Marsupials in Australia—an act of God?

by Graeme Taylor

How did Australia come to be inhabited by about 140 species of marsupial mammals and a couple of species of monotremes, but no placental terrestrial mammals (apart from rats, which may have been relatively late arrivals)? Creationists tend to avoid supernatural causes when explaining the post-Flood world’s biogeography:

“Perhaps those marsupials only survived in Australia because they migrated there ahead of the placental mammals (we are not suggesting anything other than ‘random’ processes in choice of destination)”.1

A preference for looking first for natural causes has a sound basis:

“The absence of a flurry of capricious, ‘abracadabra-style’ miracles in the Bible (apocryphal gospels have an abundance of these) is actually one hallmark of its authenticity … . Having to postulate miracle after miracle, especially ones the Bible does not mention, would seem awkward and would in practice make the Bible account less believable to sceptics.”2

However, in the same article, Dr Wieland points out, concerning the loading of the Ark:

“The degree of supernatural specificity is so extensive … . Why not accept that God directly and supernaturally commanded the animals He wanted to travel to (and board) the Ark to do so?”2

How do (or should) creationists decide whether a natural or supernatural explanation is appropriate in a given situation? I suggest the following criteria:

A natural explanation should be used whenever a scientifically coherent account that doesn’t contradict the Bible is possible. (Certainty isn’t required, and the story can be expected to be modified in the light of further investigation and scientific knowledge.)

A supernatural explanation should be used:

  1. when the Bible tells us that God directly made something happen, e.g. the events of Creation Week and the animals entering the Ark;
  2. when we recognize, because of the information requirement or other features of design, that the outcome we are observing must have been determined by an intelligent, superhumanly able actor.

Dr Don Batten gives several situations where we easily recognize that random chance doesn’t explain what we see—a deck of cards is arranged in suits and in order, grains of sand are arranged in a line or a perfect square (presumably without constraining borders), more than 20 people in a line are arranged from shortest to tallest, the family members of a lottery supervisor consistently win the lottery. In each case it is reasonable to conclude that an intelligent actor, rather than natural causes or random chance, has been responsible.3

The presence in Australia (before human arrival) of about 140 species of marsupials, a couple of species of monotremes and rats, but no other placental mammals is an arrangement that looks too specified (or lopsided) to have occurred through natural processes. This should lead us to suspect that an intelligent actor, rather than natural causes or random chance, has been responsible. To echo the above quote, “the degree of … specificity is so extensive … . Why not accept that God directly and supernaturally commanded the animals He wanted to travel to”2, and become established in, Australia?

Creationists may fear that this approach will lead to accusations of god-of the-gaps superstition, but

“… defaulting to naturalistic explanations without justification is equally as problematic and precarious as the god-of-the-gaps, yet no evolutionist ever seems to warn against making that mistake. Instead, they seem perfectly at home presuming naturalism, even when it defies common sense [emphasis in original].”4

Instead of defaulting to either of these positions, let’s make sure truth and logic trump seeking credibility with scientists (see 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:4). While the naturalistic explanations suggested by creationists as to how mammals travelled from Ararat to Australia do demonstrate that such travel would have been physically possible, the explanations offered as to a selection mechanism that resulted in such a highly specified group of mammals arriving in Australia are implausible.

Difficulties with natural explanations

Endemism (a species being found in a single defined geographic location) and disjunct populations (two or more closely related taxa occurring in geographically separated areas) are primarily explained by evolutionists in terms of slow continental drift separating populations. This is allegedly followed by evolution into new species. A number of articles on CMI’s website explore difficulties with this view, such as too little evolution in too much time (given the supposed length of time since the continents separated, the species on each should have diverged more than they have). Also, species which are ‘known’ to have evolved long after continental separation, are present in more than one of the separated continents. Evolutionists explain these anomalies by adding migration across land bridges and transoceanic transport of animals on rafts of vegetation to their base theory. Both of these are favoured explanatory mechanisms of creationists. Additional mechanisms, to explain biogeographic distribution, are transport by man, extinction, and speciation.5 Again these mechanisms are accepted by both creationists and evolutionists (although each have their own understanding of speciation).

