The Ages of Gaia Exposed
by Lewis Loflin
Fundamentalists are Beyond Reason, I made a passing comment that New
Age religion and environmentalism seem inter-related. A visitor
questioned the remark and I looked into the matter. While
the article was aimed mainly at Christian fundamentalists, I had noticed a
similar pattern of religious fundamentalism in the environmental movement that did resemble a
religion or a cult. (Eden, good and evil, an authoritarian attitude, etc.) While I
was aware of the Leftist politics in the movement, the level of religion
and the related social patterns are astounding.
My conclusion is their scientific claims on ozone, global warming, etc. are pseudo-science and scare propaganda. Their main theme is political power and social control just like all religious fundamentalists.
Let me explain how I use the term "fundamentalism." While the term is often used to describe a rigid outlook on say a religion such as Christianity or Islam, the term can have a broader meaning in that the central belief controls all aspects of life including economics, science, social issues, etc. To a Christian creation science is true because it supports a particular biblical belief, period. It's the under-pinning of the faith (truth whatever one holds it to be) must be defended. To the atheist, any notion of God in any form in science is equally taboo because science (misused) is the under-pinning of atheism. Properly used, science doesn't prove or disprove God; it just doesn't address the issue.
This is true of other beliefs or philosophies such as fascism or communism. Hitler was the godhead of Nazism, Stalin the godhead of Stalinism, etc. Science is the godhead of atheism. All forms of fundamentalism reject and often sacrifice the individual for group control. People are expendable while Gaia is not.
But science is not popular with most of the public and is a poor basis for spiritualism or emotion. It doesn't deal in the things that make us feel good or answer ultimate questions most strive for. From what I've seen most of these people drift into Eastern religion or various form of New Age nonsense in a search for something their emotions can grasp.
New Age religion is not a religion as we define one with a creed or ceremony. "Unlike most formal religions, it has no holy text, central organization, membership, formal clergy, geographic center, dogma, creed, etc (It) is in fact a free-flowing spiritual movement; a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices. It's an ill-defined mish-mash of beliefs that result from having no creed or organization. This is what often results when irreligious or non-religious people are searching for some foundation for their lives. New Age religion doesn't provide the structure of a church and is more limited to individuals or very small groups.
Quoting Science under Siege by Michael Fumento, Noting that one (allegedly) scientific theory the Gaia theory actually claims that the earth is a living organism, essayist Charles Krauthammer writes that "contemporary environmentalism . . . indulges in earth worship to the point of idolatry." The godhead (or goddess head in this case) is mother earth which has become for many a spiritual being in her own right.
Quoting author and biologist Michael Crichton, "Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists...If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths...
To quote Rex Murphy, "Save the Earth is evangelical to its green and
etymological roots. We see repeated in environmentalism the great dualisms
of good and evil -- the modern twin being, say, sustainability versus
pollution. We see, too, in some aspects of the environmental movement that
almost irresistible instinct to proselytize and "convert" that is the
watermark of all the great faiths, the ferocity to persuade that only
comes with the possession of an exclusive and undeniable truth...There is
a lot of that mushy New-Ageism...the wild enthusiasms of mysticism..."
From Praise the green god from whom all blessings flow at www.globeandmail.com April 24, 2004
Now we have something with at least a form of a creed and are marketable to a large general public. It gets around all the Bible morality stuff and seems to have the support of science. Unlike New Age religion, the environmental movement goes beyond just spiritualism into politics, economics, and science. It intrudes on people in the real world sometimes good and sometimes bad. Clean air and water are certainly good, but reducing the human race to subsistence agriculture and allowing/causing the deaths of millions of people is another matter. Its ranks are often filled with crackpots, disgruntled socialists, and anarchists of all types. It's a full-scale political machine opposed to traditional western culture and science.
The problem is just like Creation Science (Genesis) the science facts don't jive well with the belief system. How to sell it without some form of Hell or damnation for the non-believers that won't observe the truth? As the Nazis were very fond of saying, tell a lie long enough and it will be believed.
As one Christian calls it "a combination of pseudo-science, new age mysticism, paganism, and socialism which serves as a combination of political philosophy and religion. This is clearly an attempt to replace America's historic secular culture with a new religion -- a pagan religion."
To me it's also an odd alliance of those that oppose some or all parts of our traditional Judeo-Christian, capitalist, and Enlightenment civilization. Sort of like the Democratic Party being an alliance of anti-Republicans.
There are often socialist and anti-Western themes in general in the environmental movement. Under the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) and their funding of hard-Left Fenton Communications, environmental fundamentalists are pursuing a dangerous political/religious theology which is attempting to merge pagan and New Age religion, statist politics, socialism, and environmental fanaticism. In the political area, this merging of environmental religion into national politics is a violation of separation of church and state and should be treated as such.
James Lovelock is the father of environmental religion and has melded an earth-worshiping superstitious spiritualism onto science. He attacks mainstream science for questioning his absurd pseudo-science/theology. He is a typical atheist/agnostic longing for spiritualism so he invents his own. Besides the fact he hides in a remote area Great Britain, he's expresses anger others won't fund his pantheistic speculations.
