Meet the star of this year's The Bachelor Australia, Matt Agnew, an astrophysicist working on predicting whether exoplanet systems could host stable Earth-like companions in the habitable zone at the Swinburne University of Technology. The launch trailer for the series has just been released, and it features quite the cringe-worthy first meeting between Agnew and one of the contestants, who appears extremely excited to discover his profession.
In the promo, we meet Abby who, after introducing herself, asks Matt what he does for a living. He tells her that he’s an astrophysicist, to which she beams back at him with “I’m a Gemini!”
The first-encounter footage is intersected with a behind-the-scenes shot of Matt at a loss for words about her obvious mistake, before going back to the equally stumped Matt still in that first awkward moment. After an epic facial expression journey, he decides not to point out her mix-up and instead sweetly replies, "I'm a Leo."
If first impressions are crucial to a long-lasting relationship, this may not be a brilliant start. But who knows, Abby may recover from this initial faux-pas. To be fair, we don’t know if she actually believes in astrology, or just thinks that is what Matt does for a living and is being polite.
So what’s so bad about believing in astrology? Nothing really. There are more dangerous beliefs – climate change denial, anti-vaccine propaganda, white supremacy, using alternative medicine instead of rather than alongside scientifically proven medicine – that are truly harmful, and certainly those who peddle this misinformation should accept some responsibility for their actions when they result in harming people.
So, astrology is harmless, but it is still nonsense. You may as well believe in Santa Claus, you will have to make as many logical somersaults for it to make sense. First of all, it's a rather arrogant assumption that the position of planets (which are millions if not billions of kilometers away) have any bearing on what will happen to you this week. It's also based on the position of stars whose light we're observing may have shone hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago so again, unlikely to be dictating your meeting with a tall, handsome stranger on Tuesday.
Secondly, astrology's terminology and mathematical scaffolding are thousands of years old. So old, in fact, that it only works based on the assumption that Earth is at the center of the universe, a theory popular around the 2nd century CE. However, in the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the universe that suggested the Sun is the center. Now, astronomers are confident there is no center.
Ancient astronomers could study the stars, but they didn't have the tools to necessarily understand what they were seeing, and ancient astrologers jumped on this mystique. “Mercury is in retrograde,” a common justification for being moody, means that Mercury occasionally stops and goes backwards. At least that is the apparent motion of the planet if it orbits Earth. Knowing that it orbits the Sun makes its orbit make more sense, but astrologers seem to take this literally.
Astrology also ignores the principle of dynamics. Newton correctly stated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If Jupiter is influencing your life with some mysterious force, then you must be influencing Jupiter in the same way. Perhaps the mystery of the Great Red Spot unraveling is because Susan in downtown LA missed her last two pilates classes.
Randall Munroe, the comic artists behind XKCD, puts forward the Economic Argument. This points out that if astrology worked, companies would be using it in financial and business planning. So if astrology is true, modern capitalism doesn’t really care about profit that much.
People are of course free to believe in astrology, but just remember: you are still responsible for your actions and interactions with people every day in the world, and believing in a pseudoscience doesn't absolve you of that.
[H/T: The Independent]