Physics and Metaphysics

Carrie Tomko and I are having an argument about the Gaia Hypothesis. She insists it’s intrinsically a New Age religious belief. I think the garbage metaphysics are separable from the basic schema. The basic schema of the Gaia Hypothesis is that the earth is a giant system of interacting biosystems (and non-living systems like plate tectonics) that affect each other and tend toward a homeostasis. I don’t think that’s even controversial, since it seems obvious to me. What’s controversial is the metaphysics humans layer on top of that, declaring the earth to be some conscious being or even a quasi-deity. That’s good old fashioned paganism: worshipping the creature instead of the Creator. Only instead of worshipping a small rock or lizard, bug or cat, people think that it makes more sense to worship a huge rock or millions of lizards, bugs, and cats.

I grant that the metaphysics of the Gaia Hypothesis is dumb, dumb, dumb. I don’t grant that the metaphysics is necessary to the Gaia Hypothesis.

The fact is, every major scientific trend tends to carry with it, like a sort of parasite, some school of metaphysics that sees in the science a validation for its tenets. Thus, people saw in Natural Selection some sort of “proof” that God was unnecessary to the creation of life on earth. Newton’s mechanical physics invited the Enlightenment metaphysic of the remote Watchmaker God who just wound up the universe and let it go. These dopey metaphysics did not prove Newton or natural selection wrong. Gravity works. In floods, cows die and fish don’t. All we really can learn from this is that bad metaphysics will seize on any excuse to assert themselves. We should not imitate that by seizing on bad metaphysics as an excuse for ignoring valid scientific observations.