Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (10): Finding God in Galapagos

        The Charles Darwin Mural on Charles Darwin Avenue in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island

On the last day of our tour, the Cormorant was anchored in Academy Bay, the harbor of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.  In the morning, we went to see the giant tortoise breeding facility at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the eastern end of Charles Darwin Avenue.  On our way there, we walked past the mural pictured above.  Darwin's head floats over the Galapagos, as if he has taken the place of God. 

This could be seen as suggesting something like the "religion without revelation" proposed by Julian Huxley, in which the Darwinian story of evolution replaces the biblical story of Creation.  In fact, Huxley was one of the leaders of the "Galapagos International Scientific Project" for establishing the Charles Darwin Research Station and for making Galapagos an Ecuadorian National Park that would attract ecotourists from around the world.  Part of this project was to have the tourists guided by naturalist guides trained in evolutionary science who would teach the tourists to see Galapagos as providing them the conclusive evidence for the Darwinian story of how all life evolved on Earth as a substitute for the biblical story of how "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.".  In 1966, Huxley wrote: "It was on the Galapagos . . . that Darwin took the first step out of the fairyland of creationism into the coherent and comprehensible world of modern biology."

At the western end of Charles Darwin Avenue, one can find Loma Linda Academy, a private school operated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church.  The school has a mural showing the animals of Galapagos looking up at the sky.  The writing on the mural declares: Todo la creacion exalta al creador.  "All creation exalts the Creator."  So it seems that some people in Galapagos are still living in "the fairyland of creationism." 

It is not surprising that a Seventh Day Adventist school should be teaching creationism as an alternative to Darwinism.  The modern creationist movement has been led by Seventh Day Adventists influenced by the teachings of Ellen White (1827-1915), the charismatic prophet who founded their church.  The Adventists emphasized the importance of observing the Sabbath on Saturday as a memorial to the six days of Creation.  God had commanded the keeping of the Sabbath, "for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exodous 20:11). Consequently, White and the Adventists opposed any scientific claim that the days of creation should be interpreted symbolically, or as something other than a literal six twenty-four hour days.  In 1864, White confirmed this teaching by reporting her divine vision in which she was "carried back to the creation and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week."

White also interpreted the Genesis account of Noah's flood as a worldwide catastrophe that created the geological strata and fossils that we see today.  This refuted the geologists who saw the geological record as showing the Earth to be at least hundreds of millions of years old. 

The best history of creationism--Ronald Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (Harvard University Press, 2006)--emphasizes the influence of Seventh Day Adventist theology on creationism.  This tradition of Adventist creationist attacks on evolution continues in the presidential administration of Donald Trump: Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is a Seventh Day Adventist who has regularly lectured on the falsity of evolutionary science.

Beginning in 1902, Adventist George McCready Price (1870-1963) wrote a series of books arguing that the evidence of geology and biology supported White's interpretation of biblical creationism and refuted Darwinian evolutionary science.  Nevertheless, Price sometimes conceded a lot to the Darwinian theory of the evolution of species.  In the first chapter of Genesis, God is said to have created the "kinds" of plants and animals.  "Kind" is the King James English translation of the Hebrew word min, which is as vague as the English word.  If "kind" means "species," then one would have to say that God originally created all species of plants and animals as fixed, and therefore there can be no evolution of new species.  This was the "theory of special creation" that Darwin challenged in The Origin of Species with his "theory of natural selection."  Sometimes, however, Price identified the created "kinds" as "the great stocks, or families" created by God, which allowed for natural variation within these created kinds that could cause the evolution of new species, and this would support Darwin's position, at least within some broad limits.

This point was made clear by Frank Lewis Marsh, an Adventist scientist and follower of Marsh.  Marsh received his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Nebraska in 1940, which made him the first Adventist with a doctoral degree in biology.  Marsh began to doubt the idea that all species had originated by separate acts of divine creation at the beginning.  It was hard to see how Adam could have named all the species of birds and land animals in one day (Genesis 2:19-20).  It was also hard to see how Noah's Ark was large enough to hold two of each species of birds and land animals (Genesis 6:19-20).

