Irrationality of Astrology

Dr Narendra Dabholkar

The stars in the sky, twinkling from such a vast distance, allured the primitive man. They regularly appeared in the sky and moved in their set orbit day after day, year after year without fail. As compared to this, man’s life on earth was insecure and irregular. The order and persistence in their behaviour of the stars fascinated him. He has been watching the stars since time immemorial. The Babylonians started making notes of the movements of stars and planets as early as 4200 years BC.  Their observations born out of curiosity revealed many important phenomena such as the change in seasons according to the change in the sun’s position in the sky; high and low tide according to the moon’s waxing and waning; eclipses of the sun and moon and determining directions with the help of positions of stars. After observing and making notes for hundreds of years, these record keepers were able to draw some inferences. On the basis of these inferences they could foretell the full moon or no moon days; predict eclipses and their timings, appearance of a comet or appearance of those stars that indicate change of season. The astrologers of those ancient days were able to forecast, after appearance of certain stars in the sky, when it would rain and advice people when the Nile would spread alluvial soil on its banks so that farmers can start sowing. Later the knowledge of constellations and cycle of seasons was utilized for agriculture and that of stars to indicate direction to the travelers during nights. This led to the argument that since the terrestrial phenomena are related to the sun and the moon and the stars, the latter must be affecting human life too. In the beginning astronomy, mathematics and astrology together formed one composite science. Gradually, however, as science flourished in the human culture, mathematics became an independent discipline. In the 16th century Astronomy too became an independent subject for investigation. Thereafter whatever these two eminent sciences discarded as worthless remained as astrology. However by then some forecasters had developed vested interest in astrology. They succeeded in providing succor to the weak human mind. This human need helped astrology to survive.

            The argument “how can astrology be false when all people, educated and uneducated, resort to it for help and solace?” is irrational. Many people do many things. But the fact does not prove that those things are right or scientific. Many people all over the country eat tobacco or drink or are involved in corruption. Their behavior is not considered as right or scientifically correct and does not fit in the norms of public behaviour. There are specific criteria to decide whether a certain thing is scientific or not. These criteria are identical everywhere in the world. Astrology will be recognized as a science only when it fulfills all these criteria. At present however it is far from being a science.

            We are told that in India the tradition of Astrology is as old as that of the Vedas. However in the ‘Vedang Jotish’ (one of the six sciences considered as part of Vedas) part of Rigved and Yajurved, there is not even a mention of Phalajotish, i.e. astrology. Nevertheless, the idea that the stars and planets determine the past and the future of human beings fits quite well with the Hindu theory of ‘Karmavipak (products of sins in after births) and Pprarabdha (fortunes determined by deeds in past life), Vidhilikhit (destiny) and Poorvasanchit (accumulated sin and merits of past life)’. So the Hindu mind readily accepted Phalajotish or astrology. All this still, does not provide any evidence to elevate astrology to the level of science.

            To claim astrology to be a science because it has survived for thousands of years or because great sages wrote huge tomes on it, is wrong. For thousands of years we have been harbouring a number of misconceptions like –the earth is flat; the sun revolves round the earth from east to west; earth-quakes are caused by the huge serpent called Sheshnag by shaking his head; the daemons Rahu, Ketu swallow the sun and the moon and cause eclipses; a pregnant woman should not cut vegetables during an eclipse lest her child will have cleft lips: performing Yadnya brings rain and prosperity; the list goes on and on. But as science advanced, all these misconceptions got washed away in its course. Bhrigusanhita, an ancient tome is proffered as evidence of the divine knowledge of astrology. It is claimed that our omniscient Rishis, before whom the past, present and the future are open to view, have written in this tome the future of all human beings born from the time when human beings came into existence on this earth and of all those who will be born till the end of the world, including those presently living. The claim, that those Rishis intuitively knew what passes in the world, has little truth in it. No science can be developed out of intuition; the edifice of science can be constructed only by sound systematic study of natural phenomena and human experience.

            People adopt a number of ways to forecast future. A few are given below.

