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Philosophy, Science and the Philosophy of Science.

February 10, 2011

In a recent television lecture Professor Brian Cox approvingly quoted Richard Feyneman as saying, “the philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” Of course, without ornithology many bird species would be extinct but the claim deserves examination. Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking have also made disparaging remarks about philosophy and it seems to me rather short sighted of scientists to make such statements. It not only contributes to the image of science as arrogant and philistine but also, I would argue, is simply untenable.

Why does science need philosophy? Of course, in a day-to-day way, philosophy is not particularly useful to conducting scientific research, but occasionally scientists step out of the lab and want to talk about broader issues. Later in the same lecture Cox described a run-in he had had with astrologers after rubbishing their claims on the BBC. (A row which was given a second act in January.) Science, he argued, shows astrology to be wrong. An astrological claim can be scientifically tested according to the scientific method and be shown to fail that test. Therefore, scientists conclude, astrology is false. The astrologers reply by saying that that conclusion is only valid within scientific discourse. All the scientists can show is that astrology is false by the standards of science. The situation could be reversed and astrologers might test science. Perhaps they could draw up a birthchart, possibly using the date of publication of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus and conclude that because Mercury was entering the house of Gemini (I’m making this up) science must be invalid. Within astrological discourse science is false. Thus we reach an impasse as we have two incompatible discourses making contradictory claims. To overcome this what we need is a meta-discourse, a system by which we can evaluate claims made by any other discourse and, self-referentially, by itself. This meta-discourse is what we call philosophy.

Scientists have argued that the scientific method precludes the need for philosophy. It is a reliable truth-finding system, they say. The problem here is clear. We cannot test the scientific method using the scientific method. To do so would only tell us that, according to science, science works, but we still don’t know if science works. ‘Look around you,’ the scientist says, ‘it’s obvious that science works – look at our technology, our life expectancy, infant-mortality rates, etc. All these things have improved since the scientific revolution.’ This is eminently reasonable and convincing but it is not a rigorous scientific argument. All scientists know that correlation does not prove causation. A scientific response would be to perform an experiment to verify this. The experiment would require rerunning the last few centuries of human history but removing all the scientists. As long as this is impossible we are left to rely on the reasonableness of ascribing certain effects to the impact of science. The argument becomes a philosophical one. I hope I am making it apparent that a scientist cannot make claims about science without stepping outside science and therefore into philosophy. When Hawking says “philosophy is dead” he is making a philosophical statement based on certain philosophical premises.

An understanding of the reasons for science’s dependence on philosophy can be seen by taking an historical view, a view which leads us to see that science is philosophy. The ancient Greek philosophers were promiscuous in their interests. In their quest for wisdom they embraced every area of inquiry. Aristotle is considered the father of physics, biology, psychology, logic, metaphysics and more. He would not have seen these fields as sharply divided but rather all as grist to the philosophical mill. As time passed these subjects became disciplines unto themselves as, one by one, they left philosophy to set up on their own. (You might picture a river delta dividing as it nears the sea.) Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton were all philosophers and it was not until 1833 that the term ‘scientist’ was coined. To answer the great philosophical questions we need facts. (Knowledge is a prerequisite for wisdom.) Imagine if you will that philosophy has sent the sciences (and other disciplines) out to discover truths about the world. As these truths are discovered philosophy is in a better position to consider the bigger questions. Thus science is part of a much larger philosophical project which includes all human intellectual endeavour.

So far I have been writing rather disingenuously as though I were unaware of the reasons that scientists distrust philosophy. As a result of the branching process described above philosophy has been left with less and less subject matter and so has turned to examining itself. Self-absorption is rarely healthy and seems in this case to have led to crippling self-doubt. What may be broadly and advisedly termed ‘postmodern’ philosophy has treated all truth-claims with extreme scepticism and gleefully set about undermining many of our assumptions. Attacks on science have been common and have certainly contributed to a general mistrust of science in the culture. Postmodernists have been encouraged by certain parallels between 20th century science and their own techniques. The uncertainty principle (the fact that observing a phenomenon changes the nature of the thing observed) seem not unlike Barthes’ ideas in ‘The Death of the Author’ and relativity sounds suspiciously like relativism. Interestingly these scientific discoveries pre-date postmodernism and might suggest that philosophy was rather late in discovering things that scientists already knew. Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem of 1931, by which he used maths to prove that you can’t prove maths using maths (this is simplistic but gives a sense of the self-reflexiveness of the theorem) seems to anticipate Derrida’s worries about language by several decades. Science is already grappling with problems which the postmodernists arrogantly assume belong only to them.

The attacks on science by postmodern thinkers have largely been ridiculed by scientists themselves and occasionally spoofed. It is, of course, well within the rights of scientists to argue back. Philosophy is a conversation in which every voice has a right to be heard. Socrates, the head of our philosophical tradition, spent his time showing up the pretensions of the professional philosophers (the Sophists) and gleaning wisdom from ordinary Athenians. Rather than dismissing philosophers, scientists must argue with them. That is after all what they are there for.

Ideally philosophy and science will work together. Daniel Dennett is a good example of a philosopher who works closely with science and in doing so has contributed to our understanding of both. The question of free will, for instance, is hugely important philosophically (and in its very practical implications for society) but can only be addressed with reference to cognitive neuroscience as Dennett does. Conversely Douglas Hofstadter approaches philosophy of mind from a background in science with provocative and intriguing results. But the scientist who neglects philosophy is like someone building a tower on sand because she is too excited about the view from the roof to worry about the foundations while the philosopher who rejects science is like one who, having once been fooled by an optical illusion concludes that sight is useless and, like Oedipus, puts out her own eyes.

From → Philosophy, Science

42 Comments
  1. I don’t think your example of how astrologers would test science by interpreting a horoscope of some scientific event is accurate. Astrologers are modern thinkers and admire science as much as anyone else. A failed test of astrology is not evidence that astrology is outside of scientific discourse, but is simply a failure of science to design a proper (and fair) experiment that will capture the results.

    It is not unusual for science to fail and it is surprising to think otherwise. Most major discoveries happen by accident. Astrology may well be outside the “standards of science” but this where any scientific discovery comes from, and again this is not at all unusual.

    Some scientific tests of astrology do actually succeed and researchers are finding ways to rate or rank the data to hone in on the astrological effects. I won’t list them, though there are good examples, but there is one in particular you should look at, the controversial Shawn Carlson double-blind experiment, published in 1985 in Nature, which has actually been reversed in favor of astrology.

    For many years, this study was held up as the definitive test against astrology. However, a detailed assessment of this study published in 2009 by Professor Suitbert Ertel is forcing scientists to rethink their claims against astrology. The flaws in the Carlson study are very tricky to find, making one wonder if they are not intentional, but they are so serious that they distort the actual findings, which are that the data supports the claims of the astrologers. Once the flaws are pointed out, this is easy for anyone to see.

