Astrology, Science, and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon

By Roy Willis; Patrick Curry | Go to book overview

8
Science and Astrology

Astrology as Scientific Heresy

In a radio broadcast in 1996, the only issue of agreement between Professor Richard Dawkins and an Anglican bishop was the iniquity of astrology. This cosy unanimity between otherwise often bitter enemies perfectly illustrates the continuity between monotheistic religion and modern science. As Horkheimer and Adorno noted, endorsing Weber’s insight, ‘Reason and religion deprecate and condemn the principle of magic enchantment’ (1994: 18). It also lends support to the view of contemporary astrology as enchantment that still survives, and/or a kind of popular re-enchantment.

On the religious side, hostility to astrology is not peculiar to the Church of England. There is a long history of papal bulls condemning belief in astrology, most recently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church of 1993 (paragraph 2116), which rejects ‘all forms of divination’, including ‘consulting horoscopes’. By the nineteenth century, however, science had become astrology’s chief opponent, almost replacing Christianity and informing the attacks of critical journalists. Since science has had such an impact on contemporary astrology, then, let us turn to the ‘scientific’ case against astrology.

In 1975, 186 ‘leading scientists’ who signed a statement organized by the American Humanist Society condemning ‘the increased acceptance of astrology’. But it seems that when some of the eighteen Nobel Prize Winners included were asked for an interview they declined, explaining that they had never studied astrology ‘which did not prevent them’, as Feyerabend (1978: 91) pointed out, ‘from cursing it in public’. Even the authors of the statement show a poor grasp of the subject, which he compared unfavourably with that of the Catholic Church’s condemnation of witchcraft, Malleus Malleficarum (1484). But the strength of their conviction, at least, cannot be doubted.

Dawkins, in his capacity as holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, is probably the most visible public proponent of science today. He has also written at some length about astrology, most notably in the Independent on Sunday (31 December 1995), most of which also found its way into his Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the

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