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Darwin's Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation

University of Edinburgh

Professor Simon Conway Morris delivered a series of six Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 2007 entitled Darwin’s Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation.

In Lecture 1, ‘Life’s Solution: The Predictability of Evolution across the Galaxy (and Beyond)’, Professor Morris argues that rather than being governed by the contingencies of circumstance, evolution shows an eerie predictability. The study of evolutionary convergence (whereby the same biological solution repeatedly evolves from independent starting points) reveals a world in which by no means are all things possible.

Lecture 2, ‘Eyes to See, Brains to Think: the Inevitable Evolution of Intelligence’, carries forward the argument for convergence by explaining, among other things, that the camera eye has been the evolved solution at least seven times. Convergence is the rule across the sensory spectrum and such convergence may imply there is only one mentality.

In Lecture 3, ‘Meeting the Aliens: Galactic Hide and Seek’, Professor Morris states that since evolution is predictable on earth, outcomes should be predictable universally. Reasonable predictions as to how aliens might evolve could include not only development of senses but also the form of eusociality, how agriculture could evolve and even intelligence.

In ‘Becoming Human: the Continuing Mystery’, Lecture 4, Dr Morris examines how humans have transcended their animal origins. While a wide variety of animals exhibit incipient ‘humanness expressed in such things as tool making, singing and awareness of death, yet in no other case has it “crystallized”.’ Human transcendence of evolution has obscured our Darwinian roots. Understanding the crucial steps in human evolution remains elusive.

Lecture 5, ‘The Evolution of Consciousness: A Window on to Invisible Worlds?’ has Professor Morris stating, ‘The evidence from evolutionary convergence, not least in terms of intelligence and music, is that the trajectories towards consciousness are embedded in a universe that in some ways is strangely familiar, where personal knowledge (to use Polanyi’s phrase) is valid, but one that has become increasingly alien to mainstream science (except perhaps at the wilder fringes of string theory).’ Just suppose that before matter there was mind.

In Lecture 6, ‘Towards an Eschatology of Evolution’, Dr Morris states that the evidence of evolutionary convergence suggests evolution has inherent directionalities and thus endpoints. Intelligence and consciousness are one such endpoint. Science reveals not only the rationality of the world but also points to the deep and beautiful structure of the world. While the universe can understand itself, it cannot be explained entirely in naturalistic terms.


  • Larry Pullen