    I invite you and your readers to read my article on the Carlson study and Ertel’s assessment:

    http://astrologynewsservice.com/articles/support-for-astrology-from-the-carlson-double-blind-experiment/

    And the original 1985 Carlson article itself: http://muller.lbl.gov/papers/Astrology-Carlson.pdf

    There is perhaps a philosophical problem for scientists who had believed Carlson’s claims, and believed others tests such as the McGrew and McFall test, which was so extremely difficult, and misrepresented as “simple,” that astrologers should never have participated in it. Scientists who conduct a test of astrology cannot allow a finding that supports astrology or their careers as scientists would be over. Astrology research is a very uncomfortable place to be. They may need some sort of philosophical solution that can rescue them if they need it.

    • I chose astrology as an example because it was discussed in Brian Cox’s lecture, but I think my argument works equally with other superstitious practices such as mediumship or crystal-healing. Of course, if astrology could be shown to work we would have to throw out most of modern science, from astronomy to Darwinian evolution.

  2. I think you are quite right in challenging the view that philosophy is irrelevant to science. But the arrogance that some scientists appear to demonstrate toward philosophy is not representative of science as a whole. As you rightly point out consciousness studies and AI have benefited tremendously from philosophical discourse, think not just Dan Dennett but Margaret Boden, Roger Penrose and Thomas Metzinger. In evolutionary biology and complexity science Jerry Fodor and Stuart Kauffman to name just two. Science needs ethicists and moral philosophers to address pressing questions of science ethics, in the UK we notably have Blay Whitby and Tom Sorrell. It’s significant also that neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris has just courted controversy by arguing that a moral system can be derived from scientific and rational principles.

    Why then does physics appear to eschew philosophical discourse when other scientific disciplines welcome it? It seems to me that physics needs philosophy more than ever. It worries me a great deal that quantum physics, for instance, seems to have reversed the scientific method. Instead of making observations and then trying to explain and model them, quantum physics instead constructs beautiful mathematics and then tries to find physical evidence for whatever the theory predicts (at vast cost in the case of the CERN LHC), on what seems to be the flimsy assumption that because the maths is elegant it must be true – and if we don’t at first find the physical evidence it’s because we need to look harder (i.e. spend even more money). I believe physics has, epistemologically, lost its way.

    • Indeed. When it comes to physics, however, I feel it is probably the flimsiness or otherwise of making assumptions based on beautiful maths which is at stake. There seem to be many physicists who would stake their lives on elegant equations. And as they often believe that they are the only ones doing real science I don’t imagine they’d take your point. I do though.

  3. Ben Draper permalink

    Further to your discussion I would ask the question ‘Were it not for philosophy, where would we find the motivation to pursue scientific knowledge and understanding?’ or ‘Why be a scientist? Answer scientifically.’ if I were being more facetious.

  4. I confess, I thought this was going to be a post about what philosophy can contribute to science, but by the end I felt disappointed, and I find myself agreeing with Feynman and Cox. [Disclosure: my first degree was in Philosophy with Computer Science and Economics, and i used to spend holidays at CERN.]

    The picture you paint of philosophy as the unfying meta-discipline underneath all the different science still held together about 100 years ago, when Russell and Whitehead were publishing Principia Mathematica, but it has crumbled since. Some of that is to do with the flaws in formalism and logical positivism (you mention Kurt Godel), but it’s also to do with the astonishing progress made by empirical science.

    Physics, in particular, has been able to develop radios and computers and nuclear power and microchips, and have developed theories that left philosophers struggling to catch up. Philosophers like Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Ian Hacking, and Karen Barad are examples of the work philosophy has done in keeping abreast of scientific practice.

    Feynman and Cox know that scientists’ work is inspired by wonder, curiosity, evidence and method, rather than philosophy. (And, by the way it doesn’t need philosophy to broaden it.) I recommend you read Richard Feynman’s address to Caltech students in 1974, entitled ‘Cargo Cult Science’. It’s online here: http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/cargocul.htm

    He makes a very simple point – that science works by paying close attention to the differences between what works, and what doesn’t work. There is no reason that astrology, or homeopathy, or scientology, have to be ‘outside’ science. Dick Feynman poses very simple questions to all-comers: show us your data, and show what you do, in your field, to settle arguments, and reduce uncertainty.

    It’s a pity you chose Aristotle as your example of a philosopher. Because, great though he was, he was followed, often unquestioningly, for more than a thousand years. For example, Aristotle said that women had colder bodies than men, and fewer teeth. It was rare to find anyone who would dare to challenge the great Aristotle by opening women’s moths and counting. But that, thank goodness, is how we do things nowadays. And the world is better for it.

    You seem to want philosophy to be the science that holds together science, but it doesn’t

    • I’ll come back to your main point after reading the Feynman, unless others want to take you up on it, but, in defence of Aristotle, it wasn’t his fault. He would I think have been shocked that people treated his work as absolute rather than checking things for themselves. He was far more of an empiricist than Plato.

    • Isn’t the collapse of logical positivism precisely why science needs philosophy? When Hawking claims that ‘philosophy is dead’ he is repeating the logical positivist line.
      The pseudo-sciences tend to want to place themselves outside science after they have been falsified and my point I suppose is only that we need philosophy to find out whether that is a valid move. Is there really ‘another side’ to the astrology issue or should we accept the verdict of science?
      I agree that philosophy has had a hard time keeping up with science and I think that has caused a number of problems and is part of the reason science seems to be increasingly under attack.

  5. Your example of astrology, based on Brian Cox’s lecture, is a very good one. Science does not need philosophy as long as it can dismiss astrology as a superstition and then not examine what superstition is. This is where the philosophy is supposed to come in.

    From Popper to Kuhn to Feyerabend, astrology has benefitted from philosophical discourse, because it is a challenge to describe it without resorting to ridicule and straw man arguments as Cox has done. Isn’t this the test of philosophy, to engage in discourse without the rational fallacies? Isn’t that why you chose Cox?

    It is a very shallow view that modern science from astronomy and Darwin evolution would need to be thrown out if astrology works. There are tests that show that astrology does work and both scientists and philosophers have work to do. But even if the tests didn’t work, isn’t your statement an assumption?

    Astronomy is the foundation of astrology. Without it, astrology would not exist. Social evolution is the main discourse in astrology today. If you throw out astronomy and evolutionary concepts, you would be throwing out modern astrology. If you scientifically change them, you would also change modern astrology.

    • I’m afraid I have to disagree that astrology is a good example when discussing the relevance of philosophy to science. As Jim Al-Khalili pointed out recently the basic claims of astrology were falsified by Islamic astronomers 10 centuries ago. So no modern appeal to philosophical discourse will help. Although I might have chosen different language I have to agree with Brian Cox when he says “astrology is rubbish”.

