Is Astrology Scientific?

Is Astrology Scientific?

by Bob Mulligan

Bob Mulligan has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is an astrologer in Champaign, Illinois. In the following article, Mr. Mulligan weaves a wire of logic through the mesh of an ever-present question. It’s a new view through ancient philosophical principles, a view that reaches into intellectual orbit but never leaves practical grounding. Astrology Now thanks Mr. Mulligan for this engaging article.


All of us have been involved in discussions about the scientific validity of Astrology. Actually the question of validity is different from the question of how scientific is astrology?

Astrology is valid. This fact can be demonstrated in many different ways, including all kinds of logical and statistical proofs. The validity of astrology is rapidly coming to constitute a cultural norm. However, when we ask, “Is astrology    scientific?” the answer is no! It is important to remember that astrology is much more than a science.We tend to be grossly misleading when we refer to it as scientific. The basic difference between science and astrology becomes quite clear when we examine and compare the methods of research used by these two disciplines.

Counterposing astrological research methods with those of science shows that the intended goal of astrological research is fundamentally different from that of scientific research. The formal intention of both scientific and astrological research is to explain happenings in terms of a systematic belief structure. Here science stops, but astrology does not. The goal of astrology is much more comprehensive and humanistic. The individual doing research is attempting to do better quality astrology, which is different from just trying to add quantitatively to the corpus of existing information. It is important to understand this difference so as not to make the mistake of assuming that statistical studies are the end of astrological research.

Good astrology depends on a good astrologer. However, good science can be successfully applied to life by a technician. This is not true in astrology, where even practical application is dependent on a good astrologer. This is so because astrology is a synthesis of science and art. To call astrology an art is not merely to dub it with a nice title emphasizing that it is hard to do good astrology. In astrology, we are always concerned with unique events. We are always looking at the chart of a particular person. And as we know, “There can be no science of particulars.” In life, we are always dealing with particular circumstances.

Consequently, the central problem facing astrology as a collective enterprise today is the selection or perhaps recognition of a formal methodology, which will enable us to deal with particular circumstances. It seems at first glance that astrologers are irreconcilably split into many schools of thought on every conceivable issue: e.g., rulership, house division, starting point of the zodiac, hypothetical entities (such as Lilith, Vulcan, and the Transplutonian planets), the use or misuse of minor aspects, asteroids, midpoints, the vertex, perihelions, asterism, lunar and planetary nodes, the Arabian points, to name only a few. However, all of these disagreements can be reduced either to a difference in personal preferences or to a difference in method. Matters of personal preference or taste are really nothing to argue about. When astrology is considered as an art, we can readily see that there is room for more than one technique. It would be ludicrous if all painters had to paint pictures in the style of Van Gogh or Rembrandt, or for that matter if someone as versatile as Picasso were expected to paint every picture in the same style. It often happens that when astrologers argue very technical points with each other they are doing this very thing, which is to try to enforce their own temperamental or stylistic preferences.

There are numerous types of examples available to illustrate stylistic preferences. Reference to a case history will do nicely. Once I had a client that I had to postpone seeing several times. This was necessary because her natal chart presented a problem that I could not resolve. Her chart would not “come together.” One day on an impulse, I pulled out the asteroid ephemeris and put the four-charted asteroids into her natal chart. Instantly her interpersonal relationship problems became quite clear. Order and symmetry lying dormant in her chart came into focus. She had Juno conjunct her Moon, which “fleshed in” her complex relationship to her mother and her attitude toward her fiancé. Once the connections had been seen, I could have found the same information without the asteroids. Although I have worked with asteroids, I don’t usually place them in individuals’ charts. In this case, the asteroids became part of my technique for delineating a chart. Further, it is my contention that most differences in astrology today are precisely of this type. They are preferential differences even when they are cloaked in words that make them sound as if they were methodological. The differences expressed by siderealists, cosmobiologists, and tropical Placidian astrologers are, by and large, differences in preference for a particular technique.

