Sunday, April 02, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (11): Creationist Ecotourism

As far as I know, Lester Harris was the first creationist scientist to lead a tour of the Galapagos in the early 1970s.  Later, the Institute for Creation Research, founded by Henry Morris, began leading creationist tours of the Galapagos in 2000.  In 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, the ICR organized a tour of the Galapagos that provided the material for a documentary film--"The Mysterious Islands"--released in 2011.  John Morris speaks about that ICR trip here.

Then, in 2011, Answers in Genesis--the creationist ministry of Ken Ham, best known for its "Creation Museum" in Kentucky--sent one of its scientists--Georgia Purdom--on a two-week tour of the Galapagos organized by a homeschooling organization ("Living Science") in Atlanta, Georgia.  Most of the people on this tour were parents and homeschooled high school students.  Purdom was to provide creationist scientific instruction for the trip.  Purdom has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from The Ohio State University, and so she is an example of a scientific creationist who is a real scientist.  The aim of the trip was to collect material for a homeschooling instructional program in science using Galapagos as evidence.  Later, in 2013, Answers in Genesis produced a book--Galapagos Islands: A Different View--edited by Purdom that was partially based on the earlier tour.  Purdom wrote a series of blog posts (here) on her 2011 trip.

                Purdom sailed on the Galaxy, a Galapagos yacht designed for 16 passengers.

           A video of Michael Shermer interviewing Georgia Purdom at the Creation Museum

What this shows is that the ecotourism in Galapagos is not just for secular humanists--like those in the tour groups for my two trips--but also for fundamentalist creationists.  All tour groups have to have a naturalist guide approved by the Galapagos Park Service, who will present a purely Darwinian interpretation of what is seen in Galapagos.  But creationists can also bring their own instructors--like Purdom--who can add a creationist commentary.  Moreover, this creationist interpretation of Galapagos can be promoted through books, films, and lectures, and in creationist instruction through churches, homeschooling programs, or private Christian schools.  This supports a vigorous debate over creationism and evolution in countries like the United States, even when there is no attention given to biblical creationism in public school science classes.

The Institute for Creation Research invited Donna O'Daniel to be the lecturer on scientific creationism for one of their tours of Galapagos.  She reports that their Ecuadorian naturalist guide was so fascinated by her lectures that he asked her about God's plan of salvation, and before the tour was over, he made a profession of faith in Christ (Purdom 2013, 86).

So what I have called global liberal ecotourism can allow for an open intellectual debate about Darwinian evolution and biblical creationism in explaining the origins of life and the universe.  A liberal global order makes this possible because it promotes the tolerance and freedom of thought that allows such a free debate about the great questions of life, and also because it promotes the economic prosperity and educational attainment for growing numbers of people that allow them to travel to places like Galapagos and to study the natural history of the Earth and the Universe as well as theological texts like the Bible.  This is one great illustration of how liberal modernity improves not only the material conditions of life but also the moral, intellectual, and spiritual excellence of humanity.

To understand the complexity of this evolution/creation debate, one needs to see that there are many possible positions that one can take.  There are at least five positions.  One can be a naturalistic evolutionist (like Richard Dawkins), an evolutionary creationist (like Francis Collins), an old-Earth creationist (like Hugh Ross), a young-Earth creationist (like Ken Ham), or an intelligent-design theorist (like Stephen Meyer).

The naturalistic evolutionist says that the Earth and all life on the Earth have evolved by purely natural processes over billions of years. 

The evolutionary creationist says that God originally created the laws of nature (perhaps beginning at the Big Bang) that have produced by purely natural processes the evolution of the Earth and life over billions of years. 

The old-Earth creationist says that God created the Universe billions of years ago at the Big Bang and then created all the forms of life that we see in the fossil and paleontological record studied by scientists. 

The young-Earth creationist says that God created the Universe and all forms of life about 6,000 years ago over six 24-hour days as described in the first two chapters of Genesis. 

The intelligent design theorist says that the Universe and all forms of life show evidence of having been designed by an intelligent designer, but we cannot be sure by science alone that this intelligent designer is the God of the Bible, and in any case, the science of intelligent design must not depend upon the Bible.

