Gene Expression

Who believes in astrology?

John Hawks points me to a “He said, she said,” piece which wonders whether there is an inverse relationship between belief in the paranormal and religion. The basic thesis is that the mind abhors a vacuum so without institutionally guided supernatural beliefs people simply revert to “default” intuitions. The article doesn’t come to any conclusion, citing contradictory results. So of course I decided to look at the GSS. Specifically, two variables, ASTROSCI and SCITEST3, which query how scientific individuals believe astrology to be. I paired them up with belief in God, GOD, highest degree attained, DEGREE, and correct number of vocabulary words, WORDSUM. Since people complain about the GSS’s ghetto graphs I just reformatted them into an HTML table. You can see the raw proportions below. After the fact I was curious about political orientation, POLVIEWS, and noted that liberals were more likely to accept astrology as scientific than conservatives. In any case, I found

1) Only a mild correlation between lack of god belief and skepticism of astrology

2) Stronger correlation between intelligence (vocabulary) and degree attainment and skepticism

ASTROSCI – "Astrology is scientific"
  Very Sort of Not at all  
Don’t believe 7 30.6 62.3
No way to found out 3.7 17.1 79.2
Some higher power 5.2 27.3 67.5
Believe sometimes 9.3 21.8 68.9
Believe but doubts 3.7 29.2 67.0
Know god exists 4.7 28.1 67.3
< High school 9.8 44.4 45.8
High school 6.1 31.2 62.7
Junior college 1.8 22.8 75.3
Bachelor 2.4 16.9 80.7
Graduate 0.3 12.2 87.5
Wordsum (Vocab)      
0 14.3 29.1 56.6
1 11.7 32.8 55.5
2 9.0 51.9 39.1
3 10.7 31.4 57.9
4 0.6 40.7 58.6
5 3.8 35.2 61
6 6.1 26.2 67..6
7 4.5 18.4 77.1
8 2.9 17.9 79.1
9 0 18.8 81.2
10 0 14.3 85.7
SCITEST3 – "Astrology has some scientific truth"
  Definitely Probably Probably not Definitely not  
Don’t believe 15.3 26.7 19.1 38.9
No way to found out 6.3 30.8 30.6 32.3
Some higher power 10.2 30 31.7 28.1
Believe sometimes 11.6 38.7 31.8 17.9
Believe but doubts 7.9 41.6 29.7 20.9
Know god exists 10.0 45.5 22.5 21.9
< High school 15.7 53.5 18.9 12.0
High school 9.9 46.8 24.4 18.9
Junior college 10.1 33.1 27.2 29.6
Bachelor 7.3 29 29.6 34.1
Graduate 3.2 26.1 29.5 41.1
Wordsum (Vocab)        
0 30.6 69.4 0 0
1 31.9 49.7 4.6 13.7
2 24.1 50.5 19.6 5.8
3 9.2 64.8 21.1 4.9
4 13.9 55.1 17.1 13.9
5 10.8 52.8 22 14.4
6 7.5 46.1 24.5 21.9
7 8.8 37.7 30 23.5
8 8.9 22.4 36.2 32.5
9 5.3 26.5 26.2 42
10 0.6 19.3 36.7 43.4


  1. #1 RogerT
    August 24, 2008

    I’m an atheist, but astrology makes a certain kind of sense to me, in the sense that the day of your birth can affect your outcome. It’s obvious that summer-born children will have different personalities than winter-born kids. Of course, comparisons can only be made when looking at the same geographic area. It’s all just another part of nurture.

  2. #2 yogi-one
    August 24, 2008

    The results look understandable.

    I’m probably a “sort-of” with a high vocab, and here’s my thoughts. Disclaimer: I have had astrology sessions done for me by recognized and published authors in the field, and obtain what I consider to be useful results.

    Here are the things that astrology DID NOT do for me. I want to emphasize that both of my astrologers told me that these things WERE NOT POSSIBLE through astrology:

    1. predict any particular future event in my life
    2. teach me anything about science

    The sessions were more like counseling sessions. The chart was used as a reference. Neither astrologer was particularly stuck to an interpretation of the chart. Rather, they were more interested in what I thought about the chart. They were also very observant of me.

    In other words, the chart was being used as a tool for me to project some of my issues onto, then the astrologer used that info in a counseling format with me.

