Public lecture “Trees of Life: Do they exist?”

In gave my inaugural lecture as Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London on 16th November 2022, the film of which can be viewed below.

Inaugural lectures are a chance to give a personal view on one’s research field, at a level that will be understood by the whole university and the general public.

My Vice-Principal asked me to be more personal than usual in this inaugural, speaking about my Christian faith as well as my research as a biologist.

I decided to do this by placing side-by-side “tree-of-life” concepts from the Bible and from The Origin of Species. By comparing and contrasting the evidence for these very different trees of life, I tried to help the audience understand how I think through things as both a biologist and a Christian.

Whether or not this worked, you can judge for yourself.

The lecture drew on articles I have published in Nature Ecology and EvolutionNature Plants, and American Journal of Botany. I describe work by others in Nature and Nature CommunicationsThe Origin of Species provided my starting point on Darwin’s tree of life simile. The works of Richard Dawkins, especially The Greatest Show on Earth and The God Delusion, provided helpful material in both sections of the lecture. On the Biblical tree of life, I used an argument by Peter J. Williams, (whose research recently featured in Nature) developed in his book Can We Trust the Gospels? I also refer to research by Elizabeth Barnes on inclusion in the biological sciences.

I have been a full professor at Queen Mary for over four years now, but there is a back-log of inaugural lectures, and many never happen at all. So it was a great privilege to be invited to give this.



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