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Skyscript Astrology Forum

James Randi's $1M Challenge
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GarryP
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Posted: Fri Jan 02, 2004 3:44 pm    Post subject: James Randi's $1M Challenge Reply with quote

I've just posted an exchange between James Randi and Dennis Elwell - on the subject of JR's $1M paranormal challenge - on my site, url is:

http://www.astrozero.btinternet.co.uk/jref.htm

There will probably be two or three follow-ups added in the coming days.

A question which interests me, which hasn't been broached so far in the dialogue, is this: Is it in the nature of astrology for it to 'perform' on command in order to win $1M for an astrologer? Personally I'm very much inclined to think not.
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Tom
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Posted: Sat Jan 03, 2004 12:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Gary,

Interesting exchange.



Quote:
A question which interests me, which hasn't been broached so far in the dialogue, is this: Is it in the nature of astrology for it to 'perform' on command in order to win $1M for an astrologer? Personally I'm very much inclined to think not.



I think you're right. John Frawley tells a story on himself, that might even be in your book Astrology in the Year Zero. I hope I get this accurately. He said he made a string of predictions, I think it was for the opening round of the World Cup and picked 100% of the games correctly including the upsets. Now first rounds of any tournaments are going to yield at least 75% victories for the favorite, probably more. But 100% is pretty impressive. Well he must have published the results and created an instant demand for his predictions amongst gamblers and set about doing the same thing for the second round. This time he was being paid or making money on this somehow. The results were disasterous. He found the idea of making money got in the way of his astrological reasoning. He was expected to perform for others and it messed with the process.

I can see what happened. His knowledge of the sport got in the way of his astrology. This is the sort of thing that "on demand" performances produce, a whole new set of pressures that introduce a wholenewset of considerations outsside the realmofastrology. I used to follow all the American major sports including football, but as I got older I lost interest. A couple of years ago a Super Bowl matchup was lopsided as far as the bookies were concerned. I knew about the difference in the point spread, but had no idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams. An astrologer buddy and I did the charts and I picked the underdog. She told me I was nuts there was no way etc etc etc. She was and is a fan and followed the league. I stuck by my guns and won. Her knowledge of the sport got in the way of her astrology.

Let's see, the past two Super Bowls have been won by underdogs. I picked them both. Will I be able to perfrom as well this time?


Tom
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GarryP
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Posted: Sat Jan 03, 2004 11:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Tom,

Yep, that Frawley quotation can be found on p.191 of 'Year Zero' - or alternatively, in Issue 116 of the wonderful 'Traditional Astrologer' mag. What Frawley said is:

Quote:
After my TV predictions, I found myself under pressure from various quarters to provide lucrative predictions, & did disastrously. It's only now, when these people have washed their hands of me & I can do it for fun again that I'm getting predictions right. It's a question of focus: like in tennis - if your focus is on hitting the ball, you'll do fine; if it's on lifting the trophy, you'll lose. So in astrology - the focus must be purely on the prediction, not on the consequences of that prediction.


As I remember it, those predictions would have been mainly finals - most memorably the Bayern Munich v Manchester United Champions League Final, where he was filmed calmly assuring everyone that Man U were going to win, even though they were 1-0 down with 5 minutes to go.

I don't think his technique has ever worked very well in the opening stages of the World Cup - these days he tends to emphasise that the more important and decisive the game, the better the technique will work. And as someone who lost a few bob by using the Frawley method in the opening stages of the '98 World Cup, I definitely think he's right on this point!

It looks to me as if there are at least three things which might have a bearing on the validity of an astrological judgement on a sports event:

1) How relevant astrology is to the event in the first place - given Frawley's idea that it works better for finals than for more run-of-the-mill games

2) Is the astrologer able to exclude pressure - external or self-created - in order to reach an unbiassed judgement

3) Is there a real & genuine need to know - I think here of Deb's piece 'Judge not upon every slight motion'

http://www.skyscript.co.uk/horary_considerations.html

and wonder if just winning money, or winning an argument with sceptics, may count as "trifling occasions"...
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Tom
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Posted: Mon Jan 05, 2004 12:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
1) How relevant astrology is to the event in the first place - given Frawley's idea that it works better for finals than for more run-of-the-mill games

2) Is the astrologer able to exclude pressure - external or self-created - in order to reach an unbiassed judgement

3) Is there a real & genuine need to know - I think here of Deb's piece 'Judge not upon every slight motion'


Hi Gary,

Just a few short months ago, Deb, Sue, and I had a discussion about the importance of sport, Naturally, after their initial scoffing, they came to see things the man's way, i.e., sport is all important. Think I'm exaggerating about the importance? Well, if WWIII breaks out on Super Bowl Sunday, and TV coverage of the game is suspended, the damge caused by the rioting fans will far exceed anything a war could do.