James Lovelock is a nutcase that not only claims the earth is a "living organism" but holds Western Civilization and in particular Christianity in total contempt. In his introduction to the book he attacks scientific peer review as an "inquisition" and attacks fellow scientists as hacks of corporations and universities more interested in "good working conditions, a steady income, tenure, and a pension." They just buy into his nonsense and he knows it.
To quote Lovelock himself, "When I wrote the first book on Gaia I had no inkling that it would be taken as a religious book." He confuses "hypothesis" which he defines as "what if" with theory.
Even more scary he reduces humans to another "organism" and says the following, "It is the health of the planet that matters, not that of some individual species of organisms...the people and ecosystems of the First World-from a Gaian perspective, a region that is clearly expendable. That "expendable" First World is the developed nations and people in general. Read his rantings below.
Lovelock to the dismay of many environmental extremists is a big supporter of nuclear power.
Lovelock to the dismay of many environmental extremists is a big supporter of nuclear power. See About James Lovelock and Nuclear Power
PREFACE, Ages of Gaia by James Lovelock.
Science, unlike other intellectual activities, is almost never done at
home. Modem science has become as professional as the advertising
industry. And, like that industry, it relies on an expensive and
exquisitely refined technique. There is no place for the amateur in modem
science, yet, as is often the way with professions, science more often
applies its expertise to the trivial than to the numinous.
Where are the independent scientists? In fact, nearly all scientists
are employed by some large organization, such as a governmental
department, a university, or a multinational company. Only rarely are they
free to express their science as a personal view. They may think that they
are free, but in reality they are, nearly all of them, employees; they
have traded freedom of thought for good working conditions, a steady
income, tenure, and a pension.
They are also constrained by an army of bureaucratic forces, from the
funding agencies to the health and safety organizations. Scientists are
also constrained by the tribal rules of the discipline to which they
belong. A physicist would find it hard to do chemistry and a biologist
would find physics well-nigh impossible to do. To cap it all, in recent
years the "purity" of science is ever more closely guarded by a
self-imposed inquisition called the peer review.
This well-meaning but narrow-minded nanny of an institution ensures
that scientists work according to conventional wisdom and not as curiosity
or inspiration moves them. Lacking freedom they are in danger of
succumbing to a finicky gentility or of becoming, like medieval
theologians, the creatures of dogma.
I wrote the first Gaia book so that a dictionary was the only aid
needed and I have tried to write this way in the present book. I am
puzzled by the response of some of my scientific colleagues who take me to
task for presenting science this way. Things have taken a strange turn in
recent years; almost the full circle from Galileo's famous struggle with
the theological establishment. It is the scientific establishment that
makes itself esoteric and is the scourge of heresy.
I have had to become a radical scientist also because the scientific
community is reluctant to accept new theories as fact, and rightly so. It
was nearly 150 years before the notion that heat is a measure of the speed
of molecules became a fact of science, and 40 years before plate tectonics
was accepted by the scientific community.
Now perhaps you see why I work at home supporting myself and my family
by whatever means come to hand.
It would be difficult after spending nearly twenty years developing a
theory of the Earth as a living organism-where the evolution of the
species and their material environment are tightly coupled but still
evolve by natural selection-to avoid capturing views about the problems of
pollution and the degradation of the natural environment by humans.
Gaia theory forces a planetary perspective. It is the health of the
planet that matters, not that of some individual species of organisms.
This is where Gaia and the environmental movements, which are concerned
first with the health of people, part company. The health of the Earth is
most threatened by major changes in natural ecosystems.
Agriculture, forestry, and to a lesser extent fishing are seen as the
most serious sources of this kind of damage with the inexorable increase
of the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane, and several others
coming next. Geophysiologists do not ignore the depletion of the ozone
layer in the stratosphere with its concomitant risk of increased
irradiation with short-wave ultraviolet, or the problem of acid rain.
These are seen as real and potentially serious hazards but mainly to
the people and ecosystems of the First World-from a Gaian perspective,
a region that is clearly expendable.
It was buried beneath glaciers, or was icy tundra, only 10,000 years
ago. As for what seems to be the greatest concern, nuclear radiation,
fearful though it is to individual humans is to Gaia a minor affair. It
may seem to many readers that I am mocking those environmental scientists
whose life work is concerned with these threats to human life. This is not
my intention. I wish only to speak out for Gaia because there are so few
who do, compared with the multitudes who speak for the people.
Because of this difference in emphasis, a concern for the planet rather
than for ourselves, I came to realize that there might be the need for a
new profession, that of planetary medicine. I am indebted to the historian
Donald McIntyre for writing to tell me that it was James Hutton who first
introduced the idea of planetary physiology in the eighteenth century.
Hutton was a physician as well as a geologist.
