Why Is A Living Planet A Heresy?

I can’t prove that holding that the earth is alive and possesses an intellect and will is heresy, but I think it is for the following reasons.

On my Stream article “Vatican Hosts Conference With Pantheistic Theme: The planet is not alive“, a commenter calling himself Mensa Member said:

I can’t imagine how seeing the earth as an organism is heresy. There is nothing wrong with something being organism. It strikes me as an odd point to disagree with.

Besides, I suspect he wasn’t using “organism” in the narrow biological sense but in the “complex interdependent whole” sense. It’s common usage.

The “he” refers to Johnny Schellnhuber, who does indeed hold that the earth is some kind of giant, self-aware computer, i.e. that it is alive and possesses rationality. See the links to the original stories showing this. Whether Johnny really believes that is irrelevant here. We’re interested in the proposition itself.

Mensa is right, of course, that some when they say “the earth is alive”, they mean it in the metaphorical sense of a “complex interdependent whole”. Yet this “whole” is everywhere trivially true. The place where life exists, even if it’s a spaceship isolated from all contact, is a “complex interdependent whole”. Nothing, then, can imperil this state on earth, except by killing every living thing. And the only real risk of that on earth is from the Lord or from giant rocks from space. An increase of temperature of a degree—or even ten, or twenty—is not going to come close.

It is absurd to suggest the earth is alive. It has none of the characteristics of a “life form”. And since it is not alive, it is even more absurd to suggest it is a rational animal, akin to men. If the earth were alive, it must mean that either we are part of that life and not therefore independently alive, but only something like earth-pancreases, or that we are separate from it, intruding upon and inside this life, like a cancer. Indeed, that latter claim is made by environmentalists.

Suggesting we are earth-pancreases, and thus that we do not possess free will, but that we only serve the “body” of the planet, is surely heretical.

If we are a cancer, how did we get here? It is either by transplantation or by evolution. Transplantation is a heresy. We are not an alien invasive species. This is also quite shockingly an anti-Science position! No environmentalist makes the claim of our transplantation directly, but it is often hinted at.

If we rational animals got here by evolution, then rational beings are a cancer, and this is heretical. There are too many instances of God giving people dominion over the world or certain lands to say we are a cancer. You don’t put cancer in charge.

Skipping over that difficulty, suppose as all believers in Gaia (in whatever form) suppose, that the earth is a rational animal of some kind. Then the earth—excuse me, Earth—has free will. What choices can it make? What choices did it make? Has Earth sinned? Is it in need of salvation?

Earth is clearly unlike angels, which are beings of pure intellect and will. Earth is made of rock. We are made of bones and blood. And both we and Earth possess intellect and will. Now angels also possess free will (and intellect) and have made their choice (most likely at the time of their creation) to serve God or rebel.

Earth did not have a moment of instantaneous creation, but evolved. So it must either have been like Mary and conceived without sin, or that it at some point sinned. Either way, Earth has killed many men. Landslides and tree falls (most recently), hurricanes, lightning, fires, and so on.

If Earth was conceived without sin, then since Earth has free will all those killings were deserved. Next time some “natural” event whacks a few of us, best we can say is, “We had it coming.” Earth is, after all, doing these killings with God’s knowledge.

But if Earth sinned, then it is clear we have a serial murderer on our hands. We are thus justified in taking action against Earth, like cutting her trees down and releasing chocking gases into the atmosphere; building dikes and levees; try to warm the place to make it more comfortable.

If Earth is alive in the way Schellnhuber says, and if it was not conceived without win, then this is war.


  1. Richard Hill

    You mentioned destruction of Earth by space rocks. Science Fiction writers have proposed that humanity may be a functional part of Gaia created with the mission to protect against asteroids.

  2. George

    “If the earth were alive, it must mean that either we are part of that life and not therefore independently alive, but only something like earth-pancreases, or that we are separate from it, intruding upon and inside this life, like a cancer. Indeed, that latter claim is made by environmentalists.”

    There is a another interpretation available for your second option, namely that we are like gut bacteria: independently alive, but dependent on, and positively integrated into the functions of, the larger organism.

