Since my visits to Hawaii islands and Bermuda, starting in 2004, I have become a staunch believer in evolution, by which I mean common descent of all living beings on the planet earth.
The two main proofs for the theory of evolution are molecular biology and biogeography. We do not have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate biogeography, if we look through the smoke screens and bragging rights, the arguments are fairly straight forward. Bigeography basically means studying which animals and plants are native to which areas, especially islands. Sir Charles Darwin wrote in his famous book, On the Origin of Species, about biogeography and Bermuda:
“Though terrestrial mammals do not occur on oceanic islands, aërial mammals do occur on almost every island. New Zealand possesses two bats found nowhere else in the world: Norfolk Island, the Viti Archipelago, the Bonin Islands, the Caroline and Marianne Archipelagoes, and Mauritius, all possess their peculiar bats. Why, it may be asked, has the supposed creative force produced bats and no other mammals on remote islands? On my view this question can easily be answered; for no terrestrial mammal can be transported across a wide space of sea, but bats can fly across. Bats have been seen wandering by day far over the Atlantic Ocean; and two North American species either regularly or occasionally visit Bermuda, at the distance of 600 miles from the mainland. I hear from Mr. Tomes, who has specially studied this family, that many of the same species have enormous ranges, and are found on continents and on far distant islands. Hence we have only to suppose that such wandering species have been modified through natural selection in their new homes in relation to their new position, and we can understand the presence of endemic bats on islands, with the absence of all terrestrial mammals.”
These observations alone by Darwin prove the common descent. However, the theory of evolution should be understood as three different issues. Firstly, the common heritage of all animals and plants, secondly, the mechanisms for evolution and thirdly whether evolution is completely blind or guided in some sense. The truth of some facts in evolution does not imply the truth of every thing under the umbrella of evolution. One needs to have a nuance position about evolution to be perfectly enlightened. The implications that common lineage has for the Creator or lack there of, is metaphysics and not science, as the God of Islam and Judaism and God the Father of Trinitarian Christianity is Transcendent and beyond time space and matter and cannot be studied directly in a scientific paradigm!
Incidentally, evolution also exposes the vulnerabilities of Christianity. For other details about theory of evolution and Christianity, see my other knols and articles on molecular biology and Original Sin. Please see the comment section for links.
He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (Al Quran 59:25)
When on board H.M.S. ‘Beagle’ as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species–that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. Sir Charles Darwin
PLANTS BIRDS AND INSECTS OF HAWAII
Silver sword base of leaves
Silver Sword flowering stalk with the flowers
The official website of the Haleakala National Park states:
“Lying 2,400 miles (3862km) from the nearest continent, the Hawaii Islands have never had connection to any other land mass. Natural crossings across this great expanse of ocean by animals and plants were extremely rare and very surprising occasions. After such accidental arrivals, and isolated from mainland populations, these pioneer organisms took strange courses of evolution and allowed a unique biota to develop. But utterly unaccustomed to mainland competition, the remote native island ecosystems are defenseless against mainland alien species and have been decimated by new grazers, predators and diseases.”
There are only a small number of native Hawaiian orchids. There are actually only three. This is perhaps due to the difficulty of orchid seeds migrating across the vast oceanic distances. These native species are not particularly attractive to the general public. However, to horticulturalist they are gems. Orchids are the largest and most diverse of the flowering plant families, with over 800 described genera and 25,000 species. Some sources give 30,000 species, but the exact number is unknown since classification differs greatly in the academic world. There are another 100,000+ hybrids and cultivars produced by horticulturists, created since the introduction of tropical species in the 19th century. The Kew World Checklist of Orchids includes about 24,000 accepted species. About 800 new species are added each year.
Hawaii has a spectacular radiation of birds, the honeycreepers. When the Polynesians arrived in Hawaii about fifteen hundred years ago, they found about 140 species of native birds (we know this from studies of bird sub-fossils: bones preserved in ancient waste dumps and lava tubes). Around sixty of these species-nearly half the bird fauna-were honeycreepers, all descended from a single ancestral finch that arrived on the islands about four million years ago. Sadly, only twenty species of honeycreeper remain, all of them endangered. The rest were destroyed by hunting, habitat loss, and human-introduced predators like rats and mongooses. But even the few remaining honeycreepers show a fantastic diversity of ecological roles. The bill of a bird can tell us a lot about its diet. Some species have curved bills for sipping nectar from flowers, others stout, parrot like bills for cracking hard seeds or crushing twigs, still others thin pointy bills for picking insects from foliage, and some even have hooked bills for prying insects from trees, filling the role of a woodpecker.
