Galápagos with David Attenborough: Evolution
As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is re-showing David Attenborough’s program on the Galápagos Islands on Sunday nights, we present our response to his Galápagos Evolution shown on 6 August 2017.
First published: 18 April 2013 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 8 August 2017 (GMT+10)
Galápagos with David Attenborough is the title of a three-part Sky 3D TV series that was shown in Australia with the revised title, David Attenborough’s Galápagos. Here we examine the third episode,1 in which Sir David claims that “Galápagos is a crucible where evolution proceeds at extraordinary speed.” And we also test his claim that the discoveries on Galápagos “inspired an idea that changed our understanding of life on Earth—evolution” And in particular, “Charles Darwin’s evolution by natural selection”.
What evolution is and what it’s not
Whether or not evolution has occurred on Galápagos (or anywhere else on Earth for that matter) depends very much on what is meant by the term ‘evolution’. The theory that creationists oppose is the idea (and consequent atheistic worldview) that all living things on Earth have arisen from a single source (which itself came from non-life). The key issue is the type of change required. For example, to change microbes into marine iguanas would require massive successive increases in the genetic information of the genome. However, none of the examples of change over time that Attenborough calls ‘evolution’ in this series involve the addition of new genes. Rather, they all involve sorting and/or loss of existing gene information. Hence they do not support Darwinian (i.e. microbes-to-marine-iguana) evolution.
Changes of behaviour, as a species learns to adapt to a new habitat, also is not Darwinian evolution. If such adaptation means an animal can no longer breed with its previous fellows, i.e. if speciation occurs, this too is not Darwinian evolution, because this involves a sorting of existing information, not the acquisition of new genetic information.2 In fact, such adaptation and speciation among the original created kinds is an integral part of the biblical Creation-Fall-Flood-migration worldview. See Q. & A. Speciation.
Likewise, natural selection is not evolution, but a ‘culling’ process, ‘choosing’ from what is already there and exterminating unfavourable variations. Several authors wrote on this before Darwin; of these, creationist chemist and zoologist Edward Blyth (1810–1873) had three major articles published in The Magazine of Natural History from 1835 to 1837.3 Note too that Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-inventor of modern evolutionary theory, challenged Darwin re the latter’s misuse of the term.4 And the finding of a new species does not prove that evolution has occurred; different species within a created kind has been part of the creation model since the time of Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), and that is the only type of speciation that is observed.
Galápagos tortoises living apart are not evidence for evolution
Attenborough shows viewers the crater on the island of Isabela, where the razor-sharp lava has formed an impassable physical barrier for the giant tortoises, dividing their territory into two, and he says: “So two tortoise populations that were once one, must now live apart.” Then: “If there is any significant difference, now or in the future, between their two territories, the tortoises may eventually become two different species.”
This has not yet occurred, but if it did, it would not be Darwinian evolution because, as explained above, such speciation as a result of adaptation to a new habitat involves a loss of genetic information or at most a sorting of existing information.
‘Darwin’s finches’ are not evidence for evolution
Concerning the Galápagos finches, Attenborough tells viewers: “We now know that the ancestral Galápagos finches arrived in these islands about two million years ago.”
To set the record straight: we know no such thing. According to the biblical Creation-Fall-Flood-migration model, the Galápagos finches most likely were descendants of South American mainland finches, but these were descendants of those carried by Noah aboard the Ark during the Genesis Flood that occurred some 4,500 years ago. And those on the Ark were descendants of the original ones created by God on Day 5 of Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago. So the finches came to the Galápagos some time after the Flood, not two million years ago.
Charles Darwin visited four of these islands over a period of five weeks, when H.M.S. Beagle visited there in 1835. Concerning this, Attenborough says:
It was his collection of these undramatic little birds, the finches, which provided him with the most substantial evidence for his great theory. … Darwin, when he returned to England, brought back with him a wide variety of specimens of all kinds, and he spent years studying his collections. He had a range of finches from several of the islands, and he noticed one particular way in which they differed. They had beaks of different sizes. Why? An idea grew in his mind … .
To set the record straight: Darwin actually knew very little about the birds he collected on the four islands he visited. His biographers, Desmond and Moore, write: “He remained confused by the Galápagos finches, believing that they fed indiscriminately together, unaware of the importance of their different beaks. He still thought his collections contained finches, wrens, ‘Gross-beaks’, and ‘Icteruses’ (blackbird relatives).”5
It was English ornithologist John Gould who realized that “Darwin’s mixed bag of birds was in fact a unique flock of finches.”6 Darwin had not labelled his finches by the island of collection, but others on the expedition had taken more care. From them he was able to establish that the species were unique to different islands. As to these birds and their beaks being evidence for evolution, Darwin did not mention these finches or their beaks even once in his major work on evolution, On the Origin of Species. So finches and their beaks were not the origin of the Origin.
