Discipleship: Should You Look to the Stars?

Are you a “Capricorn” or a “Scorpio”? Should you avoid strangers today? Should you be contemplating marriage? Is this a bad day to start a new job? Should you postpone trying to overcome a bad habit? Are you and your pet compatible?

Millions of people check their horoscopes daily to answer such questions. Contracts are signed, employees hired, business ventures started, lifestyles changed, occupations chosen, friendships altered, diets formulated, bets made, trips planned, babies named—yes, sometimes, even government policies and political decisions are made—all based on astrological readings. It remains one of the most popular forms of foretelling the future.

Astrologers believe they can anticipate events by calculating the effect of the sun, moon, stars and planets on human activities. The central belief is that there is an active relationship between humans and the natural universe and that this relationship may be interpreted to guide people’s lives.

They allege that the relative positions of the heavenly bodies at, for example, the moment of a child’s birth influence the child’s character and personality for the rest of his or her life.

How did this belief arise? Its roots are deeply buried in antiquity. The ancients had a different view of the world than we do. They did not understand the laws of science we now take for granted. They thought the future was revealed in natural phenomena. This is often called the “magical world view” of the ancients. Those who have studied the origins of astrology say it came from this magical world view.

Lawrence E. Jerome and Bart J. Bok point out in their book Objections to Astrology: “Astrology proper began in Babylonia as a system of omen-reading to foretell the fate of kings and realms.” The priests of ancient Babylonia consulted the stars to determine if it was a good time to go to war or to make alliances.

About the same time, the Egyptians were developing a system of “places” based on planetary aspects. This assumed that the angles of the planets in relation to one another were omens of things to come.

Later, Greek astrologers combined the Babylonian and Egyptian systems and created a mathematical “scientific” cosmology or philosophy of the character of the universe. The Roman astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy gave astrology an even more scientific veneer when he established the system of “houses” (a division of the “celestial sphere” into 12 sectors). Astrologers still use it today.

By the time Christianity became an official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century A.D., astrology was well entrenched. Augustine, the influential bishop of Hippo, condemned it because it absolved sinners “of all faults…. The blame is indeed given to the creator and ruler of the heavens and of the stars,” rather than the sinner. Thereafter, astrology fell into disfavor for several centuries.

By the 12th century, despite continued warnings by the church, astrology had once again found its way into European thought. During the Renaissance (14th and 15th centuries), people began to look at the universe differently. Nicolaus Copernicus, considered the founder of modern astronomy, advanced the then controversial theory that the earth and other planets circle the sun—an idea that threatened to knock the props out from under traditional astrology.

Astrologers countered by claiming that it is the positions of the planets in relation to the earth that matter, and thus Copernicus’ theory had no real effect on astrology. But the parting of the ways had begun. The magical world view of the universe was soon discredited under the relentless march of scientific progress.

Incredibly, after being scorned and neglected, astrology again became a fashionable topic early in the 20th century.

Objections of Science

More than a decade ago, 192 leading scientists, including 19 Nobel Prize winners, signed a declaration that no scientific evidence exists to support astrology. They stated, among other things, that “it is simply a mistake to imagine that the forces exerted by stars and planets at the moment of birth can in any way shape our futures. Neither is it true that the position of distant heavenly bodies makes certain days or periods more favorable to particular kinds of action, or that the sign under which one was born determines one’s compatibility or incompatibility with other people.”

Thorough research has found no correlation between zodiac signs and the character traits of thousands of successful people.

Thorough research has found no correlation between zodiac signs and the character traits of thousands of successful people. Roger Culver, astronomer and author of The Gemini Syndrome, points out that “in every carefully controlled experiment or statistical analysis [of astrology] of which I am aware, either the results are negative or non-replicable.”

One of the studies Mr. Culver was referring to showed that the birth dates of people in certain professions, such as politics or science, are not grouped in certain times of the year, as astrology would indicate. They are randomly scattered throughout the year.

Another study demonstrated that couples born under signs allegedly “compatible” for marriage actually married and divorced with the same frequency as those born under “incompatible” signs. And one test of 28 “outstanding astrologers” showed them to be no more reliable than chance in matching astrological birth charts with corresponding personality profiles.

