Magazine article Natural History

To the Editor

Magazine article Natural History

To the Editor

Article excerpt

The Great Debate

Thank you for "Showdown on the Burgess Shale" (December 1998-January 1999), with Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris going head to head about Cambrian evolution.

Their fundamental disagreement on the issue of chance versus determinism is played out in many arenas besides biology. In physics, for example, Einstein's preference for determinism made him disinclined to accept the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. In theology, orthodoxy's determinism opposes the openness to chance that process theology incorporates into the nature of God. In the end, I like Gould's view: as a theist, I believe that chance is God's window of opportunity.

Ralph N. Madison, Jr. Rio Vista Presbyterian Church Saint Petersburg, Florida

This debate was far more intriguing than the Starr/ Clinton fracas we have been subjected to recently.

Garron West Cropwell, Alabama

Reading the debate reminded me of an old adage among theater people: If confronted with playing a scene with

John Gielgud, don't! John W Rippon via e-mail

Gould and Conway Morris each invoke some incorrect statistical arguments to make general assertions about whether life and consciousness are likely to have evolved more than once.

Conway Morris cautions that we have no idea of the likelihood of life's beginning here. He then concludes it's possible that "life arose but once"-a conclusion that follows only if the number of Earthlike planets were finite, which may well not be true.

Gould argues that the very early origin of life on Earth implies a high probability of its originating on similar planets. …

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