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Convergence introduces Darwin to Plato

The phenomenon of convergence has been recognised in external morphology (e.g. the streamlined shape of sharks and porpoises), structural detail (e.g. the camera-like construction of the vertebrate eye and the octopus eye), and in many other functional aspects of organisms (e.g. the echolocation systems used by bats and whales). In textbooks and popular science writing, convergence is often explained in a Darwinian way, invoking the amazing powers of natural selection. However, far from being a curiosity that pops up from time to time, convergence appears to be a pervasive feature of the living world. Championing this perspective is Professor Simon Conway Morris, an evolutionary palaeontologist from Cambridge University, who is actively contributing to debate and constructing an online database of specific examples.
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6 Responses to Convergence introduces Darwin to Plato

  1. Simon Conway Morris, of course, is a Christian and so would see God behind the idea of Platonic forms. But he seems to prefer a naturalistic (or theistically naturalistic) view in the sense that evolution, conceived as basically Darwinian, is discovering patterns that God placed in creation at the start – a kind of emergence. The purpose (or the porpoise?) of God is inherent in the structure of matter.

    Yet such an explanation is a hope, rather than a reality. The fact that an ecological niche requires a pattern is not an explanation for its happening.

    As he said in a recent article, “the manner in which life constructs itself must be dealing with some other principle which we’ve failed to identify.”

    Equally consistent with convergence (and more comparable to Platonic forms)would be God’s ongoing government of creation that concentrates primarily on ends, rather than means. That’s also more consistent with the Biblical picture of the eternal God who continues to watch over his creation, rather than the one who kicks it off and sees how it pans out.

    Put crudely, God might want a streamlined aquatic vertebrate, or a focusing eye, in an particular environment, and isn’t primarily concerned what raw material he starts with. Whale, porpoise, ichthyosaur or even penguin – it may well be the intention, rather than the structure of nature, that dictates convergence. And I’m not sure that ateleological science could ever detect that.

  2. Thanks to Jon for this comment. There is a debate to be had, that is for sure. But many are not ready for it because they are still blinkered by the philosophy of naturalism. Conway Morris deserves credit for recognising that ubiquitous patterns in nature are taking us further than secularised scholarship will allow. Conway Morris sees an organising principle, where others see variation within the constraints of natural law. Conway Morris sees deep homology whereas others invoke embedded regulatory genes. He finds complexity extending back to the Cambrian and Precambrian, whereas others persist in a quest for ultimate simplicity. He finds optimal design, whereas the Darwinians clutch at examples of cobbled-together functionality. Ultimately, these differences have to engage with evidences – but the challenge we face is that so many people in positions of influence are determined to exclude this debate from science. When Conway Morris claimed that convergence shows the incompleteness of Darwinism, Coyne responded: “This is palpable nonsense. The “deeper principle” at work here is simply natural selection: organisms adapt to their environments.” This is what we are up against!

  3. Well, belief in spontaneous generation didn’t die immediately, either, I suppose.

  4. 4

    Convergence in biology is the soft underbelly of error in evolutionism.
    They missed it and didn’t predict its commonness and so as its found more its always surprising.
    there is another mechanism(s) in biological adaptation that is waiting to be discovered.
    Convergence is impossible in randomness that created the glorious complex of everything.
    i found this out as I investigated the exact sameness of marsupial cats, dogs, mice, moles etc with their namesakes elsewhere on the planet.
    This coupled with a origin from the landed ark taught me convergence is none existent as a biological force relative to relationship.
    Instead there is either wrong classification or simply a common law from a common program in biology that allows likeness unrelated to relationships.

    From this common program one can predict like structures in unlike beings.
    In fact biology is probably like physics etc in having common laws ruling it.
    They are just more complicated and still undiscovered.
    Evolution took out of biology laws and put in happanchance without laws almost.

    Convergence reality in biology is a great subject for a creationist book writer and could establish for creationism the intellectual framework on what is surely becoming a aggressive criticism.

  5. Coyne:

    This is palpable nonsense. The “deeper principle” at work here is simply natural selection: organisms adapt to their environments.”

    I’m not sure Morris would completely disagree with Coyne. I haven’t read any of Morris’s stuff, but I suspect he would say something like, “Yes, organisms adapt to their environment, but there are a limited number of ways in which they can adapt.”

    I get the impression that Morris wouldn’t think much of Mike Gene’s front-loaded evolution. Morris seems to make the point that the same solutions can be reached in a variety of ways, so that the initial starting point is not as significant as Mike Gene would suspect.

  6. Bilbo I @ 5: Conway Morris is not questioning natural selection as a process, but he would not agree that it is the “deeper principle” that explains ubiquitous convergence.
    But you are right to in your comments about the significance of the initial starting point(s).

    In a writeup in the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, 2012, p.32-35. (http://www.alumni.cam.ac.uk/ne....._LORES.pdf), it appears that mechanisms are as yet unidentified:
    Quote: Conway Morris is quick to point out that he is not suggesting anything deeply mysterious at work (“I’m not trying to say we should go back to vitalism or anything like that!”) but simply that “the manner in which life constructs itself must be dealing with some other principle which we’ve failed to identify.”

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