Oct 06 2008

Dr Carolyn King on Gaia

Published by under Meetings

At our next meeting, on Friday 10 October, Ian Crumpton will report to us on Dr Carolyn King’s talk to the annual conference. He comments as follows:

Dr Carolyn King was one of the three keynote speakers at the 2008 Sea of Faith (NZ) National Conference held in Blenheim in September. All three spoke to the conference’s theme: Is Gaia Tomorrow’s God? Dr King’s answer, in a word, was no!

Dr King is Senior Lecturer in the Dept of Biological Sciences and a research associate in the Dept of Philosophy at the University of Waikato. She is an active member of the Anglican Church. The strength of her presentation was a detailed explanation of the way living organisms moderate and stabilise conditions  on earth, providing a suitable habitat for all. This, in a nutshell, is the Gaia Theory. Since life began on earth over three billion years ago, the sun’s energy output has increased by about 20%, but evolving life has enabled the maintenance of a relatively steady temperature, as well as producing the volatile gas oxygen, enabling the evolution of more complex organisms.  Thus complex dynamic balances shape the earth’s lithosphere and ecosystems.  But Gaia is no benign goddess. She dispenses both life and death. The price we pay for our complexity and dependence on such a volatile gas as oxygen is mortality. We get sick. We die.

The Gaia Theory has three forms.
(1) The weak form: Earth is a complex entity.  Generally agreed .
(2) Strong form: Earth is a living entity – contested by many scientists.
(3) Extreme form: Life regulates the global environment to maintain
optimum conditions (this form imputes purpose). Rejected by most

Dr King’s presentation made clear the dire consequences of the human induced global warming that is now gathering pace. She explained how temperature sets limits to life in the sea, and the importance of the Arctic and Antarctic seas which enable nutrient transfer. She explained the feedback mechanisms which could accelerate the warming process once triggered. And the learnings we are accumulating from study of the mass extinctions of the past.

In short, Gaia regulates all life, not just human life. This insight is more downgrading of humanity than evolution theory was. We are a tiny element in the biological/physical whole. And you can’t separate the biological from the physical. Dr King used the analogy of the termite nest to make this point.

Gaia is beginning to function as a myth in out time. A myth, in Loyal Rue’s definition, is “A story which tells how things are, and which things matter.”

Science: Knowlege without certainty.
Relgion: Certainty without knowlege.
The fallacy of misplaced correctness leads us to impute certainty to science and knowlege to religion.
A better way, in Dr King’s view, is to encourage the best of both good mythology and good science.”

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