The solution to these and other problems was to identify created "kinds" as belonging to some taxonomic rank higher than "species," and thus one could allow for the Darwinian evolution of species within the limits of each "kind."  Marsh coined the term "baramin"--from the Hebrew words bara ("created") and min ("kind")--to denote the original units of creation, the created kinds.  Later, creationist Kurt Wise coined the term "baraminology" for the scientific identification and study of created kinds; and creationist Todd Wood has employed some statistical techniques for identifying baramins, which he has applied to the study of Galapagos (Wood, A Creationist Review and Preliminary Analysis of the History, Geology, Climate, and Biology of the Galapagos Islands [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005]).  So, unlike the "theory of special creation" refuted by Darwin, which assumed the fixity of species originally created by God, modern creationism has accepted a limited evolution of species within created kinds (see Todd Wood, "Species Variability and Creationism," Origins, number 62 [2008]: 6-25). 

Indeed, all creationists accept evolution to some extent.  The question is where to set the boundaries beyond which evolution cannot go.  This is the question posed by the evidence of Galapagos: Is this evidence of evolution, but only within certain limits?

This was the kind of question that Marsh raised in his extensive correspondence with Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the leading proponents of the "modern synthesis" of evolutionary theory.  In Genetics and the Origin of Species (Columbia University Press, 1937), Dobzhansky had distinguished "microevolution" and "macroevolution."  Microevolution is evolutionary change that we can observe during a human lifetime.  Macroevolution is evolutionary change that occurs over long geological periods, and thus we cannot directly observe it, but we might infer it from our study of the fossil record and of the present distribution of species.

For Marsh, all of the directly observable evidence for evolution was evidence of microevolution of species within created kinds (baramins).  There was no directly observable evidence for the macroevolution of new kinds of plants and animals from earlier forms of life, Marsh argued.  When Dobzhansky responded by arguing that such macroevolution occurred only over long geological time, and thus it could "be proven or disproven only by inference from the available evidence," Marsh complained: "Alas! Inferential evidence again!  Is there no real proof for this theory of evolution which we may grasp in our hands?"  Dobzhansky answered with frustration: "If you demand that biologists would demonstrate the origin of a horse from a mouse in the laboratory, then you just can not be convinced."

Marsh rejected the inferential evidence for macroevolution because it contradicted what Marsh interpreted as the biblical history of creation as the truth of divine revelation.  That biblical truth should be taken seriously by scientists.  Although Dobzhansky was not persuaded by this, he accepted this as an honest statement of Marsh's faith that "the account given by the Bible is settled for you before you begin to consider the biological evidence."

What we see here are the two interrelated fundamental dichotomies employed in modern creationist argumentation over evolution: microevolution versus macroevolution and observational science versus historical science.  Observational science is based on what we can know by direct observation or experimentation.  Historical science is based on inferences about what has happened in the distant past that we cannot directly observe or experimentally test.  The inferences of historical science depend upon our fundamental assumptions about the universe--our worldviews. 

So if we have a biblical worldview that assumes the literal truth of the Bible, we will infer that while there has been microevolution within created kinds, there has been no macroevolution of kinds.  But if we have a secularist worldview that denies the truth of the Bible, then we might infer that all the kinds of plants and animals have evolved by purely natural processes from common ancestors, and perhaps ultimately from one primitive form of life.  Both of these worldviews rest on faith, the creationists argue, because even the secularist worldview rests on a kind of faith that the entire past history of the universe has been governed by purely natural laws without any miraculous interventions by God, although it's impossible for us to confirm this assumption by direct observation of the past. 

I suspect that this creationist use of the term "worldview" comes from David Noebel's Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991).  For over 40 years, Noebel has conducted two-week seminars for high school students teaching them how to defend a biblical "worldview" against alternative "worldviews"--such as secular humanism and Marxism--and a creationist rejection of Darwinian science is a crucial part of that biblical worldview.  I first heard Noebel talk about this in 1961, when I was a high school student in one of his seminars at The Summit in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Another possible source for the "worldview" idea is Thomas Kuhn's account of science as based on "paradigms" that constitute fundamental assumptions about the universe that cannot be proven empirically but which organize scientific thinking and research.  Creationists can argue that every scientific paradigm is a kind of faith commitment, and thus creationism can be a paradigm for science.

