Do the Stars Control Destiny?

Article for Reporting Science & Technology May 2004

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Put ‘astrology’ in an internet search engine like Google. The result? An astonishing 3,290,000 sites about astrology. At the same time NASA’s two rovers are exploring Mars, the ‘Red Planet’ is used by astrologers to predict our future. Scientists dismiss astrology as medieval nonsense, but why does it attracts so many believers.

Two-thirds of U.S. daily newspapers carry horoscopes. Some 66 million American adults believe astrology is a scientific process. Believers look to the stars to answer questions about relationships, financial plans and even auto repair. This makes for an impressive elixir considering it is a process invented by the Babylonians who also looked at the entrails of slaughtered animals for answers.

The church banned astrology in the Middle Ages, but the practice saw a resurrection in the turbulent years during the World Wars. It does not seem inappropriate at the time when science made such great leaps forward and humanity seemed to fail at so many turns, to look for more answers. Heinrich Himmler even employed his own personal astrologer.

“The general conception of scientists that all astrology is bunk, has not been empirically proven, either one way or the other,” boasts, a website for astrology buffs. However, the evidence is quite to the contrary.

Astrology leaves many gaps in the explanation of how it functions. The most common form of astrology, natal astrology, where astrological forces leap into action at the moment of a person’s birth, makes no explanation as to how the heavens begin to affect an individual’s life only at that moment. Why should astrological bodies not determine one’s future from conception or during the development within the womb?

Bart Bok, former president of the American Astronomical Society said, “It does not make sense to suppose that the various planets and the moon, all with rather similar physical properties, could manage to affect human affairs in totally dissimilar fashion.”

Horoscopes fall into the fun sections of newspapers and are considered a pseudo-science by the scientific community. So why do so many people put stock in what astrologers say?

“To me it just goes along with spirituality,” Said Candice Turner a student of astrology at Earth Angels in Redding. “I just use it to get along.”

This puts the arguments for or against astrology into the context of the believer. Anecdotes and facts that concur with beliefs about astrology are acknowledged and sited while others are disregarded. If someone really wants something to be true, then in their mind it is true.

However, the ultimate answer seems quite simple to me. It must lie with meaning. How convenient is it to believe that there is a pre-ordained plan for each of us and that this message is written in the stars? Those stars that for millennia look down and remind us of just how insignificant we are. Modern science does not weave such a romantic tapestry of our existence and purpose on this planet as astrology. And modern science does not give us daily advice for our love lives.