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
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
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.
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
- Snelling, A., Radioactive ‘dating’ failure, Creation 22(1):18–21, 1999; creation.com/radioactive-dating-failure. 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 (and song-writer) is properly referred to by his given name Sigurður, although the West normally uses Thorarinsson. Return to text.
- Sigurdur Thorarinsson, Surtsey: island born of fire, National Geographic 127(5):712–726, 1965. Return to text.
- This section from Catchpoole, D., creation.com/surtsey-still-surprises. Return to text.
- Cosner, L. and Sarfati, J., The birds of the Galápagos, Creation 31(3):28–31, 2009; creation.com/galapagos-birds. Return to text.
- 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.
- 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.
- Grigg, R., Alfred Russel Wallace—‘co-inventor’ of Darwinism, Creation 27(4):33–35, 2005; creation.com/wallace. Return to text.
- Wallace, A.R., On The Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type, 1858. Return to text.
- 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.