On re-reading The Origin

February 13, 2009 • 6:44 am

The journal Current Biology asked a group of us to re-read Darwin’s great book and write a few paragraphs of response; the collection, which is quite intriguing, is here. Besides my take (which is, as I’ve already mentioned, a defense of the term “Darwinism”), there are pieces by Bob May, Matt Ridley, Peter Lawrence, Matthew Cobb, Christine Nüsslein-Volhard, Mark Ptashne, Simon Conway Morris, Marlene Zuk, Andrew Berry, and Hopi Hoekstra.

It’s particularly interesting to contrast the ending of Matthew Cobb’s piece (he is an evolutionary biologist at Manchester) with that of Conway Morris’s (he is a paleontologist at Cambridge). Conway Morris, who is of course religious, contends that the human mind is not explainable by evolution, while Cobb thinks that our minds are on an evolutionary continnum with those of animals. (This of course parallels a famous disagreement between Darwin and Wallace, who had the views of Cobb and Conway Morris respectively).

Conway Morris of course wrote Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, a very large book which, by presenting hundreds of pages of examples of evolutionary convergence (a worthwhile task, with lots of good stuff), argued that the evolution of humans was inevitable. I have argued against this view, asserting that our complex intelligence arose only once, and so is neither an example of evolutionary convergence nor inevitable.

One thought on “On re-reading The Origin

  1. I know Matthew Cobb well through my time at the University of Manchester. He’s a superb guy and I’m thrilled to see he was invited to contribute to this.

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