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Galápagos with David Attenborough: Origin

As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is showing David Attenborough's program on the Galápagos Islands on Sunday nights in July, we present our response to his Galápagos Origin shown on 23 July 2017


First published: 4 April 2013 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 25 July 2017 (GMT+10)

Galápagos with David Attenborough is the title of a three-part Sky 3D TV series that premiered in the UK in January 2013. The series was shown in Australia in March 2013 with the revised title, David Attenborough’s Galápagos. In the first episode, titled “Origin”, Sir David introduces viewers to this group of 16 major volcanic islands and many smaller ones that straddle the equator some 600 miles (970 km) from the west coast of South America (off Ecuador, which claimed sovereignty in 1832). Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution after he visited four of the islands here for five weeks in 1835.

Millions of years not needed

Attenborough, in accordance with his evolutionary worldview, tells viewers that the “volcanic activity began to build the Galápagos islands four million years ago”, with the youngest island, Fernandina, “rising from the sea just 500,000 years ago”. Although he does not mention radioactive dating, such long ages are usually derived from such methods. However, radioactive dating is not reliable. For example, three lava flows from Mt Ngauruhoe in New Zealand that were observed to occur in 1949, 1954, and 1975 were given radiometric dates of millions of years.1

Earth Observatory 8270 and NASA GSFC; Wikimedia commons/M.Minderhoud.Click to enlarge.

According to the biblical worldview, the Galápagos islands would be post-Flood. The fact that millions of years are not needed to form volcanic islands is shown by Surtsey, the recently-formed island off the south-west coast of Iceland that rose out of the sea due to volcanic activity from 1963 to 1967. The official Icelandic geologist, Sigurdur Thorarinsson, reported in 1964: “On Surtsey only a few months sufficed for a landscape to be created which was so varied and mature that it was almost beyond belief.”2

In this short time period there formed 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.” And all of this despite the “extreme youth”3 of the island!

Arrival of plants

Attenborough explains in some detail how plant seeds were blown across the sea from South America to the Galápagos, finally resulting in some of them producing new plants there.

Likewise vegetation formed on Surtsey, albeit quickly. In 1965, researchers found the green shoots and pretty white flower of a sea rocket, its roots sunk into the ash and in full bloom. Lyme grass, sea sandwort, cotton grass and ferns soon followed. Mosses arrived in 1967 and lichens in 1970. By 2008, 69 species of plant had been found on Surtsey, of which about 30 had become established. New ones continue to arrive at the rate of about 2–5 new species per year.

Arrival of animals

Top: NOAA; Bottom: Wikimedia commons/Worldtravellersurtsey
Top: Surtsey shortly after it began erupting in 1963.
Bottom: Surtsey in 1999. Notice the many ‘old-looking’ features on this young island.

Attenborough’s scenario for how the animals got to the Galápagos is:

Spiders and insects arrived ballooning through the skies, blown by the wind.

Carpenter beetles would have arrived in driftwood scraps floating on the sea.

Sea birds, such as boobies, albatrosses and frigates came to rest and breed.

Penguins were carried there from Antarctica by ocean currents.

Concerning cormorants he says: “Cormorants are coastal birds rather than ocean travellers, so they can only have arrived here by accident, having probably been swept out to sea by a gale. But they arrived a very long time ago.

Concerning tortoises he says: “About 3 million years ago one of them from the South American forests was carried away perhaps by a flash flood, swept out to sea and in time landed on Galápagos … produced eggs, and as time passed they spread to other islands.”

Concerning iguanas he says: “Many million years ago, somewhere in South or Central America, an iguana was grazing close to the banks of one of the great rivers. Perhaps it was feeding on floating vegetation. Maybe it fell onto such a raft from a tree. Patches of floating vegetation, if quite big, are easily buoyant enough to support a metre-long iguana and sometimes [the patches] don’t break up but float out into the open ocean … At some point in Galápagos history the currents carried an iguana across 600 miles of ocean to the islands. Not once but several times. Here they settled and multiplied. Today there are thousands of them.

Notice Attenborough’s addition of millions of years to the above scenario: “A very long time ago”, “About 3 million years ago”, “Many million years ago”, all without any evidence or justification, except that as an atheist and an evolutionist he needs the time for his view.