Desmond and Moore say that a single sentence in the 1845 2nd edition of his Journal of Researches, was “as much as he would ever say on finch evolution”.7 In this work, under a picture of four different finch beaks and a brief description of them, Darwin wrote: “Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.”8
The term ‘Darwin’s Finches’ was not used by anyone until it was thought up by Percy Lowe in 1936, and popularised by David Lack in 1947 in his book Darwin’s Finches.9
Finch beak type (prevalence) on a particular island happened like this: birds with beaks that enable them to eat the type of food available on any island are the ones that will best survive and propagate on that island. This is an example of natural selection, a sorting process that gives no support to ‘evolution’—the birds (in this case finches) have not become non-finches. Also, an 18-year study by Princeton zoology professor Peter Grant showed that a new species of finch could arise in only 200 years, which inadvertently supports the biblical model of rapid speciation, see creation.com/darwins-finches. This means that a mere thousand years or so would be enough time to allow for all the observed speciation.
Another problem with using these finches and their beaks as evidence for evolution is that the variation is cyclic. Evolutionist Jan Komdeur, Professor of Avian Evolutionary Ecology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, speaking on the Darwin documentary film Darwin: The Voyage that Shook the World, says:
The finches in the Galápagos change rapidly, but the species doesn’t change, it is the morphology [i.e. body form] that changes rapidly. So first of all we thought these were different species, but actually they’re the same species. The phenotype [i.e. observable characteristics] of the Darwin finches is cyclic. It stays within certain boundaries. So some years you have finches with big beaks depending on food environments, and the other years you have the same species of finches with thin beaks.
Such built-in adaptability to changing food conditions is not evolution in action. Note too that this latter data is the result of observation over several years, and so would not have been seen by Darwin, as he was there for only five-weeks in 1835. Also see later re beak reversal due to the presence of humans.
Giant Galápagos tortoises are not evidence for evolution
Attenborough now resumes his discourse on the giant tortoises. He tells viewers that on Española island there is virtually no edible vegetation except for the fleshy leaves and flowers that grow at the top of the tall prickly pear cactus, Opuntia. And only those tortoises with peaked shells and long necks could reach them. And he says:
So they were the ones that survived and produced young. Over many thousands of generations and millions of years, the shell shape of the Española tortoise became more and more exaggerated. Now, the peak at the front of the shell is shaped like a saddle. Such a change didn’t happen just on Española—different islands had their own versions. Eventually, there were 15 different species on the islands, all descended from a single founder.
To set the record straight: no one knows how many tortoises reached the different Galápagos islands from South America in the four-and-a-half millennia since the Genesis Flood, let alone in the alleged millions of years claimed by Attenborough and his fellow evolutionists. But just suppose there was ‘a single founder’ (which would have had to have been a pregnant female), this one would have had all the genetic information for all the tortoises seen today. That is, the “11 types of giant tortoises left in the Galápagos, down from 15 when Darwin arrived.”10
Concerning their shell shapes, the larger dome-backed, short-necked offspring could have survived in the humid highlands where there was plentiful vegetation. However, the smaller saddlebacked, longer-necked offspring probably survived better on the dryer grass-free islands because they could reach the tall cactus vegetation, whereas the dome-backed offspring would have starved.11 These are nice examples of natural selection in operation, just like the finches, but this sort of thing will not change a tortoise into a non-tortoise (a different kind of animal)—‘evolution’.
As to Attenborough’s alleged “many thousands of generations and millions of years”, all the tortoises can hybridize (i.e. interbreed).12 CMI geneticist, Dr Rob Carter points out in our Darwin documentary film Darwin: The Voyage that Shook the World that, because the major Galápagos islands are only about 50 to 65 km (30 to 40 miles) apart, over millions of years you would expect species to migrate from island to island again and again and again and again, with all sorts of hybridization and blurring of the species lines. Why then, our film asks, do we still see such differences from island to island? The obvious answer speaks strongly against evolution’s ‘millions of years’.
How did the Galápagos islands form?
Attenborough asks: “Why should the environments of the islands be so different?” And he replies:
In the 3 million odd years since this island emerged above the surface of the ocean, it has drifted in a south-easterly direction by about 60 miles (95 km). … A giant hotspot, rising from the earth’s molten core, began to build the Galápagos, four million years ago. But, as the island drifted away from it, other volcanoes replaced it, one after the other. … But then, as each moved away, eruptions ceased. So a group of islands appeared one after the other.