Georgia Purdom is a young-Earth creationist.  In her first blog post on the Galapagos, she observes:
"I will be traveling to the same place that Charles Darwin did over 170 years ago. My observations about the islands may be very similar to Darwin’s, however, the implications of those observations for the past will be very different. I will be starting with God’s Word as the truth about the past but Darwin started with man’s opinions about the past. My conclusions about the past will be supported by what I observe, whereas many of Darwin’s conclusions about the past (i.e., molecules-to-man evolution) were and remain unsupported by what he saw. Isn’t it amazing the difference one’s worldview can make?"
 Here, and in all of her work, she follows the lead of Ken Ham, as in his debate with Bill Nye, the subject of my post here.  And, like Ham, she adopts the position of Todd Wood in arguing that the "created kinds" (baramins) that were created by God 6,000 years ago and that travelled on Noah's Ark evolved naturally into all the species that we see today, including those in Galapagos, because God endowed His created kinds with the potential for such future adaptive speciation.

Also like Ham, she insists that one's inferences from observational science about past history will depend on one's worldview, so that her worldview from the Bible will lead to different conclusions about the past than were drawn by Darwin, who had an unbiblical naturalistic worldview.  So when people tour the Galapagos, they can see the same things that Darwin saw, but whether they agree with Darwin's conclusions about the deep evolutionary history of life will depend upon whether they agree with his worldview.  The naturalist guides in Galapagos have been taught to assume Darwin's worldview.  But a creationist like Purdom can teach her fellow tourists to see Galapagos through the biblical worldview. 

Or, as Purdom says in her interview with Shermer and in her book on Galapagos, she sees the world through God's truth--as conveyed by the "clear biblical teachings about the past" (Purdom 2013, 91)--as opposed to seeing the world through unreliable human opinions.  When Shermer suggested that the Bible is open to many different interpretations, Purdom responded by insisting that the young-Earth creationists don't interpret the Bible at all, because they accept the "clear biblical teachings" without imposing any human interpretation. 

Is that true?  Consider this remark by Purdom in an article coauthored with Tom Hennigan and Todd Wood:
"Creationists in Darwin's day were asleep, lulled into a false sense of security by the unbiblical claims of natural theology and 'species fixity.' The Origin of Species changed all that, and the sleeping giant of the creationist community woke up. Though we don't have all of the answers, even 150 years later, creationists have made a lot of progress" (Purdom, Hennigan, and Wood 2009, 75).
So, prior to Darwin's book, creationists believed that the Bible taught that God had specially created all species as fixed.  Darwin's book then refuted this idea of the created fixity of species by showing that species could change and new species arise.  Modern creationists, like Purdom and Wood, now must argue that the earlier creationists were actually "unbiblical" in their interpretation of the Bible as teaching the fixity of species.  Does this mean that Darwin forced creationists to change their reading of the Bible, so that the Bible would not be seen as contradicting what Darwin had discovered about the transmutation of species?  Or would Purdom say that the earlier creationists ignored the "clear biblical teachings about the past" that included the teaching that species are not fixed and that new species can arise by natural selection, which is shown by the appearance of new species adapted to the Galapagos?

In a blog post where she describes cruising near the islet of Daphne Major, where Peter and Rosemary Grant have conducted their famous research with Darwin's finches, Purdom writes:
"The Grants' research has been very important in developing our understanding of natural selection.  However, they often use the word 'evolution' in their publications, implying something much larger scale is occurring than in reality."
So Purdom agrees that the Grants have shown how new species can arise by natural selection, but she denies that this is really "evolution."  Apparently, she is restricting the word "evolution" to "macroevolution at a taxonomic level higher than species," so that the evolution of new species by natural selection is not really "evolution" in her sense.  Here she is assuming Wood's "baraminology"--the idea that God's "created kinds" are not species in the modern taxonomic sense, because they correspond to some higher taxonomic rank, perhaps "families."  But is this really one of those "clear biblical teachings about the past"?  If it is so clear in the Bible, why did it take so long for some creationists to see this--with the help of the writing of people like Marsh, Wise, and Wood?  And why do many creationists today disagree with this reading of the Bible?

The theory of baraminology as developed by Wood runs throughout Purdom's book on Galapagos.  For example, Gordon Wilson writes: "God created the various kinds with great genetic capacity to adapt to an array of habitats.  The differences the Galapagos species exhibit in size and shape from their mainland ancestors could arise after many generations of natural selection (and other mechanisms) that successfully bring out those divinely designed traits best suited to their new home" (p. 39). (See also pp. 53, 62-72, 76-78). 

