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Is astrology scientific or pseudoscientific?

July 12, 2014 at 8:16 pm | News Desk

Astrology

Samira Ghazanfar Hussain

Astrology came into existence 3000 years ago. The version of astrology being used today was developed by the ancient Greeks around 400 B.C. so astrology’s basic major text has not changed during the last 18 centuries. The 12 astrological houses are stationary regions of the sky and are firmly fixed with respect to the horizon, which can be used to locate planets and signs relative to the earth’s vantage point.

It has a deep association with heavenly bodies — the sun, moon and planets that have influence and are correlated with what happens on earth. Astrology follows rules about the relative positions and movements of heavenly bodies that are meant to predict the personality traits and life happenings of a person, either happy or sad.

In order to determine the horoscope of an individual the locations of signs and planets in each of the twelve houses are mapped out not only at the time of that person’s birth but also from the vantage point of an individual’s birth place. The physical and psychological features are associated with each of the signs and planets and that each house rules some aspect of a person’s life.

Whether astrology is scientific or pseudoscientific is being contemplated for quite some time now. Scientific means relating of science or based on and characterized by the principles of science. Pseudoscientific is defined as a collection of practices mistakenly considered as being based on scientific ways. This concept fails to abide by the standards of evidence that demarcate true science.

To many, astrology seems scientific as it makes the use of scientific knowledge about heavenly bodies as well as scientific sounding tools like star charts. Some people use astrology to generate expectations and predictions about future happenings and people’s personalities. And some claim that back bone of astrology is supported by evidence — the experiences of people who feel that astrology has worked for them. But the scientific community considered Astrology a pseudoscience or superstition, which lacks statistically significant astrological predictions. In 2006 the U.S. National Science Board published a statement which said it considers astrology “pseudoscientific”. Astrology lays a good example of being “pseudoscientific “because it has been tested many times and failed all the tests simultaneously.

Science and non-science can be distinguished by the concept of “Falsifiability”, an idea first proposed by the philosopher of science, Karl Popper. According to Popper, science does not rely on induction; instead a scientific interrogation inherently tends to falsify existing theories through novel tests. If a single test fails, then the theory is falsified. Applying the concept of falsifiability, astrology is a pseudoscience. He concluded that astrology can nevertheless measure up to the scientific standards. If astrology is a science then it must be studied in particular scientific frame and means only. All the branches of science are complementary to each other and same should be with astrology. Scientific laws are proved by practical experiments and recorded data of rational observations whereas astrologers don’t bear this type of logical recording of their observations.

Paul Thagard, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Cognitive Science Program at the University of Waterloo, Canada in 1977 used astrology as a case study in his course in the philosophy of science. He gave his own specific definitions to measure the difference between two definitions:

A theory or discipline that purports to be scientific is pseudoscientific only in the case if:

  • It has been less progressive than alternative theories over a long period of time, and faces many unsolved problems; but
  • The community of followers/practitioners attempts to formulate the theory towards the solutions of the problems, shows no concern for attempts to evaluate the theory in relation to others, and is selective in considering confirmations and disconfirmations.

This definition was published in his 1978 article, “Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience?”

Later on, he provided a list of informative points rather than emphasizing only on single definition describing pseudoscientific ,  hence gave profiles of science and pseudoscience in his 1988 book, “Computational Philosophy of Science”, In that article, he updated the profiles to include the following differences:

  1. Science elaborates making the use of mechanisms, whereas pseudoscience lacks mechanistic illustrations.
  2. Science puts emphasis on correlation thinking, which applies statistical methods to find patterns in nature but pseudoscience emphasizes on unauthoritative allegations or thinking.
  3. Followers of science are concerned to evaluating theories while practitioners of pseudoscience are impervious to alternative theories.
  4.  Science uses simple theories that can be explained in diversity, whereas pseudoscience uses theories that need extra hypothesis or statements for specific explanations.
  5. Science becomes advanced over time by formulating new theories that explain facts, whereas pseudoscience lacks such advancements. It cannot progress with time.

Sciences like biology are based on mechanisms, for example the divisions of cells that produce life in result. In contrast, pseudoscience like Astrology is mechanism-free, as no one knows how exactly does the configuration of the stars at a person’s birth could affect personality. Moreover, astrology is not based on statistical correlations, but rather on vague notions of resemblance. Astrologers don’t evaluate their theories in comparison to alternative theories of personality such as genetics and sociology.

Samira Ghazanfar Hussain has specialized in print media from FJWU. Email: samyrahussain90@gmail.com

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