Physiology was the first science of medicine, and one of the aims of
this book is to establish "geophysiology" as a basis for planetary
medicine...Since 1982 the United Nations University, through its program
officer, Walter Shearer, has provided moral and material support
especially for the notion of planetary medicine.
Extracts from the Chapter God and Gaia. P. 203-223 by James Lovelock.
When I wrote the first book on Gaia I had no inkling that it would
be taken as a religious book. Although I thought the subject was
mainly science, there was no doubt that many of its readers found
otherwise. Two-thirds of the letters received, and still coming in, are
about the meaning of Gaia in the context of religious faith. This
interest has not been limited to the laity; a most interesting letter came
from Hugh Montefiore, then Bishop of Birmingham. He asked which I thought
came first, life or Gaia.
My attempts to answer this question led to a correspondence, reported
in a chapter of his book The Probability of God. I suspect that
some cosmologists are similarly visited by enquires from those who
imagine them to be at least on nodding terms with God. I was naïve to
think that a book about Gaia would be taken as science only.
So where do I stand about religion? While still a student I was asked
seriously, by a member of the Society of Friends, if I had ever had a
religious experience. Not understanding what he meant, imagining that he
referred to a manifestation or a miracle, I answered no. Looking back from
45 years on, I now tend to think that I should have said yes. Living
itself is a religious experience. At the time, however, the question was
almost meaningless because it implied a separation of life into sacred and
secular parts. I now think that there can be no such division.
My thoughts about religion when a child grew from those of my father
and the country folk I knew. It was an odd mixture, composed of witches,
May trees, and the views expressed by Quakers, in and outside the Sunday
school at a Friends' meeting house. Christmas was more of a solstice feast
than a Christian one. We were, as a family, well into the present
century, yet still amazingly superstitious. So ingrained was my childhood
conditioning about the power of the occult that in later life it took a
positive act of will to stop touching wood or crossing fingers whenever
some hazard was to be faced. Christianity was there not so much as a
faith, rather as a set of sensible directions on how to be good...
What about God? I am too committed to the scientific way of
thinking to feel comfortable when enunciating the Creed or the Lord's
Prayer in a Christian Church. The insistence of the definition "I believe
in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth" seems to
anesthetize the sense of wonder, as if one were committed to a single line
of thought by a cosmic legal contract.
I have kept my doubts in a separate place for too long. Now that I
write this chapter, I have to try somehow to explain, to myself as well as
to you, what is my religious belief. I am happy with the thought that the
Universe has properties that make the emergence of life and Gaia
inevitable. But I react to the assertion that it was created with this
purpose. It might have been; but how the Universe and life began are
When a scientist colleague uses evidence about the Earth eons ago to
explain his theory of the origins of life it stirs a similar sense of
doubt. How can the events so long ago that led to the emergence of
anything so intricate as life be treated as a fact of science? It is human
to be curious about antecedents, but expeditions into the remote past in
search of origins is as supremely unimportant as was the hunting of the
The greater part of the information about our origins is with us here
and now; so let us rejoice in it and be glad to be alive.
At a meeting in London recently, a wise man, Dr. Donald Braben, asked
me: "Why do you stop with the Earth? Why not consider if the Solar System,
the Galaxy, or even the Universe is alive?" My instant answer was that the
concept of a living Earth, Gaia, is manageable. We know that there is no
other life in this Solar System, and the nearest star is utterly remote.
There must be other Gaias circling other docile long-lived stars but,
curious though I may be about them and about the Universe, these are
intangible-concepts for the intellect, not the senses. Until, if ever, we
are visited from other parts of the Universe we are obliged to remain
Many, I suspect, have trodden this same path through the mind. Those
millions of Christians who make a special place in their hearts for the
Virgin Mary possibly respond as I do. The concept of Yahweh as remote,
all-powerful, all-seeing is either frightening or unapproachable. Even the
sense of presence of a more contemporary God, a still, small voice within,
may not be enough for those who need to communicate with someone outside.
Mary is close and can be talked to.
She is believable and manageable. It could be that the importance of
the Virgin Mary in faith is something of this kind, but there may be more
to it. What if Mary is another name for Gaia? Then her capacity for virgin
birth is no miracle or parthenogenetic aberration, it is a role of Gaia
since life began. Immortals do not need to reproduce an image of
themselves; it is enough to renew continuously the life that constitutes
them. Any living organism a quarter as old as the Universe itself and
still full of vigor is as near immortal as we ever need to know. She is of
this Universe and, conceivably, a part of God. On Earth she is the source
of life everlasting and is alive now; she gave birth to humankind and we
are a part of her.
This is why, for me, Gaia is a religious as well as a scientific
concept, and in both spheres it is manageable. Theology is also a science,
but if it is to operate by the same rules as the rest of science, there is
no place for creeds or dogma. By this I mean theology should not state
that God exists and then proceed to investigate his nature and his
interactions with the Universe and living organisms. Such an approach is
prescriptive, presupposes his existence, and closes the mind to such
What would the Universe be like without God? How can we use the concept
of God as a way to look at the Universe and ourselves? How can we use the
concept of Gaia as a way to understanding God? Belief in God is an act of
faith and will remain so. In the same way, it is otiose to try to prove
that Gaia is alive. Instead, Gaia should be a way to view the Earth,
ourselves, and our relationships with living things.
