GAIA: The World Soul of Science and Religion

By Doctress Neutopia

March 29, 1999

Written for the Gaia III Conference

"Holy Week" April 3rd-7th 1999

St. Anne’s College Oxford, England

My deep gratitude goes to Lynn Margulis for inviting me to the conference.


Myth is the history of the soul. Lest we think that Isis and Osiris, or Jesus and Mary, are only stories from the past, we should look around us to see that a new chapter is being written in our own time. Whatever names these two lovers take, when they come together it will be like the touch of matter and antimatter, the passing and the consuming passion of our world. In the origins of civilization is the overturn to its end.

Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality & the Origins of Culture by William Irwin Thompson

What I love about my limited but expanding knowledge of the Gaia Theory, a theory called a "potential grand unified theory of biology," is that we see a science that explains the "way things hang together." Gaia science is a planetary narrative that explains how life evolves on Earth. One can not understand the Gaia Theory by deductive reasoning alone. Gaia is an idea as obvious as the Earth is a sphere, not flat; the Earth is not the center of the Universe, but revolves around the sun, unmistakable truths that shine so bright that it blinds people who are afraid to see the illumination.

Gaia’s beautiful simplicity dazzles us with its "Great Holarchy of Being." Ken Wilber explains in his book Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality: the Spirit of Evolution, that holons is a concept coined by Arthur Koestler to describe how what is whole in one context is simultaneously a part in another. Reality, then, is not "composed of things or processes, but of holons." An example of a holonistic sequence is: subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, bacteria, nucleated cells, multicelled organisms, humans, the body of humanity… Gaia. Holons make up holons within holons, fields within fields.

The Gaia theory is the brainchild of James Lovelock, an independent scientist who was inspired to articulate the "top-down" theory while he was working with NASA on a project to detect life on Mars. In order to detect life on Mars, he began looking at the atmospheres of the other planets of our solar system. When he looked at Earth from data from Outer Space, he saw symbiosis, the intimate connection of life with water, atmosphere, and soils, the organic and inorganic exchanging energy and materials in cycles of life, death and rebirth. Lovelock's theory sees the Earth’s physiology as a planetary-sized ecosystem, a living network at the Earth’s surface. Lovelock states that Gaia "automatically regulates such important properties as climate and atmospheric composition, so that they are always more or less comfortable for life."

Wholistic Gaia science is not only a foundational world view for the investigation of "the details of how all organisms exchange gases and other chemical compounds with the water, atmosphere and soils of Earth." But, from a cultural standpoint, what I am seeing is that Gaia is also a foundation for a planetary religion, a benevolent new way of living with and revering the Earth. Gaia shows us the way to create evolutionary new habitats so that we have not only the scientific technology, but the philosophy to peacefully penetrate deeper into the mysteries of the Universe using both science and art.

James Lovelock speculates, "Gaia may turn out to be the first religion to have a testable scientific theory embedded in it." Could it be that any religion that does not have such a scientific framework is not really a healthy religion at all? Couldn’t this explain the reason why we find ourselves after centuries and centuries of "holy" wars on the brink of World War III and a global environmental holocaust?

In the introduction of their book, Slanted Truths, Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan state that the Gaia Theory attempts to answer the questions raised by the great religious faiths of the world bringing us back to the original meaning of the word "religion," re-ligio: to bind together again. Rarely does science go back to our origins to answer such questions as "How did the world begin? What is the world? Who are we and where are we going? What are the relations between us? What is the purpose of life and death?"

Since science is a discipline based on physically verifiability of nature, when it does answer such questions asked by the great faiths, Margulis and Sagan say that it "provides far more insight than does revelation, meditation, or any other way of knowing." Well, I think that statement does not take into consideration the role intuition plays in the planetary creative process, the awe inspiring feelings of finding one’s part of the Great Holocracy, the profound sense of joy when one looks at an image of Planet Earth. Do not most people, even without knowing Gaia science, feel the reverence of the superorganism at work? (Lynn rejects the idea of Gaia being a single organism because organisms need other organisms to recycle their wastes)

So, if Gaia science is so obvious to those who have minds opened wide enough to see the Earth from Outer Space and the sensitivity to feel the life-force within, why hasn’t the theory been more widely accepted? What is stopping this "scientific revolution in the making" from radically changing the way we live so that we can adopt a sustainable Gaia lifestyle?

