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on December 25, 2007
Many years ago I took an advanced course on phycology where we discussed evolutionary convergence, particularly with regard to the volvocine line of evolution observed in both Chlorophyta and Chrysophyta. I tucked this information away as being interesting but not pertaining to anything particularly important. "Life's Solution" brought this all back to me and made me realize how important convergence may be to understanding the evolution of life on this planet. With apologies to the late Stephen Jay Gould, perhaps if the tape were run again, the results would be the same, or at least close. Perhaps intelligent beings such as us, or something very much like us, were inevitable. The philosophical implications are profound. Conway Morris avoids these philosophical and theological implications until the last chapter of his book and concentrates on providing example after example of convergence in evolution. Although not as eloquent a writer as Richard Dawkins, he successfully challenges Dawkins' "ultra-Darwinist" views. And as one of the leading paleontologists in the world today, Conway Morris has the scientific credentials to do this.
Because of his scientific and philosophical views, Conway Morris has been branded by some to be a proponent of "Intelligent Design." However, he clearly cannot be categorized with this group for purely scientific reasons. Intelligent design denies that evolution can explain complex biological structures or relationships among living things. Conway Morris goes to great lengths to show that evolution does indeed provide an explanation for these structures and relationships. Intelligent design, for instance, denies that the cameric eye could have evolved because of its extraordinary complexity. It must have been designed and created by an intelligent being. Conway Morris shows in his book that it not only did the eye evolve, but the basic "design" evolved six separate times involving different tissues in each instance. In fact, the cephalopod eye variation is more efficient than the vertebrate variation of the "design." Make no mistake about it Conway Morris is a "Darwinian evolutionist."
In his last chapter, Conway Morris plays his philosophical-theological hand and discusses the implications of his views in terms of teleology and directionality to evolution. In doing so, he shows himself to be a successor to the great early 20th century paleontologist and philosopher/theologian Teilhard de Chardin. Conway Morris' views of Christianity are well known and perhaps this is why he has drawn the ire of so many ultra-Darwinist "theologians" such as Dawkins.
Randomness is a basic tenant of evolution. However, that does not mean that certain structures are not inevitable for purely physical and biological reasons. If you roll the dice enough times you inevitably will roll snake eyes or box cars. And in a philosophical and theological sense, it does not mean that God does not play with loaded dice.