The life of a scientist who is a natural philosopher can be deeply
religious. Curiosity is an intimate part of the process of loving. Being
curious and getting to know the natural world leads to a loving
relationship with it. It can be so deep that it cannot be articulated, but
it is nonetheless good science.
Creative scientists, when asked how they came upon some great
discovery, frequently state, "I knew it intuitively, but it took several
years work to prove it to my colleagues." Compare that statement with this
one by William James, the nineteenth-century philosopher and psychologist,
in The Varieties of Religious Experience:
The truth is that in the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate
reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality
have already been impressed in favor of the same conclusion. Then, indeed,
our intuitions and our reason work together, and great world ruling
systems, like that of the Buddhist or of the Catholic philosophy, may grow
Our impulsive belief is here always what sets up the original body of
truth, and our articulately verbalized philosophy is but a showy
translation into formulas. The unreasoned and immediate assurance is the
deep thing in us, the reasoned argument is but a surface exhibition.
Instinct leads, intelligence does but follow.
This was the way of the natural philosophers in James Hutton's time in
the eighteenth century and is still the way of many scientists today.
Science can embrace the notion of the Earth as a super organism and can
still wonder about the meaning of the Universe.
How did we reach our present secular humanist world? In times that are
ancient by human measure, as far back as the earliest artifacts can be
found, it seems that the Earth was worshipped as a goddess and believed
to be alive. The myth of the great Mother is part of most early religions.
The Mother is a compassionate, feminine figure; spring of all life, of
fecundity, of gentleness. She is also the stern and unforgiving bringer of
death. As Aldous Huxley reminds in The Human Experience:
In Hinduism, Kali is at once the infinitely kind and loving mother and
the terrifying Goddess of destruction, who has a necklace of skulls and
drinks the blood of human beings from a skull. This picture is profoundly
realistic; if you give life, you must necessarily give death, because life
always ends in death and must be renewed through death.
At some time not more than a few thousand years ago the concept of a
remote master God, an overseer of Gaia, took root. At first it may have
been the Sun, but later it took on the form we have with us now of an
utterly remote yet personally immanent ruler of the Universe. Charlene
Spretnak, in her moving and readable book, The Spiritual Dimensions of
Green Politics, attributes the first denial of Gaia, the Earth goddess, to
the conquest of an earlier Earth-centered civilization by the Sun-
worshipping warriors of the invading Indo-European tribes.
Picture yourself as a witness of that decisive moment in history, that
is, as a resident of the peaceful, artful, Goddess- oriented culture in
Old Europe. (Don't think "matriarchy"! It may have been, but no one knows,
and that is not the point.) It is 4,500 BC. You are walking along a high
ridge, looking out across the plains to the east. In the distance you see
a massive wave of horsemen galloping towards your world on strange,
powerful animals. (The European ancestor of the horse had become extinct.)
They brought few women, a chieftain system, and only a primitive
stamping technique to impress their two symbols, the sun and a pine tree.
They moved in waves first into southeastern Europe, later down into
Greece, across all of Europe, also into the Middle and Near East, North
Africa and India. They brought a sky god, a warrior cult, and patriarchal
social order. And that is where we live today-in an Indo-European culture,
albeit one that is very technologically advanced.
The evolution of these horsemen to the modern men who ride their
infinitely more powerful machines of destruction over the habitats of our
partners in Gaia seems only a small step. The rest of us, in the cozy,
comfortable hell of urban life, care little what they do so long as they
continue to supply us with food, energy, and raw materials and we can
continue to play the game of human interaction.
In ancient times, belief in a living Earth and in a living cosmos was
the same thing. Heaven and Earth were close and part of the same body. As
time passed and awareness grew of the vast distances of space and time
through such inventions as the telescope, the Universe was comprehended
and the place of God receded until now it hides behind the Big Bang,
claimed to have started it all. At the same time, as population increased
so did the proportion forced to lead urban lives out of touch with Nature.
In the past two centuries we have nearly all become city dwellers, and
seem to have lost interest in the meaning of both God and Gaia. As the
theologian Keith Ward wrote in the Times in December 1984:
It is not that people know what God is, and have decided to reject him.
It seems that very few people even know what the orthodox traditional idea
of God, shared by Judaism, Islam and Christianity. is. They have not the
slightest idea what is meant by the word God. It just has no sense or
possible place in their lives.
Instead they either invent some vague idea of a cosmic force with no
practical implications at all; or they appeal to some half- forgotten
picture of a bearded super-person constantly interfering with the
mechanistic laws of Nature.