    This eliminates the force of this:

    “If we rational animals got here by evolution, then rational beings are a cancer, and this is heretical. There are too many instances of God giving people dominion over the world or certain lands to say we are a cancer. You don’t put cancer in charge.”

    Perhaps we evolved to be the ruling gut bacteria of Mother Earth.

  3. Michael Dowd

    Would Dostoyevsky have maintained that if the planet is alive “then everything is permitted.”? This would seem to follow.

  4. Sheri

    “This is also quite shockingly an anti-Science position!” No more so than attributing everything in the universe to chance and calling it a cause.

  5. Sander van der Wal

    Such two-dimensional, Flat Earth-like thinking.

    Earth is a big ball of molten rock inside a slightly bigger ball of solidified rock. There is a bit of carbon-based goo suspended in water frolicking around on the outer shell.

    Mother Nature, or Gaia, is that bit of goo.

  6. Gary

    Whew. Lots of hyperventilating here. The issue is first a definition problem. What’s meant by the terms “organism” and “living” for starters? Until there’s agreement by all parties on these, the rest is moot.

    As for facts, the earth is a system. Systems have inherent design features that organize and control their operation. See information at https://constructal.org/ for descriptions of features common to all systems (caveat: the site’s author is a loose-constructionist regarding terminology but overlook that for the insights about systems). There is no internal intelligence governing system features (even choice in human organizations seems unintelligent [see http://dilbert.com/%5D). Whether there is external intelligence that embedded the design is hotly debated and at times suffers from lack of common definition of terms.

  7. Akinchana Dasa

    A stone made of matter cannot move as it is not ‘alive’. However, if one throws it, it moves, so motion properly belongs to the perception of a causal agent, i.e. a conscious entity. Similarly, objects made of the same inert ingredients as stones such as brains (bodies), computers, planets, stars, galaxies etc. appear to think, move etc. although these activities are actually the actions of a non-material entity distinct from, but associated with, matter. Therefore, in the sense that they are motivated by consciousness, all planets, stars and so on are alive, otherwise they could not rotate or perform any other actions. This is similar to saying one’s body is alive, but in reality, it is not.
    Also, it is most uninformed to assume (as is common in history books) that our ancient ancestors were so stupid and primitive that they manufactured gods and spirits to account for the forces of nature. Rather, the intelligent among them, conceived consciousness to be the cause and doer of all things rather than the irrational idea that inert matter can instigate its own activities.

  8. The reason this is heresy is that it is a precursor to pantheism, i.e. God present in everything, rather than immanent and transcendent. By the way Isaac Asimov beat Schickelgruber or whatever his name is to this punch: in the later Foundation series sci-fi novels, he had a world Gaia in which the humanoid (or robotic) entities could communicate with all the living stuff and yes, rocks. And (here’s a spoiler) the series ends up with the main character deciding whether to make our whole Milky Way galaxy as is Gaia.

  9. Joy

    “Suggesting we are earth-pancreases, and thus that we do not possess free will, but that we only serve the “body” of the planet, is surely heretical.”

    Like the pseudoscientists peddling this metaphor as genuine science, a parasite does not serve the purpose of it’s host. It serves itself and is detrimental to the host by default unless it is symbiotic.

    A saprophyte does the same on a dead host.
    A symbiotic parasite serves both itself and the host. Where the relationship is beneficial to both host and organism.
    They are still separate organisms in their own right.

    A parasite is not really a cancer nor vice versa.
    Some viruses can cause genetic mutations or are considered therefore a type of cancer catalyst. I’m thinking of papilloma and or those causing verrucas or warts.

    It’s all silly talk. I’m sure this ‘expert’ isn’t so stupid. I’m sure the Vatican advisers aren’t. Which leaves some worrying alternatives.

    They must invent their own name for the phenomenon and not refer to organisms. It’s still silly because it’s self evidently false. Rocks and people don’t need each other!
    Humans can’t live in a vacuum and need the earth and it’s atmosphere just as every living creature individually requires a substrate or environment which always includes water.

