Public Lecture 2 - NSW
ISCAST (NSW)-CEN Lecture*
Darwin's Compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation
Date: Monday 21 September 2009 at 7.30 pm
Speaker: Professor Simon Conway Morris, FRS, University of Cambridge
Venue: Wesley Centre, 220 Pitt St, Sydney
Cost (on entry): $20 (or $15 concession for pensioners or students).
There will be an opportunity for discussion after the lecture.
Professor Simon Conway Morris, FRS, is the Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. He is an accomplished scientist, a committed Christian and a gifted communicator. First applauded for his works on the Burgess shale fossils, he is renowned for his insights into early life on earth. He has made significant contributions to discussions on the philosophical and metaphysical implications of evolution, and he is a strong critic of materialism and reductionism, arguing that the Creation is open-ended and endlessly fertile.
He is the author of a number of books including: The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals (1988) Oxford University Press, and Life’s Solution: Inevitable humans in a Lonely Universe.(2003), Cambridge University Press. He is also the keynote speaker at the coming COSAC 2009, Conference on Science and Christianity, from Sep 18-20 in Geelong.
He will argue that evolution, apparently driven by random mutations and adaptation, is not as uncertain as it might seem. Constrained by a limited number of possible outcomes it is in fact, predictable like any other science. What are the implications of this?
Abstract: Neo-Darwinism holds as one of its central tenets that evolution has no given trajectories, let alone destinations. Nor is it surprising: after all isn’t randomness the underlying principle be it in terms of mutation or historical contingencies, such as mass extinctions or climatic perturbation? Central to this assumption is, of course, that humans are an evolutionary fluke, nor more likely and nor more interesting than a tulip. Here I will argue the exact reverse. I suggest that contrary to this received wisdom evolution is very strongly constrained, in fact it is predictable (like any other science). The central argument depends on the ubiquity of the phenomenon known as evolutionary convergence. A classic example is the camera eye construction of the octopus (Cephalopoda) and human (Vertebrata) eye, but examples can be found from molecular systems to behaviour. In biology it is not that most things more or less work, it is almost nothing does, but when it does, it does so superbly. In addition the versatility of molecular systems and their extraordinary capacity for co-option demonstrate that most of what is required for complex systems is available, ready and waiting. So evolution is driven by the classic Darwinian mechanisms, but it must navigate across a pre-existing landscape of possibilities. Now what could that imply?
*Organised in conjunction with CEN (Christian Education National) and CPX (Centre for Public Christianity)