What Do Skeptics Say About Astrology?
 Astrology Zine by Michael Star

What Do Skeptics Say About Astrology? Part 2.

Skeptics of Astrology often say that horoscope readings are so "general" they could apply to anyone; and that people will look for what they want to see and ignore what doesn't seem true for them, thus deluding themselves that the horoscope is "accurate".

This skepticism would most likely be eliminated if the skeptic actually looked at a real horoscope done by a competent professional astrologer, using his unique time and place of birth. But in this second part of the series, we'll look at an example of how a skeptic of Astrology can come to a false conclusion and go on saying that Astrology is "bunk" or "fake" to others - by NOT using a real horoscope to "prove" his point.

Further Developments - April 2003

In April 2003 I started receiving insulting emails concerning this article. One simply said "Retard" in the subject line. While no letters had been received since it was published in 2001, I received two on April 19, 2003, which made me wonder why the sudden interest, and why had two people suddenly decided to send their verbal attacks on the same day? A few more insulting emails continued to arrive, but one or two of the letters which came in over the next few days were from reasonable people suggesting that I take up James Randi's challenge to "prove" the validity of Astrology.

One email included the URL to a page posted April 18, 2003, on Randi's web site which contained his mocking commentary about this article and included the URL to this page. In the following days, my traffic counter registered over 300 visits per day to this page, most of which I assume were referred from Randi's web page.

Further down his web page, Randi makes a comment about another subject and includes an insulting reference to astrologers in general, where he calls them "thieves":

"Charlie, you're right in the spirit of the nonsense. You missed your calling, as they say. Or maybe you're actually an astrologer or fortune-teller, right in there with the other thieves..."

It is quite apparent from Randi's reference to astrologers as "thieves" what his opinions about Astrology and astrologers are.

My article on this web page refers to a documentary film featuring James Randi, which I saw aired on a Public Television System (PBS) channel. I happened to find this show while "channel surfing" and it was already in progress, so I missed seeing whatever was mentioned in the introduction.

In his mocking commentary about me and my article, Randi tries to make me out to be a fool for not realizing that his stated purpose for the exhibition recorded in the documentary film was NOT to disprove Astrology. Since I missed seeing the earliest portion of the film, I do not know if this is true; but I will take Randi at his word that he "...distinctly stated that the demo was not to 'disprove' astrology, at all", as he states on his web page.

But since I did not see or hear this alleged disclaimer because I did not see the beginning of the documentary, this hardly makes me a fool for not noticing something that was not even seen by me. But Randi chooses to refer to my article as a "tirade" and goes on to claim:

"Read that 'astrologyzine' tirade, bearing in mind what I've written above, and you'll see the futility of trying to talk sense to these people."

I wonder if Randi even read or understood the first paragraph of MY article, which says:

Skeptics of Astrology often say that horoscope readings are so "general" they could apply to anyone; and that people will look for what they want to see and ignore what doesn't seem true for them, thus deluding themselves that the horoscope is "accurate".

Randi's stated intention does not change the fact that his "demonstration" did not include any real horoscope readings, in spite of his false promise to the test subjects that they would be given horoscope readings. Randi's glee in saying that I did not "understand" his statments in the documentary is evidenced in his statement at the beginning of his commentary:

"It's not often that we get as really excellent an opportunity as the following, to show just how poorly the critics understand or even read our statements."
Randi seems more interested in calling astrologers fools than he is in making any rational arguments against the validity of Astrology. Sorry, Mr. Randi, but I didn't "read" your statements because I tuned into the TV show after it had already begun, and I did not see nor hear whatever "statements" you claim I did not understand. It would have been nice if you checked first, before you jumped to your conclusions.

But I think the opening statement of the article which you are mocking does pretty well sum up what you said was the point YOU were trying to make. I think I did "get it", Mr. Randi, in spite of your claiming "how poorly the critics understand - or even read - our statements." Maybe you didn't read or understand my statements before you chose to publish your critical comments about them?

However, given Randi's reference to astrologers as "thieves" quoted above, it is easy to be skeptical of Randi's assertion that the documented "experiment" was not meant to disparage Astrology. He could have promised a psychological profile instead of a horoscope reading, but he chose to make the subjects think they were getting a real horoscope reading. He quite obviously has his own personal agenda concerning Astrology and other subjects which he refers to as "paranormal". It appears to me that he has gone beyond being a "skeptic" as he claims, and is actively and enthusiastically denouncing Astrology and its practitioners.

