Galápagos with David Attenborough: Adaptation
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 Adaptation shown on 30 July 2017.
First published: 9 April 2013 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 1 August 2017 (GMT+10)
Galápagos with David Attenborough is the title of a 2013 three-part Sky 3D TV series that was shown in Australia with the revised title David Attenborough’s Galápagos. In this, the second episode,1 Sir David discusses the way animals have adapted to the varying conditions on the Galápagos islands. He labels various islands as ‘old’, ‘middle-aged’, and ‘young’, but the millions of years claimed by evolutionists for all this to have happened are not needed in the creationist model.
Attenborough shows viewers the crescent-shaped island of Tortuga,2 which he says is the last fragment of an extinct volcano, and he goes on to say that each island:
Is born on the bottom of the sea and rises up through the waters to emerge as a volcano. … But then after a million years of eruptions, volcanic activity ceases. Two million years after its first appearance, the island is approaching middle age, it has a moist climate, and is covered by forest. It begins to sink under its own weight of ash and lava. It’s battered by erosion and, after four million years, it’s near the end of its existence. Low lying and arid, with little rainfall, it’s surrounded by beaches of soft sand. The waves and rain [sic] continue to take their toll, until all that is left is a craggy outcrop of rock. Today there are islands in the Galápagos archipelago that illustrate every stage in this history.
In our response to his first program in this series, titled Origin, we showed how the recently formed volcanic island Surtsey (near Iceland) mimics most of the features of the Galápagos islands, but all within a few years after Surtsey rose from the sea in 1963. Note that Surtsey stopped erupting in 1967. There is no way that anyone can show that any island has experienced “a million years of eruptions”, as Attenborough claims above!
In the last 50 years, there have formed on Surtsey wide sandy beaches, gravel banks, impressive cliffs, soft undulating land, faultscarps, gullies and channels, and “boulders worn by the surf, some of which were almost round, on an abrasion platform cut into the cliff.”3 Millions of years were not necessary for these features to form, either on Surtsey or on Galápagos.
Likewise, since Surtsey stopped erupting in 1967, erosion has caused the island to substantially diminish in size (see later). A large area on the south-east side has been eroded away completely, while a sand spit called Norðurtangi (north point) has grown on the north side of the island. Again, millions of years were not necessary for this erosion to take place, either on Surtsey or on any of the islands that make up the Galápagos.
Marine iguanas are not evidence for evolution
Attenborough introduces these reptiles by telling viewers that their ancestors almost certainly lived in the jungles of Central America, where they are vegetarians. Then he says that ‘a long time ago’ a few were swept by favourable currents out to the ocean and pitched up in the Galápagos. To survive, these iguanas had to eat the only kind of leaf that was available, seaweed, of which there was an endless supply under the water. So, he says:
They had to swim.
They even learned to dive.
They acquired the ability to hold their breath for up to an hour.
Their claws strengthened so they could cling to the rocks on the seabed.
Their snouts became flatter to help them graze.
Their teeth became sharper to grip the slippery seaweed.
Such learned behaviour and variation within a species are not the result of biological evolution, which is about the changes in genes that would be required to turn microbes into marigolds, mice, and musicians; and prokaryotes into professors. However Attenborough does make one claim for evolution, he says that because these iguanas ate nothing but seaweed “they evolved a special gland in their nose [to] sneeze the excess salt from their blood.”
The Galápagos land iguana Conolophus subcristatus also appears to possess salt glands,4 as do (elsewhere) crocodiles, sea snakes, marine turtles and some seabirds. The salt disposal mechanisms in these animals are different, and this poses a huge problem for evolutionists in explaining how these salt disposal features evolved not just once but several different times in different creatures and in different locations.
In addition to being the residence of the marine iguana, the Galápagos Islands are home to seven species of lava lizards (genus Tropidurus) and two species of land iguana (genus Conolophus).5 The iguanas have similar enough genetics to produce hybrids. This suggests that they thus all belong to the same original created kind.6
According to the creationist worldview, some 6,000 years ago during Creation Week, God created these animals complete with all the features within their bodies that He knew they would need to survive in their various habitats, and to adapt to their various circumstances (including salty diets).
El Nino does not promote evolution
Attenborough tells us that every three to seven years the extreme and irregular weather condition known as El Nino decimates the food supply of the Galápagos marine iguanas, and this causes as many as 90% of them to perish. He then claims:
Iguanas have evolved a special ability that enables them to survive the famine. Their bodies shrink. The iguanas can actively reduce their skeletons over just a few months … by as much as 20%. They lose not just fat and muscle, but bone. … This amazing ability to reabsorb bone in times of hardship is unique to these reptiles.
