Matthew Currie, Astrologer and self professed skeptic has a few things to say to The James Randi Educational Foundation about Skepticism and an educational booklet titled “Astrology: Superstition or Science?” Currie would seem to approve of skepticism in general, just not when it is applied to him or his beliefs.
Excerpted from a post on BeliefNet
Dear Skeptic: An Open Letter To The James Randi Educational Foundation
posted by mcurrie
I really love some of the work that professional skeptics like you do. Your take-down of phony faith healer Peter Popoff was an absolute classic. There’s no question that there is good money to be made in fleecing the gullible and playing on their preconceptions, and that sort of thing is reprehensible. Well played, folks.
It bothers me though that you at JREF claims that your “mission is to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today,” when your booklet entitled “Astrology: Superstition Or Science” is, to be honest with you, the biggest load of hogwash I’ve read in a long time… and I say this having recently read both The Institute for Creation Research web site and David Icke’s site lately, so you’re in some pretty hogwash-y company there.
If your mission is to promote critical thinking, frankly, you’ve done a terrible job of it with your “educational booklet” on the subject of astrology. To be honest with you, it sets up so many Straw Men that it looks more like a Scarecrow Catalog than a Critical Thinking Text. It’s pretty obvious to me that in your attempt to debunk astrology, you didn’t make much of an effort to figure out what it was you were really debunking.
So in a spirit of rational thinking, on tomorrow’s blog I’ll be presenting a detailed listing of the errors I found in your booklet. Please feel free to respond, or not. Either way, here’s to your continued success in keeping a high public profile, and may your fund-raising efforts continue unabated.
Matthew Currie, Professional Astrologer
Curie leaves his breakdown of the problems with JREF’s skeptical critique of Astrology to a second blog post where he picks points in the booklet to question, and does so without ever once offering quantifiable evidence or data of astrology. He merely says “you’re wrong” or “you just don’t understand” or at worst, “you just have to believe.” None of which make the case for astrology as a science.
He starts off:
Page 1: Hey, who wrote this thing? When I was in school all our textbooks had an author or an editor or someone who got credit. Not knowing who wrote this doesn’t make it invalid, but it seems bad form not crediting the author. As a writer myself, I’m sensitive to that sort of thing.
The booklet is attributed as Written by JREF Staff. That would indicate that more than one person contributed information and/or research to the text of this booklet, and no single person deserved to be named above the others. I am sure as sensitive an author as you would not try to assume credit for anyone else’s work, so your first criticism is unfounded and pointless. The objections that follow, broken down by page on which they offending remarks occur, are nothing more than Currie offering why he does not like what was said, claims that there is no research being done to support what is said, and statements that what is said is simply wrong. He offers no counter arguments, no evidence in support of his statements or clearly refuting statements made in the booklet.
Probably the most egregious statement by Currie is this in response to reference in the booklet that Astrology is a business that generates “hundreds of millions of dollars” every year.
Question For The Class: The James Randi Educational Foundation is a non-profit organization is funded through member contributions, grants, and conferences, runs a summer camp for skeptical kids, maintains a paid staff, and occasionally provides scholarships. Does the fact that JREF makes money off of its activities necessarily invalidate its member’s beliefs? Is there Big Money to be made feeding people’s preconceptions back to them?
If he truly believes that a Non-Profit organization is making money in terms of profits (which it cannot do by federal law, and retain non profit status), or in any way compares to the profit made every year by astrologers, including Currie himself who charges for horoscopes, while JREF is distributing this booklet free of charge, all while accusing JREF and this booklet of manipulating facts or faulty reasoning, then he is far less than rational.
THE OBJECTION: “There are really 13 Signs, not 12, because of the constellation Ophiuchus.”
THE RESPONSE: “That’s not what ‘Signs’ are.”
The whole Ophiuchus thing got a lot of press a couple of years ago, when a news story hit claiming that the 13th constellation in the Zodiac (Ophiuchus) meant you weren’t really a Virgo anymore, or whatever. You might be surprised to know that long before there was even a distinction between Astronomy and Astrology, we knew about this.
Ophiucus interrupts Sagittarius, not Virgo (which is not to say it has any more validity, that is just its position in the sky.) Its position within Sagittarius is debatable, and all depends upon how you calculate the position any particular constellation and its borders. However you make that calculation, Ophiucus has no impact of any kind on the position of Virgo, if Currie does not know this despite the claim that astrologers have known about it for centuries, then you really have to question his expertise.
