Intelligent Design

ID and Gaia

Spread the love
[From a colleague in the UK:] The current issue of the British Ecological Society Bulletin has a special feature on Gaia. It appears that James Lovelock was made an Honorary Member of the B.E.S. in 2005, and the Gaia hypothesis is his “most significant contribution to ecology”.

Apparently, the Gaia hypothesis posits that the earth’s ecosystem has improbable stability, and this is increasingly being accepted as a fact by ecologists.

In particular it points to processes like these:

  • animals secrete nitrogenous waste as urea rather than nitrogen to help other species use the waste product;
  • phytoplankton in the oceans secrete dimethysulphide, a costly gas which is important for cloud formation;
  • the balance of photosynthesis releasing oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide, and respiration taking in oxygen and relaesing carbon dioxide;
  • density-dependent regulation of populations.
Such processes, however, might make a better case for ID than for the Gaia hypothesis. One reason the Gaia hypothesis was rejected intially by the scientific community is that it appeared inconsistent with Darwinian evolution.

Has anyone here interacted with the proponents of Gaia? Is there any mileage in an “irreducible ecosystems” argument for ID?

14 Replies to “ID and Gaia

  1. 1
    nightlight says:

    > Is there any mileage in an “irreducible ecosystems” argument for ID?

    Ecosystems are at the top of the hierarchy of ‘intelligent networks’
    composing the Gaia network. They use anticipatory computations,
    including creation of _internal model_ of their environment (which
    contains sub-models of physical & chemical laws, of other networks
    and of ‘self’, the self-actor), to optimize their ‘punishments/rewards’
    i.e. to ‘pursue their happiness’. There are few earlier posts (with
    links) on this perspective:

    General links on computational formulation of ID:

    Fractal structure of internal models & relation to ID:

    Role of ‘mind stuff’:

    See also Sontag’s papers and in particular:
    “Adaptation and regulation with signal detection implies internal model”


    In relation to ‘irreducible complexity’ argument, once you show
    the existence of an intelligent, anticipatory process which models
    its future (by playing what-if game within its internal model),
    then the actions & output of such process will by necessity
    have markers of ‘specified complexity’. The internal model
    itself is the principal example of ‘specified complexity’
    and the generator of all its secondary manifestations
    (in the output of the network, such as the examples of
    ‘irreducible complexity’ and weaker forms of ‘specified

  2. 2
    Charlie says:

    I have no knowledge whatsoever about Gaia but this post strikes a chord with me as it is exactly at the ecological level that I have always found design to be most intuitively apparent.

    The thread on the March Of The Penguins movie reminded me that last summer when I saw the movie I rushed home and wrote letters to various design websites that they needed to review the movie.
    I know Behe does not allow for the use of his term IC beyond the molecular level, but that was all I could think of when I watched the movie. A single generation of penguins which couldn’t transfer the egg successfully, or in which the male hadn’t conserved a morsel of food for months in its throat pouch, or in which the female delayed a day or two longer before returning to her starving family etc., would have been the last generation.
    Sure, I could concoct tales of exaptation, of features once valuable but not yet essential becoming so through environmental change, but they would be unsatisfying by their ad hoc nature.
    If I can’t use Behe’s term, IC, then the ‘all-at-once’ term will have to do.

    As this is getting too long, I will split it into two comments to fool you.

  3. 3
    Charlie says:

    But more on topic:

    For an ID view of the ecosystem(s) one might be interested in reading Dr. Henry Zuill on biodiversity.

    Recent resurgence of interest in intelligent design began with the discovery that a large number of fundamental physical constants in the universe are very finely attuned to the needs of living systems. If they were different by even the most minuscule amount, then life would not be possible. This is known as the Anthropic Principle.

    Other scientists find design evidence in biochemistry and biochemical pathways, which they see as irreducibly complex.

    If there is evidence for design at the very low level that intrigues some physicists, and if there is also evidence at the biochemical level, would this not suggest the possibility of even more evidence higher in the structural hierarchy? Moreover, the higher the evidence on the structural scale, the fewer the interpretative options.

    I began to wonder if there was evidence for design at the very top of the structural hierarchy—the ecological level. This is the level that deals with multiple relationships between organisms, and between them and their abiotic environment. If there was evidence for intelligent design at all levels of the structural hierarchy of nature, and especially at the top, then it would be most difficult to expect blind chance alone to adequately explain the existence and variety of living things. I believe there is such evidence: the view from the top. 3

    In the book In Six Days Zuill says:

    Baskin describes the relationship this way: “It is the lavish array of organisms that we call ‘biodiversity,’ an intricately linked web of living things whose activities work in concert to make the earth a uniquely habitable planet.” 4

    We know plants and animals maintain relatively constant atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen through photosynthesis and respiration. Many decomposers keep soil fertile. Biodiversity services purify water, detoxify toxins, moderate climate, and pollinate flowers. All organisms provide habitats and niches for other creatures.

