One of my favorite things about my blog has always been the ability to sit down on the weekends and write about whatever topic it is that plagued my mind all week. Sometimes it’s paleoanthropology or progressive Christianity, and this week it’s been astrology. I’ve written about astrology before (why it is pseudoscience, and why mercury retrograde is strictly an astronomical rather than astrological phenomenon), so one might wonder why I can’t just let it go. The fact is, something about astrology really rubs me the wrong way, and anyone close to me knows it.
We’re living in a time when it is quite the unpopular opinion to say that astrology is garbage and it ought to be entirely abandoned. I don’t want to give myself a persecution complex, but I will say that if you want to make it known to all the world that you believe astrology should have died with Ptolemy, then you can expect some pushback or even some resentment. I don’t care. I hate astrology.
The most common reaction that a skeptic will receive to this kind of attitude is that they’re a grump who just wants to ruin the fun. Again, think that if you want to. Even I have written off astrology as silly and harmless in the past, but my tolerance for pseudoscience has faded to nothing over time. This might sound harsh, but it is a good thing: “If the comfort, consolation and hope delivered by mysticism and superstition is high, and the dangers of belief comparatively low, should we not keep our misgivings to ourselves? . . . If we offer too much silent assent about mysticism and superstition—even when it seems to be doing a little good—we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate.”1
I find astrology harmful not for the reasons one might think: of course, I take great issue with those who live and breathe astrology and whose lives are entirely dictated by it. In general, however, I think that we all usually view those people as superstitious quacks. In my experience, it is far more common for someone to take an interest in astrology and enjoy contemplating it, even if they’re not 100% persuaded by its validity. I’m arguing that this is actually the more harmful stance, because it is a ubiquitous phenomenon, and it seems that anyone can fall prey to it, no matter how skeptical they are to more obviously harmful theories.
I could sit here and explain to you why astrology is unreliable pseudoscience, but chances are, if you fall into the “casual astrologer” category described above, then you’re probably not concerned with its validity in the first place. Those who merely dabble usually haven’t given much thought to whether astrology provides an accurate description of reality or whether it might actually be detrimental. They might not be willing to look deeper into it, but even by playing around with the idea that their zodiac sign affects their personality, they’re perpetuating astrology. In other words, they’re normalizing pseudoscience.
Something that I have never understood but have always been bothered by is that people who are otherwise very logical and skeptical will casually check their horoscopes or take extra cautions while Mercury is retrograde. This calls to mind a man who might not be religious on a normal day, but who will kneel in prayer when tragedy strikes. How can it be reasonable to only allow something to stand up to your scientific standards when you want it to? Almost everyone I’ve come across who has an interest in astrology is against multi-level marketing schemes, organized religion, bigoted nationalism, conspiracy theories, and other forms of science denial. Something about astrology is too tantalizing for people to pass up: it’s “in”, it’s perceived as harmless, and it’s fun whether or not it’s true.
One might think that astrology really is less harmful than the other things I listed. To be clear, I would reluctantly choose to associate myself with someone who is passionate about astrology than with someone who doesn’t wear a mask because they think COVID is a hoax. But that is not to say that astrology is completely harmless, like I used to think. As these otherwise smart people perpetuate astrology and thus normalize pseudoscience, they are cheapening real science.
All forms of pseudoscience are insults to science; they “purport to use the methods and findings of science, while in fact they are faithless to its nature.”2 Everything in astrology fits this definition, down to its very name. I’ve seen far too many embarrassing instances of people confusing astrology with astronomy or even with astrophysics. For the unfamiliar, the similar names can give people the impression that astrology and astronomy are one and the same, when we’ve known they were different for millennia. It doesn’t help that astrology could not exist without leeching off of the findings of astronomy. And you can guess which of the two more people enjoy learning about, despite its innocence of having any educational value whatsoever.
This insult to science by astrology is truly my greatest problem with it. The study of the Cosmos, of the movements of the stars and planets, is incredible and deeply inspiring by itself. The same goes with psychology. The undertaking of knowing oneself, knowing one’s own personality and why one is a certain way, is commendable, and we all ought to strive to do it. But we do that by learning about psychology, speaking to psychologists and therapists, and practicing mindfulness. Astronomy and psychology are both captivating independently, even if they never mix.