Another example of biogeography pertains to the 1,500 species of Drosophila vinegar flies in the world; nearly one-third of them live in Hawaii and nowhere else, although the total area of the archipelago is less than one-twentieth the area of California. There are also in Hawaii more than 1,000 species of snails and other land mollusks that exist nowhere else. This unusual diversity is easily explained by evolution. The Hawaiian Islands are extremely isolated and have had few colonizers; those species that arrived there found many unoccupied ecological niches, or local environments suited to sustain them and lacking predators that would prevent them from multiplying. In response, they rapidly diversified; this process of diversifying in order to fill in ecological niches is called adaptive radiation.
Most of the species on Hawaii are similar (but not identical) to those from the nearby Indo-Pacific region-Indonesia, New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti-or from the Americas. Now, given the vagaries of winds and the direction of ocean currents, we don’t expect every island colonist to come from the closest source. Four percent of Hawaiian plant species, for example, have their closest relatives in Siberia or Alaska. Still, the similarity of island species to those on the nearest mainland demands explanation. How did life reach these different islands? The obvious answer is carried by the winds and the waves.
There is recorded direct evidence of these phenomena. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
Alfred Russel Wallace, was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. He is best known for independently proposing a theory of natural selection which prompted Sir Charles Darwin to publish his own theory.
Wallace did extensive field work, first in the Amazon River basin and then in the Malay Archipelago, where he identified the Wallace Line that divides Indonesia into two distinct parts, one in which animals closely related to those of Australia are common, and one in which the species are largely of Asian origin. He was considered the 19th century’s leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the ‘father of biogeography.’
Then comes Sir Charles Darwin on the scene. His visit to Galapagos and other islands helped him in a big way in conceiving his theory of evolution. Through his own youthful travels on the HMS Beagle and his voluminous correspondence with scientists and naturalists, he realized that evolution was necessary to explain not just the origins and forms of plants and animals but also their distributions across the globe. Most discoveries in science do not belong to one person but to one or several generations. Nevertheless, the one who exploits the findings the best gets the crown. The same was true of Sir Charles Darwin achievements. Firstly, he shared the honor with Alfred Russell Wallace. The theory, as alluded earlier, should truly be called Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution. There were numerous contributors with whom Darwin had correspondence or personal contact. For example, the Vice-Governor of the Galapagos Islands, Mr. Lawson, intrigued Darwin by informing him:
The tortoises differed from the different islands, and that he himself could with certainty tell from which island anyone was brought. I did not for some time pay sufficient attention to this statement, and I had already partially mingled together the collections from two of the islands. I never dreamed that islands, about fifty or sixty miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted.
Darwin wrote the following about Cape Verde off the coast of Africa and the Galapagos off the western coast of South America:
There is a considerable degree of resemblance in the volcanic nature of the soil, in climate, height, and size of the islands, between the Galapagos and Cape de Verde Archipelagos: but what an entire and absolute difference in their inhabitants! The inhabitants of the Cape de Verde Islands are related to those of Africa, like those of the Galapagos to America. I believe this grand fact can receive no sort of explanation on the ordinary view of independent creation.
Cape Verde Islands in relation to Africa
The distribution of different animals on different islands raised a lot of questions. Why did oceanic islands have such odd and unbalanced floras and faunas compared to continental assemblages? Why were nearly all of Australia’s native mammals marsupials, while placental mammals dominated the rest of the world? And if species were created, why did the creator stock distant areas having similar terrain and climate, like the deserts of Africa and of the Americas, with species that were superficially similar in form but showed other, more fundamental differences? The presence of certain endemic and new species on certain islands and absence of others was a striking pointer for Darwin against separate and independent creations of species. Talking about the fact that whereas bats are found in distant islands but terrestrial mammals are lacking, he wrote in the second edition of On the Origin of species:
Darwin considered biogeography to be a very important proof of his thesis, so important that it occupies two whole chapters in his book. These chapters are often considered the founding document of the field of biogeography–the study of the distribution of species on earth.
ISLANDS: METAPHORICAL AND REAL
Professor Richard Dawkins describes how the biologist use the concept of islands:
“Biologists often use the word ‘island’ to mean something other than just a piece of land surrounded by water. From the point of view of a freshwater fish, a lake is an island: an island of habitable water surrounded by inhospitable land. From the point of view of an Alpine beetle, incapable of flourishing below a certain altitude, each high peak is an island, with almost impassable valleys between. There are tiny nematode worms (related to the elegant Caenorhabditis) which live inside leaves (as many as 10,000 of them in a single badly infected leaf), diving into them through the stomata, which are the microscopic holes through which leaves take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. To a leaf-dwelling nematode worm such as Aphelencoides, a single foxglove is an island. To a louse, a single human head or crotch might be an island. There must be lots of animals and plants that regard an oasis in a desert as an island of cool, green habitability surrounded by a hostile sea of sand. And, while we are redefining words from an animal’s point of view, since an archipelago is a chain or cluster of islands, I suppose a freshwater fish might define an archipelago as a chain or cluster of lakes, such as the lakes along the Great Rift Valley in Africa. An Alpine marmot might define a chain of mountain peaks separated by valleys as an archipelago. A leaf-mining insect might regard an avenue of trees as an archipelago. A botfly might regard a herd of cattle as a moving archipelago.”
