When is a “Skeptic” not a Skeptic?

Zip Dobyns

As readers know, I have been exchanging astrological information and theories with a newsgroup on the Internet. I was told about this group by Julienne Mullette, the founder of ISAR, who had been participating in its astrology exchanges for some months. In the summer of 1995, Julie started writing to and receiving posts from a newsgroup which called themselves “skeptics.” Julie started writing about astrology and ran into a firestorm of attacks. Most of the “skeptics” who responded to her defense of astrology turned out to be only skeptical about paranormal phenomena and astrology. They appeared to be “true believers” in the theories of materialistic science. They kept demanding physical forces to explain astrology. Julie pulled me, my son Mark, and Sara Klein into the running debate as reinforcements for her defense of astrology.

I said there was no point in talking to materialists, but Julie kept hoping we could make them think. Mark and I both wrote responses pointing out that the underlying issue was a metaphysical one—that no one could “prove” the nature of ultimate reality. We wrote that it was an act of faith whether we accepted the view of “science” that meaningless, random, physical forces were ultimate reality, or we thought that some form of consciousness could exist beyond the physical world; that the world was inherently meaningful and astrology was a convenient way to “see” that meaning.

The blast that came back from the “owner” of the skeptic list was like a kid having a temper tantrum that anyone would dare to question his beliefs and to propose such nonsense. Was it Shakespeare who said “Methinks he doth protest too much?” I wrote back that the degree to which a contrary opinion roused intense emotion showed the degree to which we were invested in our own opinions. A true skeptic would respond to a new theory with genuine interest in the evidence for it. Based on the evidence, he could then continue to doubt it or decide that it was worth more investigation. A response that the person offering the theory is stupid or crazy reveals a “true believer” who is threatened by a contrary belief.

The intensity of the attack of the “owner” of the “skeptic” newsgroup reminded me of the well-known group which calls itself “The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal,” or CSICOP. (Mark refers to them as the “sky cops.”) The leader-founder of CSICOP is a philosopher named Paul Kurtz, who, at the time, was a university professor in Buffalo, NY and the editor of the journal of the American Humanist Association. In 1975, Kurtz joined forces with another non-scientist named Lawrence Jerome and an astronomer named Bok to write a statement denouncing astrology. Some 100 plus “scientists” were persuaded to sign this statement. One of the signers when asked by a friend how much he knew about astrology, acknowledged that he did not know anything about it. When the friend then inquired why he had signed the statement, he responded “they asked me to.” This is science?

Though Kurtz and his allies set out to discredit all “non-scientific beliefs,” including all paranormal phenomena and religion, the main initial target was the work of Michel and Françoise Gauquelin. The Gauquelins had analyzed the birth charts of thousands of famous professionals and had found specific planets in specific parts of the sky more often than would occur by chance. For the sports champions, Mars was in what the Gauquelins called the “power zones” 22% of the time. Mars was in these areas at birth only 17% of the time for the general population. Since thousands of individuals were analyzed, the odds were immense that this was not a random effect.

The odds against chance were increased still more since additional groups of famous athletes showed the same pattern, and famous military leaders and doctors (mostly surgeons) also were found to have Mars in these sectors significantly often. Jupiter was in these sectors for famous actors and politicians; the Moon was there for famous writers; Saturn was there for famous scientists and also for the military leaders. Though the general phenomena included several planets and several samples of famous individuals, it was called the “Mars effect” by opponents trying to downplay it. The Gauquelin “power zones” cover approximately the 12th house in the Placidus system and 10 degrees of the 1st house and the 9th house plus 10 degrees of the 10th house.

Originally, Kurtz and Jerome were confident that additional studies would discredit the Gauquelin results or that they could find statistical errors in the work. When Michel Gauquelin hinted at legal action in response to the attacks on his honesty, Kurtz began a frantic search for more competent scientists who could help him. The story of the resultant fiasco was told by an astronomer named Dennis Rawlins who tried to help Kurtz and discovered eventually, to his dismay, that Kurtz was not an objective investigator but a proselytizer of his own biased beliefs.

Rawlins described the whole episode in an article in the October 1981 issue of Fate magazine. Fate was later purchased by Llewellyn Publications and reprints of the article may still be available from Llewellyn. It should be in the hands of every astrologer who has to deal with hostile materialists who call themselves “scientists.”

Rawlins starts the story of his experiences with: “I used to believe it was simply a figment of the National Enquirer’s weekly imagination that the Science Establishment would cover up evidence for the occult. But that was in the era B.C.—Before the Committee. I refer to the “Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal” (CSICOP) of which I am a cofounder and on whose ruling Executive Council (generally called the Council) I served for some years.

“I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism.....

“The irony of all this particularly distresses me since both in print and before a national television audience I have stated that the conspiratorial mentality of believers in occultism presents a real political danger in a voting democracy. Now I find that the very group I helped found has partially justified this mentality.”

Rawlins’ article, Starbaby, is much too long for me to do it justice, and I hope that any of our readers who deal with skeptical scientists will get and read a reprint of the article. Rawlins summarizes the saga as a dumb, arrogant mistake by three CSICOP Fellows in 1975 and 1976 which was followed in 1977 by a report which was a deliberate deception and cover-up of the truth about the Gauquelins’ results. Then in 1978, Kurtz tried to bribe Rawlins to keep him silent, and, when that failed, to secretly eject him from CSICOP while Randi threatened him. Kurtz was successful in expelling Rawlins from the group and Rawlins turned to Fate magazine to expose the dishonesty of Kurtz, Randi, Zelen, and others. But the readers of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, which Kurtz founded when the Humanists dismissed him as editor of their journal, were assured that CSICOP had successfully discredited the Gauquelins. So much for the impartial objectivity of science. Science is practiced by scientists who are also human. Many individuals react to challenges to their beliefs as they react to an earthquake—with panic.

I was peripherally involved in fighting the attacks on astrology in the middle 1970s, and met Kurtz a couple of times on TV shows. He gave me his birth data, which is unfortunately lost somewhere in the chaos in my study. I remember that he had his Sun and Mercury in Sagittarius, which fits his profession as philosopher, professor, and writer. He also had the south lunar node and Jupiter in Capricorn in the ninth house where they indicate a lesson (the south node and the sign of Saturn) in the search for “truth” (ninth house). Later, I learned more about his personal reasons for hostility toward astrology and the paranormal. His wife had divorced him and was studying astrology, his daughter had eloped with an occultist, and his brother was teaching parapsychology. He was fighting his whole family when he attacked psychic phenomena and astrology. I also learned that an astronomer who attacked astrology on one of the TV shows was the son of an astrologer. He was obviously fighting mother. The driving motivations in our lives are not always conscious.

Copyright © 1995 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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