I had a fascinating and hugely enjoyable interview–several hours worth–with Simon Conway Morris, an outstanding paleontologist at Cambridge. Conway Morris did some of the main work on the Burgess fossils that Steven Jay Gould wrote about in Wonderful Life. Gould was celebrating the randomness of evolution, the sense he gained from the fossil record that evolution was throwing out new life forms in a splendid and arbitrary abundance–and that it was purely accidental which ones survived. Famously Gould suggested that if the tape of evolution were run again a thousand times, it would come up with a thousand different results.
Conway Morris takes a very different view. He thinks there is an inevitability in evolution–that life must go in certain directions because those are the only possibilities–and that those possibilities are actually quite narrowly limited. I won’t try to describe these views any further now, because it’s complicated, but this view naturally brings a very different macro view of evolution.
Conway Morris is a Christian, who came to a serious intellectual commitment while he was in graduate school studying the Burgess fossils. At that time he began to read C.S. Lewis and went on to Chesteron, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, and others of that “Inklings” circle and their influences. (I know, I know, neither Chesterton nor Sayers were Inklings–we need a word for this loose circle of associates and influences.) Conway Morris is a voracious reader and a fascinating talker. The good news is that he is currently writing a book that will sum up the history of evolution as he understands it. I can hardly wait to read it.