    Counselors and psychologists have used psychological tests and tools all along to help them determine a client’s issues and personality traits.

    I think the proper way to understand astrology is as a counseling methodology. Any good counselor knows that being stuck in psychological theories or cookie-cutter interpretations is not as valuable as ‘reading’ the client through his contacts and subsequent personal appearance, then feeding back to the client anything they think might help the client.

    Because astrology uses math, people think that it is scientific. It is not. A good astrologer is a humanistic astrologer, and will throw the math into the back seat while he reads his client intuitively.

    There’s lots of programs that can do the math now, and astrologers can drum up a chart in a couple of minutes with the appropriate software. The chart is a device which helps the astrologer get a ‘read’ on the client, much in the same way any psychologist might ask a patient to do a few tests and use the results to get a read on the patient.

    It is not science. But that does not mean it has no value.

  3. #3 John Emerson
    August 24, 2008

    In the Librarything “Unsuggestion” search, there’s a very strong mrgative correlation between Christian books and fantasy, romance, the occult, or New Age books. Much more so than between Christian books and serious literature or philosophy.

    Within serious literature, Christians did seem to avoid the more erotic books (Madame Bovary or even Wuthering Heights).

  4. #4 Susan
    August 25, 2008

    I don’t believe in astrology at all. I’m an athiest and a skeptic so I suppose it has a connection (for me at least). I have an older sister who spends a lot of time doing people’s charts and attending groups that also do each others’s charts. A lot of conversation with her friends is about astrology. She says she doesn’t believe in it and that it’s all “for fun”, but she sure spends a lot of time involved in something she doesn’t believe in. I think the number of people who believe in astrology is higer then one might expect because if someone is fairly educated and intelligent it would look kind of ridiculous for them to claim a belief in it. They keep their belief a secret. Anyone who spends a lot of time with anything to do with astrology believes in astrology, no matter what they say. I don’t know why they believe in it, but that’s their business I guess.

  5. #5 Susan Ferguson
    August 25, 2008

    “In the Librarything “Unsuggestion” search, there’s a very strong negative correlation between Christian books and fantasy, romance, the occult, or New Age books. Much more so than between Christian books and serious literature or philosophy.”

    I don’t know statistic wise how true this is but personally I’ve known a lot of Christans (Catholics mostly for some reason)who are really into sci-fi fantasy. Especially space fantasy sci-fi like Star Trek.

  6. #6 Lassi Hippeläinen
    August 25, 2008

    The “don’t believe” group must contain also people who have religious feelings without gods, like Buddhists and Shinto. Some of them even have astrology built into their religion in one way or another. The “no way to find out” group is probably more closely atheistic.

    It would be interesting to know the numbers of people in those groups, and how they break down to subgroups by religious background.

    yogi-one: “Neither astrologer was particularly stuck to an interpretation of the chart. Rather, they were more interested in what I thought about the chart. They were also very observant of me.”

    Like in any other form of watching into the future, the performer is an expert in cold reading, and uses some method to make the customer tell what he/she wants to hear. The tools (e.g. playing cards or palmistry) may look different, but the basic methods are the same.

  7. #7 razib
    August 25, 2008

    lassi, you can go to the GSS and look for the GOD variable. just enter GOD into row and RELIGID for column. in fact there are hardly any eastern religionists compared to the number of atheist protestants 😉

  8. #8 razib
    August 25, 2008

    limited to religion = none

    don’t believe in god
    definitely true – 19.7
    probably true – 22.9
    probably not true – 8.2
    definitely not true – 49.2

    no way to find out
    definitely true – 5.2
    probably true – 41
    probably not true – 34.2
    definitely not true – 19.6

    some higher power
    definitely true – 5.4
    probably true – 30.1
    probably not true – 34.5
    definitely not true – 30

    believe sometimes
    definitely true – 0
    probably true – 33.3
    probably not true – 19.6
    definitely not true – 47.6

    believe but doubts
    definitely true – 17.3
    probably true – 40.3
    probably not true – 25.2
    definitely not true – 17.3

    know god exists
    definitely true – 15.5
    probably true – 53.2
    probably not true – 12.9
    definitely not true – 18.4

    sample size so small it hurts 😉

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