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Space & Astronomy

Astronomy vs astrology - why is one a science and the other is not ?

December 24, 2022 · Comment icon 15 comments

Astrologers make predictions based on the positions of celestial objects. Image Credit: The Internet Archive
Astrology has been practiced for thousands of years, but few these days would suggest that it is a genuine science.
Both astrology and astronomy are in the business of making predictions. The theories of astrology claim that the positions of the planets and the stars influence who you are and what happens to you: your job, your personality and your romantic partner. Astrologers make these predictions based on the positions of the planets at the time of your birth.

Astronomy, in contrast, makes predictions about such phenomena as the movements of planets and the expansion of galaxies. Astronomers explain their predictions with such properties as masses, distances and gravitational forces.

As a philosopher and an anthropologist who study what science means to society, we think it is important to separate the question of whether something is a science from the question of whether it is true or false.

Astrology makes scientific claims

Science, in essence, involves making and testing factual claims about the world. Factual claims are true or false descriptions of the world (Joe is 1 meter tall) as opposed to descriptions of how we define things (1 meter is 1,000 milimeters). In this sense, astrologers, like astronomers, make factual claims about the world. To us, that makes astrology sound a lot like a set of scientific beliefs.

For a very long time, until the 17th or 18th century, astronomy and astrology were practiced side by side. After all, knowing where the planets were relative to the stars was necessary to make accurate predictions about how their locations influenced human affairs. That's why astronomers and astrologers populated medical schools and governments, advising people on what the heavens signaled was to come on Earth.

Even famed astronomers Galileo and Kepler practiced astrology. Any rule that says they are scientists only if they make one set of factual claims but not when they make another set of factual claims divides these thinkers into two halves that aren't meant to be contradictory. In both cases, they wanted to know how things worked so they could predict how things would go in the future.

Being false vs. being unscientific

But here's the rub: When researchers test the predictions astrology makes about people's lives, those predictions turn out to be no better than guesswork.

There is currently no broadly accepted evidence that galactic forces are capable of influencing the choices people make. The truck parked on the street exerts more gravitational pull on you than Mars does, and the radio waves from your local station far outpower those from Jupiter, for instance.
There is an important difference between being false and being unscientific. Currently, astrological theories are false precisely because they make scientific claims about the world, and those claims turn out to be wrong. Although the predictions astrology makes are false, they are nonetheless a matter of science. That's how we know they are wrong, after all.

Some people believe they find support for astrological predictions in their own personal experience. They read their horoscope and it seems just right: They did "meet someone interesting" or "benefit from listening to a close friend's advice." But the predictions are vague enough that they would often be true even if astrology were utterly bogus. That's why it can be difficult to figure out how to assess an astrologer's predictions with precision.

Theories of astronomy, on the other hand, have evolved over the years with advances in technology. They are routinely corrected in response to increasingly precise measurements. For example, Einstein's theory of general relativity got a boost over Newton's because it predicted the precise migration of Mercury's closest point to the Sun year after year. If astrology had the same ability to make correct predictions with such precision, it might still be a major focus of scientific attention.

Why is astrology still popular?

But then why do so many people find astrology so useful if its predictions are not well founded? Why are astrological signs and horoscopes so popular?

It seems that looking to the sky to make some sense of what's going on right now and what's going to happen in the future has appealed to a lot of different people at different times in history all over the world.

When it comes to what's commonly known as Western astrology, many people find their astrological sign to be a source of meaning in their lives. In fact, nearly 30% of Americans believe in astrology. It's one of many tools we have for telling stories about ourselves to make sense of who we are, why we are that way and why experiences that otherwise would feel meaningless and confusing seem to happen to us all the time. In this sense, astrology's success might be less about prediction and more about what it offers in terms of meaning and interpretation.

Among other things, astrology can be a useful prompt for self-reflection. It asks us whether we have traits typical of our astrological sign, and whether those we love have traits the theory suggests they ought to have. Thinking about our traits and relationships with the people around us is generally a good tool for understanding who we are, what we want to be and the meaning of our lives. Perhaps astrology is helpful in this way, independently of whether those traits are fixed by the stars.

Talia Dan-Cohen, Associate Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology, Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and Carl Craver, Professor of Philosophy and Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology, Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article. The Conversation

Source: The Conversation | Comments (15)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by SD455GTO 11 months ago
It is because astrology is all just stuff that's in your mind, it cannot be quantitatively measured whereas astronomy can. Well, that's what I think.  
Comment icon #7 Posted by acute 11 months ago
Constellations were cobbled together from a bunch of stars that are nowhere near each other. Invented in unknowledgeable times, based on how they appear from Earth. Astrology is therefore (to coin a phrase) "bollox".  
Comment icon #8 Posted by XenoFish 11 months ago
I would say that astrology lead to astronomy. An evolution of concepts. 
Comment icon #9 Posted by Occupational Hubris 11 months ago
Astrology is complete BS. Anyone who believes otherwise does not have a firm grasp on reality. 
Comment icon #10 Posted by Davros of Skaro 11 months ago
Pseudoscience VS Science.  What will come on top?
Comment icon #11 Posted by Resume 11 months ago
Pseudoscience seems to be trending.
Comment icon #12 Posted by bmk1245 11 months ago
Stupid question.
Comment icon #13 Posted by the13bats 11 months ago
Yeah one is based on wishful credulous unproven belief the other based on proven science. I know people who for decades deal tarot and deeply believe but like with translating nostradamus or psychic readings its all vauge and made to fit after the fact but believers like to make things like tarot or horoscopes fit they ignore coubtless misses and focus on what they can claim is a hit. Some folks need that cold confort. Sometimes i envy them.  
Comment icon #14 Posted by Desertrat56 11 months ago
It is also based on archetypes, not just subjective experience.    
Comment icon #15 Posted by woopypooky 11 months ago
i dont believe in astrology until 30 y.o when i seached my own north node and south node. Still not complete believer but i find astrology much easier to believe than say bigfoot or yeti.

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