1. Using a parrot to forecast future.

2. Crystal gazing.

3.  Looking through lampblack.

4. Looking through Rudraksha (the berry of a sacred tree).

5. Ramal Vidya (divining by figures and lines and dice.)

6. Divining the future using numbers.

7. Chiromancy.

8. Palmistry.

9. Horoscope or astrology.

10. Bhrigusamhitaa or Nadi Granth.

             There are a few more such devices of fortune telling. But none of them is a scientific method. The moment any one mentions this fact, astrologers are up against him. The argument they put forth is: we accept when a physician diagnoses some disease because he is systematically trained for it; ‘a layman who is not trained and does not know anything in medicine should not make any comments on his diagnosis. Likewise those who have not studied astrology and therefore are ignorant about it have no right to comment on or raise objection to astrology.’ Prima facie this argument appears quite incontrovertible; but in reality it is not. The argument cunningly misguides us and we should figure out how.

            Karani  and Mooth Maarane (doing evil through incantation or magic), Sorcery, Witchcraft, Bhanamati, and such other incidents occur often at many places. These are all superstitions. In the Maharashtra Assembly a bill has been passed for banning superstitions that are exploitative and dangerous to life. Nobody can claim that all these are matters of black magic and those who do not study black magic have no right to oppose them or insist on a law to prevent them. The laws of science and black magic are mutually conflicting and have nothing in common with each other. The case of astrology is not different. The so called science of astrology that claims a brilliant tradition of 2000 years has not been able to spell out any universally acceptable law that would stand a scientific test.


Three Hypotheses of Astrology:

To prove anything scientifically formulating a hypothesis is a must. Next the statement needs to be proved by observation, examination, rigorous logic, mathematics, direct experience and experiment. The astrologers who claim astrology to be a science have so far failed to produce any such hypothesis to date. So the question of examining any hypothesis simply does not arise. However, obviously, there is an unproved hypothesis on the basis of which the whole practice of astrology depends; and astrologers too admit that the whole edifice of astrology rests on such a hypothesis. It can be spelt out as below:

  • The stars and planets in the sky constantly influence human life.
  • This influence depends on the time of birth of an individual.
  • That determines an individual’s future which is comprehensible and can at times be changed.

This is the basis of the whole edifice of astrology. Even a little investigation reveals its hollowness. There is a lot of ambiguity in astrology while determining which planets affect human life. Thousands of stars and a few planets dwelling in the sky have no place what so ever in the horoscope. Including all of them, of course, is not practicable. Secondly astrologers of the old, when this system of astrology was developed, had no inkling of how vast is the expanse of the universe. Our earth exists in the solar system and the astrologers of the olden days considered only this system, and that was quite reasonable. This is how the present astrologers justify the exclusion of thousands of stars. Granted; but there is lot of confusion even in considering only the planets of the solar system. They have no idea about the enormity of these planets nor do they know how vast the distance between them and the earth is.

            The planets that are used to make a horoscope are sun, moon, mars, mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu. The planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto found no mention in the horoscopes that were made 150 years ago because they were not then discovered and therefore the astrologers were not aware of their existence. But they should have known their existence since they call themselves ‘makers of the science of astrology’. Now let us look at the status of those so called planets mentioned in the horoscopes. The sun that is mentioned as planet by the astrologers is, in fact, a star. The moon too is not a planet but a satellite of the earth. Rahu and Ketu, regarded to be planets, don’t even exist. The two points where the orbit of the moon crosses earth’s orbit are named Rahu and Ketu. Astrologers of the old visualized Rahu and Ketu as big boa constrictors or daemons who swallow the sun and the moon and cause their eclipse. (Like Rahu and Ketu, astrologers from the south consider one more imaginary planet called Mandi in their horoscope while Western astrologers totally ignore these three imaginary planets.) Moon, the lone satellite of the earth finds a place in the horoscopes but not a single satellite of Jupiter is considered; although so far 63 satellites of Jupiter have been discovered and many of them are two and a half times as large as the moon. Altogether, out of the 9 planets of the horoscope, the sun is not a planet but a star; the moon is a satellite of the earth and the Rahu and Ketu do not exist. Thus 4 out of 9 entities that form the horoscope are wrong, which amounts to 44% of the total assumptions.

            The question, ‘which is the most menacing of all the planets to human beings of our solar system?’ would invariably be answered by a Maharashtriyan as ‘the Saturn’. Such is the dread of the planet Saturn. In fact the most dangerous and most influential planet of the solar system that affects human beings is our earth. All the pleasures and pains of a human life are bound with this planet as the whole human life is spent on the earth. Yet the earth has no place in the horoscope! The reason offered by the astrologers, for this lapse, is that the earth is the center of the solar system. Thus they refute in one stroke, all the progress made from Copernicus till date, in the field of astronomy!