I wonder if this is the result of sensory deprivation. How can we
revere the living world if we can no longer hear the bird song through the
noise of traffic, or smell the sweetness of fresh air? How can we wonder
about God and the Universe if we never see the stars because of the city
lights? If you think this to be exaggeration, think back to when you last
lay in a meadow in the sunshine and smelt the fragrant thyme and heard and
saw the larks soaring and singing. Think back to the last night you looked
up into the deep blue black of a sky clear enough to see the Milky Way,
the congregation of stars, our Galaxy.
The attraction of the city is seductive. Socrates said that nothing of
interest happened outside its walls and, much later, Dr. Johnson expressed
his view of country living as "One green field is like another." Most of
us are trapped in this world of the city, an everlasting soap opera, and
all too often as spectators, not players. It is something to have
sensitive commentators like Sir David Attenborough bring the natural world
with its visions of forests and wilderness to the television screens of
our suburban rooms. But the television screen is only a window and only
rarely clear enough to see the world outside; it can never bring us back
into the real world of Gaia.
City life reinforces and strengthens the heresy of humanism, that
narcissistic devotion to human interests alone. The Irish missionary Sean
McDonagh wrote in his book, To Care for the Earth: "The 20 billion
years of God's creative love is either seen simply as the stage on which
the drama of human salvation is worked out, or as something radically
sinful in itself and needing transformation."
The heartlands of the great religions are now in the last bastions of
rural existence, in the Third World of the tropics. Elsewhere God and Gaia
that once were joined and respected are now divorced and of no account. We
have, as a species, almost resigned from membership in Gaia and given to
our cities and our nations the rights and responsibilities of
environmental regulation. We struggle to enjoy the human interactions of
city life yet still yearn to possess the natural world as well. We want to
be free to drive into the country or the wilderness without polluting it
in so doing; to have our cake and eat it.
Human and understandable such striving may be, but it is illogical. Our
humanist concerns about the poor of the inner cities or the Third World,
and our near-obscene obsession with death, suffering, and pain as if these
were evil in themselves-these thoughts divert the mind from our gross and
excessive domination of the natural world. Poverty and suffering are not
sent; they are the consequences of what we do. Pain and death are normal
and natural; we could not long survive without them. Science, it is true,
assisted at the birth of technology.
But when we drive our cars and listen to the radio bringing news of
acid rain, we need to remind ourselves that we, personally, are the
polluters. We, not some white-coated devil figure, buy the cars, drive
them, and foul the air. We are therefore accountable, personally, for the
destruction of the trees by photochemical smog and acid rain. We are
responsible for the silent spring that Rachel Carson predicted.
There are many ways to keep in touch with Gaia. Individual humans are
densely populated cellular and endosymbiont collectives, but clearly
also identities. Individuals interact with Gaia in the cycling of the
elements and in the control of the climate, just like a cell does in the
body. You also interact individually in a spiritual manner through a sense
of wonder about the natural world and from feeling a part of it. In some
ways this interaction is not unlike the tight coupling between the state
of the mind and the body. Another connection is through the powerful
infrastructures of human communication and mass transfer.
We as a species now move a greater mass of some materials around the
Earth than did all the biota of Gaia before we appeared. Our chattering is
so loud that it can be heard to the depths of the Universe. Always, as
with other and earlier species within Gaia, the entire development arises
from the activity of a few individuals. The urban nests, the agricultural
ecosystems, good and bad, are all the consequences of rapid positive
feedback starting from the action of an inspired individual.
A frequent misunderstanding of my vision of Gaia is that I champion
complacence, that I claim feedback will always protect the environment
from any serious harm that humans might do. It is sometimes more crudely
put as "Lovelock's Gaia gives industry the green light to pollute at
will." The truth is almost diametrically opposite.
Gaia, as I see her, is no doting mother tolerant of misdemeanors, nor
is she some fragile and delicate damsel in danger from brutal mankind. She
is stern and tough, always keeping the world warm and comfortable for
those who obey the rules, but ruthless in her destruction of those who
transgress. Her unconscious goal is a planet fit for life. If humans stand
in the way of this, we shall be eliminated with as little pity as would be
shown by the micro-brain of an intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile
in full flight to its target.
What I have written so far has been a testament built around the idea
of Gaia. I have tried to show that God and Gaia, theology and science,
even physics and biology are not separate but a single way of thought.
Although a scientist, I write as an individual, and my views are likely to
be less common than I like to think. So now let me tell you something of
what the scientific community has to say on this subject.
In science, the more discovered, the more new paths open for
exploration. It is usual in science, when things are vague and unclear,
for the path to be like that of a drunkard wandering in a zigzag. As we
stagger back from what lastly dawns upon our befuddled wits is the wrong
way, we cross over the true path and move nearly as far to the, equally
wrong, opposite side. If all goes well, our deviations lessen and the path
converges towards, but never completely follows, the true one. It gives a
new insight to the old tag in vino veritas. So natural is this way to find
the truth that we usually program our computers to solve problems too
tedious to do ourselves by setting them to follow the same
trial-and-error, staggering, stumbling walk.