THE OBJECTION: “Astrology doesn’t line up with any known force, like gravity or electromagnetism, so how can the planets influence us?”
THE RESPONSE: “Take a pill.”
People have been taking acetylsalicylic acid (most commonly known as Aspirin) for a long time now to get rid of pain and inflammation. Long before Aspirin was developed, people used a very similar molecule — salicin — for the same purposes. Its use dates all the way back through known history, in the form of things like willow bark tea or wintergreen. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the actual physiological mechanism by which salicin works was clearly pinned down. Not knowing how a thing works doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.
Neither does it mean that it does work, and we do understand now how these compounds work on our bodies, as yet there is no explanation for astrology. Just as in Currie’s letter to the James Randi Foundation, he plays at refuting skepticism of Astrology, without ever truly addressing any of the questions raised or by offering evidence of anything. In place of evidence he is more than able to offer vagaries, and practiced pat answers that amount to little more than a school yard “Nuh Uh!” When evidence of measurable forces that might lend credibility to the affects astrologers claim are questioned, he offers no measurements, only an attempt to deflect by offering instead that science has not yet answered every question about the physical Universe.
THE OBJECTION: “Where’s your proof that Astrology works?”
THE RESPONSE: “Can I borrow a cup of Dark Matter?”
Astrology has been used successfully for thousands of years, and it’s only relatively recently that it has fallen so out of favor with the intelligentsia. Of course, science is an incredibly good and useful thing… but it’s not every idea that get sufficient funding to properly test and experiment upon. Also: a lot of ideas that mainstream science “believes” in has been demonstrated properly yet anyway. Billions of dollars in research salaries and scientific instruments have gone into finding out what “dark matter” is — the mysterious force/substance that explains how much of the Universe appears to work — and yet so far we haven’t found any. That doesn’t mean the Physics Department of your local University is filled with con artists.
“Astrology has been used successfully for thousands of years” Thousands of years ago, we did not know what the planets were, had yet to discover several of them, they were just points in the sky. Currie makes the case that horoscopes and astrological charts can disagree due to how they are calculated, by whom and what influences are left out. Yet for “thousands of years” the practice has proven its accuracy despite lacking significant information (those “missing astrological bodies) that is as likely to have been contradictory to predictions as supportive of them.
Existence or non-existence of Dark Matter has no bearing on Astrology, unless of course it does just as those undiscovered planets really did but nobody knew they did and astrologers were still really correct all along. We have clear observations of the existence of Dark Matter through its effects on the Universe. Astrology can offer nothing more than select anecdotes and refutation of contradictory evidence or an attempt at deflection by addition of remote influences, i.e. positions of planets not even known to have existed when astrology was first developed, to counter arguments if its ultimate fallibility.
Astrologers who want a debate on the validity of their practice need to offer the evidence, rather than merely saying the evidence is there for those who chose to believe so. That they fail to recognize that argument as the main problem with their belief is more telling of its invalidity than almost anything else. In his critique, Currie ignores the key point to the booklet offered by JREF, named in its title “Astrology: Superstition or Science?” and by ignoring this simple point he fails utterly to make his case in the same manner that Creationism repeatedly fails to make its case for being validly taught as science in the classroom. It is not science. There is belief in place of research, and ideas that masquerade as theories.
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Here is my question:
While we were dating, my wife (now of ten years, and fifteen years as a couple) read in an astrology book that Sagittarius and Taurus (our signs) were doomed to fail. I believe the description was something like “on a downhill ride to nowhere.” Though a search of various sources revealed no agreement in compatibility, the two are generally considered incompatible, having completely different personalities. Yet in the Chinese zodiac, Monkey and Dragon (our signs) are completely compatible.
According to Astrology.com
The Dragon and the Monkey make for an epic match. They are very much alike and their mating assures fun and passion. They will make exciting, fiery lovers. Their overall compatibility rating is 100%.
Which is true? I can assure you we are far from 100% compatible, and in fact the general personalities attributed to Sagittarius and Taurus are, in our case, quite better suited to the other person in many regards. Despite that the Chinese Zodiac represents yearly periods while Western Zodiac represents monthly, there is a supposed equivalency.
For Dragon the Equivalent Western Sign: Aries
For Monkey the Equivalent Western Sign: Leo
And Astrology seeks to be called a science?