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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Finding God in Galapagos

Darwin discovered evolution on the Galápagos Islands—a popular story, yes, but it’s not true. Darwin’s ideas were formulated much later, drawn from a variety of sources. If Darwin had interpreted the islands from a biblical perspective, he might have reached a very different conclusion.

In mid-September 1835, the Beagle anchored off San Cristóbal, the easternmost of the Galápagos Islands. Straddling the equator, these Pacific islands were no lush paradise, but dry and relatively barren. Over the next five weeks, Charles Darwin trudged through sun-scorched lava fields, prickly thickets, and cloud-covered forests and meadows, collecting specimens as he went.

The young man was intrigued by what he found on these lonely islands, six hundred miles off the coast of South America. Giant iguanas basked in the sun on the rocky coasts, while giant land tortoises lumbered along “well-beaten” paths in the interior. Darwin’s job was not always serious. He tried to ride one of the giant land tortoises, with comical results.

To Darwin’s surprise, many of the animals and plants were similar to what he had seen earlier on the continent of South America. And there were often multiple species of each sort, more similar to one another than to any species outside the islands. Trained in England to believe in the “doctrine of creation of each separate species,” he was astonished at what he had found in the wider world.

Why would a Creator put similar but discrete species on islands and then make them look most similar to species on the nearest continent? This was the sort of question that Darwin’s trip made him ask.

Actually it was not until after his return to England, while unpacking and cataloging his collections and polishing his journals that the significance of his findings really sank in. What he had seen influenced his thinking for the rest of his life. Indeed, it would influence the thinking of the scientific community for the next 150 years and beyond.



















Darwin made many stops during his voyage on the Beagle. Of all the observations he made, most striking was the similarity between the wildlife on the Galápagos Islands and the nearby South American mainland. This did not fit with the common expectation that species on islands should be very different from species on the mainland because they were created separately.


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Finding God in Galapagos
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