Research has shown that one’s genetic characteristics are determined by means of conception and not at the time of birth. So how can the arrangements of the heavens at the instant of birth be a critical factor?

Astrologers claim that the characteristics are endowed by certain “vibrations” breathed by a newborn babe, although no one has ever demonstrated what these vibrations might be. Scientists point out that they certainly cannot be the pull of heavenly bodies on the newborn baby. For example, the body of the average obstetrician exerts several times the gravitational pull on a baby than does the faraway planet Mars!

Other crucial questions raised by scientists include: Why do twins born at the same time in the same place not have the exact same destiny? Why do only the signs of the zodiac, which cover a very small area of the sky, matter? How are the traits of those born north of the Arctic Circle determined during the times of the year when no signs of the zodiac are visible at those latitudes? And what about the planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto? They weren’t discovered until long after astrology had been established. How could astrologers have factored them into their calculations? Or did these planets simply have no effect on our destiny until we discovered them?

Also, the astrological system of “houses” represents the sky as it looked 2,000 years ago, not as it appears today. Two millennia ago, for example, a person born in late August or early September was labeled a Virgo. The sun at that time was actually in the constellation Virgo. Today, such a person is still called a Virgo—despite the fact that the sun is now in the constellation of Leo in late August and early September!

These are serious objections that astrologers have failed to adequately answer. Yet they have had little effect on public opinion. Astrology continues to be so popular that in some areas, nine out of 10 people know their zodiac signs, while less than half know their blood types. Over a thousand newspapers in North America carry astrology columns, and astrology books are among the best sellers.

In fact, more people believe in astrology now than at any time since the Renaissance. They look to the stars because they feel the need for something to guide them through the complexities of life—something they can rely on for direction and advice. They have lost confidence in the traditional religious and civil institutions to provide adequate moral and spiritual guidance.

People who look to the stars to guide them through life do so at a price.

But those who seek answers in the stars do so at a price. The American Society of Psychological and Social Studies warns: “Faith in astrology is harmful, for it encourages an unhealthy evasion of the permanent problems of real life…. The astrologers, who offer the public a horoscope, which takes the place of conclusions drawn from serious reflection, are guilty of encouraging the human tendency of choosing facility rather than the difficult way.”

What the Bible Says

At its deeper levels, astrology is sometimes combined with clairvoyant powers and other occult techniques. Some astrologers seek mystical assistance in interpreting their star charts.

The Bible shows that such magic sometimes works. Satan, in his effort to mislead and deceive, can perform counterfeit miracles. The sorcerers of Pharaoh’s court in Moses’ time were able to duplicate some of Moses’ miracles (Exodus 7-8). We should not assume that soothsaying and astrology also do not work—sometimes. There are many phenomena that defy explanation. They can deceive and confuse, unless you are wise to Satan’s devices.

The Bible tells us God intended that the heavenly bodies be used by humans to measure time and seasons (Genesis 1:14). Nowhere does the Bible indicate that they can be looked to for guidance in making decisions and evaluations in our personal lives. We have God’s written words for that.

The book of James instructs us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Wisdom comes through prayer to God and the study of his will as revealed in the Bible—not through the examination of astrological charts.

The heavens certainly declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1-6). They can inspire us with a greater understanding of his power and majesty. But wisdom, guidance, understanding and the forming of an individual’s character come from harmony with God, not from signs in the skies (verses 7-11).

We are not destined to suffer bad luck, good fortune or be blessed or afflicted with a certain kind of personality and character merely because the planets and stars were in a particular configuration when we were born. Through effort, and with God’s Holy Spirit helping us, undesirable personality traits can be overcome. When we have God’s Spirit working with us, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4)—regardless of our horoscope!

How many of those who consult their horoscopes daily are really trying to avoid the responsibility of decision making? There is a security in knowing it is “in the stars.” But it is a false security. Our minds were given to us so we can weigh facts, come to our own conclusions and make our own decisions. God’s Spirit works with us to develop a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

If we look to God, we have a reliable guide who never fails. Jesus promised that “the Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Thus, a true, godly character is built, and that is what physical human life is for.

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