The process is dignified and mystified by calling it "iteration," but
the method is the same. The only difference is that, so quickly is it
done, the eye never sees the fumbling.
We have lost the instinctive understanding of what life is and of our
place within Gaia. Our attempts to define life are much in the stage of
the drunkard's walk. The two opposing verges representing the extremes of
iteration are illustrated by a splendid philosophical debate that has gone
on for the past twenty years between the molecular biologists on the one
side and the new school of thermodynamics on the other.
Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity, although first published
in 1970, most clearly and beautifully conveys the clear, strong, and
rigorous a approach of solid science based firmly in a belief in a
materialistic and deterministic Universe. The other verge is represented
by those, like Erich Jantsch, who believe in a self-organizing Universe.
It is concerned with the thermodynamics of the unsteady state of which
dissipative structures such as flames, whirlpools, and life itself are
examples. Although the participants are all well known and respected in
the English-speaking world, most of this entertaining debate has gone on
in French, so many of us have missed the fun.
The essence of this contest is a rerun of the ancient battle between
the holists and the reductionists. As Monod reminds us:
Certain schools of thought (all more or less consciously or confusedly
influenced by Hegel) challenge the value of the analytical approach to
systems as complex as living beings. According to these holist schools
which, phoenix like, are reborn in every generation, the analytic attitude
(reductionist) is doomed to fail in its attempts to reduce the properties
of a very complex organization to the "sum" of the properties of its
It is a very stupid and misguided quarrel which merely testifies to the
holists' total lack of understanding of scientific method and the crucial
role analysis plays in it. How far could a Martian engineer get if trying
to understand an earthly computer, he refused on principle to dissect the
machine's basic electronic components which execute the operation of
These strong words were in the 1970 edition of Chance and Necessity.
Maybe they are by now less extremely held, but they serve well to express
what was and still is an important scientific constituency.
No one now doubts that it was plain, honest reductionist science that
allowed us to unlock so many of the secrets of the Universe, not least
those of the living macromolecules that carry the genetic information of
our cells. But clear, strong, and powerful though it may be, it is not
enough by itself to explain the facts of life. Consider Jacques Monod's
Martian engineer. Would it have been sensible to have dashed in with a kit
of tools and disassembled analytically the computer he found? Or would it
have been better, as a first step, to have switched it on and questioned
it as a whole system? If you have any doubts about the answer to this
question then consider the thought that the hypothetical Martian engineer
was an intelligent computer and the object he examined, you.
By contrast, in 1972 Ilya Prigogine wrote:
It is not instability but a succession of instabilities which allow the
crossing of the no man's land between life and no-life. We start to
disentangle only certain stages. This concept of biological order leads
automatically to a more blurred appreciation of the role of chance and
necessity to recall the title of the well-known work by Jacques Monod.
Fluctuation which allows the system to depart from states near
thermodynamic equilibrium represents the stochastic aspect, the part
played by chance. Contrariwise, the environmental instability, the fact
that the fluctuations will increase, represents necessity. Chance and
necessity cooperate instead of opposing one another.
I wholly agree with Monod that the cornerstone of the scientific method
is the postulate that Nature is objective. True knowledge can never be
gained by attributing "purpose" to phenomena. But, equally strongly, I
deny the notion that systems are never more than the sum of their parts.
The value of Gaia in this debate is that it is the largest of living
systems. It can be analyzed both as a whole system and, in the
reductionist manner, as a collection of parts. This analysis need disturb
neither the privacy nor the function of Gaia any more than would the
movement of a single commensal bacterium on the surface of your nose.
Prigogine was not the first to recognize the inadequacies of
equilibrium thermodynamics. He had many illustrious predecessors, among
them the physical chemists J. W. Gibbs, L. Onsager, and K. G. Denbigh, who
explored the thermodynamics of the steady state. But it was that truly
great physicist, Ludwig Boltzmann, who pointed the way towards the
understanding of life in thermodynamic terms. And it was by reading
Schr6dinger's book What Is Life? in the early 1960s that I first realized
that planetary life was revealed by the contrast between the near-
equilibrium state of the atmosphere of a dead planet and the exuberant
disequilibrium of the Earth.
When we cross from the sharp clarity of the real world into that
nightmare land of dissipating structures, what do we learn that makes the
next staggering lurch less erroneous than the last? I have gained from
Prigogine's world view a confirmation of a suspicion that time is a
variable much too often ignored. In particular, many of the apparent
contradictions between these two schools of thought seem to resolve if
viewed along the time dimension instead of in space.
We have evolved from the world of simple molecules through dissipative
structures to the more permanent entities that are living organisms. The
further we go from the present, either into the past or the future, the
greater the uncertainty. Darwin was right to dismiss thoughts about the
origins of life; as Jerome Rothstein has said, the restrictions of the
second law of thermodynamics prevent us from ever knowing about the
beginning or the end of the Universe.