Lynn Margulis writes in her essay, "A Pox Called Man,"

Scientists studying other planets, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, study them as wholes, but we who study the Earth do not. Why don’t we? We don’t because we are children of a Judaeo-Christian, Muslim, Neo-Darwinist or some other kind of religion. These religions are absurdities in that not only are they muddled, but they are dangerous for our relationship with the Earth and our non-human planetmates. The cultural background in which we have been brought up precludes out learning about the Earth as a whole planet. When scientific results clash with cultural and religious unstated "truth," science demur.

Margulis and Sagan state that science can also get stuck in dogma of specialization and compartmentalization. It becomes a pseudoreligion of the scientific status quo that has allowed the practice of a mediocre science and technology, a pox on the face of the Earth, made without the vision to see its effects on the entire planet.

Such is the case with mainstream science today at the end of the 20th Century in a world of corrupt politicians and nation-states who gives more money to a pathological science to develop weapons of mass destruction than to fund research to help us understand and preserve the ecology. The problem is that 20th Century science can not see the Big Picture of a "top-down unified view of the Earth" even though the US National Academy of Sciences has stated, "A new approach to studying the Earth processes [is needed], in which the Earth is viewed as an integrated, dynamic system, rather than a collection of isolated components." By top-down Lovelock means "a view of the whole system, a view that recognizes the living organisms and complex system are always something more than the mere addition of their parts."

My thesis is that traditional religions are also pathological, ill equipped to see the Big Picture. Trapped in traditional, isolated, tribal mythologies (most of which are sexists) they are enslaved in mental boxes that oppress the flow of creative and authentic religious experiences from binding us together again. What I am proposing is that if we are truly in the midst of a scientific revolution in the making, we are also in the midst of articulating a planetary religion. The two components are inseparable in the goal of planetary metamorphosis, the merger of biology and morality. So it is not a mere coincidence that Lovelock chose to call the scientific hypothesis after the ancient Greek Goddess of the Earth. His choice was prophetic; a foreshadowing of this alchemical reaction between religion and science when these mythmaking elements are united. Margulis and Sagan write in their essay, "A Good Four-Letter Word,""Like psychoanalysis, Gaia Theory renews the dialogue of science (logos) with myth (mythos). Much of the sociocultural force Gaia attains is owed to the mythologies that still speak meaningfully to us. In our age, characterized by nihilism, monotheism, and "God is dead," Gaia is optimistic and positive." Could Gaia be the way to end the historical antagonisms between science and religion?

What I am suggesting is that without the verifiable knowledge of Gaia science, building a Gaia religion of sustainable architecture is not possible; and, without a Gaia religion, a Gaia science will not have the means necessary to transform the earth through human evolution. If our greatest challenge is to make the body of humanity into a "healthy, functioning holon within the Gaian holoarchy" as Elisabet Sahtouris states, then we need the (re-)union of religion and science, in mythological terms, a hieros gamos (sacred marriage). The two are one, united. Through this marriage, are we so fortunate as to be witnessing a completely new and evolutionary phenomenon, a transfiguration of both science and religion into something else?

Wilber explains that under suitable circumstances when an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms are brought together, a new and in some ways unprecedented holon emerges, a water molecule. Wilber writes, "This is not just a communion, self-adaptation, or association of three atoms; it is a transformation that results in something novel and emergent—different wholes have come together to form a new and different whole." It is also worth noting here that when a system becomes too complicated to see the Big Picture, out of this chaos, a new scheme of things harmonize holons in ways that deepen and evolve our consciousness to new levels of organization and, I may add, habitat. Wilber continues:

When the regimes or deep structures of hydrogen and oxygen are brought together in a certain fashion, a water molecule emerges with a new regime or deep structure, a regime that incorporates the separate regimes of the atoms into a single "morphic unit," a holon with a new deep structure that subsumes its predecessors. This is a vertical transformation, or change in deep structure; it is not a mere addition or more and more atoms, which would simply produce a mess, not a molecule; a heap, not a whole. Translation shuffles parts; transformation produces wholes.