            How can one prove that something is scientific? The simple rule to determine this is that, it should be possible to examine the effectiveness of that entity, independently by Scientific Outlook. For example, a particular disease is cured by certain decoction of medicinal herbs. Let us assume that this decoction is made out of ten different plants. Naturally the recovery from the disease is due to the combined effect of all the ten plants. But it does not reveal which of the ten plants affects which symptoms of the disease. To find out this, we will have to make ten different decoctions of the ten plants and observe which plant affects which symptom of the disease and how. This alone can give us a precise analysis of the decoction. Astrology too believes that all the planets of the solar system produce a combined and continuous effect on human life. Yet while predicting the future of a person, the astrologer tells him the effect of each planet separately as the effect of Mars or Saturn or Jupiter, etc. Knowing the effect of each planet separately is like knowing the effect of each plant of the decoction in the above example. It is possible to examine the effect of every plant in the decoction separately. But to examine the effect of one planet, it is not possible to stop the effects of all other planets during that period. The characteristics assigned to each planet, therefore, have no independent basis of any observation what so ever.

            One important criterion of science is that Scientific Outlook begins to operate right from the initial stage of observation. Observation for a long period, made in identical situations produce some records. These records constitute the foundation on which the structure of science rests. The fundamental drawback of astrology is that no such basic observations are possible in it. Suppose a certain tree bears fruit once a year or once in alternate years. It is possible to observe and make notes of it. But if it bears fruit once in a hundred years, observation is quite difficult, though not impossible. When, however it is claimed that the tree bears fruit once in one lack years, then, no continuous observation necessary for developing the science of this particular tree can be made available. What is the situation when observations of the earth and other planets of the solar system and constellations are to be made? For continuous observation, identical situations should occur repeatedly. Let us, for the moment accept that the planets of the solar system affect human life. In that case all the stars in the Milky Way and all other galaxies in the universe must be affecting our life. Observation of all these together will alone be precise but such precision in observation is just not possible. When we look at the sky with naked eyes, the planets of the solar system appear to be maneuvering their way through the swarm of constellations. Today science has revealed that there is immensely huge distance and space between the constellations and these planets of the solar system. The distance is 50 thousand billion kilometers or even lager. The distance is generally mentioned in terms of light years so that it can be denoted by a small number. But the measure is the speed of light which is three lacks kilometer per second. The Milky Way, the galaxy in which our solar system is included, contains 200 billion stars bigger and brighter than the sun. And there are at least a hundred million such galaxies in the universe. All these stars are constantly on the move. This means that the state of this unfathomable universe at a particular moment will take infinite time to repeat itself once again. No observation is possible in such a situation and equally impossible is the formulation of astrology that relies of the state of stars and planets in the space.

            When man discovered astrology, he divided the celestial space in 12 parts; specific traits were attributed to the planets, stars, constellations and the zodiac signs in each of the 12 parts. All this fantastic exercise of dividing the space around the earth into 12 permanent divisions, and allotting specific characteristics to them is a big joke. We know that the earth revolves round at the speed of 54000 miles a day. Naturally the space and the stars that we can see surrounding us changes as the earth moves. To allot a specific attribute to any part of this space is baseless and nobody has ever produced any evidence to support it.

            The sun appears to move round the earth like a water-wheel on a well. The apparent passage of the sun around the earth is called ecliptic and the girdle extending 7.5 degrees north and south of it’s ecliptic path. This is divided into 27 parts in the ancient Indian astrology as 27 constellations. Later each Zodiac was allotted two and a half constellations. The constellations too are supposed to evince certain traits. Constellations belong to one of the three divisions-Manushya (human), Rakshas (daemon) and Dev (deities). They also are of masculine, feminine and neuter gender. Some are thieves, some are cruel and some righteous. They also consist of the elements fire, air, water or earth. The individual is affected by (i.e. acquires the characteristics of) the constellation in which moon happens to be at the time of his birth. A person born in a feminine constellation will have feminine characteristics irrespective of his gender. Later on the 27 constellations were divided into 12 zodiacs. Each Zodiac then should have been allotted the same attributes as possessed by the constellations included in it. But no. The zodiacs have characteristics of their own. This has, all the more, confounded the existing confusion. If we suppose that a person born under certain constellation has the characteristics of that constellation, the zodiac to which he belongs indicates different characteristics. This is quite incongruent. E.g. Magha, Poorva and Uttara are feminine constellations but the zodiac to which they belong is Simha (lion) a masculine one. How can 3 feminine components make one masculine whole? Similarly two feminine constellations Chitra and Swati together with a neuter Vishakha form a masculine zodiac Tula. To top it all, the three neuter gendered constellations Vishakha, Anuradha and Jeshtha form a feminine Zodiac Vrishchik! How; but how is it possible?