The truth is, “We seek a connection with the Cosmos. We want to count in the grand scale of things. And it turns out we are connected—not in the personal, small-scale unimaginative fashion that the astrologers pretended, but in the deepest ways, involving the origin of matter, the habitability of the Earth, [and] the evolution and destiny of the human species.”3 You can call me a cynic if that’s what it means to appreciate the grandeur of the Cosmos and revel in the discoveries that the most intelligent and creative minds in science have revealed using the same skepticism that they use to decry astrology.
Sure, you can go ahead and toy with the idea of your zodiac sign impacting your life. You can normalize pseudoscience and muddle the public’s perception of what science truly is. You can cheapen astronomy and make people second guess their own personalities.
But where’s the fun in that?
- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, First Ballantine Books Edition (New York, New York: Random House, 1997), 298.
- Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, 13.
- Carl Sagan, Cosmos, Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition (New York, New York: Random House, 1980), 48.
22 thoughts on “Is Astrology Really Harmful?”
Ah, the fact that we are connected with the rest of nature because we have atoms we are sharing is too icky to believe in but astrology, now that seems reasonable! (We all have atoms in our bodies that used to be in parts of dinosaurs … I won’t tell you which parts … and when we die out atoms go on to participate in the bodies of other living things. Now, that’s a connection.)
You may be interested in how Christianity (and Judaism) is steeped in astrology. If you are interested, there is a fairly extensive treatment in the book “The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold.” For example, almost every religion worshiped the Sun in some way, shape, or form, for obvious reasons. Have you ever wondered where the iconographic “halo” came from? (Symbol of the sun, showing the favor of that god.) Do you know who the “magi” were? Magicians? (Nope, astrologers.) These are just trivial examples. Astrology is woven into the calendar of religious events, and the symbology, and the pantheons of gods.
Yeah that definitely checks out. I like the way Sagan says it (like you did), that we definitely are connected to the planets and everything else through being made of starstuff, and it is awesome enough as it is that we don’t need to make up even more connections that are smaller, more fragile, and not there.
Well said! It’s become obvious to me that astrology is a very touchy subject for some. Even those who have left religion will chastise me for calling it what it is and say that I’m a party pooper. shrug
I will proudly wear the label of party pooper 🤷🏻♀️
Pingback:YOU CAN’T SNORT THE LORD! | Jesus Unfollower
Good write up Rebekah, Astrology should be called out for what it is; baseless rubbish.
The fact of the matter is that it is another in a long line of baseless, evidence-less nonsense that the unethical sell to the gullible, pure and simple. In fact, the rotation and axis of the Earth has changed so much over the last 2500 – 3000 years that the “astrological signs” aren’t even in the same positions they were when all this nonsense was pulled out of thin air by the ancients. While I can totally understand the ancients surmising there were effects on humanity, the fate of events, etc., thousands of years ago, we know better now and there is simply nothing to astrology.
As I ask everyone I debate on any of these topics; religion, astrology, conspiracy theories, etc., show me your evidence, corroborating data, etc. and I’m on board. Shockingly, there hasn’t been a taker yet that has provided even a scintilla of evidence for any of these superstitions.
Have a great Sunday and thanks for your thoughts!
Thank you! Likewise 😁
I’ll debate you or let’s have some sensible conversation on your topic of your choice. BTW, I like your masonic symbol speaking of conspiracy. And speaking of conspiracy the word comes from Latin con (with) – spire (breath) means “to breath together” and some of us has bad breath than other. But seriously one could be charged with conspiracy for just being in the same room in DEA cases.
Oh yeah, Please Email me if you want to have a conversation but I’ll warn you that I’m not a theist or an atheist.
Pressure Point on foot for headache
Pressure points of feet for headaches are present between your big toe and second toe, half an inch lower than bigger toe. These pressure points are known to relieve migraine headaches, eyestrain, foot cramps and arthritis. Massage these points and apply pressure for five minutes.
(There is another name for this practice besides stupid.)
Phrenology also comes to my mind. Astrology takes its place in this category of pseudoscience. This is just more magic and myth. I don’t know if they have been practiced as religion or just religiously. Understanding where these practices came from should help people understand where all religions came from. Believing doesn’t make it so.
Rebekah, you are a party pooper of the first order and I’m proud that you are.