However, these marine iguanas have not evolved into non-iguanas. The ‘shorties’ are just as much marine iguanas as their starved-to-death parents were. In all vertebrates, bones are constantly being restructured to oppose stresses. This involves a fine balance of the activity of bone-depositing cells (osteoblasts) and bone resorbing cells (osteoclasts). There are natural variations in the speed of these processes. In an environment exposed to famine, natural selection would select the individuals that had greater rates of bone resorption and depositing. See:
Symbiosis is not evolution
Attenborough’s next example of ‘evolution’ is on Santa Cruz island when the climate changes and the eco-system is exposed to the equatorial heat. He says:
Some trees, however, have evolved a way of protecting themselves. The [Scalesia tree shown] has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the lichen that grows on it. The lichen shields the tree from the sun, preventing it from getting scorched. And the tree provides the lichen with moisture and nutrients. But if the weather gets really sunny, then the lichen shrivels and stops taking nutriment and moisture from the tree, but at the same time still prevents it from getting sunburnt. And when the moisture returns, the lichen can grow back. So plant and lichen make the best of the two extremes of climate.
This is an excellent example of the biological phenomenon known as symbiosis (‘together-living’), but symbiosis is not evolution. No increase in information is involved. Real evolution would require changes that increase genetic information, while non-information-increasing changes such as the one shown are part of the creation model.7 As Australia’s top scientist, Dr Raymond Jones says of the symbiotic relationship in cattle rumen: “The animal needs the microbes and the bugs need the animal. It’s a good example of design.”8 So this evidence, claimed by Attenborough to support evolution, actually supports the creation model.
Blind spiders are not evidence for evolution
Subterranean animals live in the network of hundreds of tunnels on Santa Cruz island called lava tubes. Attenborough introduces these by saying: “Here the species-transforming power of the Galápagos is as active as everywhere else.” And we are further told that there are species unknown to science. Viewers are shown an amblypygid—‘half scorpion, half spider’, a millipede that has lost all its colour, and we are told that:
Spiders too haunt the lava tubes. And just like the tortoises and iguanas, these creatures have evolved into many different species. There are 90 of them, all unique to the Galápagos. The spiders don’t just differ from island to island. They do so dramatically even within a single lava tube. Some that have been here for a long time are blind and feel their way through the cave. A few have lost their eyes entirely. But living just centimeters from them are more recent colonist species that still retain their eyes.
However, speciation is an important part of the creation model. Speciation and adaptation are not evolution in the bacteria-to-barristers sense. See Speciation Q & A and ‘Evolution in action’ or ‘Evolution inaction’.
Furthermore, blind cave spiders are examples of ‘downhill’ or ‘information-losing’ mutations causing ‘devolution’, not evolution. Such a degenerative process could not generate seeing eyes in the first place (evolutionists believe that eyes arose from a world filled with only eyeless creatures). Indeed, a loss of function (e.g. from harmful mutations) sits well with the biblical teaching of a fallen, cursed creation.
Consider a spider which, because of a mutation, acquires a defective gene for eye development. Such a defect would be passed on to all of its descendants. Above ground, such a mutation would very quickly be ‘selected against’, as any spider inheriting it would be less likely to find prey and evade predators. But in a totally dark environment, blind spiders are not at a disadvantage to their sighted fellows, because eyes are no longer an asset. They can easily be injured in darkness, e.g. by sharp rocks, allowing the entry of potentially lethal bacteria. On average, the eyeless spider will be more likely to survive and reproduce. It would not need many generations before all the spiders in that environment were of the ‘eyeless’ type.9
Atheists are fond of using blind troglobionts (cave-dwelling organisms) as evidence for evolution. But they can do that only with the straw man that creationists believe that God directly created blind creatures.10 As shown above, this is not what we believe. In fact, as shown above, creationists would have no problem with arch-atheist Richard Dawkins’ explanation:
Evolutionists on the other hand, need to come up with an explanation for the loss of eyes where they are no longer needed. … How does losing its eyes benefit an individual cave salamander so that it is more likely to survive and reproduce than a rival salamander that keeps a perfect pair of eyes, even though it never uses them?
Well, eyes are almost certainly not cost free. Setting aside the arguably modest costs of making an eye, a moist eye socket, which has to be open to the world to accommodate the swivelling eyeball with its transparent surface, might be vulnerable to infection. So a cave salamander that sealed up its eyes behind tough body skin might survive better than a rival salamander that kept its eyes.
But there is another way to answer this question … most mutations are disadvantageous, if only because they are random and there are many more ways of getting worse than getting better. Natural selection promptly penalizes the bad mutations. Individuals possessing them are more likely to die and less likely to reproduce, and this automatically removes the mutations from the gene pool. Every animal and plant is subject to a constant bombardment of deleterious mutations: a hailstorm of attrition. It is a bit like the moon’s surface, which becomes increasingly pitted with craters due to the steady bombardment of meteorites. With rare exceptions, every time a gene concerned with an eye, for example, is hit by a marauding mutation, the eye becomes a little less functional, a little less capable of seeing, a little less worthy of the name of eye. In an animal that lives in the light and uses the sense of sight, such deleterious mutations (the majority) are quickly removed from the gene pool by natural selection.
