The following interview by Richard Dawkins - whom you may expect me to think of as something of a hero - is of a man who writes a weekly horoscope in a British national newspaper. For the record - let's just get this out of the way - I have enjoyed reading some of Dawkins' work and as a writer I think he is refreshingly blunt and adept at getting his ideas across to comparative intelectual blobs of slime such as me, however as a TV personality, or interviewer, or debater, I think he struggles. I don't rate his style, his ability to think on his feet or his ability to think outside of the box in a short space of time. I agree with a great deal (not all) of what he has to say, but in person at least, he frequently makes a mess of saying it.
In the following interview we see Dawkins politely interview a professional astrologer perceived to be at or near to the top of his field (I won't dignify it as a 'profession') and it is the astrologer who is the one to watch and listen carefully to. The clip is a little more than 45 minutes long. Watch it before I give my short opinion below.
Hopefully I put enough space between the link and these comments not to spoil your enjoyment of the clip!
I'll limit myself to an umbrella approach to the interview rather than a critique of each statement (mainly because I feel like crap today and have little energy). I'll concentrate on credibility.
As I intimated above, I find the vertically-challenged professor to be, at best, an average interviewer (I'm sure he would never make grand claims for his abilities, since he is predominantly an academic), however the questions that he did ask seemed to regularly make the astrologer somewhat uncomfortable - even though the Prof. never really went for the jugular. I would, for example, expect the professional astrologer to explain his understanding of how the planets - sorry, 'signifiers' work; how their position has any significance in human daily life. I was struck by the fact that he clearly couldn't explain the idea beyond a very vague generalisation.
In fact, he couldn't give any explanation of anything; he fussed and faffed (that's a northern English coloquialism) around the more pressing (but still so polite) questions without actually coming forward with any real information. He was even unable to give a half decent potted history of astrology and seemed to fudge any attempt to narrow down details or historical facts about it. Yes, I am happy to acknowlledge that astrology has been around for thousands of years, but that is really all that he told us. How strange, for a man who makes his living from it, not to have such information on the tip of his tongue, ready to extol.
The astrologer's interpretation of astrology's success (and he used that word, rather than tell us how effective it has been, or how beneficial it has been - interestingly, he instead used a term more associated with business - was its longevity, its persistence and its growth around the world. That, apparently is his definition of success. Nothing about accuracy, meaningful effect or positive influence, and his measures could equally be applied to any of the world's religions, abrahamic or otherwise. It's also even more true of crime...
In other words, he's talking nonsense and failing to establish any credibility for his chosen field. I doubt very much (on a 99% to 1% ratio) that he believes any of what he is saying to his readers. The witnessed fact that he was not in the slightest bit interested in a genuinely unbiased test of astrological pronouncements for their random or accurately targeted results speaks volumes - in fact, that single fact alone destroys any credibility that he thought he had established. Given an opportunity to prove their point, any person with a genuine belief in what they do would relish the chance to provide stong evidence to support their own position.
In Britain, the criminal courts (quite rightly) have the right to draw an inference from a suspect's refusing to answer questions about something he or she is accused of doing. Quite fairly, the court is allowed to think over whether, when qestioned about th eoffence, an innocent person would not seek every opportunity to tell the truth and have their version of events made available to the court from the start. The same principle applies here - the astrologer is refusing to even have the questions asked - and it damns this foolish man - a man who calls himself an astrologer, but who has so little faith in the crap that he uses to make money, that he (correctly, in my view) doubts its ability to stand up to the very open, clearly explained and obviously unbiased experiment that was suggested.
The jury isn't out, it's given its verdict and gone back to the real world. Astrolgy: bronze age bullshit.