Ancient astronomy and astrology

The Logical Place

by Tim Harding

(An edited version of this essay was published in The Skeptic magazine, December 2013, Vol 33 No 4. The essay is based on a talk presented to the Mordi Skeptics in October 2013).

Today, there are distinct boundaries between the modern science of astronomy and the pseudoscience known as astrology.  But in ancient times, these boundaries were not so clear.  Both fields of study used a common set of astronomical observations – but for different purposes.  The practical purposes of ancient astronomy were celestial navigation and the development of calendars of seasonal dates and events (such as the flooding of rivers) for the planting of crops.  In contrast, the purpose of astrology was to interpret celestial phenomena as signs of divine communications.

Long before the invention of the telescope, ancient observations and predictions could only be of celestial objects visible to the naked eye.  This restricted astronomical and…

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