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Summary: What makes horoscopes credible? The basic theory of astrology is that the orbits and alignments of the sun, moon, and planets control our fait and destiny.

Gemini. “You’re excellent when the pressure is up. There’s a snag at work. Make sure to do a thorough diagnosis of the problem before you ask for help.”

Capricorn. “Stick to the plan. On important matters, ask for proof. Your social life requires you to know when to keep quiet and when to speak up. It could be that what bugs you about a loved one is really your own problem!”

Are you into horoscopes? Do you check your horoscope in the newspaper before you head out the door in the morning? Perhaps you read your horoscope “just for fun,” or you might be one of the many people who take their daily horoscope seriously.

Do you believe that if an eagle appeared on your right side you would be blessed by the gods? Or if you heard thunder on your left, you were about to die? Would you believe you should act on the interpretation given to a mess of goat entrails? (Ugh!) Is it true that your future can be read in the tea leaves in the bottom of your cup?

Of course not, you say. Nobody believes in those methods of predicting the future anymore. Those superstitions were for the people of ancient civilizations, not for the twenty-first century.

But what if I ask about your horoscope? Who doesn’t know what sign he was born under? And is there anyone who can honestly say that she has never read or heard her horoscope for the day? References to astrology, on which horoscopes are based, are everywhere—in newspapers and magazines, on radio and TV, and all over the Internet.

Reliance on astrology is becoming more and more popular. A 2009 Pew Research Center poll found that about one in four Americans believe in astrology, and a 2013 poll from Harris Interactive showed that 29 percent of people believe in astrology. And when it comes to reading their horoscopes, the figure is much higher than that. Recent figures indicate that 20 million books on astrology are sold every year. Many people today live their lives with both eyes firmly fixed on their star charts and predictions.

What makes horoscopes credible when their origin is as ancient as other ways of predicting the future that we now consider to be “old superstitions”?

The basic theory of astrology is that the orbits and alignments of the sun, moon, and planets control our destiny. Even though we live in a skeptical and highly scientific age, many believe it. When asked for evidence, people report that the predictions on their horoscopes were accurate. When citing fulfilled predictions, people often ignore the ease with which believers can help to “make” their horoscopes come true after they find out what’s “supposed” to happen. For example, if you’re told that you’ll meet a stranger, then you’ll likely look out for one. If “love is in the air,” then you’ll be more open to romance. Horoscopes can come true by our making them come true.

People also overlook the fact that most horoscopes are so generalized that one can easily find at least partial accuracy. “There’s a snag at work.” How many people wouldn’t find at least one “snag” during a workday? “Your social life requires you to know when to keep quiet and when to speak up.” To whom would that prediction not apply?

What’s the truth?

But what are the facts? Is the theory of astrology at least possible? Consider these points:

1. No scientific evidence whatsoever has been found to indicate that the changes in position of the planets relative to the earth have a direct effect on human beings. This idea is completely unscientific and goes against all we know about the natural world.

2. Why should one particular combination of planetary positions mean one thing and another position mean something else? Why is the planet Mars associated with violence and Venus with love? How does anyone know what the positions of the planets mean in terms of character or feelings or the future? Who decided what meant what?

3. Why should there be 12 divisions or signs of the zodiac? Why not 13 or 10 or 20? And why is each person linked to a particular sign just because of when they were born? Why should the exact time of our birth limit us for the rest of our lives?

4. Astrology is based on the understanding that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun, moon, and planets all revolve around the earth. Why? Because that’s what the ancients believed. But today we know that that this belief is completely unscientific. Why should we assume that predictions based on inaccurate science can produce accurate conclusions?

Mistakes and deliberate ignorance

Then there’s the fact that star positions relative to our planet have changed since astrological calendars were created. The zodiac, created more than 2,000 years ago, no longer matches what we see in the night sky. The signs are no longer valid, and their error increases year by year. If the actual alignments no longer match the calendars, how can their predictions be accurate?

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