Darwin expert comes to Baylor

April 24, 2007


Focus editor

Consider it evolutionary déj... vu that is more than coincidence. If the world were thrown back in time and evolved again, human intelligence would inevitably reappear, meaning that there may be more to evolution than time and chance.

That's the idea that Dr. Simon Conway Morris, a professor of paleontology at the University of Cambridge, will present in his lecture titled "Darwin's Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation," from 7 to 9 p.m. today in 110 Baylor Sciences Building.

"It has nothing to do with intelligent design at all," Morris said. "It's arguing that the selectionality of evolution as set out by Darwin is not as restrictive as considered by our colleagues ... which is almost completely determinate."

While not a proponent of intelligent design, Morris reacts strongly against materialism, and he believes in an orthodox Christian perspective that says God both created and sustains creation.

"There is no reason an evolutionary biologist could not subscribe to something transcendent," Morris said. "It would be a mistake to assume that all scientists are materialists, and they are not."

Morris lectured Monday at Texas A&M University as part of the reception of the Trotter Prize -- whose recipients have included Nobel Prize-winning scientists Francis Crick and Charles Townes.

"We're very fortunate to get a world-renowned scientist here (at Baylor)," said Dr. Walter Bradley, Distinguished Professor of Engineering, who arranged for Morris to come.

Bradley said the Trotter prize recognizes scientific advancement regarding the understanding of origins, whether they are the origins of the universe, organic life or human consciousness.

Bradley is a professor emeritus at Texas A&M and he was on the selection committee for the Trotter Prize.

"It dawned on me that I should invite the recipient to stay an extra day to give the same presentation at Baylor," Bradley said.

The Trotter Prize's selection committee chose Morris, "first of all, for his scientific stature," Bradley said. "Second, the prize is for work done in the area of origins, and certainly for working on the Cambrian explosion, an interesting area."

Morris specializes in studies of the Burgess Shale fossils of the Cambria explosion - the time during which, according to the fossil record, the world suddenly (relative to a geological timescale) blossomed with diverse organic life.

Morris' work has been acclaimed by scientists such as American paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, and Morris' books include The Crucible of Creation: the Burgess Shale and The Rise of Animals and Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe.

Morris first presented the topic of his lecture in February during a six-part lecture series at the University of Edinburgh's 2007 Gifford Lectures in February. The lecture today will be "very much along the same theme," Morris said.

Morris came to Baylor four years ago for a conference on religion and science, and he hopes that today's presentation will be well received, and that its focus on evolution "doesn't panic the horses too much."

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.