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Simon Conway Morris FRS is a Britishmarker paleontologist. He was born on 6 November 1951 in Carshaltonmarker, Surreymarker and brought up in London, England. He made his reputation with a very detailed and careful study of the Burgess Shalemarker fossils, an exploit celebrated in Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life, though Conway Morris' own book on the subject, The Crucible of Creation, is somewhat critical of Gould's presentation and interpretation. Conway Morris is a former student of Harry Blackmore Whittington. He is Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridgemarker. He is renowned for his insights into early evolution and his studies of paleobiology. He gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1996. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at age 39, was awarded the Walcott Medal of the National Academy of Sciencesmarker in 1987 and the Lyell Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1998.

Biography

Date Position
1969-1972 University of Bristolmarker: First Class Honours in Geology (B.Sc.)
1975 Elected Fellow (Title A) of St John's Collegemarker
1976 University of Cambridgemarker: PhD
1976 Research Fellowship at St John's Collegemarker, University of Cambridgemarker
1979 Appointed Lecturer in Department of Earth Sciences, Open Universitymarker
1983 Appointed Lecturer in Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridgemarker
1987-1988 Awarded a One-Year Science Research Fellowship by the Nuffield Foundation
1990 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society
1991 Appointed Reader in Evolutionary Palaeobiology
1995 Elected to an ad hominem Chair in Evolutionary Palaeobiology
1997-2002 Natural Environment Research Council


Work

He is based in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridgemarker and is best known for his work on the Cambrian “explosion”, especially in terms of his study of the famous Burgess Shale fossil fauna and similar deposits in China and Greenland. In addition to working in these countries he has undertaken research in Australia, Canada, Mongolia and the United States. His studies on the Burgess Shale-type faunas, as well as the early evolution of skeletons, has encompassed a wide variety of groups, ranging from ctenophores to the earliest vertebrates. His thinking on the significance of the Burgess Shale has evolved and his current interest in evolutionary convergence and its wider significance — the topic of his 2007 Gifford Lectures - was in part spurred by Stephen Jay Gould’s arguments for the importance of contingency in the history of life.

Burgess Shale

His views on the Burgess Shalemarker are reported in numerous technical papers and more generally in The Crucible of Creation (Oxford University Press, 1998). In recent years he has been investigating the phenomenon of evolutionary convergence, the main thesis of which is put forward in Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge University Press, 2003). He is now involved on a major project to investigate both the scientific ramifications of convergence and also to establish a web-site (Map of Life) that aims to provide an easily accessible introduction to the thousands of known examples of convergence. This work is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Evolution, science and religion

He is known as an effective communicator in the public understanding of science and has done extensive radio and television work. The latter includes the Royal Institutionmarker Christmas Lectures delivered in 1996. A Christian, he is also actively involved in various science and religion debates, including arguments against intelligent design on the one hand and materialism on the other. In 2005 he gave the Second Boyle Lecture. He is an increasingly active participant in discussions relating to science and religion. He is active in the Faraday Institute for Science and Religionmarker and has lectured there on "Evolution and fine-tuning in Biology". He gave the University of Edinburgh's prestigious Gifford Lectures for 2007 in a series titled "Darwin's Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation". In these lectures he suggests that:
  • Evolution shows an eerie predictability, leading to the direct contradiction of the widely-held view that insists on evolution being governed by the contingencies of circumstance
  • Eyes are not the only example of repeated evolutionary convergence on the same solution. There is evidence for fundamental equivalences of sensory perception and the implication that deeper in the nervous system there is only one mentality. Minds may be not only universal, but also the same.
  • Evolutionary convergence can give us some very strong hints as to how any aliens will sense their environment, how they will move, how they will evolve agriculture, and intelligence.
  • Humans have passed a threshold that means we now transcend our animal origins. But birds, whales and humans all converge in song, and far from being the pinnacle of Creation we may be mere juveniles.
  • The regularities of the physical world , strongly indicate that there must be universal principles of mind. The evidence from evolutionary convergence, not least in terms of intelligence and music, is that the trajectories towards consciousness are embedded in a universe that in some ways is strangely familiar, where personal knowledge (to use Polanyi’s phrase) is valid.
  • Any attempt to explain, entirely in naturalistic terms, the fact that universe can now understand itself seems doomed to failure. Not only is the Creation open-ended and endlessly fertile, suggesting that in the future science itself faces an infinity of understandings, but so too there is good evidence of realities orthogonal to every-day experiences. Rather than trudging across the arid landscapes skimpily sketched by the materialists, we need to accept the invitation and accompany the Artist that brought Creation into being.


He is a strong critic of materialism and of reductionism:

That satisfactory definitions of life elude us may be one hint that when materialists step forward and declare with a brisk slap of the hands that this is it, we should be deeply skeptical.
Whether the “it” be that of Richard Dawkins’ reductionist gene-centred worldpicture, the “universal acid” of Daniel Dennett’s meaningless Darwinism, or David Sloan Wilson’s faith in group selection (not least to explain the role of human religions), we certainly need to acknowledge each provides insights but as total explanations of what we see around us they are, to put it politely, somewhat incomplete.


and of: "the scientist who boomingly — and they always boom — declares that those who believe in the Deity are unavoidably crazy, “cracked” as my dear father would have said, although I should add that I have every reason to believe he was — and now hope is — on the side of the angels."

In March 2009 he was the opening speaker at the Biological Evolution Facts and Theories Conference held at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, as well as chairing one of the sessions. The conference was aimed at promoting dialogue between evolutionary biology and Christianity.

Bibliography

Simon Conway Morris has written a number of books on palaeobiology and evolution, including:
  • 1998. The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals. Oxford University Press.
  • 2003. Life’s Solution: Inevitable humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge University Press.
He also contributed to Origination of Organismal Form: Beyond the Gene in Developmental and Evolutionary Biology with an article entitled: The Cambrian "Explosion" of Metazoans.

References

  1. According to bio sketch at conference on The Nature of Nature here
  2. http://www.stmarylebow.co.uk/?download=BoyleLecture05.pdf
  3. Lecture list
  4. The points cited are taken from the official abstracts of these lectures here
  5. He mentions the Euclidean geometry of three dimensional space or the three degrees of freedom shown by terrestrial illumination, and cites Roger Shepard
  6. Boyle Lecture — see link below — p8
  7. ibid. p2


External links




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