      I would urge that an argument about the relevance of philosophy of science needs to be built around modern difficult problems in science, as I suggested in my previous comment. There are plenty of these. You don’t have to scratch the surface of physics very hard to find them. Here’s one: electromagnetic propagation in vacuum. Since J. C. Maxwell we’ve had a very good mathematical model of EM propagation, good enough to form the basis of an astonishingly successful technology: radio communication. However, it would be a mistake to argue that the fact that radio works means that EM propagation is fully understood at the most fundamental level. It isn’t – the quantum mechanics of how EM waves propagate in a vacuum remains puzzling and a subject that philosophers of science can, and do, fruitfully engage in.

  6. Sorry, but I won’t be able to continue the discussion. Defending astrology is one of the most uncomfortable and thankless positions anyone can take. This is about as far as I can take it for now. I’m going to drop out of this blog and others. If you have time, you may read my website, http://www.theoryofastrology.com.

  7. Alan Winfield wrote:

    “As Jim Al-Khalili pointed out recently the basic claims of astrology were falsified by Islamic astronomers 10 centuries ago. So no modern appeal to philosophical discourse will help.”

    Alan, can you point me to the reference I need to explore this argument, because this is irrefutably not the case.

    Islamic medieval science was built on Islamic medieval physics and philosophy, and it was these very principles which held the rationale of astrology together. Therefore, there were many medieval philosophers who were in support of astrology for philosophical reasons and as an explanations of the earth’s ‘physics’, whilst being critical of the extent to which astrological predictions were made through the individaul judgement of its practitioners.

    “Although I might have chosen different language I have to agree with Brian Cox when he says “astrology is rubbish”.”

    Well Alan you did have a chance to use a different language here; but you didn’t take the opportunity to express it any differently from how Brian Cox did. Why not? I suppose it was just simpler for you to not bother.

    This is the problem when it comes to the philosophy of astrology I’m afraid – lazy criticisms based on lazy critiques. Hence, this comment gets repeated a lot by people who do not actually understand the arguments; I suspect because it spares them from admitting that they don’t know much about astrology and how it actually has impacted on the history of philosophy and science. Since it *did* have such a very major impact, this is a pity, since it leaves large holes in the understanding of human and social development. It seems to me as if some people realise that they ought to be more knowledgeable about the standing of astrology in history, but it’s a convenient excuse to suggest that it was and is all a load of rubbish, so by calling it such, we can just gloss over it.

    —–

    To Joseph:

    I enjoyed many elements of your article, so apologies for picking up only on the points that are of most interest to me, (which will probably make me seem more critical of your wider argument than I actually am).

    In your article you say of Brian Cox

    “Science, he argued, shows astrology to be wrong.”

    Actually Brian Cox has not engaged in any arguments. He has only demonstrated the lazy thinking I described above. His reasons for stating that astrology is rubbish is only that he has stated it is so (Brian Cox declares, ergo it is).

    Also you say:

    “Of course, if astrology could be shown to work we would have to throw out most of modern science, from astronomy to Darwinian evolution.”

    Astrology is irrelevant to Darwinian evolution and it depends upon astronomy. So there is no way to make sense of your comment. Can you explain why you say this?

    Thanks,
    Deb

    • Regarding Islamic science there seems to be something here:
      http://www.jstor.org/pss/600445
      I would add that alchemy played an important role in the history of science but that does not mean we should still be searching for the Philosopher’s Stone.

      “Science, he argued, shows astrology to be wrong.”
      If not in the particular lecture I drew on for the Feynman quote Brian Cox has certainly said this elsewhere and it seems that this is clearly the implication of his comment.

      Darwinian evolution is not teleological and as Stephen Jay Gould has argued is highly contingent. There is nothing inevitable about our existence either as a species or as individuals. Science in general is materialist in principle, not relying on hypothetical and inexplicable forces. (Things like dark matter are not the basis of physics but hypotheses which explain certain observed phenomena. Physics is based on measurable and observable particles and forces.)

  8. Hi Josepth

    [You wrote:] “Regarding Islamic science there seems to be something here:
    http://www.jstor.org/pss/600445
    I would add that alchemy played an important role in the history of science but that does not mean we should still be searching for the Philosopher’s Stone.”

    Sorry, but it’s not good enough to point to one lazily researched link in order to prop up a philosophical argument. That paper you have linked to is the very same one by which Martin Robbins displayed his own ignorance in declaring that astrology was the subject of ridicule in the Dark ages (it wasn’t!).
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/jan/24/1

    But the inaccuracies in Martin Robbins’ report were answered by Rebekah Higgit’s follow up report in the same editorial section a few days later (she being more informed and more qualified to comment since her doctorate was focused on the history of science).
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/jan/28/1

    Although I could spend time putting together my own reasons why that particular report does not reflect the very high standing that astrology actually had in Islamic science in the late Byzantine and early medieval period (and overlooking that the comment I questioned referred to the situation 10 centuries ago not 7 centuries ago); I may as well just quote Rebekah who, even as a skeptic, knows that there is no substance in that argument.
    In referring to the way that Martin Robbins pointed to that article she wrote:

    “However, perhaps worse than complete ignorance of history, is the danger of its being misused or misrepresented. While Martin has assured me that he is aware that astrology was dominant in the pre-modern world [*this is in private BTW, since he did not correct himself publicly - allowing you and others to continue to be deceived by it*], this is not what his readers are likely to have picked up. Instead he points to an instance in which a medieval astronomer appears to have spoken out against astrology suggesting that it was “already being ridiculed in the Dark Ages”. This is, consciously or unconsciously, something that many others have done: keen to distance themselves from astrology, astronomers have leapt on examples of apparently ‘scientific’ disdain for the practice.

    This radically misreads the historic context and is as ignorant or dishonest a tactic as that used by proponents of Intelligent Design who mine Darwin’s writings for useful quotes. It is also a dangerous line for science communicators to take: the astrologers probably know their history better. Note that Nicholas Campion, a university lecturer and author of a recent and well-received history of astrology, is also a past president of the Astrological Association. Historians of astronomy know that before the late 17th century there are far more examples of astronomers who were astrologers or directly supported astrology than not (let’s try Ptolemaeus, Peuerbach, Regiomontanus, Apian, Copernicus, Rheticus, Tycho, Kepler and Galileo for starters). In addition, when someone appears to speak against astrology, as the 14th-century example linked by Martin [*SAME LINK AS YOURS*], they were nearly always only aiming at parts of astrology – such as divination or casting natal horoscopes – usually for theological or political rather than scientific reasons.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/jan/28/1

    [You wrote (re Cox):] “Science, he argued, shows astrology to be wrong.”
    If not in the particular lecture I drew on for the Feynman quote Brian Cox has certainly said this elsewhere and it seems that this is clearly the implication of his comment.”

    Yes, he has said it, and it is his implication; I don’t deny that. What I deny is that he has put forward an argument to demonstrate his position. If you re-read the earlier posts of Ken McRitchie you will see that this is not actually the case.

