Unitarians and Astrology Debate

Yesterday evening, while attending a meeting at the Melbourne Unitarian Church, I picked up the latest (Autumn) issue of the ANZUUA Quest. It includes a transcript of the address given by the Rev. Bill Darlison at the 2013 ANZUUA Conference in Auckland. (I believe it has also been posted on the Internet.)

[Article is available on Bill Darlison's 'blog.]

Mr Darlison is very much “into” astrology, and does not like what he calls (with initial capitals) “Prosaic Naturalism” and people like Dawkins
and Hitchens. He also appears to take quite seriously an Irish comedian’s explanation of the universe: “Big Bang, Evolution, Randomness”. The whole point about neo-Darwinian evolution is that it produces non-random changes, which is exactly why it is so significant. (I have no views on the Big Bang theory, as I am no physicist or cosmologist.)

Bill Darlison’s distaste for purveyors of Prosaic Naturalism is not so much “Beware the Ides of March” as beware of atheist fanatics born under
the sign of Aries. They have “an almost pathological desire for personal freedom”. Wow! Well, I have called myself a militant atheist for almost
sixty years (I have just turned seventy), and I certainly hold the notion of personal freedom highly, as well as having a care for the rights of others.

And I have two star signs! I was born near the end of February, so, under the two-thousand-year-old twelve-sign Zodiac beloved of astrologers,
my “star sign” is Pisces (19 February to 20 March). But the constellations have changed, and there is now a thirteenth period in the Zodiac, Ophiuchus (30 November to 17 December). In the modern system I was born under the sign of Aquarius (16 February to 11 March). But Aries does not get a look in!

Where have I gone wrong?

Nigel Sinnott, Melbourne

I read with interest the Rev. Bill Darlison’s keynote address at the 2013 ANZUUA Conference, and my attention was drawn to the comment: “Virtually everyone you meet who says ‘Astrology is bunkum’ has never even read a page of serious astrology.”

Well, I have read a great deal of “serious astrology” from my own interest in the development of the history of ideas and rationality. I have
read a number of academic journal articles and scholarly books that cover the history of astrology of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Hellenistic, the Hindu, the East Asian (especially Chinese), mediaeval Christian, and, to a passing interest, to contemporary believers.

There is no doubt of the important contributions by the proto-scientific astrologers, especially with their careful calculations of
the position and trajectories of the stars. However, attention should be drawn to the transformation of speculative and metaphysical astrological thinking to evidence-based astronomical reasoning. One may also include similar transformations in alchemy to chemistry, geomancy to geography, numerology to mathematics, elementalism to phase-state physics, and even the theory of humours to psychology.

It is not dogma to recognise these changes, and it is hardly slavish to accept the evidence-based disciplines against those that are based on
untestable assumptions or falsified claims. For those who actually bother to inquire, they will discover that the natal predictive claims of astrology have been subject to a number of controlled studies which indicate that it simply does not work. Shawn Carlson’s study (published in Nature, 1985, with an experimental protocol agreed by astrologers beforehand) is perhaps the best known. Some more recent studies (e.g., Dean and Kelly, 2003) have also indicated no support for association of cognitive, behavioural, and physical variables with astrological prediction. Indian astrology (Narlikar, 2013) fared no better.

This is all despite the fact that some prominent atheists happen to be Aries, which is apparently important to the Rev. Bill Darlison. "Statistically insignificant" is a phrase that should come immediately to mind - except to the slavish and dogmatic mind that engages in a confirmation bias to prove what it already believes in.

Lev Lafayette, Melbourne

It is truly significant that, on my first ever visit to a Sydney Unitarian Church Sunday service, I read in your Autumn 2014 Quest such an
inspirational article by Bill Darlinson titled “21st Century Dissent”.

It is inspiring for two major reasons. Firstly, it issued a challenge to revivify Unitarianism, so as to heal the false dichotomy between science
and religion, which we term the “human condition”. And secondly, it confirmed that, in understanding and healing this human condition in the 21st Century, the Classic Jesus shows us the Way.

Our Classic Jesus is neither the Jewish Christ nor the schizophrenic third of a Christian Trinitarianism. So it is perhaps not too surprising to
spiritually encounter him in a Uniting Church minister whose story of a subterranean tunnel of a Unitarian church in Whitby evoked in me memories of the catacombs of Rome. So whilst Bill reports: “Times have changed. We are no longer pariahs,” yet he also suggests: “we are only echoing . . . the orthodox churches.”

He identifies the “new enemy” as “Atheist Assemblies” with their strap-line: “Live better; help often; wonder more.” But Bill rightly
negates any capitulation to their ploys and instead challenges us: “Are our dissenting days finished?” He insightfully claims: “Our dissent, in part, must be from the prevailing mind-set of our time . . . that all the major questions about the nature of our existence have been satisfactorily answered; that . . . we have no need for religion.”

Note that as a Unitarian he uses the term religion in the singular. And in so doing recreates its original scientific meaning as defined by our
Classic Jesus; and as demonstrated in authentic science. Religion is a dynamic process, which Genesis symbolically describes as the “Breath of
Life” and also as the “Tree of Life”; which Stephen Hawking equates scientifically to the “Mind of God”; and which, in our common sense
experience, we call the “Meaning of Life”.

Bill is also able to spot those who masquerade as authentic scientists but are not and try to disguise their “religious belief . . . in the
Prosaic Naturalist’s creed . . . Big Bang, Evolution, Randomness.” While those terms are not authentic science, the sequence is. For Bill is not
alone in pointing out the fallacy of “Christopher Hitchens and Co” in their failing to understand, as does Nils Bohr (and our Classic Jesus),
that: “the opposite of a correct statement is a false statement; but the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

And as he states: “Evolution may well be true” but it is not “purposeless”, or driven “exclusively by . . . natural selection”; otherwise, it is just “a religious dogma” and life is, “in the words of Macbeth, ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.” Yet Bill, despite his best intentions, is as susceptible to false certainty or false science as Hitchens and Co.

By embracing the idea of “possibilism” (misleadingly defined by David Eagleman as “an appeal for intellectual humility”, but more correctly
understood by Bill as a fact of quantum physics), which he terms “open-mindedness”, he uses research in astrology, first to sustain his
earlier book, The Gospel and the Zodiac, and now to confound atheistic orthodoxy. But, whilst in his book his open-mindedness is refreshing, his current attempt to validate his argument by using personal zodiacal characteristics is depressing.

His rhetorical question: “shouldn’t genuine rationalists, genuine freethinkers, genuine inquirers, genuine Unitarians and others . . . look .
. . with a genuinely open mind?” applies well to his book; but here it does not. Likewise his call to Unitarians is logically valid, for “this is our
tradition . . . this is Unitarianism”; yet he seemingly overlooks that his unvalidated claims also “insult the soul”.

Finally, Bill’s basic argument is still valid: Unitarians can empower 21st century Dissent, by seeing that Nils Bohr not only defines with
certainty and authenticity the paradox of science but also of religion: “the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

Yours classically,

maikel annahlee, Sydney

From Quest (ANZUUA*), Winter [May] 2014, Journal of the Australian & New Zealand Unitarian-Universalist Association