1) John's observation is interesting but it was he who said in a different context "The saying is not 'as above so below every now and again.' " But there are problems. If two games are being played in the same proximity, and we use an event chart, how do we determine one from the other? Let's say the New York Giants (who actually play in New Jersey) are playing the Buffalo Bills and simultaneously, The Philadelphia Eagles are playing the Dallas Cowboys in Philadelphia. The charts produced give an ASC of aobut 30 minutes of arc difference. Does this mean that the underdogs or the favorites will win in both cases all the time? Of course not. But it isn't going to be easy to figure out who is who in each of the charts.

I saw a great example of charts giving the home team the ASC given by, I think, Lee Lehman. She used the final two games of the Stanley Cup Hockey Championship between the NY Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks. It worked well because of the distance between New York and Vancouver. I can't see how it would have worked if the Rangers were playing the NY Islanders whose arena is about 45 minutes from Madison Square Garden.

The point is that even if astrology works well in sporting contests, there is no "system" to fall back on or at least there is none discovered. Fralwey is close to completing a book on Sports Astrology but I think he needs a gentle prodding to get it to the publisher. Maybe he has the answer and he's waiting to make one last killing before he reveals his secrets.

Regarding unbiased judgments, I don't think they are possible in astrology or anywhere else. I don't know that being unbiased is an inherent asset either. Bias can certainly get in the way, just look at political predictions. I think I read this in A Case For Astrology. A philosopher of science said the only truly objective people are those who know nothing of the subject. There can be no objectivity without ignorance. I think if one is aware of his or her biases and acknowledges them, an honest judgment can result.

There is a genuine need to know if one wants to win money. Maybe you have to bet in order for the cosmos to work with you.

Tom
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Sue



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Posted: Tue Jan 06, 2004 4:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Just a few short months ago, Deb, Sue, and I had a discussion about the importance of sport, Naturally, after their initial scoffing, they came to see things the man's way, i.e., sport is all important.


Funny how the mind plays tricks on you as you get older. I can't seem to recall coming to see it this way at all. Rolling Eyes

Quote:
if WWIII breaks out on Super Bowl Sunday, and TV coverage of the game is suspended, the damge caused by the rioting fans will far exceed anything a war could do.


Well, can't they just postpone the bowling until after the war? Razz

I was interested in the difference between a 'Castle Besiegement' chart (according to the rules of Bonatti) and an ordinary battle chart. I was reading some work by Bernadette Brady and Lee Lehman on this but don't really know a lot about it. It seems that in a castle besiegement chart where one team is challenging the holder of the trophy, the holder of the trophy is placed on the fourth house cusp (the castle) and the challenger is placed on the Ascendant. This works in contests where the holder of the trophy is trying to defend what is theirs while the challenger tries to take it from them. In an ordinary battle chart, it is simply a contest between two rivals and they would be placed on the 1st/7th house cusps. I'm still not quite clear on when castle besiegement charts are appropriate. Bernadette gives examples of a boxing title, e.g. World Heavyweight champion where one person holds the title and the other challenges for it, or 'The Ashes' cricket series between Australia and England. This seems clear enough. Apparently Lee has used this method for the American Super Bowl (okay, so I know the Super Bowl isn't about bowling Laughing ) but I can't quite see how this works because I thought the Super Bowl was up for grabs each year with no one being considered the rightful holder of the trophy each year. Tom, perhaps you could enlighten me on this.
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Tom
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Posted: Tue Jan 06, 2004 6:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Well, can't they just postpone the bowling until after the war?


Umm It's a football game. It is, admitedly, a silly name for a football game, but it is a football game nonethless. Laughing

Tom
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Deb
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Posted: Wed Jan 07, 2004 12:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The best laugh I've had in ages. Looks like your attempts to convert us have failed dismally Tom.
Sad Confused Smile
I'm still catching up with all the jobs I didn't do over Christmas and New Year, so I haven't had time to read the dialogue on Garry's site yet.
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Deb
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Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2004 3:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Is it in the nature of astrology for it to 'perform' on command in order to win $1M for an astrologer? Personally I'm very much inclined to think not.