    [You wrote:] “Darwinian evolution is not teleological and as Stephen Jay Gould has argued is highly contingent. There is nothing inevitable about our existence either as a species or as individuals. Science in general is materialist in principle, not relying on hypothetical and inexplicable forces. (Things like dark matter are not the basis of physics but hypotheses which explain certain observed phenomena. Physics is based on measurable and observable particles and forces.)”

    Hmm, Joseph are you aware that it was actually a 9th century Arabian astrologer/astronomer, Alkindi, who was the first to specifically and clearly state the principle of gravity (as a reasoning behind the astrological use of aspects):
    “All terrestrial objects are attracted towards the center of the Earth.”?

    Or that in 1121, Al-Khazini, in his treatise ‘The Book of the Balance of Wisdom’, was the first to propose the theory that the gravities of bodies vary depending on their distances from the centre of the Earth? (Proven by Newton’s law of universal gravitation in the 18th century). Or that the astronomer/astrologers Al-Biruni and Al-Khazini were also the first to clearly differentiate between force, mass, and weight; showing awareness of the weight of the air and of its decrease in density with altitude, and that there is greater density of water when nearer to the Earth’s centre. (?)

    It was the influence and development of these ideas which led Robert Hooke, in the 1660s, to propose his law of celestial gravity: “All objects are pulled towards the Sun with a force proportional to their mass and inversely proportional to the square of their distance to the Sun”. And it was this that Isaac Newton was able to mathematically prove, by developing Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.

    Are you aware that Kepler originated those laws on the basis of astrological principles, which he understood through the work of Ptolemy, which was itself largely influenced by the philosophies of Plato and Pythagoras. ?

    Science has always used hypotheticals, and the philosophy of astrology has been used to not only explore material matter; but is embedded into the very heart of the philosophical discussions on what material matter actually is.

    The perspective of modern science has shifted, but the principles which astrology was traditionally involved in have never actually been disproved – they have only been abandoned by cosmologists who are no longer primarily interested in the Earth-centred perspective of the solar system.

  9. The link seems to have been what Jim Al-Khalili was referring to which was your original question.

    Although your historical examples are interesting they don’t seem to have any bearing on the issue.

    “the Earth-centred perspective of the solar system”
    Do you mean the Ptolemaic system? I think cosmologists have fairly good reasons to have abandoned that.

  10. Actually they were all relevant Joseph. They were relevant in showing how it was the statement below, from Alan Winfield, which was irrelevant (and unsubstantiated):

    “As Jim Al-Khalili pointed out recently the basic claims of astrology were falsified by Islamic astronomers 10 centuries ago. So no modern appeal to philosophical discourse will help.”

    [You wrote:]
    “the Earth-centred perspective of the solar system”
    Do you mean the Ptolemaic system?

    Heliocentic knowledge presented in a geocentric format works fine, which is why Kepler and Galileo argued for heliocentricity to be adopted as the scientific model but still converted astronomical information into a geocentric format for their astrological work. Tycho Brahe argued for a celestial model that was heliocentric in design but measured from a geocentric perspective and science could very easily have adopted his cosmological model (except for his untimely death).

    [You wrote] “I think cosmologists have fairly good reasons to have abandoned that.”

    I agree, but a system which is essentially geocentric in its interest also has good reason to take measurement from the geocentric perspective (allowing the calculation of the angular relationship of planetary positions to the local horizon of the observer on earth; which heliocentricity does not cater for).

    To be clear, my point was not that modern cosmologists do not have good reasoning behind their system of study; but that the fact that they take up and develop a different perspective does not provide an *argument* that the astrological one is intrinsically wrong (or rubbish).

    Deb

    I’m sure they do if their focus is no longer on the earth-centred are no longer interested in how things appear to

  11. The fact that some astrologers did some science or that some scientists did some astrology proves nothing about the viability of astrology and does not mean that other scientists had not disputed it.

    Tycho de Brahe’s model was not as good so it was rejected. Are you really saying that astrology relies on a geocentric solar system? Either the sun is in the centre or it’s not. You seem to want both.

  12. The Sun is at the centre of the solar system. It is also at the centre of astrological philosophy. However to relate the movement of the planets to any position on Earth, you take the measurements from the Earth. Its just simple Joseph – the Sun is at the centre of the solar system but the Earth is at the centre of the local celestial environment which is being studied by astrology. No astronomical conflict there; just different perspectives by which to use the same accurate astronomical information.

    And yes, since and philosophy have always and will always be subject to internal dispute (it is intrinsic to those disciplines); but what is not in dispute is that the astrological perspective of 10 centuries ago adhered to the most respected and predominant view of science at that time; which is the point being argued here. Hence the comment:

    “As Jim Al-Khalili pointed out recently the basic claims of astrology were falsified by Islamic astronomers 10 centuries ago. So no modern appeal to philosophical discourse will help.”

    ..is historically incorrect (as are any arguments that rest upon that statement).

    • This seems to be getting a little bogged down in quibbles. As far as I can see it’s not terribly important to the issue who first falsified astrological claims. What interests me is whether the statement “astrology is rubbish” (or any variant thereon) is a scientific or a philosophical one, or more precisely when it is scientific or philosophical.

  13. What interestes me is why anyone would use the statement “astrology is rubbish”. It’s not an argument at any level – scientific or philosophical.

    We may as well discuss whether the following statements are scientific or philosphical:

    Jazz music is rubbish
    Philosophy is nonsense
    Football is rubbish
    Latin is nonsense
    Milk is rubbish (it’s not brilliant at all; just rubbish (and nonsense))

    See what I mean? Without an actual reasoned argument, such statements are not scientific or philosophical – just vacuous and bigoted.

  14. “We may as well discuss whether the following statements are scientific or philosphical:

    Jazz music is rubbish
    Philosophy is nonsense
    Football is rubbish
    Latin is nonsense
    Milk is rubbish (it’s not brilliant at all; just rubbish (and nonsense)”

    1 is aesthetic
    2 is philosophical
    3 is common sense
    4 is linguistic
    5 is nutritional
    They all have a basis in some discourse.

    But consider these statements:

    Geocentrism is rubbish
    Ley lines are nonsense
    Homeopathy is rubbish
    Everything Jeremy Clarkson says is nonsense
    Holocaust denial is rubbish

    Implied in these statements is the idea that that they can be backed up by evidence and can therefore be taken as facts. It is not really necessary to talk about the phases of Venus every time one wishes to point out that the earth orbits the sun, or run through all the evidence for the Holocaust.

  15. “It is not really necessary to talk about the phases of Venus every time one wishes to point out that the earth orbits the sun”

    —-

    Quite – and it’s not really necessary to talk about astrology as one wishes to point out that the Earth orbits the Sun either – unless one wished to enter into an informative discussion on why that might be relevant.