In example after example, Darwin noticed the animals and plants of each island of Galapagos are largely endemic to the archipelago, but they are also for the most part unique, in detail, from island to island. He was especially impressed with the plants in this respect:
Hence we have the truly wonderful fact, that in James Island [Santiago], of the thirty-eight Galapageian plants, or those found in no other part of the world, thirty are exclusively confined to this one island; and in Albemarle Island [Isabela], of the twenty-six aboriginal Galapageian plants, twenty-two are confined to this one island, that is, only four are at present known to grow in the other islands of the archipelago; and so on… with the plants from Chatham [San Cristobal] and Charles [Floreana] Islands.
Darwin drew a precise table describing these different plant species on the Galapagos Islands:
|Name of Island||Total number of species||No. of species found in other parts of the world||No of species confined to Archipelago||No. Confined to one island|
He noticed the same thing with the distribution of mockingbirds over the islands.
My attention was first thoroughly aroused, by comparing together the numerous specimens, shot by myself and several other parties on board, of the mocking-thrushes, when, to my astonishment, I discovered that all those from Charles Island belonged to one species (Mimus trifasciatus); all from Albemarle Island to M. parvulus; and all from James and Chatham Islands (between which two other islands are situated, as connecting links) belonged to M. melanotis.
So it is, all over the world. The fauna and flora of a particular region are just what we should expect if, to quote Darwin on the finches that now bear his name, ‘one species had been taken and modified for different ends.’ The Darwinian concepts have been refined and now it has become clearer as to what animals are likely to be native in islands and which ones are likely to be missing unless they have been taken over by humans.
|Insects and others||Amphibians|
|Arthropods like spiders||Fresh water fish|
Broadly speaking, land mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fresh water fish are lacking in the islands.
The ‘island’ argument for evolution starts with the following observation: oceanic islands are missing many types of native species that we see on both continents and continental islands. Take Hawaii, a tropical archipelago whose islands occupy about 6,400 square miles, only slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts. While the islands are well stocked with native birds, plants, and insects, they completely lack native freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles, and land mammals. Napoleon’s island of St. Helena and the archipelago of Juan Fernandez lack these same groups, but still have plenty of endemic plants, birds, and insects. The Galapagos Islands do have a few native reptiles (land and marine iguanas, as well as the famous giant tortoises), but they too are missing native mammals, amphibians, and freshwater fish. Over and over again, on the oceanic islands that dot the Pacific, the South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean, one sees a pattern of missing groups-more to the point, the same missing groups.
Although oceanic islands lack many basic kinds of animals, the types that are found there are often present in profusion, comprising many similar species. Take the Galapagos. Among its thirteen islands there are twenty-eight species of birds found nowhere else. And of these twenty-eight, fourteen belong to a single group of closely related birds: the famous Galapagos finches. No continent or continental island has a bird fauna so heavily dominated by finches. Yet despite their shared finchlike traits, the Galapagos group is ecologically quite diverse, with different species specializing on foods as different as insects, seeds, and the eggs of other species. The “carpenter finch” is one of those rare species that uses tools-in this case a cactus spine or twig to pry insects from trees. Carpenter finches fill the ecological role of woodpeckers, which don’t live in the Galapagos. And there’s even a ‘vampire finch’ that pecks wounds on the rear ends of seabirds and then laps up the blood.
Animals and plants can also hitch rides to islands on “rafts” -logs or masses of vegetation that float away from continents, usually from the mouths of rivers. In 1995 one of these large rafts, probably blown by a hurricane, deposited a cargo of fifteen green iguanas on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, where they had not previously existed, from a source two hundred miles away. Logs of Douglas fir from North America have been found on Hawaii, and logs from South America have made it to Tasmania. Rafting like this explains the presence of the occasional endemic reptile on oceanic islands, such as the Galapagos iguanas and tortoises.
Further, when you look at the type of insects and plants native to oceanic islands, they are from groups that are the best colonizers. Most of the insects are small, precisely those that would be easily picked up by wind. Compared to weedy plants, trees are relatively rare on oceanic islands, almost certainly because many trees have heavy seeds that neither float nor are eaten by birds. (The coconut palm, with its large, buoyant seeds, is a notable exception, occurring on almost all Pacific and Indian Ocean islands.) The relative rarity of trees, in fact, explains why many plants that are short weeds on continents have evolved into woody treelike forms on islands.
