Professor Conway-Morris visited PLC Sydney this week.
He described the evolutionary process: natural selection, survival of the fittest…
And he described convergence: the theory that the same characteristics have evolved again and again in species. Thus, the octopus and the human both have have camera eyes, though one is not the predecessor of the other.
The range of options is narrower than those who promote the randomness as the basis of everything suggest. Predictable.
And he said that the mind is not explained by the chemistry or actions of the brain. In one of his books he calls the brain an antenna: a link to The Other. Science, he states, cannot prove God. But there are hints that there is an underlying order and intent behind the curtain: Fibonacci numbers in the organic world, for example, in the shell of the Nautilus.
He actually gave our students permission to wonder. To have faith and reason. To see that reason does not emerge from Nothing. There was a spark ignited in the playground.
Rather than the dull oppression that results from reading Dawkins, there was a real spirit of enquiry. A hegemony was dispelled.
It helped that his science is superb. Rigorous. Exemplified with numerous cases and telling images. Challenging to my interpretation of my faith. Challenging to all of us.
Yet he helped us see that science needs theology and philosophy. No discipline is an island, so to speak.
He showed an image of a man bending over and dragging up a curtain-like visage of the landscape in front of him. In quite a Platonic fashion there was another landscape underneath. ‘God,’ said Les Murray, ‘is the poetry caught in religion. Caught. Not imprisoned.’ ‘Christ,’ said the apostle Paul, ‘is the sum of all spiritual things.’
He will travel to a remote site soon to find fossils. And will seek to further develop the taxonomy of the history of life.
Yet our students will be left with an understanding that the taxonomy has value – that, to use a title of the professor’s, evolution in some strange way might sing the song of creation.
He spoke of a time in the future when there might be a different metaphysics to the study of evolution. One not so tied to the old doctrine that God is dead, but one that seeks God again.
It made me realise that so many materialist answers describe extant human qualities inadequately. Forgiveness, grace, kindness, generosity and altruism are all extant qualities. Describing them only as the result of blind forces connected to survival alters them beyond recognition. The explanations alter these things utterly in order to explain them using a materialist paradigm.
I hope this short comment does justice to the professor.