This is what his fellow evolutionists generally believe, but no one saw it happen. It may well have been quite different. And indeed, the creationist explanation is that these islands would have formed after the Flood by volcanic action, within a moderate time frame, similar to the way Surtsey Island formed off the coast of Iceland from 1964 to 1967. This is explained in depth in our response to his first episode in this series, see creation.com/galapagos-origin.
The behaviour of lava lizards is not evidence for evolution
Attenborough’s next claim for evolution is the change in the behaviour of animals, and he directs viewers’ attention to the small lava lizards that grow to a maximum size of 1 foot (30 cm). We are told that each island has its own distinct species, which differ “not so much in the way they look as the way they behave”. The males compete with one-another for territory and for females by doing push-ups. These vary in the number, the intensity, and the speed at which the lizards do them, and how high they bob their heads. Attenborough says: “The responses vary from species to species. In other words, each species has its own language of gestures. … Now, because they have developed different gestures, they can’t interbreed, even if they meet. They’re separated by a language barrier.”
To set the record straight: Tze Keong Chow of the University of Michigan writes: “‘Push-up’ displays are used to ward off intruders, as well as courtship communication. Change of skin color can communicate the mood of the lizard from fear to aggression.”13 As all seven sub-species do this, obviously all seven species know what the push-ups mean. In other words, they all do have ‘a similar language’! Whether the seven sub-species can interbreed does not appear from the literature to have been investigated to date. Be that as it may, they are all still lava lizards. They have not evolved into anything else, like birds, or even into the larger iguanas.
Galápagos snail species are not evidence for evolution
Attenborough says: “New technology now enables students to investigate the workings of evolution in ways that Darwin could hardly have ever imagined.” He then shows viewers X-rays of several different tiny snail shells (about 1 cm long) and says that their shape is “different enough to define them as separate species”. These live in different habitats, such as black lava rocks, sandy beaches, dark caves, leafy forests, well watered areas, and dry areas.
However, these X-rays show very little that Darwin could not have seen with a good magnifying glass (if he had looked). They do not even demonstrate that the sub-species arose on the Galápagos, as no evidence is offered as to how many species or how few arrived from South America, or whether there were some that preceded any of the others, and if so which. Nevertheless Attenborough makes the gratuitous claim: “In other parts of the world evolution usually proceeds in a slow gradual way. It can take millions of years for a new species to appear. But in Galápagos it’s been happening in the evolutionary blink of an eye.”
This is a non-sequitur.14 In any case, formation of sub-species does not establish any form of Darwinian evolution, as against the recent biblical Flood-migration model, which entails speciation, not just the formation of sub-species.
Lack of large predators is not evidence for evolution
Attenborough tells us: “Galápagos for its size has more unique species than anywhere else on Earth, and all have appeared in the islands’ comparatively short history.” And he asks: “Why did such a great number appear so quickly?” His answer is the absence of large predators, and he says that because of this: “Time that would be spent hiding from attackers can now be used to find food, find mates, and raise young and so produce more young, which hastens the progress of evolution.”
However, this is a fallacy, even from an evolutionary point of view. There are lots of species that are at the top of the food chain in their habitats, and this doesn’t produce more speciation, which Attenborough continues to confuse as ‘evolutionary’ change. E.g. lions, rhinos, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, sharks, eagles, hawks, and so on.
There is no more impressive example of that than Fernandina’s iguana colony. With no significant predators around, these herbivores produce lots of young; so many that their problem is not how to defend themselves, but how to find enough food to support their great numbers. So they ventured into the sea itself to graze seaweed on the sea floor. … The lack of big predators has had an effect on all the animals of the Galápagos. They reproduce freely, so populations increase rapidly. And so, consequently, does evolutionary change.
Oops! Attenborough must have forgotten what he said in the second episode of this series, concerning the very first iguanas that arrived in the Galápagos. In that episode he said: “To survive, these iguanas had to eat the only kind of leaf that was available, seaweed … .” So the initial eating of seaweed had nothing to do with the numbers! And since then, population increase due to lack of predators has had nothing to do with speciation, as claimed.
Have humans affected the course of evolution on Galápagos?
We are told that “Scientists are now trying to analyse the impact of human beings on the course of evolution in the islands.” It is claimed that the medium ground finch in its natural setting has both small and large beaks, caused by the type of foods they eat, and “is on the verge of dividing into two separate species”. However, this has not happened, as Attenborough’s guest, biologist Andrew Hendry, explains:
It is as if the two variants are here merging back into one. The presence of human beings has stopped this finch from evolving. They feed a lot on human food, ranging from rice to fruit to grains to potato chips. Feeding on those types of different foods, it doesn’t really seem to matter what your beak size is any more. … So it seems like humans have caused a speciation reversal; they’re fusing back together again as a result of human influences.