Terrestrial mammals are not good colonizers, and that’s why oceanic islands lack them. But they don’t lack all mammals, as bats have flown to these distant islands. This fact was first noted by Darwin himself:
“Although terrestrial mammals do not occur on oceanic islands, aerial mammals do occur on almost every island. New Zealand possesses two bats found nowhere else in the world: Norfolk Island, the Viti Archipelago, the Bonin Islands, the Caroline and Marianne [Mariana] Archipelagoes, and Mauritius, all possess their peculiar bats. Why, it may be asked, has the supposed creative force produced bats and no other mammals on remote islands? On my view this question can easily be answered; for no terrestrial mammal can be transported across a wide space of sea, but bats can fly across.”
With few exceptions, the animals and plants on oceanic islands are most similar to species found on the nearest mainland. This is true, for example, of the Galapagos Islands, whose species resemble those from the west coast of South America. Darwin was especially eloquent on this point:
“The naturalist, looking at the inhabitants of these volcanic islands in the Pacific, distant several hundred miles from the continent, feels that he is standing on American land. Why should this be so? Why should the species which are supposed to have been created in the Galapagos Archipelago, and nowhere else, bear so plainly the stamp of affinity to those created in America? There is nothing in the conditions of life, in the geological nature of the islands, in their height or climate, or in the proportions in which the several classes are associated together, which closely resemble the conditions of the South American coast: in fact, there is a considerable dissimilarity in all these respects. … Facts such as these admit of no sort of explanation on the ordinary view of independent creation; whereas on the view here maintained, it is obvious that the Galapagos Islands would be likely to receive colonists from America, whether by occasional means of transport or (though I do not believe in this doctrine) by formerly continuous land. … such colonists would be liable to modification,-the principle of inheritance still betraying their original birthplace.”
MARINE IGUANAS, BIRDS AND PLANTS OF GALAPOGOS ISLANDS
“The marine iguanas are truly remarkable creatures, quite different from anything seen anywhere else in the world. They dive to the sea bottom and graze seaweed, which seems to be their only food. …
Since marine iguanas are so good at swimming, it might be supposed that they, rather than the land iguanas, made the long crossing from the mainland and subsequently speciated, in the archipelago, to give rise to the land iguana. This is almost certainly not the case, however. The Galapagos land iguana is not greatly different from iguanas still living on the mainland, whereas the marine iguanas are unique to the Galapagos archipelago. No lizard with the same marine habits has ever been found elsewhere in the world. We are nowadays confident that it was the land iguana that originally arrived from the South American mainland, perhaps carted on driftwood like the modern ones from Guadeloupe that were blown to Anguilla. On Galapagos, they subsequently speciated to give rise to the marine iguana. And it was almost certainly the geographical isolation permitted by the spaced-out pattern of the islands that made possible the initial separation between the ancestral land iguanas and the newly speciating marine iguanas. Presumably some land iguanas were accidentally rafted across to a hitherto iguana-free island, and there adopted a marine habit, free from contamination by genes flowing in from the land iguanas on the original island. Much later, they spread to other islands, eventually returning to the island from which their land ancestors had originally hailed. By now they could no longer interbreed with them, and their genetically inherited marine habits were safe from contamination by land iguana genes.”
Charles Darwin had the following to say about the birds on these islands in the second edition of his book On the origin of species:
“The most striking and important fact for us in regard to the inhabitants of islands, is their affinity to those of the nearest mainland, without being actually the same species. Numerous instances could be given of this fact. I will give only one, that
of the Galapagos Archipelago, situated under the equator, between 500 and 600 miles from the shores of South America. Here almost every product of the land and water bears the unmistakable stamp of the American continent. There are twenty-six land-birds and twenty-five of these are ranked by Mr. Gould as distinct species, supposed to have been created here; yet the close affinity of most of these birds to American species in every character, in their habits, gestures, and tones of voice, was manifest. So it is with the other animals, and with nearly all the plants, as shown by Dr Hooker in his admirable memoir on the Flora of this archipelago.”