I would never expect astrology to do this in the kind of astrology I practice. Astrology gives me evidence of connection to a spiritually animated environment that responds to our needs, and from what I have experienced, the greater the need, the more earnest we are in our attempts to find a way to manipulate difficult situations with consideration of others as well as ourselves, the more directly it responds. I am not against the view that natural astrological factors are capable of proof, but I don’t believe that anyone has yet found an efficient way to isolate those factors in a way that responds to independent testing. Rather than being disheartened by that, I’m comforted by the knowledge that there is intelligence inherent in astrology that expects us to raise ourselves up to it.

It is a lively and interesting exchange and I lie somewhere in the middle where I recognise both viewpoints as being equally sincere. I first read Elwell’s detailed response to ‘The Researchers’ and think that, as ever, Elwell deserves to be congratulated for being prepared to challenge the critics on their own terms. He does an admirable defence job in demonstrating that if their interest is to deride astrology’s claims than he can just as easily deride theirs. And nobody does that better than Dennis Ewell.

But what we seem to end up with is a never ending stalemate of disproof. These are really academic mind games that circulate around the shallow perimeters of astrology. The problem is that those shallow perimeters attract all the attention. A great deal of the argument revolved around the issue of whether it is possible to identify our sun signs through knowledge of personality traits. How futile can we get? Yet look how many people are out there trying to make a quick buck on the back of perpetuating this simplistic nonsense. James Randi gave the example of one astrologer who tried to claim the prize this way. If I had a million dollars to spare I would love to be the one saying “what rubbish – let’s see if you can prove astrology that way – put up or shut up”.

I don’t have a problem with the criteria of James Randi’s challenge at all. Astrologers wouldn’t even feel the need to defend themselves against the fact that the prize has never been claimed were it not for the way we allow astrology to be presented to the public, as if it is the simple solution to all of life’s mysteries: just pay enough money and astrology can tell you anything you want to know. It is because we have allowed astrology to be marketed as a black and white subject that our critics respond with cynicism, ridicule and challenges comprising of black and white tests.

Unlike Elwell, I don’t feel the need to defend astrology, I suppose I feel that the astrology I most admire and respect is above and beyond the academic attacks. But for the rest of it, there is much that I am happy to have criticised and in fact I believe that a certain criticism plays a useful part in deflating the sometimes irrational ego of the astrological community at large. We are too full of presenting astrology in an exaggerated and over-simplified light. Dennis Elwell is quite right where he states that one of the problems of astrology is that it is client-driven and panders to the self-absorbed. There is an element within the accepted image of astrology today that I am embarrassed to be a part of, and I am sure I am not the only one. Rather than rushing to the defence of astrology every time it is attacked, why don’t astrologers act collectively to enforce a more realistic and sophisticated understanding that astrology has great potential for benefit but is also riddled with great potential for misuse, misunderstanding and oversimplification? Our main organisations and associations only seem interested in ways to make astrology more popular, but to whose benefit? (As an example I am thinking of the recent suggestion, promoted at the last AA conference, to have astrology redefined as a religion in order that it receives less stringent controls over its presentation on TV. Well no thank you - in my opinion the public have enough open doors to find their way through to astrology if they are interested without having to contort astrology into something it’s not just to get a few celeb astrologers a bit more air time).

Randi’s challenge seems to have been accepted as a criticism against astrology whereas in fact it is not. It is a simple statement that if anyone can prove astrology is unquestionably verifiable in a simplistic application of some of its established laws they will be the first to do so. It does all astrologers some good to remember that. We shouldn’t treat astrology as infallible and independent of the need for great consideration and judgement, or be unaware of the great mystery that remains in this subject. Those that take astrology too literally will sooner or later face a massive crisis when rules they thought were simple, constant and reliable call for us to stretch our consciousness up to the next level of understanding. Like Elwell has commented on many occasions, if the case for a reliable astrology had ever been proven we would all be driving around in limos and drinking champagne in our tea breaks.

Ultimately I think it is a healthy state to have astrology surrounded by critics because at the moment they seem to be the only ones that are acting to stop some of the outrageous claims that are being made under ‘commercial astrology’ becoming ever more popular. So I don’t mind if they are reminding us of scientific limitations, the difficulties of proving astrology statistically or observably, or taking a stance on moral obligations. (I actually found myself agreeing with Pope John Paul II’s New Year warning two years ago against those who rush out to diviners to foresee what the future holds instead of developing an attitude that seeks to use well the time that each one of us has available, motivated by understanding and a commitment to being responsible on a daily basis.)

