08 May 2009

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Astrology

And here's an explanation from an interview with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City) on the Scholastic News web site about the debunking described in the video:

People come in here [Hayden Planetarium] assuming that they'll get their horoscope. They don't know that astrology has been [disproven] for centuries, but it's a billion-dollar industry, so it's not going away soon.

I did this experiment in a college class. I found some widely read horoscope column, and I said, "Pick one at random, and put it on the wall. Is this your horoscope, or not? Type yes, no, or maybe." Eighty percent of the people thought it was their horoscope!

Some sleepless, creative person 5,000 years ago invented the constellations. If we were to make constellations today, there'd be no serpents. There'd be a cell phone and an SUV and a microwave oven and a baseball field. There would be things that are in our modern culture, expressed in the legends of the sky.


Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure what I should think about this...from what I can see, it seems to ridicule astrology; at the same time, the blog seems to be about UU stuff...and UU is supposed to be about tolerance, and maybe not so much about hopping on particular bandwagons...What's up?

Steve Caldwell said...

Dear Anonymous,

A common myth is that Unitarian Universalists can "believe whatever they want to believe."

It's a myth - not true at all.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are encouraged to engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

The word "responsible" is a constraint on the word "free" and that's one reason why we cannot believe anything we want to believe.

As Unitarian Universalists, we also value "humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit."

Given the constraints of responsibility in our free search and our need to listen to humanist teachings, I don't see any conflicts with Dr. Tyson's comments on astrology and Unitarian Universalist theology.

This doesn't mean that one cannot enjoy astrology for entertainment value as long as one keeps in mind that it hasn't been proven to work in any meaningful sense of the word.

By the way, there would be no conflict with Unitarian Universalist theology and a rejection of creationism either.

Frankly, I never thought of basing one's decisions on the best available understanding of reality that we have (critical thinking, science, rational thought) was hopping on a bandwagon. Nor do I think it's a form of "intolerance" either.

And I'm guessing that you are also on that "reality bandwagon" for some parts of your life.

If you're in a high-rise building, you probably take an elevator or stairs to the ground floor before exiting the building because you are "intolerant" of the idea of exiting via a 50th story window.

It may not be wise to embrace every possible idea out there. And it may not be wise to believe whatever one wants to believe.

Anonymous said...

Things which are ridiculous, such as astrology SHOULD be ridiculed. The fact that so many people believe in Astrology combined with the fact that we elected George Bush president for 8 years prove just how gullible people are.

Glaucus said...

I am going to be a member of a Unitarian Universalist church, and I am into Astrology.

a Unitarian Universalist doesn't have to be a humanist.

There are also some Unitarian Universalist churches that hold Astrology classes

like this one:


Steve Caldwell said...

Glaucus - since Unitarian Universalism is non-creedal, there is no requirement that you agree with me on this topic. And you are correct that a Unitarian Universalist doesn't have to be a humanist, atheist, agnostic, freethinker, etc to join a UU congregation.

And your church is free within our system of congregational polity to have whatever worshops your elected leaders and your congregation wish to have. The only limit on congregational polity is that UU congregations cannot have creedal tests for membership.

However, astrology is problematic for me as a Unitarian Universalist because it conflicts with our 4th principle ("A free and responsible search for truth and meaning") and our 5th source ("Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit").

What we know about nature tells us that it's very unlikely that astrology has any basis in the reality that you and I both inhabit. Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog goes over this in extensive detail:


You are of course free to disagree with me but my reliance on naturalism isn't a form of intolerance any more than Young Earth Creationism would be intolerance.

Glaucus said...

I disagree.

I don't believe that Astrology conflict with free responsible search for truth and meaning Unitarian Universalism nor are idolatries of the mind and spirit.

My approach to Astrology is even 21st Century like the use of the 21st Century Solar System objects and the use of other coordinates and not just Ecliptic Longitude.

Glaucus said...

Oh another thing

I am not just planning on becoming a member of Unitarian Universalist Church. I am planning on becoming a member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS).


There are Unitarian Universalists that are Pagans

Glaucus said...

What I believe and practice certainly doesn't conflict with the following:

"Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature."

That is listed as one of the sources of Unitarian Universalism.

According to a poll taken by the UUA Commission on Appraisal, about 23% of UUs identify "earth-centered spirituality" as their PRIMARY theological orientation.