“Hey, Dr. Derrick,” said a young woman, “I saw your picture in the paper. I didn’t know you were into astrology.”
Trying not to grimace, I replied, “I’m into astronomy,” to which she quickly corrected herself, “Sorry, astronomy.”
When confused with astrologers, most astronomers bristle as if they’ve been insulted, even if unintentionally. While both study the stars and other heavenly bodies, the purposes and methods of study are quite dissimilar and lead to very different outcomes.
Astronomy, is the scientific study of the universe, and as such adheres to the rules of scientific inquiry. Science formulates testable theories to explain, predict and increase our control over nature. As theories are supported by observations, they gain validation and credibility. When not supported by the evidence, they are modified or discarded. By this time-honored method, our knowledge advances even if tediously and imperfectly.
The well-known big bang theory illustrates the scientific method. Around 1927 based on then current knowledge, Georges Lemaitre suggested a theory—later dubbed the big bang theory—to help explain the origin of the universe. For many years, new data supported his theory, however in recent years some new data suggest the theory needs to be modified, or maybe even replaced. Contrary to the insinuations of anti-science types, this does not reflect negatively on science or scientists. Indeed, this is how science works. It is science at its best.
Astrology, is a false- or pseudo-science which studies heavenly bodies in the belief that they have direct influence on the course of human affairs. But credible evidence to justify such beliefs is totally lacking as statistical studies fail to find any convincing correlations between the motions of stars or planets and human affairs. Yet astrology has a wide following, as indicated by the fact that more papers carry horoscopes than astronomy or science columns.
Pseudo-sciences like astrology may entertain, they may provide solace or the illusion of control when humans feel weak and vulnerable. But pseudo-sciences, superstition, and other forms of magical thinking didn’t develop vaccines, grow more wheat and put humans on the Moon. They didn’t give us autos, TVs, computers, air conditioning, and the other devices which make possible life as we know it. Nor will they solve the myriad problems still confronting humanity.
In the advancement of human knowledge, pseudo-sciences like astrology are pacifiers devoid of nourishment. Science is Mother Nature’s milk by which we survive, grow and progress.
Stargazer appears every other week. Paul Derrick is an amateur astronomer who lives in Waco. Contact him at : 918 N. 30th, Waco, 76707,(254)753-6920or email@example.com. See the Stargazer Web site at stargazerpaul.com.