    Some ecological relationships are so necessary that involved organisms could not survive without them. An example of this is the mutually beneficial relationship between plants and mycorrhizal fungi. As many as 90 percent of plant species interact with either generalized fungi that can service a variety of plants, or with others that are highly selective in the plants with which they interact. Regardless, these fungi enable plants to obtain nutrients that would otherwise not be sufficiently available. Plants in turn provide carbohydrates for their fungi.

    As we look at the broad picture of biodiversity, it is clear that just as a body depends upon division of labor among cells, so an ecosystem depends upon division of labor provided by biodiversity. Just as there are important metabolic pathways in cells, so there are “ecochemical” pathways in ecosystems. The nitrogen cycle, among many possibilities, is an example of this.

    Behe noted complex biochemical relationships in cells and suggested design to explain their origin. We tend to see the world through the “lenses” of our scientific disciplines. Thus Behe, a biochemist, understood cell complexity to result from design. If we jump to the ecological level, at the other end of the spectrum of life, our “ecology glasses” reveal unimaginable complexity there as well.

    When we look broadly at the panorama of life and ecological relationships, we see that ecological complexity is built on layer upon layer of complexity, going all the way down through different hierarchical structural and organizational levels to the cell and even lower. Thus, if we think cytological complexity is impressive, what must we think when we realize the full scale of ecological complexity?
    If biodiversity is as necessary for normal ecosystem operation as appears to be the case, it suggests that these services, and organisms providing them, had to have been simultaneously present right from the beginning. If these ecological interrelationships are really indispensable, then there is no easy evolutionary explanation. This suggests that ecology was designed.

    The situation parallels what happened with the cell. As long as cells were visualized as mere sacks of nucleated protoplasm, and little else, it was quite possible for many to be content with the assertion that it originated through natural processes, otherwise known as biochemical evolution! …. Complexity of the cell is now just too daunting to flippantly assert biochemical evolution to explain it, unless you close your mind and press on blindly and boldly. It has now become quite a feat to think about cells originating through biochemical evolution. And if cells could not originate naturally, then nothing else could.

    In the same way as with the cell, as long as ecology appeared to be only a loose collection of organisms without binding interrelationships, one could likewise think of it as possibly originating through natural processes. But now that ecosystems appear to be held together by essential and unbelievably complex biodiversity, about which information is steadily increasing, we have a dilemma similar to the one faced when the intricate structure of the cell was discovered. Since ecology is built upon so much underlying multispecies complexity, trying to explain the origin of ecology by chance events painfully stretches one’s credulity.

    It appears that life on earth actually makes life on earth possible. That is, life on earth makes it possible for life on earth to continue. This is not saying that life made (past tense) life on earth exist, of course. It is saying that the whole system had to be present for life to go on existing . If this is true, there is no room for gradually unfolding ecology.

    Dr. Zuill is professor of biology at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. He holds a B.A. in biology from Atlantic Union College, an M.A. in biology from Loma Linda University and a Ph.D. in biology from Loma Linda University.

    This is still too long, so for other angles one could head to Google and have a look at the absolute necessity of the million or so species of bacteria to all features of all other life on the planet.
    Also, one should google the various biogeochemical cycles mentioned above – water, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and my favourite phosphorous (as I enjoy having DNA, RNA, ATP, bones and teeth) – and have a look at their complexity and interdependency.
    Predictably a Darwinist will say “of course all of this is necessary for life … life evolved here where all of this exists”.
    By their reasoning, wherever there are conditions of any sort there should be life of some sort.

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    After reading the long post on the complexity of the ecology above, here is a thought that I have had when the Darwinists would point to flaws in various species as indicating the designer was producing inferior designs. They indicated that flawed designs meant the creatures were probably not designed but developed randomly. My reaction has been that the species have to be optimized for an ecology and not for themselves. If one species is too dominant or efficient then it may eliminate others in the environment and may in the long run eliminate necessary elements of the ecology. For example, Darwinists have often said the eye is not designed correctly if you wanted optimum eye design. But suppose an optimum eye would make the species too efficient which would then enable this species to eliminate essential elements of the ecology.