However, Surtsey Island says: “Not needed!” Insects and spiders were the first to arrive here, via the air, as expected. Then birds began nesting there in 1970, producing chicks just three years after the lava stopped flowing (in 1967). These early residents were seabirds such as fulmars and black guillemots, building nests of pebbles, and keeping to the cliffs. But in the summer of 1985, a pair of lesser black-backed gulls arrived and constructed a nest of plant materials on the lava flats. They returned the following year with others, and there is now a permanent gull colony of more than 300 pairs.

The birds have contributed to Surtsey’s ‘greening’. Snow buntings brought the seeds of bog rosemary from Britain in their gizzards. Combined with bird excreta, seeds grow rapidly—there is now a ‘bright green oasis’ spreading from the gull colony. Geese now graze the island’s vegetation. The cycle continues. The plants support insects, which attract birds, that bring more plants. Recent arrivals include willow bushes and puffins. According to the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, “[W]e now have a fully functioning ecosystem on Surtsey.”4 In 2008, the 14th bird species was detected with the discovery of a Common Raven’s nest, and in 2009 a Golden Plover was nesting on the island with four eggs.

Wikimedia commons/putneymarkFlightless cormorant
Flightless cormorant

Flightless cormorants not evidence for evolution

Attenborough makes the following interesting comment concerning the Galápagos cormorants:

It’s ancestors when they first arrived had wings like any other cormorant, but with no land predators that might threaten the birds sitting in such a vulnerable place [i.e. in their nesting sites], it had no need to fly. Over generations, its wings became smaller and smaller. Now they are mere stumps with a few tattered feathers. So now the bird can’t fly even if it wanted to. And it is now heavier than any of its flying relatives.

However, this is not evolution in progress. The first cormorants to arrive, that could fly, would have been vulnerable to being blown out to sea in gales, and thus not able to pass on their genes to birds remaining on the islands.5,6

Attenborough’s explanation of a lack of predators is also reasonable, but we would say that this meant a lack of selection pressure that would eliminate flightless mutants. Note that natural selection was discovered by people before Darwin, some of whom were creationists.7 But they, like creationists today, recognized natural selection as a culling force that removed harmful changes, not a creative force as Darwin believed. Darwin’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913),8 while believing that natural selection could be creative, also pointed out its conservative function:

The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow.9

So, in time, the flightless condition would spread throughout the remaining cormorant population. This inability to fly would be a survival advantage to these birds, but it involved a loss of genetic information, and hence is in the opposite direction to that required to turn microbes into microbiologists or fish into philosophers.10


  1. Snelling, A., Radioactive ‘dating’ failure, Creation 22(1):18–21, 1999; creation.com/radioactive-dating-failure. Return to text.
  2. 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 (and song-writer) is properly referred to by his given name Sigurður, although the West normally uses Thorarinsson. Return to text.
  3. Sigurdur Thorarinsson, Surtsey: island born of fire, National Geographic 127(5):712–726, 1965. Return to text.
  4. This section from Catchpoole, D., creation.com/surtsey-still-surprises. Return to text.
  5. Cosner, L. and Sarfati, J., The birds of the Galápagos, Creation 31(3):28–31, 2009; creation.com/galapagos-birds. Return to text.
  6. Beetles on windy islands are also usually flightless for the same reason. See Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, 1997, creation.com/beetle-bloopers. Return to text.
  7. Grigg, R., Darwin’s illegitimate brainchild: If you thought Darwin’s Origin was original, think again! Creation 26(2):39–41, 2004; creation.com/brainchild. Return to text.
  8. Grigg, R., Alfred Russel Wallace—‘co-inventor’ of Darwinism, Creation 27(4):33–35, 2005; creation.com/wallace. Return to text.
  9. Wallace, A.R., On The Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type, 1858. Return to text.
  10. Wieland, C, The evolution train’s a-comin’ (Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction) Creation 24(2)16–19, 2002; creation.com/train. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Surtsey Surprises
by David Catchpoole
US $0.20

Readers’ comments

Dan M.
Possibly this and possibly that! Sir David and his evolutionary cohorts have no rational idea what happened in the past even though they claim to know, (it’s all storytelling). It's easy to disintegrate their hypothesis by just observing the present. God is constantly slapping them in the back of the head by recent catastrophic processes, (Mt Saint Helens) and other discoveries, (soft dino tissue). Possibly your world view is wrong Sir David!

