The Gaia Solution

What we are talking about here is the suggestion that climate change problems will be resolved, simply because (it is imagined) the world’s environment may inevitably be tuned to self-correct. The proposal was developed by Dr Lovelock in the 1970s and has been refined by others. Lovelock adopted the name Gaia, as in mythology she was supposedly a goddess who controlled the Earth. It is a bit unfair to use the rather shorthand description of the hypothesis in our first sentence. The scientific community would have good reason to take issue with it, since the proposers and rejecters of the hypothesis have armed themselves with more supporting data than would fit in all the blogs on this website! In terms of explanatory value, the Gaia hypothesis is rather frightening, as it seems it’s outworking would currently necessitate either a significant reduction in human population, or reversion to pre-industrial age living standards, or both! Is the human race even facing extinction? Yet the hypothesis assumes continuity of life, but without explaining Life’s origin (a fatal flaw also in the belief of some that everything can be explained by evolution, because nothing can evolve until it exists).

The Gaia hypothesis is not intended to have any religious merit; it is supposed to be purely based on natural science observations. However, reportedly noted adversaries of the hypothesis include well-known atheists. Atheists object to such hypothetical Gaia-type conclusions in part because they do not think the universe, or even our small corner of it, is purposeful. They believe, with great confidence, that random purposeless events are the cause for what we can now see and experience, and biologically DNA conveniently secures continuity of favourable outcomes. So the idea that there may be some inbuilt aspects, actually designed to favourably correct unwanted changes in the Earth’s environment is immediately rejected. Christians should have no such problems with the thought of design being evident in the universe, but that doesn’t mean they should just accept a secular Gaia-type hypothesis.

We can do no better than simply rely on what the Bible starts out by saying: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1). In answer to the questions, “Who is that God and how did God do that?” we again can do no better than read the opening of the Gospel by John, for there we are told that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn.1). It goes on to explain that the person seen on Earth as the Man, Jesus Christ, was “the Word” who is eternally God. Thus, the eternal God formed a physical universe, with all its humanly unimaginable complexity and scale, and without recording the mechanics He used beyond the simple: “Then God said…” and therefore, “it was so.” While faith is required to simply accept this biblical revelation, surely greater reliance on blind faith is required to believe that what is observable is no more than a mash-up of numberless accidents, that in contravention of mathematical probability somehow turned up trumps.

If the measurements used by competent scientists are correct, there is evidence the universe has existed for billions of years. Although sufficient evidence is lacking to show simple organisms will develop into different more complex ones, it is possible to see gradual changes occur within a species. Research has also revealed that different organisms (or components of organisms) may act in unison and this “symbiotic” relationship should increase their survival chances. The Gaia hypothesis expects symbiotic relationships between the inorganic and organic components of the Earth’s environment, all acting together to maintain or restore a sort of beneficial equilibrium. It is appealing to the mind to assume that, given enough time and these mechanisms, once life began it could then gradually develop into what can be witnessed today. Although since Darwin that assumption has been taught and accepted there are very significant obstacles to it.

The first is that it fails to identify how or why life, assumed to be purposeless, initially begins. Another is that it doesn’t explain why components will continue to independently emerge gradually if they have no benefit until united at a later stage in a useful but essentially complex form. The eye has often been used to illustrate this difficulty, as partially developed eye components that cannot yet contribute to seeing have no obvious reason to go on developing. Essentially, that problem is simply the necessary feedback indicating a new feature is beneficial cannot occur until it is too late to be helpful. Another difficulty is the time requirement to advance from a basic single cell to a far more complex creature, especially if beneficial developments must occur purely randomly, and without any built-in design to aim for. The improbability of this has been calculated by mathematics professors and nuclear physicists to be impossible, even in the billions of years presumed to be available, unless there is external intelligent intervention to secure the desired result.

But despite these difficulties many will choose to place faith in this answer to the “how did we get here” question, rather than in the most obvious competing possibility: creation by God. It is not intended to defend the creation argument here against every attack it has faced, but one difficulty must be addressed. How can creation explain the scientific evidence of a very old universe, which is a factor in the Gaia hypothesis? Here Christians may point to the Bible narrative and be confident that it provides incidentally for a very long period of time between the first two verses of Genesis, then focuses more on the subject it has in hand: God’s purposes in the benevolent creation of mankind. Another line of reasoning is to affirm that creation was a miracle that did not require normal time frames; it simply in a moment compressed the expected effects of normal time frames into a result that must then express the normal evidence of long age and gradual development, even though the Creator just produced it instantaneously with such features. Christians believe the New Testament historical accounts that Jesus fed 5,000 from five loaves, produced wine from water, healed a man who had his ear cut off and enabled another man to extend a withered hand back to its normal size. In all cases the result appeared to require the creation of new matter, which was verified by those witnessing the event as being as real as the things that would normally require time to produce. These points are made, not to eliminate the possibility of a long age for the universe, but just to stimulate thought so that the Bible accounts are seen as internally consistent and should not be ignored. It is worth drawing attention to these issues, since the Gaia hypothesis assumes a self-correcting global biosphere will use some evolutionary processes to achieve its expected normalization.

Now, by any proper definition God must eternally exist independent of what He creates, and if He purposefully created mankind with the ability to communicate it is logical to expect God can and will communicate with His creation (Ps.94:9). The Bible has all the necessary marks of such a trustworthy divine revelation, though that is another subject!

Christians with sound scientific qualifications have noted, after considerable objective research, that despite its magnitude and complexity, the universe (to the extent we can observe it) operates by an orderly set of rules. Otherwise, science would be practically impossible. Within that set of observable rules, there are more than a dozen fundamental relationships governing the cosmos that have to be exceedingly precise constants or the Earth could not exist. “Random” and “constant” are not interchangeable terms. It also is observably the case that scientific laws depend on an order in the universe, but order is not a product of disorder; things do not proceed from disorder to order, rather the reverse. This brief blog does not attempt to set out or evaluate the amazing discoveries made by astrophysicists and other scientists. It’s purpose is to point Christians beyond arguments about those things, important as they are, and towards a goal of seeking information about why we exist rather than just what we are. The ability to search out such things confirms that we possess a unique capability not seen in other organic or inorganic things: intelligence. We must use that gift carefully and profitably if we are to live worthwhile lives, and be ready to meet our Maker.

The Gaia hypothesis attempts to interpret what happens on Earth, but really it must be understood within larger realities. If some symbiosis between organic and inorganic things is needed to constantly regulate an overall Earth ecosystem, then Earth itself needs a symbiotic relationship to the galaxy and indeed the universe in which it plays its part. What this almost inevitably leads to, and which atheists will wish to reject out of hand, is that the whole balanced universe is needed if we are to experience conditions on Earth that meet the needs of the planet, and mankind in particular. This has been described as an anthropocentric explanation of the universe, that is, it purposely exists for the benefit of humanity. This seems to properly describe the origins addressed in Genesis 1 & 2: an orderly creation, with mankind in view and clearly represented as the culminating creative act, and with mankind given dominion over subordinate aspects of creation. Moreover, the future of mankind on the Earth is guaranteed for more than a thousand years to come (Rev.20:1-3). So, although we should indeed be concerned about climate change and be good stewards of God’s creation, it is the true God not an hypothesis or an imagined goddess who determines outcomes, and to whom an account regarding management of responsibilities must be made (1 Pet.4:5). Worth thinking about!

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