The Living Earth (Blog 23)

What is Earth? How did it get here? How did life evolve on Earth? What role does life play on the planet? These are just a few of the questions that Brian Swimme tries to answer, specifically in his film “Journey of the Universe: An Epic Story of Cosmic, Earth and Human Transformation.” Throughout the whole film Swimme tries to drive home this point that the world is not a mechanized systemolecular-explosion-smallm as many have thought, through which life was accidentally created. Rather, the Earth is a living and changing “organism” which has interacted with the sun in a way that made life inevitable. Life is woven in to our atmosphere and our Earth as a whole and it has been created and sustained in was almost appears to be a deliberate manner. They view the evolutionary process, not just human evolution but also the evolution of the earth and its natural processes, as one that is continuous and ongoing. The system is a delicate one, but it is also one that has been able to cope with different elements and factors that would have or should have destroyed life on this planet. The earth reacts to these factors always producing and maintain conditions to sustain life. This is the first truly scientific and historical piece that we have looked at that describes the relationship of life forms and earth, how they developed and how or if they can be sustained.

One of the things that I found most interesting about Swimme’s argument was that we are not living on earth but rather participants in an intricate system that, for all intents and purposes, is analogous to a living cell. But upon further reflection I think this argument could have huge implications on the movement towards an environmental ethic. The reason I say this is because it appears that humans take living cells very seriously. They have become the center for the pro life v. pro-choice debate. Considering the fact that we just discussed the role that religion plays in the environmental ethic I could think of no better way to exemplify the importance of Swimme’s theory and analogy. If in fact the Earth is like a living cell than those who are pro life will have no choice but to fight for its protection. This idea could become the basis for a whole new movement if it is continually framed in this light. Another thing that I found interesting is how often new theories and discoveries, be it the discovery that the Earth actually revolves around the Sun or the theory that the essence of life is number, were shunned and 1218-814bbe39hidden away rather than embraced or revered. I thought this worked well with what Anthony Weston said about the early stages of development and how “we continue to regard the contingency, open-endedness, and uncertainty of “new” values as an objection to them, ruling them out of ethical court entirely, or else as a kind of embarrassment to be quickly papered over with an ethical theory.”[1] While in the case of the Journey of the Universe Swimme is not speaking specifically of the development of an ethic he does show how new ideas were quickly thrown out or covered up only to have their brilliance discovered and uncovered many years later. I think he gives pretty sufficient proof of this unwillingness to change by showing that if Pythagoras, the father of math himself, had to hide out in a cave there is really very little tolerance by humans for anything new. This seems so paradoxical when Swimme himself claims that life has learned to learn. The story of how we think the Universe was formed and how life began and has flourished and developed is the most fascinating and thought provoking story that one can hear or study. But there was something about this film that really brought about a sense of calm in terms of the future of the environment. The Earth and its surrounding universe were created and have survived for billions of years and things have not been stagnant throughout the course of those years. Changes have occurred and the Earth, its mechanisms and the life forms that inhabit and that are entwined with it have been forced to change as well in order to maintain the life and environment that it has created. Therefore, it seems to me that the Earth will once again balance itself out and maybe it’s already in the process of doing that. This brings me back to a point that I believe I made in one of my earlier blogs; maybe the Earth is not the one that needs saving but rather humans are the ones that need to be saved.

Question: What place does this type of knowledge of the evolutionary and biological processes have in the different worldviews that we have studied?

[1] Weston, “Enabling Environmental Practice,” 464.


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