A real difference in method, while rarer, is much more consequential and rudimentary than a difference in mere technical preference. Whereas two of us using two completely different techniques may arrive at the same information, with the end results differing only in emphasis, a differing methodology ultimately puts us in two disciplines that are similar in name only. (Perhaps I am overstating the case, but some otherwise unwarranted stereotyping will be necessary in order to abbreviate this extremely intricate problem.)

The Hypothetical, Deductive Method

There are some people in “astrology” today who adhere either explicitly or implicitly to the hypothetical, deductive (H-D) method. This is the “scientific” approach. The methodological axiom is simple: form a hypothesis, collect pertinent data, and make a correlation with the hypothesis. This form of research is archaic in today’s world, but in astrology it is more than archaic – it’s ridiculous. Why? The H-D method implicitly denies the whole metaphysical foundation of astrology. That is to say, it denies astrology since astrology at root is a metaphysic. Consequently, the H-D method, when applied to astrology as a standard, entails a formal logical fallacy, which I will demonstrate.

All sound astrological research adheres to what I have labeled the retroductive, intuitive method. The word “retroductive” comes from Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and refers to one of three types of inferences: deduction, induction, and retroduction. The H-D method utilizes deduction and induction, but not retroduction.

If we compare retroduction to the two other forms of inference – induction and deduction – we will get a clear picture of how well suited retroduction is to astrological research. When we make a deduction, we merely extend a principle. In astrology, the principle would be planetary influences. For example:

1st premise – Venus in the seventh house means that the individual will have a happy marriage.

2nd premise – John has Venus in the seventh house.

Conclusion – John will have a happy marriage.

Clearly this form of inference will never do as a foundation for astrological research. We will all agree that Venus in the seventh house makes it more likely that an individual will have a happy marriage. However, Venus in the seventh may mean something entirely different in John’s life. He may never marry, or Venus may be poorly placed by signs and very afflicted. We could keep refining our premises with many qualifiers to ensure success in our judgment, but to do so would be to limit so much the material that could be considered that its application would be trivial. In other words, it would become a specific instance of many principles that have no application at all save one: John’s chart. What we are looking for are principles that have wide applicability. “There can be no science of particulars.”

The problem underlying rigid deductive reasoning in astrology is that the planets are metaphorical symbols and not singular in their meaning or application. Since astrology is a system of metaphorical symbols, it depends on the astrologer for its application. It requires a consciousness to perform the creative act of synthesis. By consciousness, I mean subject. All perception is contingent upon a perceiver. All experience is contingent upon an experiencer. Subject, perceiver, person, experiencer, and consciousness are all roughly synonymous, but “consciousness” refers most directly to the inner component of experience. Herein lies the logical fallacy. Adhering to the H-D method implies that consciousness is not a basic component of experience because it considers only the objects of experience and not the subject. When the H-D method is applied to astrology, we are in effect using it to prove that consciousness is basic to experience. This belief is basic to astrology. Consequently, this method of verification disproves its validity as method if it can verify its hypothesis. If the method is not valid, then the conclusions drawn from the method can’t be valid. When using the H-D method, astrological premises are true if, and only if, they are false.

The Inductive Method

Now let us look at the inductive method for astrological research. In practice, induction is generally reduced to statistical analysis. Although this is a simplification, here we will consider “statistical” to be basically the same as “inductive.” In the preceding example, we entertained the idea that Venus in the seventh house gives a happy marriage. This premise as a hypothesis will be extremely difficult to subject to a statistical study, as happiness is very difficult (if not impossible) to express or define in quantitative terms. How can we judge if someone is happy? Suppose we ask them and they lie or make a serious mistake due to a temporary mood, which confuses their judgment? There are many more problems which terms like “happiness” present to any statistical study; but every astrologer would agree that happiness is an important component in life. Objective sources won’t help us make correlations on happiness because its conditions are so personal. The longevity of marriage is often thought of as a testimonial of happiness. But, many people who are not necessarily happy with their marriage are married a long time, and a short marriage is not necessarily an unhappy one. For these reasons and others like them, people that are “sold” on doing astrological research this way will, as a rule, choose items of experience that are externally verifiable such as profession, achievements, accidents, travel, etc., and, in astrology, there are many items of experience that never will be fit for statistical study.