In our guts and in those of other animals, the ancient world of the
Archean lives on. In Gaia, also, the ancient chaotic world of dissipating
structures that preceded life still lives on. A recent and relatively
unknown discovery of science is that the fluctuations at every scale from
viscosity to weather can be chaotic.
There is no complete determinism in the Universe; many things are as
unpredictable as a perfect roulette wheel. An ecologist colleague of mine,
C. S. Holling, has observed that the stability of large-scale ecosystems
depends upon the existence of internal chaotic instabilities. These
pockets of chaos in the larger, stable Gaian system serve to probe the
boundaries set by the physical constraints to life. By this means the
opportunism of life is insured, and no new niche remains undiscovered. For
example, I live in a rural region surrounded by farmers who keep sheep.
It is impressive how adventurous young lambs, through their continuous
probing of my boundary hedges, can find their way through onto the richer,
ungrazed land on my side. The behavior of young men is not so different.
My reason for wandering onto the battlefield of the war between holists
and reductionists was to illustrate how polarized is science itself. Let
me conclude this digressionary visit and return to the theme of this
chapter, God and Gaia. And let me start by reminding you of Daisyworld-a
model which is reductionist and holistic at the same time. It was made to
answer a criticism of Gaia, that it was teleology. The need for reduction
arose because the relationships between all the living things on Earth in
their countless trillions and the rocks, the air, and the oceans could
never be described in full detail by a set of mathematical equations. A
drastic simplification was needed.
But the model with its closed loop cybernetic structure was also
holistic. This also applies to ourselves. It would be pointless to attempt
to disentangle all the relationships between the atoms within the cells
that go to make up our bodies. But this does not prevent us from being
real and identifiable, and having a life span of at least 70 years.
We are also in an adversary contest between our allegiance to Gaia and
to humanism. In this battle, politically minded humanists have made the
word "reductionist" pejorative, to discredit science and to bring
contumely to the scientific method. But all scientists are reductionists
to some extent; there is no way to do science without reduction at some
Even the analyzers of holistic systems, confronted with an unknown
system, do tests, such as perturbing the system and observing the
response, or making a model of it and then reducing that model. In biology
it is impossible to avoid reduction, even if we wished.
The material and relationships of living things are so phenomenally
complex that a holistic view is seen only when it suits the biota to exist
as an identifiable entity such as a cell, a plant, a nest, or Gaia.
Certainly, the entities themselves can be observed and classified with a
minimum of invasion, but sooner or later curiosity will drive an urge to
discover what the entities are made of and how they work.
In any case, the idea that mere observation is neutral is itself an
illusion. Someone once said that the reason the Universe is running down
is that God is always observing it and hence reducing it. Be this as it
may, there is little doubt that a nature reserve, a wildlife park, or an
ecosystem is reduced in proportion to the amount of time that we and our
children perturb the wildlife by watching them.
In The Self-Organizing Universe, Erich Jantsch made a strong argument
for the omnipresence of a self-organizing tendency; so that life, instead
of being a chance event, was an inevitable consequence. Jantsch based his
thoughts on the theories of those pioneers of what might be called the
"thermodynamics of the unsteady state"-Max Eigen, Ilya Prigogine, Humberto
Maturana, Francisco Varela, and their successors. As scientific evidence
accumulates and theories are developed in this recondite topic, it may
become possible to encompass the metaphor of a living Universe. The
intuition of God could be rationalized; something of God could become as
familiar as Gaia.
For the present, my belief in God rests at the stage of a positive
agnosticism. I am too deeply committed to science for undiluted faith;
equally unacceptable to me spiritually is the materialist world of
undiluted fact. Art and science seem inter- connected with each other and
with religion, and to be mutually enlarging.
That Gaia can be both spiritual and scientific is, for me, deeply
satisfying. From letters and conversations I have learnt that a feeling
for the organism, the Earth, has survived and that many feel a need to
include those old faiths in their system of belief, both for themselves
and because they feel that Earth of which they are a part is under threat.
In no way do I see Gaia as a sentient being, a surrogate God. To me Gaia
is alive and part of the ineffable Universe and I am a part of her.
The philosopher Gregory Bateson expressed this agnosticism in his own
The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is
immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a
larger mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system. This larger
mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by God, but
it is still immanent in the total interconnected social systems and
As a scientist I believe that Nature is objective but also recognize
that Nature is not predetermined. The famous uncertainty principle that
the physicist Werner Heisenberg discovered was the first crack in the
crystalline structure of determinism.
Now chaos is revealed to have an orderly mathematical prescription.
This new theoretical understanding enlightens the practice of weather
forecasting. Previously it was believed, as the French physicist Laplace
had stated, that given enough knowledge (and, in this age, computer power)
anything could be predicted.
It was a thrill to discover that there was real, honest chaos decently
spread around the Universe and to begin to understand why it is impossible
in this world ever to predict if it will be raining at some specific place
or time. True chaos is there as the counter- part of order. Determinism is
reduced to a collection of fragments, like jewels that have fallen on the
surface of a bowl of pitch.