Or perhaps scientific revolutions are not completed without the poetic holon of religion. One holon sits on the other. Sitting on the throne of science, religion holds the blue-green orb in one hand, and with the other hand, holds the staff of compassionate justice, whispering to the sun and the moon verses of a "poetic science". One cannot be a wise ruler of the Self without the knowledge of Gaia science. And Gaia science can not construct an ethical scientific framework for a lasting peace so necessary to our survival without the insights felt from the overwhelming emotional love for the forces of Gaia joining us together. It is love that constitutes religious experiences. Lovelock writes in The Ages of Gaia,

For me, Gaia is a religious as well as a scientific concept, and in both spheres it is manageable. The life of a scientist who is a natural philosopher can be deeply religious. Curiosity is an intimate part of the process of living. Being curious and getting to know the natural world leads to a loving relationship with it. It can be so deep that it cannot be articulated, but it is nonetheless good science. Creative scientists, when asked how they came upon some great discovery, frequently state, "I know intuitively, but it took several years work to prove it to my colleagues."

Since we are searching for evolutionary leaps of understanding, we are seeking transformations, not translations. How this translates in religious terms is that we are not looking to reform traditional religious mythologies, but to start a new one that "subsumes its predecessors." For me, this is not a reformist task of revising old structures of thought, but an act of procreation, creating new architectural structures by first greening existing cities, and eventually, building a network of arcologies (Paolo Soleri’s concept of the union of architecture and ecology) on both Earth and in Outer Space. Thus we move from the military/industrial fossil- fuel based civilization to a solar power based Gaiaculture, the "soulization" of the world. "Gaiaculture" then would have the power to produce the seeds necessary for the reproduction of Gaia into space colonies, a theory Dorion Sagan has explained in his book, Biospheres: Metamorphosis of Planet Earth.

Wilber describes that within the holocracy, a word that is interchangeable with the word hierarchy meaning sacred or holy order, there is a developmental sequence, a "higher" and "lower" order. By asking one’s self the question of "What other types of holons would be destroyed if we destroy this type of holon," one can understand the nature of the holocracy. For example, if politicians were foolish enough start a nuclear war and nuclear winter ruined the atmosphere for eukaryotic life, the "lower" level on the life scale would not be effected by the catastrophe. Life on the planet would go on evolving without us. Hence, the prokaryotic life force is a more fundamental building block to the planet than eukaryotic life because it is a component of so many other holons. For example, relatively speaking, atoms are fundamental because molecules, cells, and organism depend upon them. However, the nucleated cells are more complex holons in that they are made up of all the "lower" holons making them more significant to the Universe. The less depth means the more fundamental is the holon. It is also less significant to the Cosmos because its components embrace so little of the Cosmos.

Eukaryotic cells are more significant because they embraced more components of the holons that make up its being. Wilber writes, "Primates are very significant, relatively speaking, because they represent and contain atoms and molecules and cells: they signify more of the Kosmos." (63) They have taken more energy to develop so they become more valuable to planetary evolution.

Consequently, science, the study of our physical environment is a more fundamental knowledge than religion, the study of the universe within. So science becomes the throne of religion. Without it, true religion cannot exist. But since religion is a newer holon and therefore more complex and it can not exist without science, it holds vital knowledge for the future of the human race.

In this transfiguration of science and religion, we see the life-force within ourselves. James Lovelock writes in "A Model for Planetary and Cellular Dynamics, "Lynn Margulis once remarked that the true function of mammals, including humans, might be to serve as ideal habitats for the few pounds of bacteria carried in the guts." Recognizing the life-force within our bodies, scientists are duty-bounded to make moral decisions which affect human society… Gaia scientists cannot simply say as modern scientists have said that science is ethically neutral.

