Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lexical Confusion: Astrology isn't Astronomy

(From NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); used w/o permission.)
(NGC 3324, a nearby star-forming region. It's about 7,200 light-years away, in the constellation Carina.)

You probably know that astronomy isn't astrology. On the other hand, those words sound a lot alike, and for several thousand years astrology actually was a serious field of study.

National Science Foundation Study: Astronomy, Astrology, and Americans

I wasn't surprised when news and editorials started chewing over a National Science Foundation study about astronomy, astrology, and Americans. I'd like to think that Richard Landers, the chap whose idea gave the Washington Post something to publish last month, is right.

But I strongly suspect that what the National Science Foundation should study next is what Americans think "scientific" means.

Here's part of that Washington Post piece:
"Did people confuse 'astronomy' with 'astrology' in the NSF study?"
Jim Lindgren, Washington Post (February 18, 2014)

"At the blog NeoAcademic, Richard Landers, a psychology professor at Old Dominion University, criticizes the National Science Foundation/ General Social Survey study that found large numbers of Americans believing that astrology is at least 'sort of scientific.'

"In an earlier post and in a brief report at SSRN (which I updated on Feb. 18, 2012), I describe some of the results of the NSF study.

"Landers speculates that people confused astrology with astronomy:
" 'Surely,' I said to myself, 'it's not that Americans believe astrology is scientific. Instead, they must be confusing astronomy with astrology, like I did those many years ago.'
"He then did a small study of 99 respondents on Amazon's MTurk to explore that possibility, paying each respondent 5 cents...."
That's Jim Lindgren's take on what a psychology professor said. The National Science Foundation/General Social Survey document the Washington Post article links to is Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding of "Science and Engineering Indicators 2014," by the way.

I figured it might be useful to show what the Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary says "science" means:
  1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.
  2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
  3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.
  4. systematized knowledge in general.
  5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
  6. a particular branch of knowledge.
  7. any skill or technique that reflects a precise application of facts or principles.
    (Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, via The Free Dictionary)
Astrology, as it exists today, is pretty close to definition #4. That doesn't mean that I think astrology is "sort of scientific." I simply recognize that the daily horoscope column in newspapers is based on a sort of systematized knowledge.

"Systematized" doesn't mean "real," though.

I've played, and enjoyed, role playing games based on volumes of systematized knowledge: most of which is strictly fictional. A significant difference between those games and astrology is that the folks I played them with and I knew that we were dealing with fantasy.

I've run into folks who seriously believe that astrology is based on real cause-effect relationships between stars, planets, and our everyday lives.

Science, Technology, and Getting a Grip

I've been over this recently, but a brief recap probably won't hurt. (February 23, 2014)

Science and technology aren't transgressions, they're tools. We're supposed to use them: wisely. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 339, 2292-2296)

Cosmic Influences and Fortunetelling

Researchers of the late Middle Ages thought that Earth was a small part of the universe. They were right about that, what happens in the rest of the universe affects us. The more they learned, the more obvious it was that the real 'cosmic' influences don't lend themselves to fortunetelling.

Folks who pursue truth kept studying the universe, and began calling themselves astronomers. Others kept telling fortunes, which isn't a good idea: at all. Astrology, along with any other sort of divination, is against the rules today. (Catechism, 2116)

Then there was alchemy, another formerly-legitimate field of study, and that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:


Anonymous said...

Do you really love God?
If ye love me, keep my commandments. -John 14:15
True Sabbath is Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, RC changed the Sabbath day and admits it:

“Of course the Catholic Church claims that the change (Saturday Sabbath to Sunday) was her act… And the act is a MARK of her ecclesiastical authority in religious things.” H.F. Thomas, Chancellor of Cardinal Gibbons. Nov. 11, 1895
How important is to observe the Sabbath
But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.’Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.…-Exodus 31:13, 31:14
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Matthew 5:17

More info:

Brigid said...

Missing end quote: "that I think astrology is "sort of scientific. I simply"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Yes, I really love God.

I am also a Catholic, realize that change happens: and that some folks don't like change.

If God decides to punish me for not being a practicing Jew: that's God's decision.

Me? I'm a gentile who worships the Jew who is also God.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.