On chance and necessity (ii). Fatalism vs determinism.The new astrologers.

Everyone serious knows that astrology as a science is dead. Although the time of year one is born may well have some effect on one's subsequent health and perhaps personality, this does not mean that the positions of the planets affects this. The only exception to this general rule may be the amount of sunlight. The availibility of vitamin D, which plays a role in nervous and immune system development, varies throughout the year, which is probably why the incidence of diseases such as multiple sclerosis varies according to season of birth (and indeed latitude). E.g. this study.
Although astrology declined during the early Middle Ages, it still exerted significant influence on the scholastics, most famously Aquinas. Yet herein lies a conundrum. One can contrast the determinism of Christian philosophers after Augustine (the theoretical distinctions between, say, Calvanism and Catholicism that arose at the Reformation are slight) with the influence of the planets. A Christian philosopherr might want to say that God oversees all that happens in the world in such a radical way that He indeed determines what happens (a position I shall examine later). But if so, what role does the controlling influence of the planets play in this?
Here is Aquinas on the topic:
"The majority of men ... are governed by their passions, which are dependent upon bodily appetites; in these the influence of the stars is clearly felt. Few indeed are the wise who are capable of resisting their animal instincts. Astrologers, consequently, are able to foretell the truth in the majority of cases, especially when they undertake general predictions. In particular predictions, they do not attain certainty, for nothing prevents a man from resisting the dictates of his lower faculties. Wherefore the astrologers themselves are wont to say that 'the wise man rules the stars' forasmuch, namely, as he rules his own passions."1

In other words, Aquinas claims that the wise man can resist the influence of the planets by exercise of will: hence the famous tag he quotes "Sapiens dominabitur astris". And thus he shows that his theoretical determinism is not, in fact, fatalism: which here I consider to be a special case of materialism. A fatalist should theoretically consider him or herself to be detemined inexorably by the material matrix they find themself placed in: the view of Democritus the atomist, and par excellence Spinoza. Despite their problems with reconciling free will with divine determinism then, medieval Christian philosophers were not fatalists.

I bring this up to make a (admittedly slightly cheap) point against certain superspecialists (see previous post) of today. Nothing pleases modern "skeptics" more than astrology-bashing; with Dawkins, for example calling for astrologers to be prosecuted for fraud (see Dawkins on astrololgy here). It´s worth asking who the real "astrologers" of today are though. We have rechanelled the fatalism of materialism away from the stars into our own inner space. One reads with remarkable regularity how every ill or characteristic of a person, be it aggression or mental illness or alcoholism is somehow written, not in the stars, but in the genes. What, really, is the difference between drawing up an astrological chart of someone's birth, or producing a genetic map of someone, in order to predict their future? One can perceive an irony here, as it was in the realm of medicine that astrology kept its influence longest.
Of course, geneticists would rush to their own defence by talking about mechanism (ie we have, at least in some hazy sort of way, a mechanism for how genes affect our lives, whereas no such astrological mechanism is known) and indeed evidence (the evidence for the genes is good, that for the stars is, to say the least, not good). All fine, but there seems little way of stopping the modern materialist from slipping into ancient fatalism. Some would welcome this; others, such as Dawkins himself, give off ambiguous signals, as if they would long to be able to persuade themselves to be fatalists but can't quite manage it - yet. Is there some sort of subminal projection going on here, then, with the violence of the attack against the poor modern astrologers merely an attempt to conceal one's own predelictions in this area? Is Professor Dawkins, in fact, effectively an astrologer himself?

1. For the astrology of d'Ailly, for example, see History, Prophecy, and the Stars: The Christian Astrology of Pierre d'Ailly, 1350-1420 by Laura Ackerman Smoller (Princeton Univ. Press, New Jersey, 1994)

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