Since, ultimately, Gaia science is about the symbiotic relationships of people and things, then it goes to stand that scientists cannot escape the value a Gaia religion has to offer in working to create global enlightenment and the architectural plans of building a steady-state economy necessary for further evolution. This consciousness revolution brings us to a new renaissance. The divisive spell cast to create "academic apartheid" between disciplines is broken so that philosophers/scientists are free to be both artists and scientists as both branches of knowledge on the tree of life go back to the source of Gaia for orientation and guidance. In Gaia: The Human Journey From Chaos to Cosmos, Elisebet Sahtouris writes, "If the ancients were right—as this book holds—that nature is indeed the best source of guidance available to humans, then surely science, as the study of nature, is the most appropriate field relationship to one another and to the rest of nature."

Love and Reproduction

The love of wisdom brings me back to the main purpose for writing this essay, the role erotic love plays in cultural evolution. Unlike scientific knowledge that works through quantitative research, religious knowledge works through symbolism. When I was doing research for my dissertation *Gaia: The Planetary Religion, the Sacred Marriage of Art and Science, I realized one afternoon in the Amherst College library that the primordial movers of life and death, the prokaryotes, actually manifest themselves or speak to us through human symbolism. In Gaia and God, Rosemary Radford Ruether writes, "A healed relation to each other and to the earth then calls for a new consciousness, a new symbolic culture and spirituality." It is the need for a new symbolic culture that I will focus the remainder of this essay.

What I am suggesting is that the language of the prime movers, conscious of themselves, is revealed through sacred icons of reproduction. When our relationship with the prokaryotes changes to a deeper understanding of our structural ordering, then our icons will also change. In the struggle to understand Gaia as a living organism, critics of the theory have said that Gaia is not an organism because it does not reproduce. To this criticism Lovelock responds by exclaiming that Gaia has just not reproduced itself yet! So, is Gaia on the verge of reproduction? If so, why hasn’t it happened yet? Could this reproduction be our next great evolutionary step as science writers have suggested? To answer this question, let’s look at iconology.

Lovelock writes in The Ages of Gaia,

What if [Mother] Mary is another name for Gaia? Then her capacity for virgin birth is no miracle or parthenogenetic aberration; it is a role of Gaia since life began. Immortals do not need to reproduce an image of themselves; it is enough to renew continuously the life that constitutes them. Any living organism a quarter as old as the Universe itself and full of vigor is as near immortal as we ever need to know. She is of this Universe and, conceivably, a part of God. On Earth she is the source of life everlasting and is alive now; she gave birth to humankind and we are a part of her.

What I see in the image of the Virgin Mary as Gaia is the foundational symbol of Western Civilization, the source of our dysfunctional social architecture. In terms of reproduction, Mary is the symbol of prokaryotic asexual reproduction, the immortality of never having to die. Life is continues through cell division, not needing sexual reproduction, producing what has been called "Christian Clones," people who are not able to individuate. For prokaryotes, virgin birth is not a miracle but a biological fact.

My disagreement with Christianity and other ancient mythologies that promote sexless reproduction and Mother/Son-lover virgin-birth myths is that it does not give us the iconography necessary for cultural transformation. The Jesus/Mary myth is not a myth of homeostasis, a balance between equals who are differentiated. Jesus holds superiority over Mary since he is the Son of God and she not a Goddess, but a mere saint. What their relationship symbolizes is an incestuous relationship between mother and son rather than a way to have a mature erotic love relationship with the opposite sex. What I am saying is that our past religious symbolism has not provided us with the means to fully individuate, to break away from "Mother Earth". We have not learned to fully be eukaryotes by seeking to understand the meaning of love.

When I say love, I am not only talking about the biological elements that cause chemical attractions, what has been called the "science of love" such as the study of dopamine and pheromones, the physiological components to mating. But I am also concerned with the metaphysical components of lovemaking, the poetics of the science of love. This poetics not only connects one’s lover in a mind, body and soul with the other, but also to the cosmos, biosphere and noosphere giving us a profound meaning for union.

