Life's Solution is a rarity for me: a book I knew I had to own before I read it. I couldn't wait for it from the Library book sale, and I couldn't just check it out from the library. I've read several articles by Simon Conway Morris in different formats (for example, see the previous review of Real Scientists, Real Faith on this blog), but this is the book in which he takes 332 pages to write about what he sees in evolution as a scientist who discovered big parts of it (the Cambrian explosion) and an Anglican Christian who is friends with Richard Dawkins but doesn't agree with him on the question of God. For one thing, Conway Morris thinks there is a question in the first place! I was about to say this is a big, sprawling book, but in truth, my only quibble is that I wish it would've sprawled a little bit more. The last few chapters in which he tackles theology have nice turns of phrase but don't really seem to fully flesh out the theological implications of the convergent patterns that Conway Morris sees in evolution.
As a catalog of a bewildering array of convergences, this book is entertaining. Again, it left me wanting a little more, especially in the frequently repeated "This feature evolved at least 31 times," because this is such a central thesis of the book I'd like to know how we know that. But honestly, that's what the footnotes are for. Conway Morris focuses on the organism rather than its molecules for the most part.
The fundamental question this raises for me may sound a bit strange, but here it is: If indeed all these features, from bipedality to camera eyes, have evolved repeatedly and in a converging pattern, does this mean sin emerged in multiple ways, but convergently? That it happens in every young life with a different path but it ends up looking the same? I think this point can be a platform on which we can understand a theology of the fall of man in light of this science. But, of course, however we define the origins of sin, the important thing is that we agree on its destiny: summed up and healed by the cross of Christ.
This is what I mean when I say I want more theology at the end! But that's not really the purpose of this book. Even at the end, Conway Morris chooses a subtle turn of phrase when he could be more direct, and I think there's a method to his madness there. Ultimately, I think everyone who's interested in the deep structure of biology should find a way to read this book, it is a fascinating catalogue of a new way to look at the world that fits both science and faith. It's the biologist's counterpart to R.J.P. Williams's The Chemistry of Evolution, and anyone who knows me knows I don't say that lightly!
PS: I know there's tons of arguments out there about "evolution or not" and "what does it mean", and to those who don't have time to parse every argument, I say to just pick up a copy of this book or Williams's and flip through it. Then flip through The Signature of the Cell, the flagship Intelligent Design book. The books are about the same length but even a cursory glance at the content will show that Conway Morris and Williams are interested in looking at the world in truth, in all its glory. That kind of specificity is, I'm sorry to say, absent from Meyer's Signature of the Cell. You don't need to read the whole thing -- you just need to flip through a few pages. If Intelligent Design was a viable theory, this is the kind of book it would produce. I'm still waiting.