Speciation reversal, yes. Evolution, no.
A new pink iguana is not evidence for evolution
Viewers are told:
New species are still being discovered. One was found just 35 miles (55 km) north of Alcedo on the giant, little-visited volcano Wolf . … A completely new and unknown species of reptile. A pink iguana. … Genetic studies of the hundred or so individuals that make up this tiny population have shown that it diverged from its land iguana cousins more than five million years ago … but has remained unknown to science until now.
How could it have diverged “more than five million years ago” on islands that supposedly didn’t begin to form until four million years ago? This is just one of many indications that the millions of years claimed by evolutionists for everything about the Galápagos is ‘just-so’ story-telling, a product of their imagination, and not ‘facts’.
Variation within created kinds has been seen on the Galápagos, but nothing that supports the view that all life on Earth came about by mutations and natural selection, with one kind of organism changing into an entirely different kind, over millions of years. Rather, the data from the Galápagos make excellent sense within the recent biblical Creation-Fall-Flood-migration worldview.15
- For our response to the first episode, see Galápagos with David Attenborough: Origin, creation.com/galapagos-origin. For the second, see Galápagos with David Attenborough: Adaptation, creation.com/galapagos-adaptation. Return to text.
- The origin of information is a major problem for Darwinism. ‘Information theory’ is a whole new branch of science that has effectively destroyed the last underpinnings of evolution. This is explained fully in In the Beginning was Information by Werner Gitt, former professor and head of the Department of Information Technology at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology. Return to text.
- See Grigg, R., creation.com/darwins-illegitimate-brain-child. Return to text.
- See Grigg, R., creation.com/herbert-spencer, which quotes Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter 5140—Wallace, A. R. to Darwin, C. R , 2 July 1866. Return to text.
- Desmond, A., and Moore, J., Darwin, p. 209, Penguin Books. London, 1991. Return to text.
- Ref. 5, p. 220. Return to text.
- Ref. 5, p. 328. Return to text.
- Darwin., C., Journal of Researches, 2nd ed., 1845, p. 380, Darwin online. Return to text.
- Lack, D., Darwin’s Finches. Cambridge University Press, 1947. Return to text.
- According to National Geographic, see animals.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/reptiles/galapagos-tortoise. Return to text.
- For a diagram showing how several tortoise varieties can arise from one, see creation.com/galapagos-tortoises. Return to text.
- Minard, A., Extinct Galápagos tortoise could be resurrected, National Geographic News, 23 Sept. 2008. Return to text.
- http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Microlophus_albemarlensis/. Return to text.
- A conclusion that does not follow logically from the previous argument or statement. Return to text.
- See also our conclusion in creation.com/first-life-conquest. Return to text.
Well-researched article, Russell. Thank you for your continuing faithful and helpful work.
Goes to show how hard it is to keep your story straight when you're just making it up.
This is a good illustration of the importance of fostering good critical thinking skills in their young people. Just-so stories seem good enough (everyone likes a story) until confronted by evidence. The ferreting out of true evidence and dealing with it interrupts the extreme malleability of evolution. The absence of predator pressure equals absence of evolutionary pressure, but enter food pressure. But, food is not new pressure (sea weed is abundantly available and it has been since the islands appeared), and evolution needs new pressure, so it will take a bottle-neck event, but the high birth rate precludes it. And, the high birth rate, is it a high birth rate, is not new pressure.
Seems like built in (designed) opportunity to diversify.
Maybe we as Christians need to produce our own world class series going to the same locations and others. Then we can explain it from the biblical perspective and show that there is other view points which challenge the statements made.
People listen to the stories told by Attenborough and accept it because there is no alternative challenge with the same warm fuzzy pictures and video footage that he and the producers are so good at using to slip in his "evoultion" comments.
Attenborough has reached the hallowed status of "National Treasure" in the UK and as such anything he says is treated as though it has to be highly respected. His programmes are beautifully produced and very watchable but the "science" he spouts is usually just tired evolutionary claptrap of the first degree.
I saw the programs in question and I read with great interest your wonderful expose. Poor simple Mr Attenborough is my first thought, but upon reflection I see the stupidity in his almost idiotic assumptions. He and his minions can say anything they like and it amazes me that it is believed without question. The line is so fine between one who believes God's word and someone who believes what Mr Attenborough coughs up. Your work is excellent! Thank you.
As a retired teacher I am so grateful for this clear and readable analysis of the erroneous assumptions of evolutionary dogma. These responses should be mandatory reading for all believing high school and university students.
God bless you all and keep up the tremendous work!