We creationists on the other hand, have a very reliable narrative that rationally explains the world as it exists today. It’s not a matter of science but a matter of rebellion in their hearts so we need to pray for them.
Richard F.
The idea of iguanas floating to Galápagos on rafts seems fanciful, and by the same token I’d guess that Surtsey will never have largish animals.

The reason all sorts of sizes of animals have reached all the continents is not because they floated there on wood, or evolved there, but because they existed on the sole continent of Pangaea which broke up. So, arguably, they did ‘float’ there on great land masses!!

I would love to know more how the upheaval caused by these rapid tectonic movements affected the animals living on them
Jonathan Sarfati
How is the idea ‘fanciful’ when we know that green iguanas colonized the island of Anguilla in the West Indies on a natural ‘raft’ nine metres (30 feet) across? See Surfing lizards wipe out objections.

The rapid tectonics occurred during the Flood—see What about continental drift?.
John B.
Hahah, again. Nice work CMI.
I always laugh at these Evolutionist T.V. series and so do my siblings (even when we were younger)
I really wish there was a Creationist science Channel which focused on the Science pro-bible and Anti-Evolution (mainly its claims)
or a show that purely debunks every claim of these other shows.
Nice work with this interesting article, Love how you guys present observations from their past to debunk their hypothesis'
Keep it up.
Jennifer B.
Great job for what David Attenborough's research studies as I watch some of his TV shows here in Australia that supports "evolution believer/evangelist" and other advocates for it. Honestly, I'm sick of listening "millions of years ago"! Let's have more "Creation evangelist" TV shows to balance or outdo these "millions of years ago evangelists". Keep it up Creation.com!
E. K.
Surtsey is much closer to Iceland than Galapagos to the continent. So I would expect the chances of species arriving a lot lower and therefore the process of settlement on Galapagos to be a lot slower. (Not millions of years of course.) The continent is much richer in flora and fauna compared to Iceland. So maybe that evens it out a bit.
Michael B.
As was said before, the photography that the Nature team films is outstanding! I love these programs because they show all the beauty and wonder of God's creation. I wish I did not have to scream and laugh at the tv every 5 minutes when they spout their insane millions of years etc..! I wish we could take these programs and give them a proper, truthful, biblical narrative. Now that would be something! Praise be to the Lord!
Joseph Allen K.
Charles Darwin was NOT an intellectual and was a poor student. He was un-able to follow in his father's footsteps and get a degree in Medicine. So Charles ended up getting an "easy degree" in Divinity. However, everyone, including most Creationists, treats him as if he were one of the GREAT INTELLECTS of human history, similar to Newton and Einstein. When is this pretense going to end ... ???
P. T.
Thanks again for a great article. I just HAVE TO SAY IT - CMI ALWAYS explains and unravels the mysteries of unfathomable time and incomprehensible evolutionary concepts clearly and decisively - so that any reader can arrive at satisfying answers that are a stimulus to further inquiry - and with the joy of anticipating further answers at some point - instead of feeling swamped with evolutionary jargon and concepts that somehow never amount to anything meaningful - and, no wonder - evolution is a LIE. Thanks CMI for you GREAT work. Almighty God is continuing to claim back the ground through your fantastic faithfulness and diligence.
Edward P.
Been reading some of the (really great) articles on this site for some time. This article somehow made me see how much story-telling is in evolution. Evolution was still bothering me all this time in the back of my head... well I just read through Attenborough's words and I saw how senseless his statements are. If that's how evolutionists do science, I'm not taking it!
Hans G.
Yes, he makes wonderful pictures and movies and they are not often made by others. We enjoy the creation by watching.
I wonder from what did drifting animals lived on their journey to those islands?
Cormorants use their wings to propel them under water too, it looks like a step back in evolution.(Or not there jet....)
Ndel A.
Persons will accept just about any thing as long as you do not say it is in the Bible.
Evolutionists will see inconsistencies in your arguments, if the conclusion is that creation did take place as recorded in the Bible.
Roger T.
As with all Attenborough programs enjoy the photography and ignore the blurb!

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