He further added:
“Although in oceanic islands the number of kinds of inhabitants is scanty, the proportion of endemic species (i.e. those found nowhere else in the world) is often extremely large. If we compare, for instance, the number of the endemic land-shells in Madeira, or of the endemic birds in the Galapagos Archipelago, with the number found on any continent, and then compare the area of the islands with that of the continent, we shall see that this is true. This fact might have been expected on my theory, for, as already explained, species occasionally arriving after long intervals in a new and isolated district, and having to compete with new associates, will be eminently liable to modification, and will often produce groups of modified descendants. But it by no means follows, that, because in an island nearly all the species of one class are peculiar, those of another class, or of another section of the same class, are peculiar; and this difference seems to depend partly on the species which do not become modified having immigrated with facility and in a body, so that their mutual relations have not been much disturbed; and partly on the frequent arrival of unmodified immigrants from the mother-country, and the consequent intercrossing with them. With respect to the effects of this intercrossing, it should be remembered that the offspring of such crosses would almost certainly gain in vigour; so that even an occasional cross would produce more effect than might at first have been anticipated. To give a few examples: in the Galapagos Islands nearly every land-bird, but only two out of the eleven marine birds, are peculiar; and it is obvious that marine birds could arrive at these islands more easily than land-birds. Bermuda, on the other hand, which lies at about the same distance from North America as the Galapagos Islands do from South America, and which has a very peculiar soil, does not possess one endemic land-bird; and we know from Mr. J. M. Jones’s admirable account of Bermuda, that very many North American birds, during their great annual migrations, visit either periodically or occasionally this island. Madeira does not possess one peculiar bird, and many European and African birds are almost every year blown there, as I am informed by Mr. E. V. Harcourt. So that these two islands of Bermuda and Madeira have been stocked by birds, which for long ages have struggled together in their former homes, and have become mutually adapted to each other; and when settled in their new homes, each kind will have been kept by the others to their proper places and habits, and will consequently have been little liable to modification. Any tendency to modification will, also, have been checked by intercrossing with the unmodified immigrants from the mother-country.”
Regarding the plants, Charles Darwin wrote in the second edition of On the origin of species:
“In the plants of the Galapagos Islands, Dr Hooker has shown that the proportional numbers of the different orders are very different from what they are elsewhere. Such cases are generally accounted for by the physical conditions of the islands; but this explanation seems to me not a little doubtful. Facility of immigration, I believe, has been at least as important as the nature of the conditions.”
MADAGASCAR AND ITS LEMURS
Madagascar is famous for its unusual fauna and flora, including many native plants and, of course, its unique lemurs-the most primitive of the primates-whose ancestors, after arriving in Madagascar some 60 million years ago, radiated into more than seventy-five endemic species. Professor Richard Dawkins describes the story of Madagascar lemurs in these words, especially note how he makes a case against the creationists:
“An ancestral lemur, again very possibly just a single species, found itself in Madagascar. Now there are thirty-seven species of lemur (plus some extinct ones). They range in size from the pygmy mouse lemur, smaller than a hamster, to a giant lemur, larger than a gorilla and resembling a bear, which went extinct quite recently. And they are all, every last one of them, in Madagascar. There are no lemurs anywhere else in the world, and there are no monkeys in Madagascar. How on Earth do the 40 per cent history-deniers think this state of affairs came about? Did all thirty-seven and more species of lemur troop in a body down Noah’s gangplank and hightail it (literally in the case of the ringtail) for Madagascar, leaving not a single straggler by the wayside, anywhere throughout the length and breadth of Africa?
MARSUPIALS AND AUSTRALIA
Charles Darwin wrote in the second edition of On the origin of species:
“In many other instances, as in the several districts of the same continent, pre-occupation has probably played an important part in checking the commingling of species under the same conditions of life. Thus, the south-east and south-west corners of Australia have nearly the same physical conditions, and are united by continuous land, yet they are inhabited by a vast number of distinct mammals, birds, and plants.”
The most famous example of different species filling similar roles involves the marsupial mammals, now found mainly in Australia, and placental mammals, which predominate elsewhere in the world. The two groups show important anatomical differences, most notably in their reproductive systems. Almost all marsupials have pouches and give birth to very undeveloped young, while placentals have placentas that enable young to be born at a more advanced stage. Nevertheless, in other ways some marsupials and placentals are astonishingly similar. There are burrowing marsupial moles that look and act just like placental moles, marsupial mice that resemble placental mice, the marsupial sugar glider, which glides from tree to tree just like a flying squirrel, and marsupial anteaters, which do exactly what South American anteaters do. Prof. Jerry A Coyne writes:
“Again one must ask: If animals were specially created, why would the creator produce on different continents fundamentally different animals that nevertheless look and act so much alike? It is not that marsupials are inherently superior to placentals in Australia, because introduced placental mammals have done very well there. Introduced rabbits, for example, are such serious pests in Australia that they are displacing native marsupials such as the bilby (a small mammal with remarkably long ears). To help fund the eradication of rabbits, conservationists are campaigning to switch from the Easter Bunny to the Easter Bilby: each spring chocolate bilbies fill the shelves of Australian supermarkets.”
In the words of Professor Richard Dawkins, in his recent book the Greatest show on the earth:
“In Australia there are, or were until recent extinctions possibly caused by the arrival of aboriginal people, the ecological equivalents of wolves, cats, rabbits, moles, shrews, lions, flying squirrels and many others. Yet they are marsupials, quite different from the wolves, cats rabbits, moles, shrews, lions and flying squirrels with which we are familiar in the rest of the world, the so-called placental mammals. The Australian equivalents are all descended from just a few, or even one, ancestral marsupial species, ‘taken, and modified for different ends’. This beautiful marsupial fauna has also produced creatures for which it is harder to find a counterpart outside Australia. The many species of kangaroo mostly fill antelope-like niches (or monkey or lemur-like niches in the case of the tree kangaroos) but get about by hopping rather than galloping. They range from the large red kangaroo (and some even larger extinct ones, including a fearsome, bounding carnivore) to the small wallabies and tree kangaroos. There were giant, rhinoceros-sized marsupials, Diprotodonts, related to modern wombats but 3 yards long, 6 feet tall at the shoulder, and weighing 2 tons.”
