International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  19:00 - 20:30  /  Salle Marie Gérin-Lajoie
What philosophy of biology got wrong on the Gaia hypothesis

Sebastien Dutreuil (IHPST/ Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France)

The Gaia hypothesis (GH) was originally proposed by Lovelock and Margulis in the 1970’s. It was famously criticized by Doolittle (1981) and Dawkins (1982). After these critiques a standard narrative has spread in various circles, and in particular in evolutionary biology and philosophy of biology. This narrative contains three claims: GH is nothing more than a metaphor comparing the Earth with an organism; it is peudo-scientific or it has been abandoned by the scientific community at large; the relevant community when it comes to discussing GH is that of evolutionary biologists. Not surprisingly then, GH has not attracted the interest of philosophers of biology over the past thirty years (leaving aside Ruse (2013) and Doolittle (2013)). The first aim of this poster is to describe the extent to which this standard narrative has pervaded evolutionary biology and philosophy of biology. The second is to show that none of the claims of the narrative is warranted. Prior to the 1980’s, all the evidences necessary to show that GH is not just a metaphor and did not aim to contribute to evolutionary biology are available. Besides, the demarcation claim conceals the fact that there has never been any serious demarcationnist argument proposed and glosses over the development of the massive scientific literature on GH over the past forty years (involving geochemists, geophysicists, Earth historians, Earth system scientists and cyberneticians). Though the lack of interest from evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology can be understood, the rest of the poster points out that philosophers of science have missed an opportunity to engage in the controversy and to discuss fascinating questions raised therein: the demarcation between science and pseudo-science, teleology and function, the epistemic role of computational models and of metaphors, the claim that GH may support an alternative conception of nature.