Astrology : A Science or Superstition?

Human beings have always been curious to know their future. Whenever someone is in difficulty and cannot easily come out of it, he wants to know whether the days of his misery will come to an end at all. And if yes, then when? When one invests a great deal of time, effort or money into some project, it is natural to wonder whether that investment will bear some fruit. There have always been people around who have successfully predicted future events. Their methods have been different – some people can simply look into the future, some use tarot cards, some draw up an astrological chart which we call horoscopes, some read the lines in the palms of people. One cannot deny that future has been accurately predicted many a times and by many a people. Each successful prediction proves that it is indeed possible to correctly predict future.

In the ancient times, astrologers were held to be in great esteem by the people. There was no difference between astronomers and astrologers. In fact, astronomy and Astrology were not considered to be two different subjects. Many will be surprised to know that most of the renowned scientists of the past, including Sir Isaac Newton, were astrologers too. In ancient India Astrology was known as “Jyotish Shastra” which included predictive Astrology as well as what we know as astronomy. Needless to say that the astrologers of that era were all great mathematicians too. An accomplished astrologer was called “Trikal-darshee” : one who could see past, present and future. It would perhaps not be an exaggeration to say that Astrology was considered to be the foremost branch of science.

Slowly over a period of time this subject came into disrepute.

How Astrology lost its exalted status?

It is a fact of life that people emulate successful, popular and respected persons. Seeing the social status enjoyed by astrologers, charlatans started masquerading as astrologers. They learnt a few tricks of the trade and started duping gullible people. It was and still is a very lucrative business. An astrologer earns money by making predictions while giving no guarantee that any of his predictions will turn out to be true. There is no money back guarantee :-). Once an astrologer sets up shop, people start coming to him in the hope that may be he will be able to foresee their future correctly. The astrologer is in a wonderful position. For example, he may make predictions about ten persons, getting only one prediction right. The nine persons, about whom he predicted wrongly, will never come back to him. But the tenth person, about which the astrologer was able to predict correctly, will not only come back to him again but also refer many other persons to him, citing personal experience. In this way, the business of an astrologer always flourishes, no matter how he himself fares in his trade. But the downside of this was that astrologers, as a group, started being seen as a lot of dubious persons like politicians of the modern age. Once such impression started gaining ground, Astrology as a subject no longer remained attractive to intelligent persons. People, who had talent, started to pursue other fields of knowledge. Over a period of time, the inevitable happened. No talent, worth its salt, chose to pursue Astrology as a vocation or a hobby and the outcome of this is for everyone to see in the present times.

There was one more very important reason for Astrology becoming one of the lesser fields of knowledge. It was the decline of India, the fountainhead of human civilization, and its loss of status as the repository of all the knowledge of the ancient world (see How India lost its Glory). The Islamic hordes, who attacked and looted India many a times and later ruled that country for hundred of years, had no respect for priceless works of art, the magnificent architecture and the other exalted areas of human endeavor. They destroyed most of the ancient temples, burnt down libraries like Nalanda and Takshshila and permanently took away innumerable books of infinite wisdom from the future generations of humanity. A great amount of recorded knowledge was lost, astrological books included. This loss proved to be irreparable, as the then Indian society became engaged in ensuring its survival and a constant struggle against the aggressors. The few people, who had some invaluable texts and scriptures with them, were hard put to preserve the remaining works of ancient sages. That is why, when one studies Astrology , he feels as if some vital links are missing. With the Hindu philosophy losing its ground it was natural that Astrology would lose its prominent place too. As the modern science developed and the scientific temperament gained ground, with the dearth of genuine astrologers, Astrology started fading into oblivion.

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The criticism and The defense

Astrology is scoffed at by people for two main reasons. First, of course, is that the predictions made by astrologers often goes wrong. Secondly, if one takes his horoscope to different astrologers, they make different predictions. They even make different horoscopes given the same set of data regarding the birth of a person. These facts force people conclude that Astrology is not a science and that it is only a means to befool people for the astrologers’ benefit.

One cannot deny that the reasons cited above are valid. Nonetheless, there is some element of prejudice against Astrology which also plays some part in the denigration of this science. Let us take an example to illustrate this point.

A man falls sick due to some disease. He goes to his neighborhood doctor. The doctor advises him to go for some tests. After seeing the results of those tests and considering the patient’s symptoms, the doctor concludes that the man has contracted some particular disease say, Sickosis :-). He prescribes some medicines and the patient goes home in the hope of getting rid of the sickness as soon as possible. After taking the medicines for next two days, the patient finds that the medicines are not working the way they were supposed to work. He goes back to the doctor and the doctor changes the medicines and the person starts responding to the second set of medication immediately. Within a few days, the person is back to his old healthy self.