“Party pooper” sounds like something I could put on a t shirt 😂
As always, a brilliant write up/expose, Rebekah. The other thing is that astrology is far too complicated. So many systems, so little time. Why go to all that bother when you can just ask your pendulum? Works like a charm, doesn’t take up space, and you don’t need to be very smart to use one. Also, 100% accurate. BTW, you’d only be a party pooper in “those” circles. You’d always be welcome at my parties (if I ever have any again!).
Thank you! Love to hear it hahaha
btw, yes. Any such garbage fed to credulous people is harmful. It is no less harmful than someone thinking they have some of God’s DNA. Because someone doesn’t recognize they are being victimized doesn’t make them any less a victim.
I enjoyed reading this. While I typically don’t have much of a problem with people doing “woo woo” things if it’s not harming anyone or anything, there is a bit of nuance to this that shouldn’t be forgotten. Pseudoscience, while the logical mind knows it’s not legitimate/real, can be dangerous because people’s beliefs, whether factual or not, do have power in that when someone believes something strongly enough and tells themselves something is true for long enough, they think it’s true and this mindset can drive people to do very irrational and sometimes harmful and dangerous things. For example, people often believe that herbal “medicine” can’t be harmful because it’s “natural”. Yes, it is considered natural but if not in the hands of an experienced and skillful practitioner, people will die from natural medicine as quickly and easily, if not moreso, than they would by overdosing or incorrectly taking conventional western medicine. I understand there is some nuance in pseudoscience in that some of these practices, like herbal medicine, are indigenous practices and are typically safe in the hands of people from the culture that has practiced said things for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The problem comes when certain problematic white people appropriate and monetize the practices without knowing what they’re doing. That said, trusting new, reliable science and honoring your cultural traditions in a responsible way are not mutually exclusive and in my experience, most logical people understand that.
That all said, I just wanna slam my head into a wall every time an influencer talks about crystals, tarot, essential oils, astrology, and the like — for all of the reasons stated in your post and what I said above, but also because it just seems obnoxious to me (LOL). Probably why I don’t get along with most other women.
Well put 👏🏻
The allopathic medicine didn’t come into wider use until the 19th century. Before that time what is known today as “holistic” medicine was practiced. The use of allopathic medicine thus the use of drug was preferred due to advance in technology in making synthetic drug (from petroleum by products) and able to patent the drugs. The natural substance such as herbs used in the traditional “holistic” medicine was regulated to obscurity.
That’s not what “allopathic” or “holistic” mean.
In fact I’ve never heard anyone call what they do “allopathic”; etymologically, the word means the opposite of “homeopathic”. “Allo-” means “different” while “homeo-” means same, so it has nothing to do with natural vs. artificial.
(While many homeopathic remedies come from herbs, homeopathy is not traditional herbal medicine; it is a specific pseudoscience based on two ideas that are literally backwards: the principle of “like cures like”, and the idea that diluting something actually makes it stronger.)
MANY years ago, just for the fun of it, I used to see if a person matched what they were “supposed” to be like based on their Zodiac sign’s “horoscope.” It was fun. It was entertaining. Sometimes it was downright humorous. But over the years, as the “good book” says, I put away childish things.
It seems many people are simply not content with living life as it comes. Instead, they have this need to try and influence events and circumstances via other means … religion, astrology, the “Law of Attraction,” etc. And they are convinced they work …
People want to make sense of things and I think it can overreach to trying to find a connection in places where there aren’t any. I thought astrology was somewhat interesting before I fully understood what it was so I don’t blame you – but I know it would definitely get old after a while
Oh well I’m a fire sign that is with a water sign. That part works pretty well.
I used to feel that way too. But then when I decided to enjoy astrology, I found that to be much more fun, and now I find myself much more in touch with the Astronomy behind it. I love going out and knowing what planets to look for in the sky and connecting to the larger meaning of life, the Universe, and Everything. I’m a firm believer in science too, but if something non=scientific encourages people to gaze at the planets and the stars, it adds to our collective happiness. Give it a try. Jupiter and Saturn come into a Grand Conjunction on the exact day of the Winter Solstice December 21, 2020. Whether or not you can feel the energy of this, you can certainly enjoy seeing it in the sky. And then think of the possibility… sure the gravitational forces of the planets are infinitesimal, but are they enough to tip a particle from one quantum state to another? The planets exert very small forces perhaps, but they are the only things out there.