    Despite your assumed basis for discourse, Jeremy Clarkson would probably have cause for a lawsuit if some scientist claimed it was a scientific fact that everything he said was nonsense – because this would be an unreasonable assessment of fact (and suggest prejudice against the sensible things he does also say).

    BTW, I initially thought your list was a definition of astrology:

    1 astrology is aesthetic
    2 astrology is philosophical
    3 astrology is common sense
    4 astrology is (symbolically) linguistic
    5 astrology is nutritional (for the soul)

    Its quite nice how the discussion led to that.

  16. “Jeremy Clarkson would probably have cause for a lawsuit if some scientist claimed it was a scientific fact that everything he said was nonsense”

    Always tricky using irony in a debate. It does make me wonder why no astrologers have sued Brian Cox in that case. You have missed the point again.

    “1 astrology is aesthetic
    2 astrology is philosophical
    3 astrology is common sense
    4 astrology is (symbolically) linguistic
    5 astrology is nutritional (for the soul)”

    But not scientific. These are all positions which can be argued against from a broadly philosophical viewpoint but not from a purely scientific one, which was my original argument.
    Incidentally
    1 – meaningless
    2 – okay
    3 – hardly
    4 – barely
    5 – meaningless, given that the ‘soul’ does not exist and it’s hard to see why it would need nutrition if it did.

  17. So:
    1 astrology is aesthetic [meaningless]
    Why?

    2 astrology is philosophical [okay]
    Okay with me too

    3 astrology is common sense [hardly]
    Astrology is built up from common sense experience, using common sensual perceptions of how celestial cycles mirror earth changes. A great deal of practical information has been and still is extrapolated from that. So your opinion is [hardly] applicable according to my deeper experience and more informed opinion (IMO of course).

    4 astrology is (symbolically) linguistic [barely]
    Very richly. Which is why my study as an astrologer has required knowledge of the development of ancient cultures and their technologies, and how these are presented in myths and symbolism (across many cultures and across many periods of time); the history and symbolism of art, Latin and the derivation of traditional astrological terms; the encoded symbolism of medieval philosophy and natural science, the meaning of traditional frontispiece illustrations and illuminated manuscripts, etcetera, etcetera. Astrology is in many respects an essentially symbolic language which unites knowledge from many cultures and periods, so again, my statement was more substantial than your opinionated adjective of it.

    5 astrology is nutritional (for the soul) [meaningless, given that the ‘soul’ does not exist and it’s hard to see why it would need nutrition if it did.]

    Using the example of Pythagoras, Ptolemy and Kepler (for sake of some easy names of great historical scientists who did exist, and who did develop important principles of mathematics, astronomy and science on the basis of the belief that life is animated by anima), all I can say is that they would not agree with you and neither do I. You are entitled to an opinion of course, but it’s not very scientific to state it is a ‘given’ that the soul doesn’t exist. Do you have documented studies that have shown this to be a fact?

    —-
    “These are all positions which can be argued against from a broadly philosophical viewpoint but not from a purely scientific one, which was my original argument.”
    —-
    I think you must have missed Ken Ritchie’s earlier post, so I’ll quote him again:

    “It is not unusual for science to fail and it is surprising to think otherwise. Most major discoveries happen by accident. Astrology may well be outside the “standards of science” but this where any scientific discovery comes from, and again this is not at all unusual.

    Some scientific tests of astrology do actually succeed and researchers are finding ways to rate or rank the data to hone in on the astrological effects. I won’t list them, though there are good examples, but there is one in particular you should look at, the controversial Shawn Carlson double-blind experiment, published in 1985 in Nature, which has actually been reversed in favor of astrology.

    For many years, this study was held up as the definitive test against astrology. However, a detailed assessment of this study published in 2009 by Professor Suitbert Ertel is forcing scientists to rethink their claims against astrology. The flaws in the Carlson study are very tricky to find, making one wonder if they are not intentional, but they are so serious that they distort the actual findings, which are that the data supports the claims of the astrologers. Once the flaws are pointed out, this is easy for anyone to see.

    I invite you and your readers to read my article on the Carlson study and Ertel’s assessment:

    http://astrologynewsservice.com/articles/support-for-astrology-from-the-carlson-double-blind-experiment/

    And the original 1985 Carlson article itself: http://muller.lbl.gov/papers/Astrology-Carlson.pdf

    ——————-
    I can add more to that, and fill in details of other studies if that is what you are looking for. Are you interested in knowing more about the valid studies that have supported astrology? Do you also want to know about the admissions of recent ‘modern scientists’ who (as they eventually faced their consciences) admitted and put on public record that they prevented the release of accurate scientific data that supported astrology’s claims, simply because, as scientists, they could not tolerate the fact that all their attempts to disprove astrology only resulted in securer information that the claims were justified?

    Astrology is not a purely scientific study, no astrologer claims it is, and it shouldn’t be treated as such; but if you are seeking to discuss it here from a purely scientific view, in order to then discuss it philosophically; then I think we need to first address your assumption that astrology has no scientific validity.

  18. PS – if you have issues with the word ‘soul’ try ‘mind’ instead – it derivates from the same origin and has the same underlying meaning in its original astrological sense. Or do you not accept that the mind can be nourished either?

  19. Joseph, I think I can clarify something at this point. Astrology uses a geocentric pov, but this does not mean astrology is geocentric, it isn’t. That is an approximation. What astrology puts in the center of the chart is the thing under investigation, which is the individual, not the earth. Astrology, as Dane Rudhyar said, is person-centered. A chart is basically, a relativistic diagram of an individual placed at the center of the universe.

    Now, since pov seems to be the substance of your argument, I challenge you Joseph to argue, supported by Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, or any philosopher of science who took an interest in commenting on astrology, modern or ancient, to demonstrate that this pov necessarily makes astrology unscientific.

    • I can see that that makes sense. I didn’t quite understand the original reference to geocentrism and was a bit confused by the suggestion that scientists had an equal choice between geocentrism and heliocentrism.

  20. 1. It’s the wrong use of the word. We do not say ‘cinema is aesthetic’, we might say ‘cinema gives aesthetic pleasure’. Besides anything can be described as such. We could say that coffee is aesthetic but it doesn’t tell us anything.

    3. Common sense must be common. Few people ever think of correlating celestial cycles with everyday experiences. Common sense would tell us that things have to be fairly close in space to effect each other. Not that common sense is necessarily a guide to what’s actually true.

    4. Linguistics is the study of human language. Symbolism comes strictly under semiotics. I suppose you could make a case that as a symbolic system it has certain linguistic elements. I won’t deny that astrology is laden with symbolism or that linguistics helps in the study of its history.