But we must wonder whether the scientific evidence supports this theory, and whether it is one of those "clear biblical teachings about the past."  Purdom and Wood claim that this theory really is scientifically falsifiable, and that it is clearly taught in the Bible without any need for human interpretation.

So, for example, Purdom and the other authors in her book on Galapagos assume a young-Earth creationist dating of history: the Universe was created in 4004 BC, Noah's Flood ended around 2350 BC, and the Galapagos Islands and all the species endemic to Galapagos arose within a few hundred years after the Flood (pp. 6, 14, 21, 43).  Is this one of those "clear biblical teachings about the past"?  Is this supported by scientific evidence?

Purdom and the other authors often cite verses of the Bible.  But when they give their dates for the 6,000 years of universal history, they do not cite any biblical verses.  They don't do this, because the Bible does not specify those dates.  The Bible does not say that God created the heavens and the earth on 4004 BC.  Nor does it say that Noah's Flood began to subside on 2350 BC.

In his debate with Bill Nye, Ken Ham said that "when we add up those dates in the Bible, we get 6,000 years."  Remarkably, Nye did not question him about this. In fact, the Bible never "adds up the dates" to say that the Universe is only 6,000 years old.  Ham's dating of Creation comes from Archbishop James Ussher's book Annals of the World, published in the 17th century.  Ussher claimed that if we count up the lifetimes of the people in the Bible and follow the genealogies, we can date the day of Creation as October 23, 4004 BC.  Actually, Ussher found it impossible to "add up the dates" without going to historical evidence of chronology outside the Bible, because the Bible never lays out the whole chronology.  Ussher's book has over 12,000 footnotes citing secular sources (like Xenophon and Herodotus).  So the dating of Creation does not seem to be one of the "clear biblical teachings about the past."

The Christian church has generally agreed--as indicated in its early creeds, such as the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed--that orthodox Christianity includes the belief that God created the Universe and human beings at the beginning of history.  But the exact dating of this Creation has never been specified as necessary to the Christian faith, because the Bible does not clearly state the date of Creation.  So the young-Earth creationists like Ham, Purdom, and Wood are imposing their own Ussherite interpretation on the Bible.  The old-Earth creationists make biblical arguments for the conclusion that the Universe is possibly billions of years old, just as most scientists today believe.

The young-Earth creationists insist that the "six days" of Creation in Genesis 1 are six 24-hour days.  The old-Earth creationists insist, on the contrary, that a literal reading of the Bible suggests that these six days could have been long periods of time.  Hugh Ross in his book A Matter of Days lays out the biblical and scientific evidence for this view.  Jon Greene has summarized the biblical evidence for old-Earth creationism.

Does the scientific evidence for the age of the Universe support young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or evolutionary creationism?  In December 2009, Danny Faulkner (a young-Earth creationist) and Hugh Ross (an old-Earth creationist) debated the question of whether the scientific evidence and biblical teaching supported a young age (6,000 years) or old age (billions of years) for the Universe.  Faulkner is one of the authors in Purdom's book.  The debate was carried out before a panel of 13 evangelical Christian astronomers who evaluated the debate.  These astronomers were affiliated with prominent institutions such as the University of Chicago, the University of California, Cornell University, and NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, Caltech.

After a long deliberation, the 13 Christian astronomers all signed a statement that concluded: "It is our professional judgment that the weight of the evidence overwhelmingly supports a universe that is billions of years old."

Here's a video of the Faulkner/Ross debate:

We might wonder what Darwin would say about all this.  Would he take the side of someone like Richard Dawkins, an atheistic evolutionist, as Purdom assumes?  Or would Darwin see evolution as an expression of what Wood and Purdom call "mediated design"--in which God carries out His plan not by creating something entirely new but by working through the existing laws of nature?

The latter possibility is suggested by Darwin's adoption of the traditional Christian metaphysics of "dual causality," which I have considered in previous posts here and here. God creates the original forms of life at the beginning, but then He allows the "secondary causes" of nature to carry out His plan.  Darwin conveys this in the last sentence of The Origin of Species: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

In Galapagos, we can see some of those "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful."


Hennigan, Tom, Georgia Purdom, and Todd Wood. 2009. "Creation's Hidden Potential." Answers Magazine, January-March, 70-75.

Purdom, Georgia, ed. 2013. Galapagos Islands: A Different View. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.

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