Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Simon Conway Morris

I finished the Simon Conway Morris book. I had wondered all along if he had a hidden religious agenda. He is so insistent that there is not likely to be any life on other planets; and he is so insistent that evolution is not accidental, but rather leads in a certain direction -- toward us. This is the point, it seems to me, to all his arguments about converging evolution. He is arguing that life on Earth is highly constrained. It can only go in certain direction and only produce certain results, and one of these results -- apparently inevitable -- is intelligent life.

In the last chapter, he began to talk about the importance of religion as a basis for morality and how bleak the lives of people like Darwin and Thomas Huxley were, after they realized the full implications of evolution as they saw it, a random process.

I find the bleakness of a universe with no life except life on Earth truly terrifying, but I suspect Conway Morris likes to feel special. He wants evolution to be rare and to have a purpose: him.

Why would a God capable of creating life (and guiding it through a highly constrained evolutionary process) want one miserable planet full of life? Why all those extra stars and galaxies, if the purpose of the universe is us?

And why should morality depend on religion? There are obvious social benefits to people acting morally. Isn't something like altruism or morality likely to appear in a social species? Elephants seem to behave decently to one another. Wolves cooperate. Vampire bats take care of orphans and feed unrelated adults.

Anyway, an unsatisfying book. I don't think he proves his point, and I don't like hidden agendas. He should have said in the first chapter: this is my defense of religion via evolutionary theory.

So, Dawkins does not do a good job of defending atheism, and Conway Morris does not do a good job of defending religion.

Maybe scientists should leave religion to the theologians and philosophers and historians of religion.


Blogger Ingo Bading said...

Do you know, that Richard Dawkins takes "Life's Solution" seriously in his book "Ancestor's Tale".

I think, it is not easy to make (philosophical) sense about the "Antropological Principle", about evolutionary convergence's and about "Lonely Earth".

But if you take the philosopher John Leslie you know, that it is not necessary to assume a supernatural god for all this "specialities" of our place and time in the universe and on earth.

3:02 AM  

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