Simon Conway Morris

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Simon Conway Morris
Born (1951-11-06) 6 November 1951 (age 66)
Carshalton, Surrey, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Alma mater University of Bristol (BSc, 1972)
University of Cambridge (Ph.D., 1976)
Known for Burgess Shale fossils
Cambrian explosion
Awards Walcott Medal (1987)
Charles Schuchert Award (1989)
Honorary doctorate Uppsala University[1] (1993)
Lyell Medal (1998)
Trotter Prize (2007)
William Bate Hardy Prize (2010)
Scientific career
Fields Paleontology
Institutions University of Cambridge
Doctoral advisor Harry Blackmore Whittington

Simon Conway Morris FRS (born 6 November 1951; note that his surname is "Conway Morris") is an English palaeontologist who is best known for his detailed and careful study of the fossils of the Burgess Shale, and for the scientific concept of Cambrian explosion. The results of these discoveries were celebrated in Wonderful Life (1989) by Stephen Jay Gould. Conway Morris's own book on the subject, The Crucible of Creation (1998), however, is critical of Gould's presentation and interpretation.

Conway Morris, who is a Christian, is most popularly known for his theistic views of biological evolution. He has held the Chair of Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge since 1995.[2]


Early years[edit]

A native of Carshalton, Surrey, Conway Morris was brought up in London, England.[3] and went on to study geology at Bristol University, achieving a First Class Honours degree. He then moved to Cambridge University and completed a PhD under Harry Blackmore Whittington. He is professor of evolutionary palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge. He is renowned for his insights into early evolution and his studies of paleobiology. He gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture in 1996 on the subject of The History in our Bones. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at age 39, was awarded the Walcott Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1987[4] and the Lyell Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1998.[citation needed]


Conway Morris is based in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge and is best known for his work on the Cambrian explosion, especially in terms of his study of the famous Burgess Shale fossil fauna and similar deposits in China and Greenland. In addition to working in these countries he has undertaken research in Australia, Canada, Mongolia and the United States. His studies on the Burgess Shale-type faunas, as well as the early evolution of skeletons, has encompassed a wide variety of groups, ranging from ctenophores to the earliest vertebrates. His thinking on the significance of the Burgess Shale has evolved and his current interest in evolutionary convergence and its wider significance – the topic of his 2007 Gifford Lectures – was in part spurred by Stephen Jay Gould's arguments for the importance of contingency in the history of life.

In January 2017 it was announced that an important early ancestor of vertebrates had been found by his team.[5]

Burgess Shale[edit]

Conway Morris' views on the Burgess Shale are reported in numerous technical papers and more generally in The Crucible of Creation (Oxford University Press, 1998). In recent years he has been investigating the phenomenon of evolutionary convergence, the main thesis of which is put forward in Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge University Press, 2003). He is now involved on a major project to investigate both the scientific ramifications of convergence and also to establish a website ( that aims to provide an easily accessible introduction to the thousands of known examples of convergence. This work is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Evolution, science and religion[edit]

Conway Morris is active in the public understanding of science and has broadcast extensively on radio and television. The latter includes the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures delivered in 1996. A Christian, he is also actively involved in various science and religion debates, including arguments against intelligent design on the one hand and materialism on the other. In 2005 he gave the second Boyle Lecture.[6] He is an increasingly active participant in discussions relating to science and religion. He is active in the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and has lectured there on "Evolution and fine-tuning in Biology".[7] He gave the University of Edinburgh Gifford Lectures for 2007 in a series titled "Darwin's Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation".[8] In these lectures Conway Morris makes several claims that evolution is compatible with belief in the existence of a God.[9]

He is a strong critic of materialism and of reductionism:

That satisfactory definitions of life elude us may be one hint that when materialists step forward and declare with a brisk slap of the hands that this is it, we should be deeply skeptical. Whether the "it" be that of Richard Dawkins' reductionist gene-centred worldpicture, the "universal acid" of Daniel Dennett's meaningless Darwinism, or David Sloan Wilson's faith in group selection (not least to explain the role of human religions), we certainly need to acknowledge each provides insights but as total explanations of what we see around us they are, to put it politely, somewhat incomplete.[6]

and of scientists who are militantly Antireligion:

the scientist who boomingly – and they always boom – declares that those who believe in the Deity are unavoidably crazy, "cracked" as my dear father would have said, although I should add that I have every reason to believe he was – and now hope is – on the side of the angels.[6]

In March 2009 he was the opening speaker at the "Biological Evolution Facts and Theories Conference" held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, as well as chairing one of the sessions. The conference was sponsored by the Catholic Church.[10] Conway Morris has contributed articles on evolution and Christian belief to several collections, including The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (2010) and The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (2012).

Appointments and accomplishments[edit]

Date Position
1969–1972 University of Bristol: First Class Honours in Geology (BSc)
1975 Elected Fellow (Title A) of St John's College
1976 University of Cambridge: PhD
1976 Research Fellowship at St John's College, University of Cambridge
1979 Lecturer in Department of Earth Sciences, Open University
1983 Lecturer in Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge
1987–1988 Awarded a One-Year Science Research Fellowship by the Nuffield Foundation
1990 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society
1991 Appointed Reader in Evolutionary Palaeobiology
1995 Elected to an ad hominem Chair in Evolutionary Palaeobiology
1997–2002 Natural Environment Research Council

Awards and honours[edit]

  • The Walcott Medal 1987
  • PS Charles Schuchert Award 1989
  • GSL Charles Lyell Medal 1998[11]
  • Trotter Prize 2007



  1. ^
  2. ^ BioLogos (2013). "Simon Conway-Morris". The BioLogos Foundation. Retrieved 23 July 2013. [permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "The Nature of Nature". Conference on the Role of Naturalism in Science. 12 April 2000. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  4. ^ "Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 13 May 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Bag-like sea creature was humans' oldest known ancestor". Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c "Boyle Lecture 2005: Darwin's Compass" (PDF). St Mary-le-Bow. 2005. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  7. ^ "Summer Course No. 1 – Unit 1: The Big Questions in Science and Religion – St Edmund's College, Cambridge: July 16–22, 2006". The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. 2006. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  8. ^ "News & Events". The University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  9. ^ The points cited are taken from the official abstracts of the "Gifford Lectures 2006 –" (PDF). University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2007. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  10. ^ "CNS Story: Organisms' common ancestry aids medical research, says biologist". Retrieved 6 July 2011. [permanent dead link]
  11. ^ NNDB. "Simon Conway Morris". Soylent Communications. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 

External links[edit]