The notion that the Earth itself is a living system captured the imagination of New Age enthusiasts, who deified Gaia as the Earth Goddess. But it has received rough treatment at the hands of evolutionary biologists like me, and is generally scorned by most scientific Darwinists. Most of them are still negative about Gaia: viewing many Earthly features as biological products might well have been extraordinarily fruitful, generating much good science, but Earth is nothing like an evolved organism. Algal mats and coral reefs are just not ‘adaptations’ that enhance Earth’s ‘fitness’ in the same way that eyes and wings contribute to the fitness of birds. Darwinian natural selection doesn’t work that way.
I’ve got a confession though: I’ve warmed to Gaia over the years. I was an early and vociferous objector to Lovelock and Margulis’s theory, but these days I’ve begun to suspect that they might have had a point. So I’ve spent the past five years trying to ‘Darwinise Gaia’ – to see widespread cooperation as a result of competition occurring at some higher (even planetary) level. I can see a few paths by which a Darwinian might accept the idea that the planet as a whole could boast evolved, biosphere-level adaptations, selected by nature for their stability-promoting functions.W. Ford Doolittle, “Is the Earth an organism?” at Aeon
Well, once you Darwinize Gaia, it’s just Darwinism. That’s true of everything, of course.
The essay is worth a read. On reflection, if Darwinism weren’t failing, wouldn’t Darwinians just continue to scorn Gaia? Imagine them having to look for places to be now…
Michael Le Page , Colin Barras , Richard Webb , Kate Douglas and Carrie Arnold, Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature, New Scientist (September 23, 2020).
Kate Douglas, We’re beginning to question the idea of species – including our own, New Scientist, (December 11, 2019)