    5. Pythagoras et al might agree with me had they lived after Darwin. Mind at least lacks the religious connotations but is just as tricky. Assuming it exists it is still difficult to see why it would need nutrition, being immaterial. This is at best a weak metaphor, and a rather clichéd one at that.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and evidence which is objectively measurable and repeatable. Astrology cannot provide strong enough predictions to be tested that rigorously (compared to relativity for instance). If you want scientific validity you will need to act like scientists and try your hardest to falsify it.
    In reference to James Randi’s challenge someone on your website said:
    “Is it in the nature of astrology for it to ‘perform’ on command in order to win $1M for an astrologer?”
    If it isn’t in astrology’s nature to do something like that then it isn’t scientific. No scientist worries whether gravity or the laws of thermodynamics will suddenly stop working in test conditions.

  21. Joseph,

    To show that I am open to discussion and review; I am going to concede on point number one (although it was just an expression of my own opinion in the first place). Also we have reached agreement on point 4.

    However, you have gone astray at point 2:

    2. Common sense must be common. Few people ever think of correlating celestial cycles with everyday experiences.

    Of course they do. Don’t you agree that more people book their holidays in summer because common sense perception has shown the everyday experience that it is warmer? Similarly astrologers have been noting common sense correlations for centuries – like more rainfall around full Moons; things grow more on waxing Moons and decline on waning Moons (ask the Royal Bank of Scotland who recently published an independent report showing how traders get better returns if they invest at new Moons and pull out of trades at full Moons). That assertive, energetic people tend to have stronger angularity of the planet Mars in their chart (well documented by science – am happy to provide details).

    “Common sense would tell us that things have to be fairly close in space to effect each other.”

    The Sun is not particularly *close* though is it?

    “ Not that common sense is necessarily a guide to what’s actually true.”

    It’s usually the first port of call for reason. But actually the term ‘common sense’ has been argued and discussed philosophically as being the unification of all the human senses in order to create within an individual a reliable sense of judgement – that is, the term ‘common’ really means related to, or connected to all the senses simultaneously, rather than meaning common to the experience of all members of the populace.

    5. Pythagoras et al might agree with me had they lived after Darwin. Mind at least lacks the religious connotations but is just as tricky. Assuming it exists it is still difficult to see why it would need nutrition, being immaterial. This is at best a weak metaphor, and a rather clichéd one at that.

    Yes it was a metaphor, and that is also an imaginary construct (does the imagination exist? This could be argued since science has not found a way to quantify it and measure its dimensions, and get it to perform consistently onall occasions).
    I suspect that even Darwin would admit the presence of some kind of animating impulse which determines the difference between living matter and dead matter. What is this impulse? I am not a religious person myself but I do observe that there is intelligence, awareness or perceptiveness within living things. Are the planets living things? Ancient philosophers decided that they are because they show movement, the ultimate testimony of life. If they are powered by the force of the cosmos, is the cosmos a living thing (or just dead matter)? If the cosmos is a living thing, are we living parts within it? Pythagoras said that if we are then there must be universally applied mathematical laws expressed within the fabric of the cosmos which will apply at all times and in all situations. Then he showed this by mathematical theorems, as did others such as Kepler. It’s ironic that science retains their laws but rubbishes the thinking process that led to the development of their laws.
    ————

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and evidence which is objectively measurable and repeatable. Astrology cannot provide strong enough predictions to be tested that rigorously (compared to relativity for instance). If you want scientific validity you will need to act like scientists and try your hardest to falsify it.
    In reference to James Randi’s challenge someone on your website said:
    “Is it in the nature of astrology for it to ‘perform’ on command in order to win $1M for an astrologer?”
    If it isn’t in astrology’s nature to do something like that then it isn’t scientific. No scientist worries whether gravity or the laws of thermodynamics will suddenly stop working in test conditions.

    None of those points can be legitimately asked of astrologers unless you first take the trouble to read how that validity you claim does not exist *has* been proven – and why the shameless antics of Randi have been exposed for the joke that they are. The link below is important – and if you ignore it then in my opinion it’s willful negligence on your part, which is just as serious as the account it explains; since anyone wanting to claim that astrologers do not act like scientists when it comes to the scientific scrutiny of astrology, have a responsibility to be at least a little bit informed about the facts:

    http://www.discord.org/~lippard/rawlins-starbaby.txt

    • Just saw the flaw here (rather slow I know). The seasons are terrestrial events; the sun has nothing to do with it, remaining relatively fixed compared to the earth. It so happens that we get more sunlight in summer because of the tilt of the earth’s axis.

  22. 2. The sun is right next door in astronomical terms. Interestingly Brian Cox argued that science is just common sense on a grand scale. My point was that there were ‘common sense’ arguments against Copernicus but they were not correct.

    5. Metaphors are linguistic constructs. Life is tricky to define but generally includes self-replication, which rules out planets. Darwin showed precisely that this animating impulse was unnecessary and dualism has largely been rejected by philosophy.

    An account of scientific skulduggery is beside the point.
    The so-called ‘Mars-effect’ is at best controversial and even if it were consistently replicable would not constitute extraordinary evidence. I was hoping you would suggest a way in which astrology could be falsified or attempts by astrologers to do so. It is almost always easier to think of a way to falsify a hypothesis than to prove it.

  23. 2. If the Sun is right next door in astronomical terms then your earlier point about things needing to be close in space to be effective obviously has no bearing on astrology, which considers things from an astronomical perspective.

    5. Most philosophers and scientists have decided that the fundamental proof of life is motion not self-replication. I had an uncle who left no children, but he was still considered ‘alive and well’ for the period that he was. But I wonder how your suggestion impacts upon the Big Bang theory?

    The issue of scientific skuldugery is not beside the point, when the point is fair and objective scientific scrutiny. Plus you seemed to respond to that link very quickly – did you really read it? The fact that you still refer to the Mars effect as controversial despite that account of how robust and uncontroversial it actually is, makes me wonder if you read it through or turned away when you saw that its content made uncomfortable reading?

    I hope you did read it and pay attention. If so, I would sincerely like to know whether you think that the antics were shameful or not; and whether you think it leaves Randi in a credible light or not; and whether you think it shows that astrology has an almost impossible task getting through the pre-existing bias that it must be rubbish?

    Rawlins ‘lead in’ stated that despite their claims of being reputable scientists, they were only a bunch of would-be debunkers in the end who couldn’t get over their prejudices.

    Well, since I see Ken has now returned to bring the argument back to the essence of your original article, I would recommend you take advantage of having a very well informed and well reasoned person here willing to engage in the argument on your terms (and so you might consider addressing his highly relevant points).

    I would just say in response to one of your earlier comments, that astrology doesn’t have a case to make. It has already made its case of not being nonsense by virtue of the enduring commitment made to it throughout the overwhelming majority of the history of science and human development. It is not astrologers making claims – we are not the ones presenting an argument that science, astronomy, cosmology or whatever is rubbish and nonsense. Astrologers in general show respectful indifference or respectful attention to the things they are not informed about, and if our position seems defensive at this time it is only because of the hostile attacks of those who want to assert that it is rubbish or nonsense. Since they make the assertion, then the onus is on them to prove it, and if it is easier to falsify an hypothesis rather than to prove it, as you suggest, then please provide details of any legitimate and validated studies (that have not been seen to be falsified) that have managed to do this.