But in total darkness the deleterious mutations that bombard the genes for making eyes are not penalized. Vision is impossible anyway. The eye of a cave salamander is like the moon, pitted with mutational craters that are never removed. The eye of a daylight-dwelling salamander is like the earth, hit by mutations at the same rate as cave-dwellers’ eyes, but with each deleterious mutation (crater) being removed by natural selection (erosion).11
Millions of years not needed to erode Galápagos islands
We are told that the island of Española is “nearing four million years old”, and “its forests have gone”. Presumably we are meant to deduce that one statement is proof of the other. However, Attenborough offers no evidence that Española ever had forests. He continues:
Millions of years of erosion have created beaches of soft sand, and they suit some animals very well. [Such as Galápagos sea lions, and nesting waved albatrosses shown.] The many habitats of Española and all aging Galápagos islands were created by the erosive power of sea and weather, but erosion can have only one final result. Destruction. So a Galápagos island worn down by the waves and the weather eventually reaches the last stage of its existence. After millions of years sustaining life, all that remains of it above water is a rocky curving cliff, like Tortuga.” [Shown.]
However, millions of years are not needed to erode a volcanic island to water level. In the years following the eruption from the seabed of Surtsey, measurements revealed that the island was slumping vertically and, in the 24 years of observations from1967 to 1991,12 had lost 1 metre of its original height of 174 metres. (Española is currently 200 metres high.) By 2002, Surtsey had shrunk to 52% of its maximum size in 1967.13
Attenborough goes on to tell us that “The remains of Galápagos islands stretch for hundreds of miles across the Pacific seabed.” However, in the biblical worldview, these erupted towards the end of the Flood, as the ocean basins were established.
Attenborough’s purpose in this episode appears to have been to inculcate a time frame of millions of years (he mentions this no less than eight times) for the Galápagos islands, and to present the animals and plants there as evidence for evolution. In this he is following the evolutionist, anti-creationist and liberal theologian Rev. Michael Roberts’s (Vicar Cockerham [Anglican], UK) strategy on how to destroy someone’s belief in the plain reading of Scripture:
My primary aim is to demonstrate the age of the earth, or rather the vast age of the rocks … for the simple reason that if the earth is more than 50,000 years old Biblical literalism is a dead duck … If I can persuade someone that the earth is at least a million years old I consider the war to be won.14
However, there were no witnesses to corroborate the deep time, and the evidence Attenborough presents for evolution is in fact much better understood as evidence for the biblical account of history. At root here, is not the (observational) science; rather it’s all about history. Attenborough is trying to discredit the history account of the Bible, supplanting it with a godless ‘explanation’.
- For our response to the first episode, see Galápagos with David Attenborough: Origin. creation.com/galapagos-origin. Return to text.
- Both ‘tortuga’ and ‘galápagos’ are Spanish words for tortoise, after the famous giant ones there. See Cosner, L. and Sarfati, J., Tortoises of the Galápagos, Creation 32(1):28–31, 2010; creation.com/galapagos-tortoises. Return to text.
- Sigurdur Thorarinsson (Sigurður Þórarinsson, 1912–1983), Surtsey: The New Island in the North Atlantic (English translation by Viking Press in 1967, now out of print), pp. 39–40, quoted in Wieland, C., Surtsey The young island that ‘looks old’, Creation 17(2):10–12, 1995, creation.com/surtsey. Note that in Icelandic names, the last name is a patronymic, not a family name; this geologist is properly referred to by his given name Sigurður, although the West normally uses Thorarinsson. Return to text.
- Peaker. M. and Linzell, J.L., Salt glands in birds and reptiles, Monographs of the Physiological Society, no. 32. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, London, 1975, as cited on www.aquaticape.org/saltglands.html. This suggests that the original iguana kind had salt glands. Return to text.
- Wood, T.C., A creationist review and preliminary analysis of the history, geology, climate and biology of the Galápagos Islands, Center for origins research issues in creation, Wipf & Stock Publishers, Oregon, USA, 1:92–94, 2005. Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution 2, p. 75, Creation Book Publishers, 2011. Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., Ref. 6, pp. 77–78, 84–85. Return to text.
- Batten D., and Wieland, C. Standing firm (Raymond Jones interview), Creation 21(1):20–22, 1998, creation.com/rjones. Return to text.
- Blind spiders are in many ways analogous to blind fish. See Wieland, C. creation.com/blind-fish-island-immigrants-and-hairy-babies, from which the above has been adapted. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Christopher Hitchens—blind to salamander reality: A well-known atheist’s ‘eureka moment’ shows the desperation of evolutionists, creation.com/hitchens, 26 July 2008. Return to text.
- Dawkins, C.R., The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, pp. 351–3, 2009. See refutation: Sarfati, J., The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution, pp. 250–254, 2010. Return to text.
- Moore, J.G., Sveinn Jakobsson, Holmjarn, J. , Subsidence of Surtsey volcano, 1967–1991, Bulletin of Volcanology 55(1–2):17–24; 1992 | Bibcode 1992BVol…55…17M, doi: 10.1007/BF00301116. Return to text.
- Jakobssen, Sveinn P., Erosion of the Island, The Surtsey Research Society (last updated 6 May 2007). Return to text.
- Roberts, M., Creationism on the Rocks, March 2003 Web Article; cited in Smith, C., Charge the hill: Taking back the high ground of biblical authority, creation.com/Charge-the-hill, 29 January 2013. Return to text.