Astrology has its place and within that place it deserves – and gets – respect. Whenever it becomes over-exposed or simplified to make it ‘easier’ and more popular, the claims of what astrology is capable of become naturally more extreme, creating an ever increasing scope for critics to justifiably come in with their attacks.
Most of them are only doing what I’d probably do myself if they weren’t there doing it for me.

(I also want to say Garry, that you deserve a lot of credit for making your site such a great platform for debate).
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Sue



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Posted: Mon Jan 12, 2004 10:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A couple of days ago I was re-reading 'The Researchers Researched' in light of Deb's post. I had the radio on in the background (something I very rarely do) but wasn't paying much attention. Something caught my attention when I heard the person speaking say something about scepticism and the need for continual questioning. I started listening and thought this person sounded reasonable - I agreed with his premis but not everything he said. Turns out I was listening to James Randi. I found that he made quite a lot of sense. He sounded far more reasonable than Richard Dawkins who was also interviewed and said that he believed shows such as 'The X-Files' were a pernicious influence because they manipulated people into believing in things that weren't true, such as ghosts.

I agree that astrologers leave themselves wide open to the criticism we attract from people like James Randi. I also believe we would all do well to be just as enquiring of the astrology we practice. I don't believe that astrology will ever be 'proved' by people putting themselves forward to match twelve Sun signs with twelve people. Astrology doesn't work that way and neither does scientific experimentation. I was thinking about what Deb said about being comforted by the knowledge that there is intelligence inherent in astrology that expects us to raise ourselves up to it. I was reminded of what Carl Jung had to say in regard to experimentation in his work on synchronicity and his testing of astrology. I found the quote and thought I would reproduce it here.

Quote:
Experiment consists in asking a definite question which excludes as far as possible anything disturbing and irrelevant. It makes conditions, imposes them on Nature, and in this way forces her to give an answer to a question devised by man. She is prevented from answering out of the fullness of her possibilities since these possibilities are restricted as far as practicable. For this purpose there is created in the laboratory a situation which is artificially restricted to the question and which compels Nature to give an unequivocal answer. The workings of Nature in her unrestricted wholeness are completely excluded. If we want to know what these workings are, we need a method of enquiry which imposes the fewest possible conditions, or if possible no conditions at all, and then leaves Nature to answer out of her fullness.


This quote is from C.G. Jung Synchronicity - An Acausal Connecting Principle.
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Tom
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Posted: Tue Jan 13, 2004 12:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

James Randi may have sounded reasonable, but keep in mind this is the man who once tried to prevent hospitals from recording birth times with legislation just to thwart astrologers. What people like him refuse to see is that they are not the final arbiters of truth. They think they are and as such think they have the obligation to prevent others from seeing things in any way but their own. It is fine that Richard Dawkins finds the X-Files harmful. He shouldn't watch it then, but some people are entertained with shows like that and should be left to choose their entertainment without benefit of the opinions of Messers Dawkins and Randi. If people decide to believe in ghosts or whatever so what? They believe politicans, too, which is potentially more harmful than ghosts will ever be.

Let's hope Randi turned over a new leaf.

Tom
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Sue



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Posted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 4:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
What people like him refuse to see is that they are not the final arbiters of truth.


Neither are astrologers but there are certainly plenty who behave as if they are. The point is that no one side has the monopoly on truth. There are valid points on each side of the argument. One of Randi's complaints is that people will latch onto something, accepting it as a 'truth' and no amount of evidence to the contrary will shift them from this. I think this is a very valid point that happens a lot in astrology. Many astrologers are so intent on trying to legitimise astrology that they will use any argument, even if this argument is not valid. To use Jung as an example again, there is a belief that Jung validated astrology through his experiments of synchronicity and astrology(through the frequency of what Ptolemy considered to be marriage aspects in the charts of married couples). When I finally got around to reading directly from the source (i.e. Jung himself), and studied the experiments and the results, I found that this was not true. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Jung came to the conclusion that astrology was unlikely to be explained by synchronistic phenomena but was perhaps better explained as being causal rather than acausal. Jung pointed out that, from the scientific point of view, the results were not encouraging for astrology. But the belief that Jung's involvement in these experiments validates astrology is still being perpetuated. I am not arguing for or against astrology being causal or acausal but rather that if we want to use something to support our argument then the least we can do is get the facts right. We are so quick to judge our critics as not basing their argument on a correct understanding of astrology but then are so often lacking in our own understanding. Rather than waste time and energy trying to convince people who will never be convinced that astrology works, I would rather put the time and energy into strengthening my own understanding of something I have a deep sense of respect for. I agree with Deb's point about criticism playing a useful part and, in fact, I feel that if we have a genuine respect for astrology then it is those of us who call ourselves astrologers who should be it's harshest critics.
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Tom
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Posted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 9:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Sue,

Nice work. While I am not a big Jung fan, I am in substantive agreement with your remarks particularly the part about wasting time trying to convince the so called skeptics. My problem with James Randi is not that he does not beleive in the usefulness of astrology, and not even that he won't shjut up about something he does not understand, but that he is entirely inconsistent on the point.