    (Or actually take a look at the earlier links that Ken provided and take up his invitation to comment and discuss).

    Regards
    Deb

  24. Everything is in motion so that definition would be meaningless.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life#Biology

    It’s obviously the potential to reproduce which is important whether an individual chooses to or not is beside the point.

    I was hoping you would say whether you agreed that astrology would not work under test conditions as the quote I gave suggested and I asked whether there was a way in which astrology could be falsified and whether astrologers were doing this. Only if astrology fulfils certain criteria can it be treated as scientific. If it doesn’t then the question of scientific evidence is moot and it should be considered as a faith system.

    The so-called ‘Mars effect’ is controversial for reasons to do with statistical analysis, data-gathering and methodology.

  25. The coffee cup on my desk doesn’t move unless I or something else moves it. That is why it is termed inanimate, or un-animated (the ‘anima’ thing again).

    I am sure that if you address the points that Ken has raised he will take up any thoughtful comments you care to make – but as an example, a study that tested a principle that Mars has a pronounced correspondence with redheads; would be easily falsified by that not proving to be the case (but that study found in favour of the principle). There are others on a similar basis, some of which are pending. The Mars effect could have easily been disproven and that’s why the so called-investigators staked their reputations on disproving it. The problem was that every kind of statistical manipulation thrown at it simply demonstrated the reliability of the findings. So there was no controversy in the statistical analysis or data gathering or methodology of Gauquelin – because these were proven to be of the highest standard and to factor in all causes of possible anomaly. But in answer to your question, yes, science has the means to test and negate various aspects of astrology, and there are no doubts elements within it that would stand up better to objective testing than others.

    But I have never sought for astrology to be treated as ‘scientific’ because it is a unique body of knowledge that incorporates elements of both the sciences and the arts. Are you open to this possibility – that there could be disciplines that straddle science and faith – and that such a subject, by not falling wholly and completely within the umbrella of science, is not then necessarily defined as rubbish?

    But I would still appreciate your answer to the questions I repeat below, because I am curious as to whether someone who is apparently fair-minded but sceptical about astrology’s claims, would be as disappointed as I am, to realise how disingenuous and insincere the so called ‘scientific investigators’ become when presented with firm evidence that calls for a revision of their thinking: –

    [Re the Rawlins 'Starbaby' report:] I would sincerely like to know whether you think that the antics were shameful or not; and whether you think it leaves Randi in a credible light or not; and whether you think it shows that astrology has an almost impossible task getting through the pre-existing bias that it must be rubbish?

  26. Your coffee cup moves with your desk and you as the earth spins. The atoms in the coffee cup are vibrating and the electrons in those atoms are, well, whatever electrons do they aren’t standing still.

    A discipline that saddles science and faith is a good definition of pseudo-science. Science attempts to eliminate faith or assumption therefore, no, I am not really open to that possibility.

    I assume then that if this correlation with redheads had not been found you would have stopped believing in astrology.

    Here is a piece on the controversy:
    http://www.skepsis.nl/mars.html

    If investigators are biasing results or quashing reports this is not to be condoned, but neither is the moving of goalposts or biased sampling by Gauquelin in the first place.

  27. The Nienhuys article you cite is misleading. It ignores the difference between the “Mars effect” and the “Mars eminence effect,” or I should say it ignores the Mars eminence effect in order to keep the discussion centered on selection bias, which had already been resolved. Nienhuys adopts the old resolved selection bias argument as a sort of straw man fallacy to divert attention away from the findings.

    Gauquelin found significant placements of Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Moon, and Venus for very successful professionals. The Mars finding was the most tested.

    Professor Suitbert Ertel didn’t know whether to believe the findings so he raised the bar for the Mars study by including all the collected data and testing for citation frequency (the minor athletes would have no citations, so it was no problem to include ALL the birth data, objectively quashing claims of selection bias).

    No one knew what to expect, but the result was a near linear correlation between citation eminence and Mars placement. As the rate of citations increased, the rank of the athlete also increased. The “Mars effect” now became the much more stringent “Mars eminence effect.” Ertel has tested all the data he could get is hands on, including data gathered by skeptics, resulting in numerous replications. This effect, which supports astrological theory and is falsifiable, has remained unfalsified now for more than 20 years.

    Please read: http://www.theoryofastrology.com/gauquelin/mars_effect.htm

    BTW you did not address my challenge to you to defend your main thesis, which in effect is that placing the individual at the center of the universe makes astrology unscientific.

  28. Joseph a dead body moves in its grave as the earth spins. It is still dead; and my coffee cup is an inanimate object. We don’t need a philosophical debate to establish the patently obvious, but these have been had, and I referred to them earlier. We were talking about the ultimate testimony of life, and I used the argument of Aristotle (and many others), since your opening report spoke of his views being ‘grist to the philosophical mill’.


    “A discipline that saddles science and faith is a good definition of pseudo-science”.

    ‘Pseudo’ means pretended, deceptive or fraudulent. If astrologers are pretending a knowledge of science that they do not possess, they would be pulled up by the trade descriptions act.


    “Science attempts to eliminate faith or assumption therefore, no, I am not really open to that possibility.”

    Even scientists realise the need to recognise subjective input, because life has subjectivity built into. And assumptions build science. We assume something – like a coffee cup is an inanimate object – and then build a theory that works as a rule for testing (like: we can all it inanimate because it shows no animation).

    The possibility I asked you to consider was that there could be disciplines that straddle science and faith – and that such a subject, by not falling wholly and completely within the umbrella of science, is not then necessarily defined as rubbish. All you have really said is that because science could not completely embrace a subject which is not completely embraced by it, the result is that the subject must be considered disreputable. So philosophy must be disreputable too, especially since astrology and philosophy have held hands in their development. This is the exact opposite of the argument you forwarded in your opening report. Do you regularly contradict your own arguments or are you making an exception for astrology?


    “If investigators are biasing results or quashing reports this is not to be condoned, but neither is the moving of goalposts or biased sampling by Gauquelin in the first place.”

    Ken has answered this well enough. The point of interest for me is that I have never encountered an ‘opponent of pseudo-science’ willing to offer unequivocal criticism of what this scientist has shown to be fraudulent and corruptive manipulation of scientific data. Though a muttering of ‘not to be condoned’ this is immediately covered by the suggestion that Gauquelin must have been doing this himself – even though the report plainly demonstrates that there was only one person who was free from the criticisms, and who stood out as a true scientist, and that was Gauquelin himself.