But marsupials are like mammal as regards their inability to cross long stretches of oceans; so how did they get to Australia in the first place. Jerry A Coyne explains:
“As for how the marsupials got to Australia, that’s part of another evolutionary tale, and one that leads to a testable prediction. The earliest marsupial fossils, around 80 million years old, are found not in Australia but in North America. As marsupials evolved, they spread southward, reaching what is now the tip of South America about 40 million years ago. Marsupials made it to Australia roughly 10 million years later, where they began diversifying into the two-hundred-odd species that live there today.
“But how could they cross the South Atlantic? The answer is that it didn’t yet exist. At the time of the marsupial invasion, South America and Australia were joined as part of the southern supercontinent of Gondwana. This landmass had already begun to break apart, unzipping to form the Atlantic Ocean, but the tip of South America was still connected to what is now Antarctica, which in turn was connected to what is now Australia. Since marsupials had to go overland from South America to Australia, they must have passed through Antarctica. So we can predict this: there should be fossil marsupials on Antarctica dating somewhere between 30 and 40 million years ago.
This hypothesis was strong enough to drive scientists to Antarctica, looking for marsupial fossils. And, sure enough, they found them: more than a dozen species of marsupials (recognized by their distinctive teeth and jaws) unearthed on Seymour Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula. This area is right on the ancient ice-free pathway between South America and Antarctica. And the fossils are just the right age: 35 to 40 million years old. After a find in 1982, the polar paleontologist William Zinsmeister was exultant: ‘For years and years people thought marsupials had to be there. This ties together all the suppositions made about Antarctica. The things we found are what you’d expect we would have.’”
ARMADILLOS AND THE AMERICAS
Jerry A Coyne writes:
“Armadillos are unique among mammals in having a carapace of bony armor–armadillo in Spanish means ‘little armored one.’ They live only in North, Central, and South America. Where do we find fossils resembling them? In the Americas, the home of the glyptodonts, armored plant-eating mammals that look just like overgrown armadillos. Some of these ancient armadillos were the size of Volkswagen Beetles, weighed a ton, were covered with two-inch-thick armor, and sported spiky balls on tails wielded like a mace.”
Here is Darwin on the subject, paying special attention to the animals of South America that he knew so well:
“The naturalist in travelling, for instance, from north to south never fails to be struck by the manner in which successive groups of beings, specifically distinct, yet clearly related, replace each other. He hears from closely allied, yet distinct kinds of birds, notes nearly similar, and sees their nests similarly constructed, but not quite alike, with eggs coloured in nearly the same manner. The plains near the Straits of Magellan are inhabited by one species of Rhea (American ostrich), and northward the plains of La Plata by another species of the same genus; and not by a true ostrich or emeu, like those found in Africa and Australia under the same latitude. On these same plains of La Plata, we see the agouti and bizcacha, animals having nearly the same habits as our hares and rabbits, … but they plainly display an American type of structure. We ascend the lofty peaks of the Cordillera and we find an alpine species of bizcacha; we look to the waters, and we do not find the beaver or musk-rat, but the coypu and capybara, rodents of the American type.
Charles Darwin wrote in the second edition of On the origin of species:
“Madeira, again, is inhabited by a wonderful number of peculiar land-shells, whereas not one species of sea-shell is confined to its shores: now, though we do not know how sea-shells are dispersed, yet we can see that their eggs or larvæ, perhaps attached to seaweed or floating timber, or to the feet of wading-birds, might be transported far more easily than landshells, across three or four hundred miles of open sea. The different orders of insects in Madeira apparently present analogous facts.”
Charles Darwin wrote in the second edition of On the origin of species:
“Sir C Lyell and Mr Wollaston have communicated to me a remarkable fact bearing on this subject; namely, that Madeira and the adjoining islet of Porto Santo
possess many distinct but representative land-shells, some of which live in crevices of stone; and although large quantities of stone are annually transported from Porto Santo to Madeira, yet this latter island has not become colonised by the Porto Santo species: nevertheless both islands have been colonised by some European land-shells, which no doubt had some advantage over the indigenous species. From these considerations I think we need not greatly marvel at the endemic and representative species, which inhabit the several islands of the Galapagos Archipelago, not having universally spread from island to island.”