    I am not proposing this because I believe this but only as one plausible scenario. It may have many obvious flaws. Otherwise I would be just like the Darwinists who would then point to it as evidence for their beliefs. But it is more ID friendly because according to Darwinian theory organisms should continue to perfect themselves because they are only interested in the reproduction of their own genes, not those of others. So lack of perfection in species and stasis in an ecology may be an indication of design, not neo Darwinism. Maybe it can be tested.

  5. 5
    tinabrewer says:

    Go here for an interesting series of quotations from Rupert Sheldrake regarding his own hypothesis of morphogenic fields in evolution and Gaia:

  6. 6
    tinabrewer says:

    shoot. I apologize about the above sheldrake link. It brings up a foreign language thingy. Easier to do would be to simply google the words “Gaia Rupert Sheldrake” and get some interesting perspectives.

  7. 7
    tinabrewer says:

    Here are some interesting excerpts which might intrigue IDers (again, from Sheldrake’s work)

    “The evangelists of neo-Darwinism usually present their theory as if it were an established scientific fact that any rational person is bound to accept, whether he or she likes it or not. However, this is far from being the case…”

    “…Indeed, behind its scientific facade, it [the neo-Darwinian theory] appears to have become for many of its followers remarkably like a religion. This seems to be the reason why they propagate their dogmas so zealously, guard against heresies so vigilantly, and deny the truth of all other faiths so vehemently.”


    “Darwin and his followers prefer the idea of gradual changes because they wish to avoid anything that might seem miraculous… But this is nothing more than intellectual prejudice, and armchair speculations about hypothetical missing links do not prove anything one way or another.”

    “In the plant kingdom, for example, species with many different kinds of leaves and flowers seem to survive equally well in the same environment; so how could similar selection pressures have given rise to such widely different forms?”


    “…most biologists reject the existence of telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, and indeed the whole range of the so-called paranormal. This refusal is not based on an examination of the facts, but merely on the grounds that because these things cannot at present be explained, they cannot possibly happen.”

    “Imagine an intelligent and curious person who knows nothing about electricity or electromagnetic radiation. He is shown a television set for the first time. He might at first suppose that the set actually contained little people, whose images he saw on the screen. But when he looked inside and found only wires, condensers, transistors, and so on, he might adopt the more sophisticated theory that the screen images somehow arose from complicated interactions among the components of the set. This hypothesis would seem particularly plausible when he found that the images became distorted or disappeared completely when components were removed, and that the images were restored to normal when these components were put back in their proper places.”


    “In Australia… there were until recent times no placental mammals. Instead, the marsupials evolve to produce a range of species that duplicated in remarkable ways the characteristics of [placental] mammals elsewhere in the world. There were pouched versions of the wolves, cats, ant-eaters, moles, flying squirrels, and so on. Coneivably, these marsupials somehow ‘tuned in’ to the morphogenetic fields of comparable mammals living on other continents.”


    “…accepts the reality of matter, as materialism does; it accepts the reality of the mind, as interactionism does; and it also accepts the existence of an inherent creativity in nature, as pantheism does. But it goes further in that it suggests the existence of a creative consciousness that transcends the Universe, and that is the source of its existence and of the laws that govern it. This divine consciousness also constitutes the goal towards which the evolutionary process is drawn in a ever more conscious manner.”


    “In fact, there is surprisingly little conflict between modern scientific theories of the development of the Universe and the sequence of events described in the first chapter of Genesis.”


  8. 8
    antg says:

    I remember reading about the Gaia hypothesis and the fine-tuning of the biosphere a good few years ago and to me it seems a natural fit with ID (“ecological ID”?). I would be cautious about describing it as “irreducible” as I am sure it easy to imagine a step-by-step process as to how it arose. Nevertheless, it could be looked at from the “fine-tuning” perspective as this body of evidence cries out for a deeper explanation.

    From what I can tell, Gaia has long been embraced by the new-age community – in a way it parallels ID and evangelical Christianity – both observing teleological reality in nature, but drawing different conclusions. I have always assumed ID scholars would be well versed in the Gaia hypothesis with its parallels to ID on the ecological level as opposed to the cellular or cosmological level. IMHO a dialogue between ID and Gaia proponents could bear much fruit in finding common ground across the metaphysical spectrum.

    Finally, I have read parts of James Lovelock’s recent book ‘The Revenge of Gaia’. In it he recounts his difficulties of getting Gaia to be taken seriously by the scientific mainstream. The key problem in his own words, was that Richard Dawkins resisted it and would not back it unless it could be shown how it could arise by natural selection. And so we get a glimpse of how science works in reality – it does not matter if you have a vast array of empirical facts to support your hypothesis, all that matters is that it is compatible with natural selection. ID does not have a hope!