            The same confusion prevails regarding the elements of the Rashi-Nakshatra (zodiac-constellation) that is utterly ridiculous. As already mentioned fire, air, water and earth are the four elements. The zodiac Kumbha of the element air is formed by Dhanishtha of earth element, Shatataraka of water element and Poorvabhadrapada of fire element. This means Air (Kumbha) = earth (dhanishtha)+ water (Shatatarka) + fire (Poorvabhadrapada). Similarly Dhanu the zodiac of fire element is made up of Mool (water), Poorvashadha (water) and Uttara (earth). This amounts to two water elements with one earth element make up fire! On what grounds did these shallow witted astrologers devise the above interpretations? In short characteristics stuck on to the Rashi- Nakshatras (zodiac-constellations) are totally meaningless.

            The constellations have some prominent star as a referent, so we have some ground to acknowledge their existence. Even the existence of the zodiacs despite being imaginary can, for a moment, be acknowledged, because of their reference to the constellations. But what can be said about ‘Bhavachakra’-the circle on which are traced the twelve signs of the zodiac in the horoscope, showing twelve points of consultation. These twelve Bhavas, i.e. the points of consultation in the horoscope do not exist anywhere in the space. It is said that they are momentarily impressed in the sky at the time of birth. At the moment of birth and at the spot where it takes place, the 10th Bhava is impressed above the baby’s head, 1st Bhava on the eastern horizon and the rest in association with these two. Now every second four babies are born in the world, on an average. So, different Bhavachakras get impressed in the sky every second. Then, it so happens, that in one part of the space baby A has its 1st Bhava while baby B may have its 5th Bhava and baby C some other Bhava. So their different Bhavas overlap each other. Now, it is assumed that the effects of the planets change according to the Bhava that happens to be in its range. Thus to imagine that the same planet simultaneously happens to be in different Bhavas is completely illogical. So is the assumption that the same planet affects babies born at the same moment, differently in accordance with their different Bhavas, scientifically impossible.

Birth Timings

The time of birth of a baby is of utmost importance to his parents because the positions of the planets change constantly. The astrologers and the new born baby’s parents, who have faith in them, believe that the aspect of the planets at the time of baby’s birth affects and determines its whole life. Now in the olden days when there were no clocks, the astrologers had a very convenient excuse for wrong prediction – i.e. a mistake in noting the time of birth. But today the time of birth is noted with precision with the help of modern clocks. Yet the astrologers absolve themselves of wrong predictions claiming that the time of birth is incorrect. In addition there is heterodoxy in various books on astrology regarding the time of birth. In the astrologers’ seminars heated discussions on this issue take place. Yet there is no consensus on exactly what should be considered as the time of birth; and of course no scientific support is given for any assumption. Now look at this example of irrationality supporting the assumption that the time of birth affects the life of a person. A few years back, twin girls were born in the hospital of a much reputed gynecologist of Mumbai. The first girl was taken out of the womb and before the second baby girl was taken out, the moon entered another constellation, resulting in different skin colours of the babies as claimed by the eminent gynecologist. Now, it is well known that the shape, structure, colour of the skin and such other characteristics are determined by genes and chromosomes. So change in the constellation at the time of birth cannot, in any way, change the skin colour of the baby. Twins are either uni-Ovular or bio-Ovular. The twins in the above case obviously were of the latter type. What should be considered the time of birth and why that particular time is the question which Mahatma Jotiba Phule asked the astrologers 150 years ago. His explanation of this problem may have been simple and unsophisticated but his basic thought was sound. The question ‘what should be considered as the time of birth of a baby?’ can be more precisely asked as below.

The first cell of a new life is born when the egg and the sperm combine in the fallopian tube. So this point in time should be the time of birth of a human being. It is impossible to know the exact time when this occurs because the sperm that enters the womb takes a few hours, even a day at times, to travel up to the egg in the fallopian tube.