Creationist attempts to explain Australia’s mammal population fall well short of convincing:

“Perhaps competition from placentals drove marsupials to migrate away from the Ark ahead of placentals. Marsupials then gained an early foothold in Australia and South America and, without competition from placentals, they thrived in those places. And perhaps, as the log rafts broke up and sea levels rose and covered the land bridges, Australia and South America became almost completely isolated before very many placentals had made their way to those continents.”6

The Ark’s population, without divine supervision, would have dispersed according to food availability, altitude and terrain preferences, and random choice. From Ararat they could have headed towards Europe, Africa, or Asia. The 140 species of marsupials in Australia are highly variable in size, speed, and behaviour. They have been classified into 15 families and include carnivorous marsupial mice about 5 cm long and wolf-sized thylacines (Tasmanian tigers), nocturnal omnivorous bandicoots, insectivorous numbats, and herbivores such as wallabies, kangaroos up to 1.8 m tall, burrowing wombats, and tree-dwelling koalas and possums (including gliders).

Likewise, the almost 4,000 species of placental mammals, arranged in about 100 families, are diverse. The proposal that all marsupials migrated faster than all placentals because of competition is improbable. Did wombats, koalas, and possums really travel faster and further than antelope, deer, rabbits, and wolves? Competition implies depleted food supplies. As food supplies diminished, even if placentals were uniformly more able to survive on meagre rations, surely they would also be inclined to move to places with more abundant food.

Evidence that placentals always out-compete marsupials is lacking, since

“American marsupials continue to thrive in competition with placental mammals and exploit a wide range of diets, being fruit-eating, carnivorous, insectivorous, ant-eating, or grazing animals, and habitats, e.g. being arboreal, terrestrial or burrowing.”7

Post-Flood predation?

One can imagine tigers and wolves, immediately following release from the Ark, rapidly causing the extinction of many kinds of erstwhile fellow travellers. Possible explanations for why this didn’t happen include the suggestion that Noah delayed release of the carnivores to give vulnerable creatures time to disperse. Also, at the time of the Flood, the carnivores were closer to Edenic vegetarianism and possibly had adjusted to vegetarianism while on the Ark and “Exhumed carrion was likely a major food source for carnivores after the Flood”.8 These proposals have explanatory power, but they remain conjectural. They require that fleet-footed carnivores remained close to the Ark until slow potential prey had migrated a considerable distance and multiplied. The proposals also imply that carnivorous marsupials (thylacines and Tasmanian devils) would have started from behind herbivorous placentals as they migrated away from Ararat.

Any explanation requiring all Australian marsupials plus the monotremes to have independently chosen to travel in the right direction and, at the right times, to have found and clambered aboard beached log mats, which then, in a timely fashion, embarked on a voyage towards Australia, strains credulity (figure 1).

Image: Unknown Author, Wikimedia / PDconvict-problem
Figure 1a. Solving Britain’s convict problem—the main criterion for selection for transport to Australia in the early 19th century.
Image: Johann Baptist Zwecker, Wikimedia (colourised) / Public Domainmarsupials_fig1b
Figure 1b. Why did marsupials become established in Australia?

For each species, at least a pregnant female or a mating pair would have needed sufficient food and water for survival during each stage of the perilous journey. This scenario also requires all placentals to have chosen not to travel the same routes as the marsupials, or to have died when they tried.

Biblical considerations

The Bible doesn’t give explicit information about how biogeographical distribution occurred post-Flood. However, it is apparent that God selected and brought the animals to Noah and the Ark (Genesis 7:8, 9). Presumably He chose creatures with great genetic diversity and purity as suitable breeding stock to replenish the earth. With modern livestock transport by sea and voyages lasting only weeks there are accidents and deaths among the animals.9 God would not have left the survival of animal kinds to random chance. It isn’t unreasonable to suppose that He controlled aggression, disease and accidents during the voyage, loading and unloading.

Within God’s whole plan for the re-establishment of creation following the Flood, perhaps He planned specific ecosystems, with the species of flora and fauna He had designed interrelating in selected geographic locations.

“The God who made the world and everything in it … . From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and exact places where they should live [emphases added](Acts 17:24, 26).

I suggest that the italicized parts of the previous quote also apply to

“… every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it” (Genesis 8:17).

Jesus’ statement that not one sparrow falls to the ground “apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29) shows the attention God pays to individual creatures.

