Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Is the universe a "living system"? Reply To: Is the universe a "living system"?

James MacAllister

I think there is a danger of personal prejudices, judgments and opinions being presented as if there is data to back them up.  Let me request that we not become uncivil in simply slinging around mud. I think characterizations such as “scientists rail against” things or that scientists are not good at storytelling or sciontists are not good at interpreting data (!) are assertions that simply won’t stand critical scrutiny.  Great scientists are generally quite humble (they appreciate how much they don’t know). Yes there are some, like Richard Dawkins, who rail against faith-based ideas as delusional, but Dawkins is more of a certaintist than a scientist. His own selfish-gene ideas are demonstrably wrong, but he clings to them in exactly the same fashion as a religious fundamentalist claims the Bible or other religious text as proof in and of itself.  That is religion or scientism, not science. Simon Winchester writes science-based non-fiction that is easily as good as the best fiction.


It is fine to have all kinds of discussions, such as this one, but it should not be mistaken for a scientific discussion which it is not. I would recommend not using terms from science which have specific meanings. Paradigms, hypotheses, theories and even facts have specific definitions. I don’t think any discussion is facilitated in clarity when terminology is misused. Calling something a “paradigm” which is nothing more than an idea does not make it a paradigm. Arguments from authority, consensus or correlation are not evidence.  It is not important that 99% of climate scientists agree that global warming is caused predominantly by things humans are doing (anthropogenic). What matters is that 99% of the evidence says that we are warming the planet.  Uniike other ways of knowing, scientists run “controls” to compare what they are testing against the same set of circumstance without that factor, they double-blind experiments so the thing they hope to show does not bias the result, other teams of scientists in other countries check to see if they can reproduce the same result or data, etc.)


Scientists exercise great care.  To be a hypothesis, you have to start with facts that you are attempting to explain. You cannot have a hypothesis without facts and evidence. The hypothesis has to be stated in such a way that it can be proven false with facts and evidence. Hypotheses have to withstand critical scientific thinking and  available evidence, they have to pose questions and predict answers. After a great deal of testing, withstanding attempts to falsify the hypothesis, experiments, research and data that tend to confirm the explanation offered and maybe restating the hypothesis to  correct overstatement or places where the hypothesis does not align with evidence, the hypothesis may gradually become known as a theory.  Using the word theory to mean something that you wish were true is a gross misuse of the term.  There are theories about how organisms evolve, but evolution, which simply means change-through-time, is a fact, no different than gravity. It has been recognized in writing since the ancient Greeks that the one constant is change.


We humans really have to get a grip on own inflated self-importance, our hubris.  We are not stewards of the Earth. To quote James Lovelock, who loves the planet, “I would expect people to be stewards of the Earth as much as I would for goats to be gardeners.”  We all need to get our heads on straight. It is the Earth that cares for us, not the other way around.  We may have special (meaning different or unique) qualities as humans, but we are not important to the Biosphere. Cyanobacteria, are far more important than we could ever hope to be. They do all the photosynthesis on Earth. Their waste product is the oxygen you breath. We depend on them completely. They would not notice if we vanished. We are not the “crown of creation”. All life on Earth has evolved just as much as we. We are not “more evolved”. Evolution does not “make progress” with humans as the end result. We are just another heterotroph mammal, a clever, dangerous, naked ape. We may be the “universe knowing itself” but that definition would fit every living cell wherever they may be found in the Universe. 


There is currently a mass extinction (popularized as the “sixth extinction”) going on and we are the primary cause of the shrinking biodiversity on the planet. It seems very likely that we will be the victims of our own success as “stewards” of the Earth. It will not be the end of life on Earth. We do not have that power. Most of the life on Earth which is bacteria will survive and go on to “invent” some new meta-celllular forms of life.  Ian McHarg, one of the giants of the environmental movement of the 1970s had a story about how he saw our suidcide as a species.  “The algae will laugh and say, ’Next time, no brains!’’