In any case, the article you read on this page was designed to show how skeptics use the "too general" argument to claim that Astrology has no validity. It is somewhat ironic that Randi, the "skeptic" who set out to show how people will accept a "general" description as being true in their individual case, was actually the one who created the "general" personality description himself. If he believes that real horoscope readings are too "general" to be valid, or that those astrologer "thieves" create purposely "general" descriptions to deceive their clients, then why wouldn't he use some real horoscopes to prove his point? Maybe he was afraid that if a real astrologer did those readings, then the test subjects would agree they were accurate even when they were NOT all the same?

My contention in my article is that Randi's bogus "experiment" proved nothing about the subject of Astrology, since there was no real Astrology used in the proceedings. In spite of Randi's false statment to the test subjects that they would be given a personal horoscope reading, what was actually given to them was a description of personal traits carefully crafted to be general enough to apply to everyone in the group. Whatever Randi's stated intentions were, it does not change the fact that his demonstration had nothing to do with real Astrology, and proved nothing about the validity of Astrology.

The fact that they all accepted the fake horoscope reading as being an accurate desription of themselves has no relation to whether an actual personal horoscope reading done by a real astrologer would or would not provide an accurate description of each individual. No real horoscopes were presented to the subjects at all, and thus no logical conclusions about horoscope readings can be inferred from this charade.

I do not agree with Randi's assertion on his web page:

"...that people will tend to accept almost anything, editing and selecting from otherwise meaningless data that which suits their needs and preferences."

What Randi appears not to realize is that those fake "horoscopes", which he or his accomplice crafted to fool his test subjects, could only "fool" them if they made statements which the subjects accepted as true. I would contend that even though they were "general" in nature, they also WERE TRUE - in that they DID accurately describe each person! If the test subjects accepted the truth as being true, then what is Randi's point?

What is "meaningless" about the personality traits the bogus "horoscope readings" described? I wonder if those people would be offended to hear Randi state that what they read and accepted about themselves was "meaningless"? I don't think a description of my personality is "meaningless". It means a lot to me, because it is about me.

If I say to you that "you have two eyes and one mouth and one nose", is that just "meaningless data"? I would call it "the truth". Are you a gullible fool for accepting this true description of you, even though it also applies to almost every human being?

Do you think that Randi's test subjects were gullible fools for indicating that they accepted his general personality description as being an accurate description of themselves? And by what stretch of logic could anyone conclude that, just because these people accepted a true description as being true, this would somehow indicate that people who would accept a real horoscope reading about themselves as being true are gullible fools for doing so?

There are some people in every profession who are not honest or honorable, and there are some who are not competent, and there are some who take advantage of people for their own selfish purposes. There are some dishonest doctors, and some dishonest lawyers, and there are also some dishonest and incompetent astrologers. The existence of a few "bad apples" does not make the entire profession invalid, and this does not make all its practitioners worthy of scorn and derision. To think so is simply bad logic. Or prejudice.

Someone who is a "skeptic" is someone who does not believe something is true, one who questions what others would accept. I respect Mr. Randi's right to not believe in Astrology or in any other subject or practice. He can continue to believe what he believes, and I have no issue with that. I only wish he would allow me and my fellow astrologers to continue to believe what we believe, and not think that we have some obligation to prove anything to him. It is almost futile to try to prove something to someone who has already made up his mind about what he wants to believe.

If Mr. Randi wants to prove or disprove the validity of Astrology, let him do it himself as we did it for ourselves. He can read the same Astrology text books that we learned from, and test it for himself by casting horoscopes and doing readings for himself and his friends. I do not know how much Mr. Randi has actually studied Astrology, but I have met a few skeptics who were forming opinions about a subject which they had not even studied to any degree beyond reading a few horoscope columns on the comics page of their local newspaper.

I was once a skeptic of Astrology too, and after having studied the subject and testing its validity myself, I now admit that it was foolish of me to have concluded that Astrology was bunk without first having put any effort into understanding it. It is wise to avoid forming opinions on anything before you have enough facts about it to make a considered opinion based on sufficient understanding of the subject.

