Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Gaia Hypothesis

Watched this fascinating program a couple of days ago which my wife had recorded: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s04qp
Unfortunately it's no longer available on iPlayer.

It's all about James Lovelock, who first postulated the theory that our whole planet effectively functions as a single interdependent organism. For example, animals and plants do things that effect the climate, which in turn makes it possible for them and for other organisms to survive.

One of the things that interested me was Lovelock describing the reception his ideas received. He said he was very pleasantly surprised by the strong positive reaction he got from religious people.  He mentioned a certain bishop - who I think he said was the bishop of Birmingham at the time - who was then shown on camera talking about how Lovelock's ideas dovetailed with his own concept of a benevolent creator God. Lovelock said he didn't share those ideas, but for Christians he thought it gave them a useful way of thinking about his theories.

By contrast, the reception he got from the scientific community was a lot more mixed. Richard Dawkins in particularly was (and I think still is) extremely anti-Gaia, and as I watched Lovelock explaining the theory I could see why. It's very hard to see how such a complex interdependent system could have evolved all by itself by a process of natural selection - which is indeed Dawkins' primary objection to it.

In response to some of these criticisms, Lovelock developed his ideas to explain how he felt natural selection could in fact account for Gaia, although he hasn't managed to win over all of his opponents.

The thing that struck me most about Dawkins' reaction, was how strongly wedded he is to a particular point of view, which makes it impossible for him to consider anything that doesn't line up with that. There's an incredible arrogance in his approach - the assumption that science must be capable of explaining everything, which leads to the conclusion that if something isn't (or even doesn't appear to be) susceptible to that kind of explanation then it must not be a true thing!

Maybe though, this is to some extent true of anyone who has a strong emotional investment in a particular point of view? I can think of plenty of religious people this applies to!

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Dawkins has probably written many articles, published many papers and appeared on the TV prescribing his 'scientific' point of view. I can see why he would not want to accept any other point of view as it is a sign of the weakness. This is for several reasons - firstly, that his scientific theories are not strong enough and secondly, that any future theories of his will hold no weight.

    Therefore, its very much a pride thing.


If you don't have an account, and you want to leave your name, select "Name/URL" from the "Comment as" drop list below. Then just enter your name (you don't have to supply a URL) and click "Continue".