    So I think this shows how much you really are open to the possibility of engaging in the scientific process by eliminating faith and assumption. Astrologers don’t claim to do that but scientists do. Anyone who throws the label ‘pseudo’ around needs to be careful – because accusing others of pretended science, whilst not being willing to give clear and outright criticism of confessed fraud within the scientific community, is not only showing a simple subjective bias, but one that reaches irrational and destructive proportions.

    The only true and honest answer to the question I asked was this: intentionally fraudulent manipulation of scientific data is *never* to be condoned, under any circumstances; and since Gauquelin was so unfairly vilified for simply acting as a scientist should, then we should look at the details of his research very carefully before issuing anymore implications that this eminent statistician was a not a sincere and respectable member of the scientific community. It is tragic that Gauquelin took his own life in the end. What disparagement he must have felt to have known that members of his own community were willingly turning blind eyes to what they knew was academic corruption cast against him. Hence my own interest in noting how that still continues to be the case, even by those who have supposedly read the other side of the story.

    Can’t see much more room for constructive discussion from me at this stage. I thnk I may as well talk to the coffee cup.

  29. Perhaps I could sum up what seem to be the conclusions I have reached so far.

    1. The astrologers seems to have a detailed knowledge of the history of science but less awareness of modern science, preferring, for instance, an Aristotelian definition of life to a modern biological one. (Much as I like Aristotle he was actually wrong about almost everything.) This may be because their system relies on outdated paradigms.

    2. They demonstrate an unwillingness to be drawn on the relevance of science to their discipline. They have not given examples of possible methods of falsification (unless these are tests which they claim have already been shown to support them) or said that they would stop believing in astrology if it was falsified by such a test. They have also not stated whether they think astrology would ‘perform’ under test conditions. Ideally there would be some way to falsify the central hypothesis of astrology which, as I understand it, is ‘as above, so below’.

    3. This refusal seems to be of a piece with a consistent vagueness and refusal to give concrete definitions of terms (see the comment about how the cosmos might be alive, an idea which removes any scientific usefulness from the term). This leads to the idea that astrology can mix science and faith which are mutually incompatible. Science accepts facts on evidence. Faith believes things without evidence. (Science moves from assumption to evidence, hence the LHC. Physicists could just decide to have faith in the standard model and believe in the Higgs boson. They don’t. They go out and look for it.) This is the kind of muddled position which defines pseudo-science.

    4. They prefer to take the argument to alleged scientific misconduct, a common move among holders of non-mainstream views. Climate change deniers much prefer to talk about misinterpreted hacked e-mails which they claim as evidence of conspiracy than to actually discuss climate science. Holocaust deniers love talking about the censorship of David Irving because they have no historical evidence for their views.

    At the risk of repeating myself, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I have seen none. If astrology is not to be treated as science it must be treated as faith and contrasted with Islam or Christianity as a belief system. As its effects seem to be judged largely in terms of subjective experience it might be akin to prayer or meditation. This could be contrasted with homeopathy which can be dismissed by science as it does not have a faith component in the same way, just an arbitrary hypothesis. As its results are claimed to be measurable (i.e. medical) they can be tested and homeopathy has been tested and found wanting. My conclusion then is that a scientist can say ‘homeopathy is rubbish’ uncontroversially. To say ‘astrology is rubbish’ implies certain philosophical moves which the scientist is perfectly entitled to make but he/she should be aware that there is a philosophical aspect to the statement.

  30. 1. Aristotelian argument: You do not describe what you mean by “Aristotelian definition of life” and how you would contrast this with “modern biology.” You do not describe what the “outdated paradigms” are that you believe astrology relies on.

    2. Unwilling in science and no falsifiable claims argument: This is demonstrably false. Astrologers have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to participate in scientific studies, some of which succeeded for them and some of which (unfair in premise, method, or analysis as it was later demonstrated) did not. Successful tests involving (willing) participating astrologers: Shawn Carlson, Nanninga, Marbell. Unsuccessful tests with participating astrologers: MaGrew and McFall, Nanninga, although these tests have been demonstrated by astrologers and other critics to have been flawed, they were a learning experience. Studies led by astrologers with positive results: Clark, Marbell, Hill, Urban-Luraine. Studies led by objective researchers that support astrology: Gauquelin, Ertel, Yuan et al, Ridgley, Johnston, and others. As mentioned earlier, good examples of studies with falsifiable results that have been replicated, passed time switching tests, and have remained unfalsified for over 20 years are Hill and Ertel (Mars eminence effect). Despite repeated efforts, there is no surviving valid test that has been able to falsify astrology and numerous falsifiable tests with long, unchallenged survival that support astrology.

    3. Mix of science with faith argument: (For the sake of argument) you do not demonstrate how science cannot usefully deal with living things if the living thing happens to be a cosmos. All scientists do not necessarily accept facts on evidence, the scientific evidence of astrology being a good example. This suggests that the refusal of scientific results is at least partly based on faith. Much of quantum theory was developed in faith of the Higgs boson hypothesis. In fact much depends on it. Funding to build the LHC to research this hypothesis is available to science. There is no funding whatsoever available to astrology research. A good example is the NSF funding that was initially available for the late astrologer Neil Marbell, but then was withdrawn when things started looking good for astrology. Marbell financed the completion of his study through his own efforts.

    4. Alleged scientific misconduct, conspiracies, Holocaust deniers, etc. argument: Making these allegations and ugly associations does not make them true. This is just poison in the well and a rational fallacy.

    • Have you read the posts above?

      1. I was given the Aristotelian definition of life (movement, anima, etc.) by your colleague and linked to a modern biological one (metabolism, reproduction, etc). Outdated paradigms include dualism. ‘As above, so below’ is itself a mediaeval paradigm which I certainly see the metaphorical or poetic or indeed aesthetic appeal of.

      2. I asked you to give an example of a hypothetical test which could falsify astrology and whether, if that test failed, you would stop believing in it, rather than questioning the methodology. What could convince you that astrology was wrong?

      3. Science needs precision. For ‘life’ to be a useful word it must exclude some of the things which exist. Otherwise we need to find another word for what scientists understand as life. Refusing to define things in this way results in woolly thinking and makes science, philosophy and everyday conversation rather trying. Incidentally your comments about the Higgs boson rather support my point about ignorance of modern science. Quantum theory originated (with Max Planck) about thirty years before Peter Higgs was even born. It is the Standard Model which predicts the Higgs boson. Quantum theory was developed much earlier.

      4. After mentioning James Randi only to provide context for a quote I hoped to discuss my point was ignored and I was assailed with a rant about alleged scientific misconduct which was rather beside the point. Something that interests me is that the techniques used by holders of ‘non-mainstream’ views tend to be rather similar regardless of the actual views. Holocaust denial happens to be the one I have personally spent most time investigating so to me serves as paradigmatic. Realising that it might seem inflammatory I deliberately included the climate change reference to ‘soften the blow’, so to speak. I apologise for any offence but I assure you, none was intended.

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