My personal feelings about Astrology are: "If it works, use it." I have seen that it works, so I use it. To any skeptic of Astrology I would say: "Try using it yourself and see if it works for you. Get a real horoscope reading done by a professional astrologer, and see what it says about you. You know yourself better than anyone else, so you be the judge - but please try to be as unbiased as a real judge would be."
- Michael Star (April 24, 2003)

A Skeptic's Bait-and-Switch Trick

I once saw a documentary show on public television about a skeptic named "the Amazing Randi" - who had worked as a professional magician. He told a group of young men and women in a classroom that they would be given horoscope readings about themselves if they submitted their birth data. When they were handed out their printed "horoscope readings" and had read them over, they were polled by asking them to raise their hands if they thought the readings accurately described them. Most everyone put up his or her hand.

Then Randi told them to hand the reading to the person behind them and read that "horoscope" to see how accurately IT described them. That was when each of them noticed that they had all been reading a copy of the SAME printed reading!

I wonder what I would have thought about this, if I did not know much about Astrology and had been one of the people participating in this "experiment"? I might conclude that if all the "horoscope readings" contained all the same words and sentences, and I thought they all described me accurately AND also described my classmate accurately (according to him or her), then "horoscopes" must all be written in such "general" terms that they could apply to anyone. And therefore Astrology must be "fake".

I would have just been "faked out" with this "fake" astrology reading, so Astrology must be fake, I might conclude. But I would have been missing an all-important observation... the so-called "horoscope readings" were indeed "fake" - which means they were not "real" horoscope readings at all!

This so-called "experiment" only "proved" that someone like Randi could write a FAKE horoscope reading that WOULD apply to anyone; and that he could LIE to them to make them think they were reading a real horoscope reading about themselves, and that they would agree that the fake reading did appear to accurately describe them.

It did NOT prove that a REAL horoscope reading would or would not describe them accurately; and it did NOT prove that if they exchanged their REAL horoscope reading with another person, then that person would agree that it also described them accurately. No REAL horoscopes were even used in this "experiment". Real horoscopes based on the unique time and place of birth of each individual in the group would all have been different, not the same.

Randi used this little trick to demonstrate that Astrology was "bunk" - and that people would always read their "horoscope" and see things they wanted to see as true for them. The point which he completely missed was that the so-called "horoscopes" he handed out were not "real" horoscope readings, but something written by himself with the intent to MAKE them "apply" to many people. If he had used REAL horoscope readings based on the individual birth dates, and had them created by an honest and competent astrologer, each person's reading would have been DIFFERENT.

His little demonstration really "proved" nothing about Astrology, since Astrology was never used in this trick. It was all faked. It was much like the "bait and switch" trick used by some sneaky sales people, who offer one desirable thing at a very attractive price (the "bait") just to get the customer into the store. Then they try to "switch" the buyer's attention from the original offer and persuade him to buy something "better" at a higher price, something that is more profitable for the seller.

Randi offered a supposedly real "horoscope" to his audience (at least they assumed that it would be "real" and unique to themselves) then he "switched" what was actually delivered to something that was not a horoscope at all, but something that served Randi's own purposes - to make them believe that a "horoscope" could be read by anyone and that person would think that it accurately described them, even if it was actually written in terms which were general or vague enough to appear true for many other people. That "general" psychological description is what he actually delivered to them (the "switch"), even though the original offer was a free "real" horoscope (the "bait") which would by nature not be general, but specific to themselves alone.

The interesting thing was that no one seemed to consider the obvious fact that the "horoscopes" given out were not REAL horoscopes - even, I suppose, the producers of the documentary who chose to air this bogus "experiment". If I were not an astrologer and did not KNOW that horoscopes are always unique to the individual, I might not have noticed the "con job" myself!

The Amazing Randi, a self-confessed "con man" (in the sense that as a "magician" he used deceptive practices to create the illusion of "magic") thought that he was someone who was best able to "expose" other "cons" - and he thought astrologers were conning people and he set out to show how this con-job could be done. But he ended up using a "con" on his subjects, and "conned" them into believing Astrology was bogus, when actually his little demonstration itself was bogus. Real Astrology was never a part of that "experiment", since real horoscopes were never given to the subjects. It was like saying, "If I give you a goose, but can convince you it is a duck; then that must mean that real ducks are conning you into believing they are truly ducks." Go figure.

Unfortunately, Randi did not confess that the "experiment" itself was a "con job", and apparently he does not even realize that his trick really proves nothing other than that a trickster like Randi can convince people to believe in what he wants them to believe, even when it isn't true.

That all horoscopes are alike is simply not true.

(This is Part 2 of a continuing series about Skeptics. Part 3 will be added at a later date.)

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