`           The law does not permit aborting the embryo after it has grown for a certain number of months, because the baby born in a normal delivery at this time is likely to survive. In this sense should the time when the baby in the womb becomes capable of being born and survive be considered the time of his birth?

When a baby is born, its head appears first. Birth of a baby is not the take off of a rocket. The baby is not born on the appointed second after the count down like a rocket. Quite often there is a gap of several minutes between the appearance of the head and the ejection of its feet. Which is the time of birth then? Is it when the head comes out or is it when the feet also come out? And why? And again if the constellation changes during this time which one of them should be taken as the constellation at birth?

Some babies are born with their feet coming out first. The head comes out later. Again the question arises, which of these two moments is the time of the baby’s birth? And why?

On having been born, the baby is yet a part of his mother. The doctor separates it from its mother by cutting its umbilical cord. Independent existence of the baby begins at this moment. Isn’t this moment the appropriate time of its birth?

Every baby that is born must cry immediately. The baby that has not experienced any joys and sorrows of the world so far cries. It cries out of its biological need, not because of any psychological reason. While still in the womb, the baby’s lungs are compressed because it does not need to breathe. After birth when it is separated from its mother by cutting the umbilical cord, it cries. It means the baby breaths for the first time in the world outside the womb. Should or shouldn’t we consider the moment when the baby cries as its time of birth?

At times a normal delivery is not possible. The baby, then, has to be taken out of the womb by a cesarean operation. The operation is fixed at an appropriate time considering the condition of the pregnant woman and her doctor’s recommendation. Since the operation is preplanned, it can be preponed or postponed by a day or two. The concerned woman and her relatives try to have the operation done at an auspicious time (preferably on one of the three and a half most auspicious days as per the Hindu calendar). The doctor, who thus operates at the most auspicious time and thereby secures a very successful future for the baby, outwits the Brahmadev himself! Here is an example to expose the sham of the concept of auspicious time. In a huge operation theatre of maternity home three women can be operated giving birth to three babies at the same moment and the same place. One baby is born to a girl from a very rich family, the other to a middleclass woman and the third to a labourer’s wife. It does not take much logic to discern that the future of these three babies just cannot be the same.

Determinist Forecast

The third part of the hypothesis that aims to obtain for astrology recognition as a science is that, astrology can indicate the course of a person’s future life with the help of horoscope. There are three types of claims in this regard. The first is that it interprets the signs of destiny. It is like the train that runs on the rails. The train cannot in any way change its route and yet, it comes across a number of signs on its way telling that a station or a tunnel or a bend is approaching. If the sign signals danger the driver can stop the train for a while. An individual’s life runs on the rails of destiny which he cannot change. But the horoscope warns him of possible danger (or success) in advance so that he prepares to face the future in a better way. This whole scheme converts an individual into a puppet in the hands of destiny. It nips in the bud any possibility, on the part of the person, of bringing about a change in his life and in the society on his own and makes him a helpless dependent. The horoscope engenders an unscientific concept. Take for example women’s literacy. During the last two thousand years, the horoscopes of women in this country did not reveal any opportunity for education. But in the last hundred years due to efforts of Savitribai Phule and other social reformers opportunities of education for women in all fields were opened. Do their horoscopes also show such signs of education now which were absent then? Before independence the average life of an Indian was 30 years. The efforts of the last 60 years have raised it to an average of 60 years. Does it mean that the configuration of the planets causing death has shifted further ahead in the horoscopes of all Indians to increase their life expectancy to 60 years?

            Another assertion of astrology is that the planets in the horoscopes do not just indicate what is in store in the future but they even manipulate life. The valve in the water tank is a good simile. Like water, in the tank of fate, there is Prarabddha of the individual. (Prarabddha is the merit and demerit of earlier existence causing the present birth and regulating allotment of good and evil.)The valve regulates the water supply providing water at appropriate time and appropriate proportion. The fruit of the Prarabddha is released by the planets in the horoscope at appropriate time and proportion just like water. The third assertion goes one step further and states that the planets virtually are the controllers of the individuals’ lives. What happens and when and how it happens in the life of an individual is all determined by the planets’ influence. This third part of the hypothesis of the theory of astrology offers an individual a philosophy of defeatist and fatalistic psyche. An individual receives genes and chromosomes from his parents. His progress in life depends on the social and family atmosphere in which he is brought up. But the so called science of astrology ignores all these sides of life.

Translated by Suman Oak