    People who think this idea is correct haven’t studied biology at a baby level and are throwing words about. Maybe they confuse ‘organic’ with ‘organism’. They are excused, not john and supposedly educated Archbishops or higher.

    One could say the world is ‘organic’ but it would be a vague, useless thing to say unless comparing it with another planet which isn’t.

  10. trigger warning

    “Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting scheme by the introduction of a novel denial of some essential part therein.”
    — Hilare Belloc

    Gaiaism isn’t a heresy, at least not in the “classical” sense; i.e., a well-thought out (albeit wrong) intellectual edifice like Marxism or Arianism. It’s just New Age bull****. Calling it a heresy dignifies a cow patty.

  11. M E Emberson

    Irenaeus against the heresies. 175-185 A.D.


    The Gaia hypothesis has been around a long time!
    Those who hold to it would be called Gnostics.
    Any graduate of theology would know this. We can but hope that a Cardinal will have graduated at some point. So I think we can assume the Roman Catholic Church will not stray into THAT heresy. what ever else they may stray into, being only human.

  12. Joy

    Pancreases have a specific function as part of a process. Even discussing it is to flatter the idea of Gaia. She is a created God and that is an Idol.

    Earth has none of the characteristics of a living organism. It is a vessel. Like a bag of cats or a barrel of monkeys; An aquarium or a terrarium. It lives in a vacuum which is also a thing which organisms can only do for a finite period and animation is suspended during this time. Yet the Earth is full of teaming activity.

    The rocks of the earth are not chemically bound or associated with creatures. The idea is flatly wrong, there’s no reproductive process. ALL life has this. No need for speaking of the Earth’s conception. It had a beginning and will end according to science’s predictions. So it is figurative to speak of birth and death. The same way any man made thing could also be said to have a birth and a death. It does not take measures to grow or move towards or away from hostile or ideal conditions. No locomotion, no Tropism. Integration of things animal and mineral is not the same thing as being part of a single organism. A fungus which grows through a tree and flowers on the bark is not one organism with the tree it is integrated with it. Neither is it like a skeleton where bones are alive and have blood vessels, nerve cells penetrating them, and bone cells which include protein and calcium like some coral. Skeletons are complex structures and again they grown and change with response to stresses placed on them or from nutrition. The rocks have no such thing. They are simply more or less porous and passive with respect to organisms they touch or that live on or in them. They are the bag or the barrel or the glass of the aquarium. Rocks are rubbish!
    Small point: “Conceived without sin!” Misses an important part of the point. Subliminal errors and attitudes are formed from this sort of talk which is taught from Sunday school and strict schools like the one I went to. It’s bad for girls and boys for different reasons.

    The takeaway from conceived without sin is:
    Sex is sin ordinarily except in case of Mary.
    Sin = evil.
    Therefore for some, evil is sex/sexy. Hey presto a subliminal lie. A further temptation to evil.
    In particular it inspires creations like Dracula and other deviant art creations to inspire more real evil behaviour as exciting.

    The Catholic Church is following a group of men at the Vatican who don’t know which way they are travelling and so nobody following knows what to say they think. How about everybody thinks amongst themselves.
    Angels as in the bible are described. What theologists imagine they are, just as in the case of the immortal soul is quite another matter and one of conjecture.
    Not to be confused with a matter of fact but one deduced from assumptions and based upon an idea or axioms of metaphysics. From the living side. I.e. from a place of ignorance of what metaphysics is really all about (except to say that which is not material but exists) when there is no body.
    Nobody knows, there’s not a recipe for an Angel. That’s God’s business.

  13. brian (bulaoren)

    Gaia is angry. I know because she speaks to me; I am her prophet. To teach you a lesson, we will make the sun disappear. You need not fear, this time. We will make the sun return but far more serious punishments will follow if you do not do as we say.

    Albert Gore, high priest

  14. brian (bulaoren)

    There! Do you see now? Gaia and I have taken away the sun, for a few moments, and brought it back. My predictions are valid, don’t you dare question, Don’t make Gaia and me demonstrate the destructive power we command.

    Albert Gore, high priest
    Temple of Gaiasmic Flapdoodle

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