resources for those who are interested, and you can even become a professional astrologer. The Organization for Professional Astrology (OPA) certifies individuals to become professional astrologers, and to map out predictions and guidance for their clients (OPA, 2015). Section One, Part J of their Code of Ethics states that although they are dedicated to their profession, “No astrology system of interpretation or prediction can promise 100% accuracy”, acknowledging their lack of credibility in science. Some observers of astrology also argue that although some predictions cannot be rationalized, the evidence gathered through measurements of celestial bodies should be more highly valued. An article in the Russian Social Science Review argues that although astrology is largely based on hypotheses, “astronomical information and the mathematical apparatus serve only to add precision” to these claims (Pruzhinin, B. I., 1995). This claim is one that many make, but is ultimately misleading as a science, rather than a theory, hypotheses, or some other rationale astrology followers try to use. That being said, the Russian Social Science Review regards astrology as a “social science”, rather than one based on proven evidence. Among other things, social media is a great way to connect with those interested in astrology, through apps like Instagram and Co-Star, and even daily horoscope podcasts on Spotify. Whatever it may be, astrology can be a fun way to discover more about yourself and make connections to the natural world, even if it is a pseudoscience.
In summary, astrology has been practiced for thousands of years, but it is still regarded as pseudoscience because it lacks scientific evidence. However, that is not to say it does not hold an importance to a large variety of people worldwide. Some phenomena in our world might never be explained, it is only human nature to explore the possibilities and to keep moving forward in our scientific development.
“CDC – Veterans Health – Vietnam Studies – Vietnam Experience Study.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Oct. 2010, https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/veterans/default1c.htm.
Hartmann, Peter, et al. “The Relationship between Date of Birth and Individual Differences in Personality and General Intelligence: A Large-Scale Study.” Personality and Individual Differences, Pergamon, 19 Jan. 2006, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886905004046?casa_token=4FEG1c3PUYUAAAAA%3ACclSDHJA9MkghRiH_AxOJk6BEHrTjEtzKCgKh9sPVUGOLZ0cDWvCq63kCkWxfM0Ralyeq-sSAp0
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Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Pseudoscience. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved December 1, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pseudoscience
Opa. “Code of Ethics and By-Laws.” Code of Ethics and by-Laws, The Organization for Professional Astrology , 2015, https://www.opaastrology.org/about/code-of-ethics-and-by-laws
Pingree, D. E. and Gilbert, . Robert Andrew (2021, August 9). astrology. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/astrology
Pruzhinin, B. I. (1995). Astrology: Science, pseudoscience, ideology? Russian Social Science Review, 36(5), 75. Retrieved from https://proxy.consortiumlibrary.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/astrology-science-pseudoscience-ideology/docview/236554789/se-2?accountid=14473
Quinn, V. S. (2015). Using Astrology to Confront & Discuss Pseudoscience in the Classroom. The American Biology Teacher, 77(7), 542–548. https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2015.77.7.10
Ross, Braden. “The Commercialization of Astrology.” The Badger Herald, 30 Nov. 2020, https://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2020/11/30/the-commercialization-of-astrology/
The University of California Berkeley. Astrology: Is It Scientific?, https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/astrology_checklist#
University of Miami. “Age of Aquarius .” The Sixties – the Age of Aquarius, The University of Miami , http://scholar.library.miami.edu/sixties/aquarius.php