  9. 9
    bFast says:

    I think this begs the question of just how much benefit selection requires to select for a particular trait. Another term we can use to describe the question is “signal to noise ratio.” How much louder than the noise must the signal be for natural selection to latch on to it.

    We see this question rising in a lot of areas. With questions of redundant genes and error correction codes, what percentage of organisms must benefit by the improvement in the duplication technology. We must remember that most of the time, any particular gene is duplicated perfectly without the new technology. Then there’s the question of migration. You’ve got to travel at least 500 miles south along the coast to gain more advantage than you gain by just traveling to the nearby sheltered cove. Now this topic suggests that organisms have developed exhautic systems whose function is to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. Yet it would take countless (well not quite) generations for this function to distinguish itself from a lack of the function. It just doesn’t seem evolvable, it doesn’t seem that there is anywhere near enough signal for natural selection to latch on to. It seems that all “just so stories” must demonstrate not that each step in the story has some apparent “function,” but that the proposed function be sufficient for natural selection to realisticly select for.

    (Charlie, “I know Behe does not allow for the use of his term IC beyond the molecular level.” Wow, I would like to know who his intellectual property attourney is!)

  10. 10
    jimbo says:

    Here’s another great article about Sheldrake’s hypothesis (one which, BTW, is also anti-ID, or at least anti-“special creation”) It also brings up the fact that “Neo Darwinism” has very little to do with Darwin’s original theory:


  11. 11
    tinabrewer says:

    great article, jimbo. Thanks for the link. It is so interesting to me that the link between Lamarck and Darwin (that darwin was a Lamarckian essentially) is forgotten in the modern synthesis. I want to say, however, that “God the Mechanic”, which is how ID is portrayed in the article, is only a potential version of ID, not a necessary or exclusive one. Also, being anti-special creation is NOT the same as being anti-ID.

  12. 12
    Smidlee says:

    Interesting article ,jimbe. Is it me or does this articles have a “mind over matter” feel to it. I couldn’t help but to think about the Star Wars phrase “May the force be with you” “Can you feel the force Luke Skywalker?” Isn’t Gaia close to the SW idea of the force also?

  13. 13
    Charlie says:

    Since this thread seems to be idling it’s probably safe to add another comment.
    However, I’ll spare you the lengthy post I keep contemplating on bacteria and why I think that they are evidence of the irreducibility and design of the ecosystem.
    Instead I’ll just point the way to this timely little blurb:

    We should love bacteria, not annihilate them.  Bacteria are our friends, according to Dianne K. Newman of Caltech: 1
    “As a microbiologist, I’m appalled when I go to buy soap or dishwashing detergent, because these days it’s hard to find anything that doesn’t say ‘antibacterial’ on it…. It’s a commonly held fallacy that all bacteria are germs, but it’s been estimated that out of more than 30 million microbial species, only 70 are known to be pathogens.  That’s a trivial number.  The vast majority are actually doing remarkable things, both for the quality of our life and for the quality of the planet.”

    They are the most widespread and hardiest organisms on earth.

    The realization that bacteria rule the world began when Leeuwenhoek found more organisms on his teeth than men in a kingdom.

    Newman: “We have anywhere from 5 million to 50 million bacteria per square inch on our teeth, and over 700 microbial species living in our mouths.  Most of them are aiding us in our digestion—as are the 300 billion bacteria living in each gram of our colon.  The palms of our hands have between 5,000 and 50,000 organisms per square inch, although that’s nothing compared to the skin of our groin and armpit areas, which as at least 5 million per square inch.
        The grand total per person is about 70 trillion (70 x 10 12 ), so we’re really walking vats of bacteria.  There are 10 times the number of microbial cells in an adult body than there are human cells, and the gut microbiome alone is estimated to contain more than a hundred times the number of genes that we have in our own genome—so there’s a remarkable amount of metabolic diversity living within us.  We shouldn’t be alarmed by this, however, because most of these bacteria are our friends.

    As well as living on and within animals, microbes live in plants, oceans, rivers, lakes, aquatic sediments, soils, subsoils, and air.  The total number of microbes on the planet has been estimated at 5 x 10 30 , which is an enormous number.  If they were all lined up end to end in a chain, it would stretch to the sun and back 200 x 10 12 times. ”

  14. 14
    John A. Davison says:

    There is an interesting parallel provided by ecologcal succession with respect to both ontogeny and phylogeny. All three are self-limiting, irreversible and apparently “prescribed.”

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution, undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

Leave a Reply