MOAS, FROGS AND NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand too has many natives, the most well-known being flightless birds: the giant moa, a thirteen-foot-tall monster hunted to extinction by about 1500, the kiwi, and that fat, ground-dwelling parrot, the kakapo. New Zealand also shows some of the “imbalance” of oceanic islands: it has only a few endemic reptiles, only one species of amphibian, and two native mammals, both bats (though a small fossil mammal was recently found). It too had a radiation-there were eleven species of moas, all now gone. And, like oceanic islands, the species on Madagascar and New Zealand are related to those found on the nearest mainland: Africa and Australia, respectively.
Moa are extinct giant flightless birds native to New Zealand. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Moas are any of several extinct, ostrichlike flightless birds native to New Zealand and constituting the order Dinornithiformes. The number of different species is in dispute, with estimates varying from 13 to 25. Among these species, individuals ranged in size from that of a turkey to larger than that of an ostrich; some stood as much as 3 metres (10 feet) high. The name moa came from a Polynesian word for fowl.
According to Maori tradition, moas were swift runners that, when cornered, defended themselves by kicking. Early Polynesian peoples hunted moas for food; they made spear points, hooks, and ornaments from their bones, and water carriers from their eggs. Although the larger moas probably had become extinct by the end of the 17th century, a few smaller species may have survived into the 19th.”
Charles Darwin wrote in the second edition of On the origin of species:
“Oceanic islands are sometimes deficient in certain classes, and their places are apparently occupied by the other inhabitants; in the Galapagos Islands reptiles, and in New Zealand gigantic wingless birds, take the place of mammals.”
The moa (scientific name: Dinornis robustus) is a large flightless bird and this skeleton is undoubtedly the most magnificent specimen in The Tiegs Museum collection. The photo on this page shows the moa installed in its new display cabinet, 2008. The moa lived in New Zealand until after the arrival of humans but is now extinct. This specimen was brought to Australia by Dr George Armstrong and donated to The Tiegs Museum in 1935.
With respect to the absence of amphibians on most islands of the world, Charles Darwin wrote in the second edition of On the origin of species:
“With respect to the absence of whole orders on oceanic islands, Bory St Vincent long ago remarked that Batrachians (frogs, toads, newts) have never been found on any of the many islands with which the great oceans are studded. I have taken pains to verify this assertion, and I have found it strictly true. I have, however, been assured that a frog exists on the mountains of the great island of New Zealand; but I suspect that this exception (if the information be correct) may be explained through glacial agency. This general absence of frogs, toads, and newts on so many oceanic islands cannot be accounted for by their physical conditions; indeed it seems that islands are peculiarly well fitted for these animals; for frogs have been introduced into Madeira, the Azores, and Mauritius, and have multiplied so as to become a nuisance. But as these animals and their spawn are known to be immediately killed by sea-water, on my view we can see that there would be great difficulty in their transportal across the sea, and therefore why they do not exist on any oceanic island. But why, on the theory of creation, they should not have been created there, it would be very difficult to explain.”
New Zealand’s native frogs (pepeketua) belong to the genus Leiopelma, an ancient and primitive group of frogs. The frogs have changed very little in 70 million years. They are small, nocturnal, and are hard to see as they camouflage themselves well.
These vagaries of biogeography are not due solely to the suitability of the different environments. There is no reason to believe that South American animals are not well suited to live in Africa or those of Africa to live in South America. The Hawaiian Islands are no better suited than other Pacific islands for Drosophila flies, nor are they less hospitable than other parts of the world for many absent organisms. In fact, although no large mammals are native to the islands, pigs and goats have multiplied there as wild animals since being introduced by humans. This absence of many species from a hospitable environment in which an extraordinary variety of other species flourishes can be explained by the theory of evolution, which holds that species can exist and evolve only in geographic areas that were colonized by their ancestors.
The co-occurrence of fossil ancestors and descendants leads to one of the most famous predictions in the history of evolutionary biology-Darwin’s hypothesis, in The Descent of Man (1871) that humans evolved in Africa:
“We are naturally led to enquire, where was the birthplace of man at that stage of descent when our progenitors diverged from the Catarrhine stock [Old World monkeys and apes]? The fact that they belonged to this stock clearly shows that they inhabited the Old World; but not Australia nor any oceanic island, as we may infer from the laws of geographical distribution. In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man’s nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere.”
At the time Darwin made this prediction, no one had seen any fossils of early humans. They were first found in 1924 in-you guessed it-Africa. The profusion of ape-human transitional fossils unearthed since then, with the earliest ones always African, leaves no doubt that Darwin’s prediction was right.