Tampering with genetic engineering and cloning, our relationship with Gaia is changing. Without this wisdom of poetics, I do not think that we will find the knowledge necessary to take on the responsibility of being co-creatresses/creators of Gaia’s planetary future. Consequently, Gaia will not be able to reproduce itself through us. Living in a culture dominated by the virgin birth mythos, is it any wonder why our society is not founded on true love? Could it be that erotic love is necessary for creating and maintaining a healthy, free, and peaceful world?

My heresy as it relates to the Christian family structure is not only about the unnatural birth process, central to their mythos, but I also oppose the absurdities in the tale of the resurrection of Christ. Again, with the resurrection myth, we see the shadows of our deathless prokaryotes, a mythos that attempts to deny the cycling process of actually being eaten by the earthly prokaryotes since Christ comes back from the dead to show us the way to eternal life before he ascends into heaven. Ruether writes, "In nature death is not an enemy, but a friend of the life process. The death side of the life cycle is an essential component of that renewal of life by which dead organisms are broken down and become the nutrients of new organic growth. Cultural avoidance of death, then, may be an essential root of the inability of some human cultures to create sustainable ecosystems." Not being able to die, humanity is unable to be reborn, diverting the problem of rebirth through the resurrection, not through the need for sexual and cultural reproduction through the womb of woman.

In Christian mythos we see the world divided into hell, earth and heaven. The Kingdom of God is somewhere in the starry heaven where Jesus and Mary rule over the Earth. This false consciousness has now led us to preparing to spend billions of dollars on defense systems in Outer Space. The heavens have become the newest "high ground" for such military weapons as nuclear powered laser beams, stealth bombers, and other Star Wars weapons of mass destruction in order to protect "American interests" through NATO.

What our species is in dire need of are new cultural symbols, stories, and poetics of the science of love which has the power to lead the five "kingdoms" (or is it more appropriate in the Age of Gaia to call them "queendoms?") into "galactic gardens" of peace. Such a story not only needs to bring as Joseph Campbell said, "myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet," but one that brings the eternal into the temporal to end the millennial long war-between-the-sexes. Or could this war actually be the war between the prokaryotes and the eukaryotes? After all, in this battle for survival most eukaryotic species have not survived. Perhaps breaking out of the Oedipus complex (or could we call it the prokaryotic complex) is the answer to why Gaia’s reproduction has not occurred as yet and why we find ourselves on the verge of extinction.

In the theory of holons, each holon is programmed for self survival. So, prokaryotic cells are trying to protect its position by perpetuating symbols of asexual reproduction. Following such symbolism will only lead eukaryotic cells to our demise. What we are actually seeking is the homeostasis between prokaryotic life and eukaryotic cells, between the eternal and the temporal. As you can see, not only I am a heretic to the Neo-Darwinism world view, but equally, I am a heretic in the Christian millennium.

I feel that my research into archetypes and the research of other ecofeminist scholars have proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jesus is a false messiah. After two millennia of his reign on Earth, we have not witnessed more peace, nor has the Kingdom of Heaven been established on Earth. According to the World Watch Institute, the total human deaths in major wars since the 1st Century have been calculated as 149 million. Over the centuries, the disease of war has escalated. In the 20th Century thus far, 111 million people have been estimated as victims of war. The count is rising daily as wars against civilian populations rage on in such places as Kosovo and Iraq. As Christianity grows so has war, not only against groups of people, but against nature.

What gives me reason for hope is that in the last several years people around the world have been attracted to Hollywood love stories such as "Titanic" and "Shakespeare in Love" that show the struggle lovers face to overcome sexism, classism, racism, social customs, belief systems, and other barriers that stop the transformative powers of love. In such stories, we see glimpses of what I call the Gaia Messiah.

The Gaia Messiah is the pinnacle of human evolution. Its symbolic power leads us into the regime of the Great Holocracy of Being. Such stories show us the meaning of eukaryotic reproduction at its highest peak, illustrating the way to create peace on Earth and in Heaven. But alas, the characters in these movies are fiction and the stories were not epic making events. Nonfiction is where we find the power of myth. I await the true love story that can really free Gaia from human ignorance. One might ask: why is the human love story so important for Gaia’s reproduction? Well, dearest science writers, who would want to live in a world without love?