Now suppose you have found that a certain set of planetary aspects occurred in the charts of 80 percent of the people who died of cancer. On the surface, this is a very impressive statistic and of some potential use. Uninterpreted, however, it remains useless to the astrologer. All clients with these key aspects in their charts may not develop cancer. Further, those clients who do have cancer may not have the cancer configuration. Unless the astrologer is able to use the research and regress the results to the essential underlying principles, he is better off not trying to apply the research to his own work. The statistical research that Michel Gauquelin did on professions and planets, is extremely important in helping astrology gain a better public audience, but it isn’t of much practical value to an astrologer. The principles behind the effect are necessary in order to do accurate and worthwhile astrology.

The Intuitive, Retroductive Method

When we do astrological research, we use inductions, we make deductions, but still the core of our analytic work is retroduction. (Sometimes this term is translated as “abduction” or “reduction.”) In his Prior Analytics (Book II, Ch. 25), Aristotle has said:

By retroduction we mean an argument in which the first term clearly belongs to the middle, but the relation of the middle to the last term is uncertain though equally or more probably than the conclusion; or again an argument in which the terms intermediate between the last term and the middle are few. For in any of these cases it turns out that we approach more nearly to knowledge.

In other words, we work with restricted, logical certainty but with more applicability. We work more holistically and less atomistically. We start with specific instances and look for internal continuity. We select some tentative hypothesis that will allow us to work back to some underlying principle. Having discovered the principle, the “scaffolding” that allowed us to get to the principle becomes only of historical interest. In brief, this form of doing research is retroduction. Retroduction, “the logic of discovery,” tries to place new information into a systematic context which will allow that information to be explained in terms of pre-existing theories and fundamental hypotheses. Whereas induction is satisfied with description of events without explanation, and deduction is direct inference of explanation with no description of particular events, retroduction is the logical process of describing and explaining occurrences. Because of the tight interweaving of describing and explaining, there is no separation of theory and practice. Application is a necessary component of research.

The word “intuitive” is intended in the sense in which it is used in the Bhagavad Gita. That is, we have three cognitive functions: instinct, intellect, and intuition. Instinctual consciousness is symbolized in astrology by the Moon. It has been associated with cellular memory, the past, animal consciousness, the cognitive basis for sense perception, and sensation, all of which are metaphorically accurate. Intellect is symbolized by Mercury, which (with Saturn as a catalyst) organizes sense impressions into thoughts. Uranus is the most prominent symbol of intuition. Intuitions are made from intellections but are qualitatively different, just as intellections (by analogy) are made from sense impressions but are qualitatively different.

When a person is really doing astrology, he is making judgments based on intuitions, not on intellections. This is not to say that he is doing something careless, sloppy or inaccurate. Intuition is none of these three things. Just because a scientist may do much empirical work before he makes any intellectual judgments, should we then conclude that his judgments are reducible to sense impressions? Historically, there have been those who have made the mistake of thinking that, because intellections can be analyzed in terms of sense impressions, intellectual judgments are likewise reducible to their historical origin in sense impressions. This is, of course, the logical extension of a line of thought, which doesn’t include consciousness as a basic component of its cosmology.

And this is definitely the “nub” of the difference. Historically the H-D method with which “hard” science is associated does not include consciousness as a basic. Thus, it does not include people. Consequently, the center of the astrological frame of reference for the “scientist” is an aggregate of attributes, which is to say that the things a person perceives become more “real” than the perceiver. To the astrologer the reverse is true. The individual is the primary reality. The world that the individual lives in has a reality that is dependent on him. This is the underlying metaphysical difference between the H-D method of science and the retroductive, intuitive method of astrology. To paraphrase Abraham Maslow, the question that we must ask of ourselves as astrologers is not “Is astrology scientific enough?” but instead “Is science astrological enough?” The answer in 1975 is a definitive NO! With the growth, refinement, and furthering of astrological precepts, in a few years the answer may be yes.

First published in Astrology Now Col. 1 #7, October 1975