On this 40th Earth Day, it seems Natural to reflect on Biologist and self-proclaimed atheist Richard Dawkins' words:
"...It is clear that here on Earth we are dealing with a generalized process for optimizing biological species, a process that works all over the planet, on all continents and islands, and at all times … if we wait another ten million years, a whole new set of species will be as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species are to theirs. This is a recurrent, predictable, multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight." [Emphasis added, The GOD Delusion, p 139]
GOD = "General Optimizing Device" would seem to follow Naturally from the above statement.
The process of neo-Darwinian Evolution and Natural Selection is: OMNIPRESENT (“all continents and islands … all times”), OMNIPOTENT (“whole new set of species”) and OMNISCIENT (“as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species”).
Lets kick it up a notch to:
GOD = "Gaia Optimizing Deity". Only something superior to and above individual biological life forms, including human life, could have the super-human powers described by Dawkins.
"Gaia" is the term used by James Lovelock (PhD scientist and inventor) to personify such a super-human force, the Greek "Goddess of the Earth" featured in a Nova PBS TV presentation reviewed by the NY Times. "Nova concerns itself with science rather than fiction, of course, and this segment skillfully reviews the subtle chemical and biological interactions that control the levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane and other key gases in the earth's atmosphere. Dr. Lovelace [sic] presents his well-reasoned view that the existing proportions of gases in our atmosphere could only be maintained by the existence of life, and that in seeking life elsewhere in the universe, it is necessary only to look for similarly unstable mixtures of atmospheric gases."
Biological Organisms May Control Cloud Formation and Moderate Climate Change
Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography> sampled clouds in real time using aircraft. "By determining the chemical composition of the very cores of individual ice particles, they discovered that both mineral dust and, surprisingly, biological particles play a major role in the formation of clouds."
This opens the possibility that the biosphere could have evolved, over eons of climate change, the capability to moderate intense swings of climate by releasing biological chemicals that promote cloud formation during hot periods and releasing lower quantities during ice ages to reduce formation of clouds.
Possible Mechanism for Evolution of Biological Climate Moderation
The Sun was some 30% dimmer 3-4 billion years ago when biological life originated on Earth. Given a faint Sun, the Earth's surface temperatures must have been much colder than the coldest ice ages. Yet, for life to be viable, the surface temperatures had to be quite a bit warmer, within tens of degrees of current temperatures.
One explanation is that the Earth's atmosphere was far richer in CO2 and other carbon gasses when life originated. (~1% vs 0.04% now.) According to that theory, the carbon gasses would have promoted an intense "greenhouse" effect that kept the surface warm. Unfortunately for that explanation (but fortunately for us) it turns out that CO2 levels billions of years ago were much closer to current levels, so it was not the greenhouse effect!
The best explanation is that there were far fewer clouds billions of years ago. Since clouds are responsible for a net reduction in surface temperatures, their absence would have the opposite effect. But why would there be more clouds now, and why would they increase to moderate the effect of a brightening Sun?
Biological life originated and evolved starting about 3.5 billion years ago. As the Sun became progressively brighter, some life forms emitted chemicals that promoted cloud formation and thereby moderated the temperatures that otherwise would have risen in their area. Biological life that had a moderating influence on cloud formation is more "fit to the environment" (or , more properly, makes the environment more fit to life). Over the eons of evolution, biological life that had the power to moderate climate would spread at the expense of life that did not.
Quoting Dawkins again on the generalized optimizing process: "This is a recurrent, predictable, multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight."
But, Is the Gaia Sentient?
Well, how can you tell if an agent is sentient without being that agent?
[Added 10:30PM] The Gaia has given us an Earth Day present! Today, Arctic Sea Ice Extent has hit a high for the past eight years. Good news that may indicate that Global Warming is at bay, at least for a decade, and perhaps for more. See more details at Watts Up With That. Click image below for a larger version. I expect the ash clouds from the Iceland volcano to cause some additional cooling in the affected areas of North America and Europe for at least a month, perhaps more.
[Added 27 April] Turn up the sound and enjoy this well-produced video!