We can’t know the method God used to ensure that the right creatures arrived in Australia, or over what range of times they arrived. However, this image (from Psalm 121) of the creator God caring for Israel provides a sense of His watchful, guiding, powerful patience:

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:2–8; NIV).

From the outcome (marsupials and not placentals established in Australia), we can deduce that God kept successive generations of the ‘chosen races’ heading in the right direction, by land or by sea, and always enough survived for continuity. Similarly, He prevented placentals from becoming established in Australia.


If it is granted that the post-Flood biology of Australia is best (perhaps only) explained in terms of God’s direct plan and intervention, it is reasonable to suppose that all post-Flood biogeography was also God-superintended. He certainly must have controlled placental competitors from arriving and surviving in Australia. With similar oversight He could have directed them and other animals, birds, and plants to where they became established.

Debunking evolutionary explanations

Creationists have generally agreed with evolutionists that natural causes are sufficient to explain biogeographic distribution but claimed that “creationists are in a far better position to explain these animals as there was much more vegetation available for rafting immediately after the global Flood”10 and

“… evolutionary biogeographers are unable to provide an adequate mechanism by which these distribution patterns could have arisen by dispersal. In contrast, the data fit well within a creationist model where plants and animals were rafted to the places they now inhabit on log mats left over from the Genesis Flood.”11

However, by taking this stance, creationists are asserting that their natural causes are better than evolutionists’ natural causes at explaining biogeography. This opens the door for evolutionists to counter with such claims as, for example: we have hundreds of millions of years available for a lot of large local floods, plus many ice ages to expose land bridges, plus tectonic continental shift, plus evolution taking place at different times in different locations, etc., versus your one-off creation plus your one-off flood.

This isn’t an easy debate for either side to win. Instead of conceding ground, we can assert that evolution is wrong because it contradicts the biblical account and because so many aspects of it are scientifically impossible (e.g. nobody has proposed a tenable natural way that any of the following could have occurred: the requisite proteins for the first cell, or DNA, or DNA arranged in a useful code, or structures that can read and act on encoded DNA, or single-celled organisms transitioning to multi-celled, or asexual reproduction transitioning to sexual, etc.). So evolution-based explanations for biogeography are doomed to fail. The multiplicity of such explanations and the flaws and inadequacies that fellow evolutionary scientists have found in them testifies to this.10,11 However, biogeography can be explained by God-superintended post-Flood migration.

Lacking evidence to refute such a statement, the only avenue available to evolutionists is to repeat some version of their statement of belief, such as: we know science will eventually provide a naturalistic explanation because we don’t believe in God or the Christian Bible.

Posted on homepage: 26 April 2024

References and notes

  1. Catchpoole, D., How did animals get from the Ark to places such as Australia?; in: Batten, D. (Ed.), The Creation Answers Book, p. 219, 2013. Return to text.
  2. Wieland, C., Hibernation, Migration and the Ark: a report of a year-long hibernation in a tiny marsupial raises a subject worth revisiting, 12 Dec 2007. Return to text.
  3. Batten, D., Cheating with chance, 27 Feb 2013. Return to text.
  4. Halley, K., The god-of-the-gaps charge doesn’t stick, 18 Jul 2015. Return to text.
  5. Statham, D., Biogeography, J. Creation 24(1):82–87, 2010. Return to text.
  6. Statham, D., Migration after the Flood: how did plants and animals spread around the world so quickly?, 12 Mar 2013. Return to text.
  7. See American marsupials, The Natural History Collections of The University of Edinburgh, Natural History Collections: American Marsupials, accessed 10 Nov 2022. Return to text.
  8. Bailey, T., Would predators hunt prey to extinction as they come off Noah’s Ark?, 29 Feb 2020. Return to text.
  9. ‘Floating feedlots’: animals spending weeks at sea on ships not fit for purpose, theguardian.com, accessed 10 Nov 2022. Return to text.
  10. Oard, M.J., Post-Flood log mats potentially can explain biogeography, J. Creation 28(3):20, 2014. Return to text.
  11. Statham, D., Phytogeography and zoogeography—rafting vs continental drift, J. Creation 29(1):80, 2015. Return to text.

Helpful Resources