The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a pagan planet

Professor Michael Ruse, Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Florida State University

Co-presented with the Sydney Centre for the Foundation of Science

18 June

In 1965, the English scientist James Lovelock had an epiphany. Planet Earth is an organism. Labeling it the "Gaia hypothesis" – a name he got from his close friend the novelist and future Nobel Laureate, William Golding – Lovelock published this idea in the early 1970s, in articles co-authored by the American biologist Lynn Margulis. They had reason to expect at least a respectful hearing. Lovelock had just been made a Fellow of the Royal Society and Margulis was on her way to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. Yet, the reception by the scientific community was scathing. Richard Dawkins, typically, was critical to the point of cruelty, but others were not much better. Paradoxically, however, the general public (especially the Californian New Agers) loved the Gaia hypothesis, and took it up with enthusiasm – an enthusiasm still high today. Digging into the past, going back to Plato, this is a talk that tries to explain the different reactions, and through this to discover something general about the nature of science and scientists. It includes a wonderful set of characters, including the Naturphilosoph Friedrich Schelling, the Austrian seer Rudolf Steiner, the crusading Rachel Carson, and above all the irrepressible Pagan primate of the Church of All Worlds, the polyamory practicing, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart.

Michael Ruse

Michael Ruse is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and the Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Florida State University. He is the author or editor of over fifty books, including The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw (1979), Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (2001), and The Evolution-Creation Dispute (2005). For Oxford he is now writing Atheism: Everything One Needs to Know. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a sometime Gifford Lecturer, and the founding editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy.