The liberal religious and astrology

By Razib Khan | August 28, 2011 12:51 am

In the comments below a weird fact came to light: it does not seem that liberal/Democrat reduced skepticism toward astrology vs. conservatives/Republicans can be explained just by a secularization, and therefore diminished Christian orthodoxy. There are two reasons for this. First, on a priori grounds most people are religious, liberals and conservatives. The difference between the religious and irreligious on this issue would have to be rather large, and the different apportionment across ideology to be striking, for it to drive the division which seems so robust. Second, within the results it seems rather clear that the gap between liberals and conservatives is most evident amongst the religious of both! In other words, secular liberals and conservatives tend to agree (and be skeptical) in relation to astrology. While religious conservatives are skeptical of astrology, as one would expect from orthodox conservative Christians, religious liberals are not. The table below shows some results.

Astrology is….Very scientificSort of scientificNot at all scientific
No religionLiberal62272
Atheist & agnosticLiberal71974
Believe in higher powerLiberal32671
Believe in god sometimesLiberal12871
Believe in god with doubtsLiberal32968
Know god existsLiberal63559
Southern BaptistLiberal113356
United MethodistLiberal41383
Bible is Word of GodLiberal84151
Bible is Inspired Word of GodLiberal52867
Bible is Book of FablesLiberal32373
Humans developed from animalsLiberal42571
Humans did not develop from animalsLiberal73756

Observe the huge difference between Creationist and fundamentalist liberals and conservatives!

MORE ABOUT: Astrology

Comments (13)

  1. John Emerson

    Highest numbers:
    conservative, believes in God sometimes 19;
    liberal Southern Baptist 11;,
    conservative no religion 9;
    conservative evolutionists 8;
    conservative Bible is fables 8;
    liberal Bible is Word of God 8.
    liberal anti-evolutionists 7.

    In all these the politics and the religion are out of synch. So you could say that belief in astrology is a sign of stress — conservative doubters and liberal believers.

    At 7 you get liberal atheists and conservative Southern Baptists who are the first ones where the politics and the religion agree. The liberals are presumably New Ageish.

    Astrology is not orthodox in any Christian or intellectual tradition, and belief in astrology might just be a marker of doubt, cognitive dissonance, or desperation. In my experience it often is found with people who don’t feel that they have control of their lives and have little confidence in anything but are reaching out for salvation. From this POV the liberal atheist astrology people and the Southern Baptist astrology people probably aren’t very stable either in their atheism, their Baptist belief, and probably not even their belief in astrology.

    Prediction of the future was mainstream and orthodox in China, India, and the pagan Mediterranean but is regarded with suspicion by the monotheistic traditions. Historically it could be regarded either as a pagan survival or as a survival of proto-science.

    A correlation with questions about confidence in the future, confidence in the general rightness of the world, confidence in the authorities and in our system in general might be illuminating.

  2. Guy P. Harrison

    Interesting stuff. Thanks for posting.

    I have written extensively about religion and other weird beliefs such as astrology. One thing I have found is that polls on astrology can be misleading because many fundamentalist Christians will state formally that they do not believe in astrology. In casual conversation, however, many admit to fearing it as a “tool of Satan”. They see it as very real but forbidden by their belief system.

    When these people say they do not “believe” in astrology, they are confusing “believe” with “follower of”. They do believe in it but choose not to participate in it. Unfortunately this sloppy thinking is a problem for polling data.

  3. Timothy Aldinger

    Is it a simple matter of crossing religiosity with intelligence across the lib/cons spectrum? In other words, does intelligence correspond positively with religiosity on the conservative spectrum, and vice versa?

  4. The data could be picking up an a resonance of the liturgical v. non-liturgical dimension in Christianity.

    Liturgical Christian denominations afford a great deal of importance to seasonal cycles in the liturgical calendar. Each liturgical year progresses from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Holy Week to Easter to Pentecost and then back to Advent again. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and High church Lutherans and Episcopalians, at least, recognize Saints Days in the church calendar.

    In contrast, evangelical Christian denominations typically disavow all aspects of the liturgical calendar except Christmas and Easter (with dates calculated according to the Roman Catholic method), and often don’t even acknowledge the association between Easter and adult baptism (historically, adults seeking to be baptized underwent catachetical study during Lent and were baptized on Easter). Many evangelical Christians I’ve met don’t have anything more than an inkling of what Advent or Lent involve.

    Also, the liturgical Christians tend to put more emphasis on the astrological aspects of the biblical nativity story (the star of Bethlehem, etc.), while evangelical Christians tend to focus more on Acts and the New Testament epistles, neither of which has much astrological content.

    This has a strongly astrological character that is even more astrological when one understands the considerations that go into setting the date for Easter which involves reconciling the date of Passover in the Jewish lunar calendar with the Roman solar calendar system. The need to calculate a date for Easter is one of the reasons for the long standing patronage of the Vatican of astronomers (some of whom have been prominent even in modern cosmology discussions among legitimate physicists).