Although we cannot prove that either of these worldviews is true, we can debate whether one or the other provides the most plausible explanation for the world of observational experience.  So, for example, those of us with a secularist worldview will tour the Galapagos and see it though the lens of that worldview, while those of us with a biblical worldview will tour the Galapagos and see it through that very different biblical lens.  We will see the same geological and biological phenomena, but we will draw different inferences about the ultimate causes of those phenomena.  We can then debate with one another about which explanatory inferences are most plausible.

As I have indicated in my previous posts, the naturalist guides in Galapagos have been trained in the secularist worldview of Darwinian science, and so they teach the tourists to see Galapagos through that lens; and the people on my two tours were receptive to that teaching.  But I know that there have been creationists who have toured the Galapagos, and who have seen it as providing confirmation of God's creative activity. 

Any visitors within the protected area of the Galapagos National Park must be accompanied by a naturalist guide trained and authorized by the Galapagos National Park Directorate, and these guides always assume the truth of the Darwinian worldview.  But creationist visitors can apply their own creationist views, and they can bring with them creationist teachers to give them lectures that contradict what the naturalist guide is saying.

Beginning in the early 1970s, shortly after commercial airline service to Galapagos was started, Lester Harris, a Seventh Day Adventist creationist in the biology department of Loma Linda University, began to lead regular summer tours of Galapagos for his students.  He also assisted in the buying of the property in Puerto Ayora for establishing Loma Linda Academy.  He wrote the first creationist book on the Galapagos--Galapagos: A Creationist Visits Darwin's Islands (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1976).

Harris's book is a charming set of stories about his observations of the flora and fauna of Galapagos.  But the general theme running through those stories--usually stated at the end of each chapter--is that while Darwin drew some correct conclusions from what he saw in Galapagos, he jumped to bigger conclusions than he should have when he denied that there was any evidence for biblical creationism.  Darwin correctly saw evidence for microevolution in Galapagos, Harris argued, but Darwin mistakenly inferred that this showed a macroevolution of all life by natural processes that did not require any divine creation.

Without citing any of the creationist authors like Price and Marsh who argued for the limited evolution of species within divinely created kinds, Harris employed their reasoning.  For example, in his chapter on Darwin's finches, he wrote:
"It was only after returning to England following his famous round-the-world voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle that Darwin had time t analyze his collection of the birds that now bear his name.  They seemed to him to offer evidence that disproved the separate creation of animal species.  He reasoned that if the special-creation theory is true, then it was a strange coincidence of creation to find thirteen similar species of finches existing only in the Galapagos Islands."
"He was right.  At that time many people believed that God had created each new species right where man found it. Darwin couldn't accept that idea.  From his study of the finches, giant tortoises, and other animals in the Galapagos Islands, he developed the idea that each new species found only there had developed from some ancestor that came out from the mainland soon after the formation of the island."
"Darwin reasoned that newly arrived finches would be able to change to fit the particular circumstances of each island.  Later the new species would spread to the nearest neighbor islands, and then several species would be able to live in harmony since they had developed different-type beaks to fit their various feeding habits."
"Today we accept Darwin's conclusion about the finches' immediate origin, but we can't agree with Darwin when he proposes that both finches and marine iguanas had the same ancestor at some time in the distant past.  Each originated from its own creature type.  The evidence of change in both is real, but the degree of change is a theoretical point of argument" (118-119).
So Darwin was right to deny the theory of special creation that would assert that the species endemic to Galapagos were specially created by God for Galapagos.  But he was wrong not to see that the evolution of new species in Galapagos was possible because God had originally created all the basic kinds of plants and animals so that they had within them (in their genetic endowment) the capacity for adaptive change to fit the unique circumstances of Galapagos.

We can see God in Galapagos because we can see that the evolutionary adaptations of new endemic species there manifest the potentialities that God built into His original created kinds.

Since Harris's tours, other creationists on tours of Galapagos sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research, Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis, and other creationist groups have reached the same conclusions as Harris.

In my next post, I will continue my analysis of the creationist interpretations of Galapagos.


Roger Sweeny said...

Fascinating. So I assume that Harris would say that everything in the TalkOrigins "Observed Instances of Speciation" page is just within-kind evolution and thus no evidence against special creation/Genesis.

Larry Arnhart said...

Yes. If macroevolution is evolution at or above the level of species, then these creationists now accept macroevolution.

But they have changed the definition of macroevolution to evolution at or above the taxonomic level of the family. They say that evolution at that level has not occurred.