What would have happened if the person had not responded to that second set of medicines? Most probably he would have gone to another doctor. That doctor would have advised him to go for more tests, diagnosed his problem as per his own knowledge and experience and treated him accordingly. Again, there would have been the same probability of the patient getting rid of his disease.

So, in the end it boils down to problem of correct diagnosis. As soon as the disease is identified correctly, it can be treated successfully. The doctor’s problem is to identify the disease correctly, given the symptoms and the results of the tests conducted. In fact, he guesses the disease based on the symptoms the patient displays and to confirm his suspicions the doctor asks the patient to undergo a particular set of tests. If the doctor’s first guess is proved wrong, he suggests another set of tests to the patient aimed at confirming his second best guess of the disease.

There is one more element which may mar the chances of the patient getting better: the test results. If the lab conducting those tests makes a mistake, the doctor is bound to be misled by the results. It has also been observed many a times that even with the same symptoms and the same set of test results, different doctors may diagnose the problem differently.

The same thing, when happening in the context of Astrology , is proffered as a proof that it is not a science. When a doctor makes a mistake, his skills are blamed not the Medical Science. But if an astrologer fails, it is Astrology which is considered a pseudo-science. If doctors can arrive at different conclusions on the basis of same data, why astrologers should not be allowed to differ with each other. If you take the blood samples of the same patient to different labs, you are almost certain to find differences in their findings. If the machines built with all our scientific knowledge at our disposal make mistakes, no one denigrates modern science itself. But when it comes to Astrology, people are only too ready to dismiss it. Perhaps, by doing this, people want to prove that they have, what is called, scientific temperament.

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Why Astrologers go wrong in their prediction?

Lack of knowledge: This is perhaps the foremost reason. Most of the astrologers, after learning a bit, find it difficult to resist the temptation to start making predictions. A certain percentage of their predictions do turn out to be true since they have learnt a little bit of Astrology after all. They cannot hold themselves back from showing off their half baked knowledge. Another reason if the temptation to start reaping, as soon as possible, the fruits of their efforts made in learning the subject. Once the customers start flocking to them, they lose the urge to keep learning further. Also, they are left with little spare time to make further efforts to learn more. They get too busy duping people.

Lack of Talent: In the modern times, since the pursuit of this subject is not considered very respectable, persons of genius do not take up the study of Astrology. They would rather prefer to become scientists, engineers, doctors, littérateurs, artists etc. This does not help the development of Astrology nor does it help add to the knowledge or find the missing links in this subject. Currently, there are no serious research projects related to this field. Thus this base of knowledge does not get updated.

Incorrect Data: As the very basis of Astrology is mathematical, the data such as time of birth etc. must be accurate. If this data is incorrect, the horoscope and consequently the interpretation of it is bound to be faulty. The position of cusps, house divisions, and the planetary positions at any given moment needs to be accurate too. The numerous ephemeris differ from each other so much that it seems incredible. One must follow the most accurate data (for example, from NASA) for calculations, in this age of science. Normally, astrologers tend to take the easy route, that of following some ready-reckoner sort of things, leading to inaccuracies in their calculations.

Destiny of the subject: It may so happen that the fate of the person who wants his future read, does not favor the person in knowing his future. This idea may seem far fetched but it is not. Even in modern times, with all the development of medical science, patients keep dying of fully treatable diseases. If a person is destined to die of pneumonia, he will in spite of the fact that millions of people around the world are successfully treated for it every year. If fate can play a role here why cannot it play the same role regarding Astrology.

The very nature of Future: Modern science divides the universe in two parts: known and the unknown. It is believed that whatever is unknown today, will become known tomorrow. Over a period of time, every thing will become known one day. But the enlightened sages have said that certain aspects of the existence is unknowable. These things do not belong in the domain of human knowledge. Certain aspects of future also belongs to the same domain.

Anyone, who will study Astrology with an open mind, cannot dismiss it as something without merit. It is an easy task for astrologers to correctly tell certain things about a man, such as his physical characteristics, diseases he is likely to get afflicted with, his temperament, his overall success in life in terms of money he earns or fame he achieves, the nature of his profession etc., simply by looking at his correctly drawn horoscope. It is in the matters of details and the timing of events that astrologers tend to go awry. What is needed is a fresh approach to the subject. Brilliant minds should take it up for study, correct some anomalies and misconceptions which this science has acquired over the long past. Then only this subject can regain its rightful place as a serious and important branch of knowledge.


by Ashok Kumar Gupta