Quote:
Quote:
What people like him refuse to see is that they are not the final arbiters of truth.


Neither are astrologers but there are certainly plenty who behave as if they are.


Yes, this is of course true. But Randi’s position is wholly inconsistent with his actions. It is not astrologers who claim science isn’t true. It is not astrologers who seek to prevent science from being practiced by force of law, and it is not astrologers who try to advance their positions with ridicule and derision. Randi’s words and actions are therefore, political, not philosophical or even scientific or he would simply allow astrology to die on the vine so to speak as a result of its incompetence. He either can’t wait for that or believes science isn’t enough to correct the miscreants of astrology and instead resorts to force.

Scientists do not limit their bigotry to astrology either. In Ohio recently, a group of scientists tried in court (unsuccessfully) to prevent Ohio public schools from teaching the scientific evidence that Darwin may not have had it right after all. The Darwinists, predictably, resorted to the name-calling and ridicule tactics we are so familiar with, and added the anti-religious arguments as well. They lost. Would we be so fortunate?

We are inundated with junk science to “prove” this or that case that this or that is harmful or should in some way be regulated or eliminated by courts or legislatures. The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency’s “study” “proving” that second tobacco smoke causes cancer is a perfect example. As a result of this “study” laws have been enacted in all 50 states prohibiting cigarette smoking not only in restaurants where it is an admitted nuisance, but in places like Yankee Stadium, an outdoor sports facility that seats about 60,000 people. The “study” was refuted almost immediately after its publication and a couple of times since. It is the epitome of junk science and yet not only hasn’t a single law been repealed, new ones are being put in place all the time. Let the James Randi’s of the world worry about the credibility of science and less about their perceived lack of government intervention in our lives. No I don’t smoke and haven’t in over 30 years.

Tom
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GarryP
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Posted: Thu Jan 15, 2004 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've just posted Dennis Elwell's 'final word' in the debate - it looks to me as if James Randi hasn't convinced him, but see what you think.

Also posted Deb's comment from a little further up this forum, which I think broadens the discussion out and shows that there are other ways of seeing it.

Really liked that Synchronicity quotation, Sue - you wouldn't happen to have a page number for it, would you?
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Sue



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Posted: Thu Jan 15, 2004 8:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Garry,

Yes, it's an interesting quote. The book I have is translated by R.F.C. Hull and is part of the Bollingen Series published by Princeton University Press. The quote can be found on page 35.
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Sue



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Posted: Fri Jan 16, 2004 4:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The whole crux of the issue here is not whether Randi believes in astrology or not. I suspect he doesn't and it is unlikely that anything will shift his views on this. It doesn't appear to me that he is even attempting to determine whether astrology is verifiable or not. What he has made clear is that he is simply testing the claims that people make. We all know of many astrologers who make some outrageous claims about their own abilities or the capabilities of astrology. Every day in virtually every newspaper in the world there is an astrology column where we are told what is going to happen to our particular Sun sign on any given day. No wonder people have a very simplistic view of what astrology is or what it is capable of doing.

The astrologer in question who took the Randi challenge, clearly claimed that he was able to determine the Sun sign of twelve people by asking them a few questions. He failed quite dismally. Randi and his supporters might conclude from this that it cannot be done and therefore astrology is rubbish. But if they are sceptics in the true sense of the word (rather than the popular misconception of what it means) they would have to agree that this does not mean proof of failure in the broader sense of what it means for astrology. All it proved was that this particular astrologer wasn't able to do what he claimed to do. It seems to be more about the claims being made than the astrology.

Dennis Elwell makes some very interesting points. It is hard to get past the fact that Randi is not a scientist but rather an illusionist. In the interview I heard recently Randi said that conjurers were the most honest of liars because people know they are being deceived. It is extremely unlikely that either of these men is going to convince the other of his argument. Sometimes I feel that they can't even agree on what they are arguing about. The onus has always been on astrologers to prove that astrology works rather than being on those who object to astrology to prove it doesn't. Perhaps Randi should offer the same prize to someone who proves irrefutably that astrology doesn't work.
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