Friday, September 24, 2010

Map of Life

At last a website on evolutionary convergence is here. And it is managed by none other than Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Paleobiology at Cambridge University, who pioneered the research into this horizon. Twelve years ago, he challenged Stephen Jay Gould's widely received reading of the Burgess Shale. Their debate can be read here. It all started with Morris' book 'The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals' published by Oxford University Press. A review of the book is available for reading on American Scientist website.

What is evolutionary convergence?
"Evolutionary convergence occurs when unrelated organisms evolve similar adaptations to similar environmental or selective pressures, arriving there by very different routes." Simply put, there are examples of living structures around the world which are not biologically related yet they developed similar biological function through evolution when placed under similar condition. This implies that evolution process occurred not randomly.

Evolution is true. And "this suggests that evolutionary outcomes can be much more predictable than generally thought, and raises interesting questions about how patterns of convergence arise."

So, how do we detect convergence?
Read the website!

I remember the felt excitement when I first read about Morris' convergent evolution about one or two years ago. It is good that the public can now have easy access to his research.


xenobiologista said...

This implies that evolution process occurred not randomly."

Of course it doesn't occur randomly. It occurs in response to the environment of the creature. The MUTATIONS that allow natural selection to occur are more or less random, but the RESULT is not. People who say stuff like "if there is no God and life evolves randomly why don't we see 10-foot-tall purple ants with three heads" are misunderstanding the concept.

^sorry if I'm misunderstanding your point too, but as a biologist who's also a Christian I tend to get annoyed easily at a whiff of creationism.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi xenobiologista,

Thank you for your comment.

I think Morris' point is that these mutations are not random. They seem to direct to the emergence of homo sapiens.

eppursimuov3 said...

I agree with xenobiologista, that evolution has never been understood by biologists since Darwin as a completely random process - but rather an interplay of chance (random mutations in the genes) and law (natural selection), as Arthur Peacocke would say.

Morris is a great paleontologist - I agree with him on evolutionary convergence - the fact that certain traits can evolve in different species separately. An example is the eye - which has evolved separately in crustaceans, vertebrates etc. I don't think he meant that God was directing the evolutionary process explicitly, but rather that God has created a fertile universe in which the probability of certain traits evolving is inevitable. However, I don't think that there is sufficient scientific evidence at the moment to say that high-level intelligence/consciousness is convergent - until we discover another intelligent species somewhere on another planet. Even if it is convergent, I think God may not necessarily have 'Homo Sapiens' in mind specifically (as in primate form). Who knows, we may even be intelligent dinosaurs if they never went extinct!

Anyway, nice website... I'm gonna add it to my links!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi eppursimuov3,

Thank you for your comment.

In that case, then the difference fell on the meaning of 'random'. Whether do we use it in Stephen Jay Gould's "drunkard's walk" kind of randomness or what. However, in any case I think William Dembski's design inference has some light to shed here.

Of course Morris would not go so far to affirm that God is directing it in his scientific work. But in his personal belief, that is another matter. I supposed for someone like Morris to survive and be credible in the industry of science, he has to keep a distance from further inference from convergent evolution. At most, he could just say what he has said on the website about convergent.