This is cool: Simon Conway Morris gave a talk at Baylor, and Cody was there. Conway Morris is a smart fellow who does some very interesting work, and now I learn that he’s also a charming speaker — even though I completely disagree with his conclusions, I wish he’d come a little farther north so I could listen to him. I’d most like to hear him talk about Cambrian and pre-Cambrian paleontology, but it sounds like he’s instead lecturing specifically on the ideas where he’s most wrong, his belief in the overwhelming power of natural selection (or perhaps, design) to drive convergence. Convergence happens, of course, but Conway Morris seems to favor sifting the evidence for similarities and ignoring the differences, and divergence happens, too.
Right now, I’m seeing everything flipped around 180° from Conway Morris’s perspective. He thinks humans were inevitable, and emphasizes the similarities in organismal form. Developmental biology is coming off a long ‘model systems’ jag, and evo-devo is more and more emphasizing diversity and differences. I’m seeing molecular pathways that are getting recycled from their origins in single-celled organisms, so all animals have the same roots, the same pathways, and nothing radically new in their assembly and function … yet the same molecular tools build sequoias and squid and seahorses and starfish. Convergence is the interesting exception, not the rule. Molecular genetics enables a greater diversity of possible paths than can be accommodated on the planet, I suspect, and the testimony of the natural world is that morphological variation dominates despite common underlying mechanisms.
Another interesting item at the Baylor talk: William Dembski was in attendance. It sounds like it was more a tirade than a question — “western science has abandoned God” — but come on, Cody, you didn’t tell us what Conway Morris’s response was!