Science has its fashions, and one thing guaranteed to stir interest and
start a new fashion is the exploration of a pathology. Health is far less
interesting than disease. I well recall as a schoolboy visiting the Museum
of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where there were on
display life-sized models of subjects stricken by tropical illnesses.
Although less well crafted, they were so strange and horrible as to make
tame the professional horrors of Madame Tussaud's waxworks.
The sight of full-sized models of the victims of elephantiasis or
leprosy and the imagination of their suffering made bearable the
adolescent agonies of a schoolboy. Contemporary science is similarly
fascinated by pathologies of a mathematical kind. Theoretical ecology, as
we have already discussed, is more concerned with sick than with healthy
ecosystems. The vagaries of weather are more interesting than the
long-term stability of climate. Continuous creation never had a chance in
face of the ultimate pathology of the Big Bang.
Interest in the pathologies of science has a curious link with
religion. Mathematicians and physicists are, without seeming aware of it,
into demonology. They are found investigating "catastrophe theory" or
"strange attractors." They then seek from their colleagues in other
sciences examples of pathologies that match their curious models. Perhaps
I should explain that in mathematics, an attractor is a stable equilibrium
state, such as a point at the bottom of a smooth bowl where a ball will
always come to rest.
Attractors can be lines, planes, or solids as well as points, and are
the places where systems tend to settle down to rest. Strange attractors
are chaotic regions of fractional dimensions that act like black holes,
drawing the solutions of equations to their unknown and singular domains.
Phenomena of the natural world-such as weather, disease, and ecosystem
failures- are characterized by the presence of these strange attractors in
the clockwork of their mathematics, lurking like time bombs as harbingers
of instability, cyclical fluctuations, and just plain chaos.
The remarkable thing about real and healthy living organisms is their
apparent ability to control or limit these destabilizing influences. It
seems that the world of dissipating structures, threatened by catastrophe
and parasitized by strange attractors, is the foreworld of life and of
Gaia and the underworld that still exists. The tightly coupled evolution
of the physical environment and the autopoietic entities of pre-life led
to a new order of stability; the state associated with Gaia and with all
forms of healthy life. Life and Gaia are to all intents immortal, even
though composed of entities that at least include dissipative structures.
I find a curious resemblance between the strange attractors and other
denizens of the imaginary world of mathematical constructs and the demons
of older religious belief.
A parallel that goes deep and includes an association with sickness not
health, famine not plenty, storm not calm. A saint of this fascinating
branch of mathematics is the Frenchman, Benoit Mandelbrot. From his
expressions in fractional dimensions it is possible to produce graphic
illustrations of all manner of natural scenes: coastlines, mountain
ranges, trees, and clouds, all startlingly realistic. But when
Mandelbrot's scientific art is applied to strange attractors we see, in
graphic form, the vividly colored image of a demon or a dragon.
Gaia theory may seem to be dull in comparison with these exotica. A
thing, like health, to be taken for granted except when it fails. This
may be why so few scientists and theologians are interested in it; they
prefer the exploration of the Universe, or of the origins of life, to the
exploration of the natural world that surrounds them. I find it
difficult to explain to my colleagues why I prefer to live and work alone
in the depths of the country. They think that I must be missing all the
excitement of exploration.
I prefer a life with Gaia here and now, and to look back only to that
part of her history which is knowable, not to what might have been before
she came into being.
The point of the fable is to argue that it is not necessary to know the
intricate details of the origin of life itself to understand the evolution
of Gaia and of ourselves. In a similar way, the contemplation of those
other remote places before and after life, Heaven and Hell, may be
irrelevant to the discovery of a seemly way of life. We may well have been
assisted by the nature of the Universe to cheat chaos and evolve
spontaneously, on some Hadean shore, into our ancestral form of life.
It seems unlikely that we come from a life form planted here by
visitors from elsewhere; or even arrived clinging to some piece of
cometary debris from outer space. I like to think that Darwin dismissed
enquires about the origins of life not merely because the information
available in his time was so sparse that the search for life's origin
would have had to remain speculative, but, more cogently, because he
recognized that it was not necessary to know the details of the origin of
life to formulate the evolution of the species by natural selection. This
is what I mean by the concept of Gaia being manageable.
The belief that the Earth is alive and to be revered is still held
in such remote places as the west of Ireland and the rural parts of some
Latin countries. In these places, the shrines to the Virgin Mary seem
to mean more, and to attract more loving care and attention, than does the
church itself. The shrines are almost always in the open, exposed to the
rain and to the sun, and surrounded by carefully tended flowers and
I cannot help but think that these country folk are worshipping
something more than the Christian maiden. There is little time left to
prevent the destruction of the forests of the humid tropics with
consequences far-reaching both for Gaia and for humans. The country folk,
who are destroying their own forests, are often Christians and venerate
the Holy Virgin Mary. If their hearts and minds could be moved to see in
her the embodiment of Gaia, then they might become aware that the victim
of their destruction was indeed the Mother of humankind and the source of
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