  5. AG

    Underclass people might be liberal. But their IQ might have some thing to do with this. As we know, nams are more religious and liberal than others. If NAM believe asrology, it is no surprise. Religious conservatives might be proles or middle class people

  6. You mean to tell me that 1 out of every 4 atheists thinks that astrology has at least some scientific merit? I hope for their sake that the science in question is psychology.

  7. #5, you should actually use the GSS instead of just offering your opinion. i don’t care about your opinion, since i’ve usually wondered about most of the issues commenters seem to bring up. for example, i already corrected for race/ethnicity, and the relationship seems to hold for non-hispanic whites, though diminished (blacks and hispanics do accept astrology, and tend to be liberal, etc.). if it was otherwise i probably would have pointed that out (i check for obvious background confounds like sex and race usually).

  8. John Emerson

    Astrology was taken seriously by scientists, as a hypothesis at least, until 1600 or 1650 (Francis Bacon and Kepler mediated between astrologers and anti-astrologers.) The rejection of astrology by Galileo and Descartes has been claimed (by one author) as the beginning of modern science. But Galileo also rejected action at a distance in general, so he didn’t accept Newton’s law of gravity.

  9. 8. John Emerson Says:
    The rejection of astrology by Galileo and Descartes has been claimed (by one author) as the beginning of modern science.
    Which is exactly why the astrologers had them both assassinated. Tragic story, that…

    Seriously, though – I wonder if some of the people who answered “sort of scientific” were simply thinking of the fact that astrology bases its conclusions on the actual gravity-based motions of the planets, and doesn’t assume the planets to be towed by angels or something. “Sort of scientific” is open to pretty broad interpretation.

  10. Clark

    I’m not sure anyone liked Newton’s action at a distance. It did go against the style of mechanics that Descartes had promoted and certainly the way of thinking I think most took from Newton’s mechanics.

    It’s interesting though in that you are completely right that by that time science was all about rejecting occult influences. (In the technical sense of hidden direct causes) Gravity seemed the lone holdout. But perhaps this also shows that the real value in science is accepting what the data says regardless of whether it matches your expectations arising out of your metaphysics.

    I don’t know the details of Newton’s life but I’ve long wondered if his odd alchemical and religious studies made him more open to his approach to gravity. Of course nearly all the scientists of that era had a hand in both camps but clearly no one liked that spooky action at a distance.

    While the ontology and cosmology for astrology are kind of silly to the modern mind ultimately the real issue is that they are empirically falsifiable. The “successes” are really just traditional magic tricks (in the sense of performers) using vague answers and preparing people to expect an answer. I love listening to Penn Jullette on a lot of these topics since he knows how the magicians do their tricks.

  11. Douglas Knight

    It is a common claim that Newton’s mysticism allowed him to postulate action at a distance. Actually, he didn’t like it, either, and said that it must be only a practical theory and not fundamental.

  12. jyt

    Just read all the postings and comments on this and wanted to offer a couple of thoughts.

    I don’t pay attention to astrology so I have no dog in that hunt.

    However, a friend who is big-time into astrology (does people’s charts with piles of books around him based on exact latitude/longitude and time of birth) talks about astrology as the result of centuries of observation and correlation-making, and he also says that people who are seriously into it (and who keep a foot in the contemporary world) do not speculate about mechanism or causation (the stars do not influence you) — it is purely correlative. So — errantly or not, I have a concept that there is “real astrology” and “popular astrology”, the latter being the silly/vague “readings” in the newspaper and that see causation in planets and stars. And I have a corresponding notion that “real astrology” is “sort of scientific” as it is (or at least claims to be) based on the scientific practices of observation, data collection, and analysis…

    To the extent that popular ideas of astrology contain some echoes of these ideas, would it be a big surprise if a lot of people thought it was “sort of scientific”?

    Also I have no idea, but I wonder if anybody has ever done experiments using the scientific method (as much as possible) in an astrological framework. Say have Y “real” astrologers do charts for N people and a) see how much the predictions replicate for a given subject and b) see what actually happens. Hypothesis formation (prediction) and experiment (compare predictions to each other and then to what happens).

  13. Clark

    Douglas I know Newton didn’t like action at a distance. The claim his ontology (which isn’t the same as his mysticism by any means) enabled him to reach the view isn’t the same as claiming he liked it. There are options easily open to my thinking that I might well disagree with but which my education and thinking predisposes me to notice. For instance I think neoPlatonism is complete bunk but I’ve read enough on it that I recognize and understand a lot of thinking. Ditto strict atoms and even Descartes form of vortex theory. That background of mine opens me up to seeing possibilities someone else perhaps less versed in that history would.

    Likewise I notice Razib picks up a lot of things from his familiarity and reading of Roman and eastern history that I’m completely ignorant of. These things really do affect the kinds of patterns we notice. It’s not like the patterns Newton saw were any different from those others saw.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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