Since the 18th century they have come to be regarded as completely separate disciplines. Astronomy, the study of objects and phenomena originating beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, is a science and is a widely-studied academic discipline. Astrology, which uses the apparent positions of celestial objects as the basis for psychology, prediction of future events, and other esoteric knowledge, is not a science and is typically defined as a form of divination.
In pre-modern times, most cultures did not make a clear distinction between the two disciplines, putting them both together as one. In ancient Babylonia, famed for its astrology, there were not separate roles for the astronomer as predictor of celestial phenomena, and the astrologer as their interpreter; both functions were performed by the same person. This overlap does not mean that astrology and astronomy were always regarded as one and the same.
In ancient Greece, pre-Socratic thinkers such as Anaximander, Xenophanes, Anaximenes, and Heraclides speculated about the nature and substance of the stars and planets. The Platonic school promoted the study of astronomy as a part of philosophy because the motions of the heavens demonstrate an orderly and harmonious cosmos. In the third century BC, Babylonian astrology began to make its presence felt in Greece. Astrology was criticized by Hellenistic philosophers.
In the Hellenistic world, the Greek words ‘astrologia’ and ‘astronomia’ were often used interchangeably, but they were conceptually not the same. Plato taught about ‘astronomia’ and stipulated that planetary phenomena should be described by a geometrical model. The first solution was proposed by Eudoxus. Aristotle favored a physical approach and adopted the word ‘astrologia’. Eccentrics and epicycles came to be thought of as useful fictions. For a more general public, the distinguishing principle was not evident and either word was acceptable. For the Babylonian horoscopic practice, the words specifically used were ‘apotelesma’ and ‘katarche’, but otherwise it was subsumed under the aristotelian term ‘astrologia’.
In his compilatory work Etymologiae, Isidore of Seville noted explicitly the difference between the terms astronomy and astrology (Etymologiae, III, xxvii) and the same distinction appeared later in the texts of Arabian writers. Isidore identified the two strands entangled in the astrological discipline and called them astrologia naturalis and astrologia superstitiosa.
Astrology was widely accepted in medieval Europe as astrological texts from Hellenistic and Arabic astrologers were translated into Latin. Not until the time of Francis Bacon was astrology rejected as a part of scholastic metaphysics rather than empirical observation. A more definitive split between astrology and astronomy in the West took place gradually in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when astrology was increasingly thought of as an occult science or superstition by the intellectual elite.
Because of their lengthy shared history, it sometimes happens that the two are confused with one another even today. Many contemporary astrologers, however, do not claim that astrology is a science, but think of it as a form of divination like the I-Ching, an art, or a part of a spiritual belief structure.
The primary goal of astronomy is to understand the physics of the universe. Astrologers use astronomical calculations for the positions of celestial bodies along the ecliptic and attempt to correlate celestial events (astrological aspects, sign positions) with earthly events and human affairs. Astronomers consistently use the scientific method, naturalistic presuppositions and abstract mathematical reasoning to investigate or explain phenomena in the universe. Astrologers use mystical or religious reasoning as well as traditional folklore, symbolism and superstition blended with mathematical predictions to explain phenomena in the universe. The scientific method is not consistently used by astrologers.
Astrologers practice their discipline geocentrically and they consider the universe to be harmonious, changeless and static, while astronomers have employed the scientific method to infer that the universe is without a center and is dynamic, expanding outward per the Big Bang theory.
Astrologers believe that the position of the stars and planets determine an individual’s personality and future. Astronomers study the actual stars and planets, but have found no evidence supporting astrological theories. Psychologists study personality, and while there are many theories of personality, no mainstream theories in that field are based on astrology. (The Myers-Briggs personality typology, based on the works of Carl Jung, has four major categories that correspond to the astrological elements of fire, air, earth, and water. This theory of personality is used by career counselors and life coaches but not by psychologists.)
Both astrologers and astronomers see Earth as being an integral part of the universe, that Earth and the universe are interconnected as one cosmos (not as being separate and distinct from each other). However, astrologers philosophically and mystically portray the cosmos as having a supernatural, metaphysical and divine essence that actively influences world events and the personal lives of people. Astronomers, as members of the scientific community, cannot use in their scientific articles explanations that are not derived from empirically reproducible conditions, irrespective of their personal convictions.