According to Professor Jerry Coyne who teaches at Chicago University:
“The main lesson of biogeography is that only evolution can explain the diversity of life on continents and islands. But there is another lesson as well: the distribution of life on earth reflects a blend of chance and lawfulness. Chance, because the dispersal of animals and plants depends on unpredictable vagaries such as winds, currents, and the opportunity to colonize. If the first finches had not arrived in the Galapagos or Hawaii, we might see very different birds there today. If an ancestral lemur like creature hadn’t made it to Madagascar that island (and likely the earth) would have no lemurs. Time and chance alone determine who gets marooned; one might call this the ‘Robinson Crusoe effect:’ But there is also lawfulness. Evolutionary theory predicts that many animals and plants arriving in new and unoccupied habitats will evolve to thrive there, and will form new species, filling up ecological niches. And they will usually find their relatives on the nearest island or mainland. This is what we see, over and over again. One cannot understand evolution without grasping its unique interaction between chance and lawfulness.”
Sir Charles Darwin closed his second chapter on geographical distribution of life in his second edition of on the origin of species in the following words:
“The very close relation of the distinct species which inhabit the islets of the same archipelago,–and especially the striking relation of the inhabitants of each whole archipelago or island to those of the nearest mainland,–are, I think, utterly inexplicable on the ordinary view of the independent creation of each species, but are explicable on the view of colonisation from the nearest or readiest source, together with the subsequent modification and better adaptation of the colonists to their new homes.”
This is all true but the question that Darwin did not address was whether it was spontaneous blind evolution or could it have been directed and guided evolution. The concepts of Quantum Physics were not developed in the time of Darwin so this question did not occur to him or to his critics. In addition to the brute force and survival of the fittest, humans that are epitome of evolution represent many other things, for example an appreciation of beauty, an attraction to music, and most importantly a conscience directing to do what is moral. Where did these come from? Any efforts by the Neo-Darwinists to explain away these aspects of human nature are childish at best. In this regards the concluding paragraph of Darwin’s first edition of On the origin of species is revealing:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed 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.”
The above quotes from Darwin not only beautifully promotes the theory of evolution but at the same time points to the vulnerability of a blind, undirected paradigm. In the words, ‘there is grandeur in this view of life,’ and most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved,’ high light the human need of beauty, of purpose, of ethics and morality and possibly human conscience. In other words the quote is crying out for Guided or theistic evolution rather than blind or spontaneous evolution. Why this belief in beauty and elegance why not just promote brute survival and pit less darkness.
“Of the natural conditions of man is his search after an Exalted Being towards Whom he has an inherent attraction. This is manifested by an infant from the moment of its birth. As soon as it is born, it displays a spiritual characteristic that it inclines towards its mother and is inspired by love of her. As its faculties are developed and its nature begins to display itself openly, this inherent quality is displayed more and more strongly. It finds no comfort anywhere except in the lap of its mother. If it is separated from her and finds itself at a distance from her, its life becomes bitter. Heaps of bounties fail to beguile it away from its mother in whom all its joy is concentrated. It feels no joy apart from her. What, then, is the nature of the attraction which an infant feels so strongly towards its mother?
It is the attraction which the True Creator has implanted in the nature of man. The same attraction comes into play whenever a person feels love for another. It is a reflection of the attraction that is inherent in man’s nature towards God, as if he is in search of something that he misses, the name of which he has forgotten and which he seeks to find in one thing or another which he takes up from time to time. A person’s love of wealth or offspring or wife or his soul being attracted towards a musical voice are all indications of his search for the True Beloved. As man cannot behold with his physical eyes the Imperceptible Being, Who is latent like the quality of fire in everyone, but is hidden, nor can he discover Him through the mere exercise of imperfect reason, he has been misled grievously in his search and has mistakenly assigned His position to others. The Holy Quran has, in this context, set forth an excellent illustration, to the effect that the world is like a palace, the floor of which is paved with smooth slabs of glass, under which flows a rapid current of water. Every eye that beholds this floor mistakenly imagines it to be running water. A person fears to tread upon the floor as he would be afraid of treading upon running water, though in reality the floor is only paved with smooth transparent slabs of glass. Thus these heavenly bodies like the sun and the moon etc. are the smooth and transparent slabs of glass under which a great power is in operation like a fast flowing current of water. It is a great mistake on the part of those who worship these heavenly bodies that they attribute to them that which is manifested by the power that operates behind them. This is the interpretation of the verse of the Holy Quran:
‘It is a palace paved smooth with slabs of glass.’ (Al Quran 27:45)
In short, as the Being of God Almighty, despite its brilliance, is utterly hidden, this physical system that is spread out before our eyes is not alone sufficient for its recognition. That is why those who have depended upon this system and have observed carefully its perfect and complete orderliness together with all the wonders comprehended in it, and have thoroughly studied astronomy, physics, and philosophy, and have, as it were, penetrated into the heavens and the earth, have yet not been delivered from the darkness of doubts and suspicions.
Many of them become involved in grave errors and wander far away in pursuit of their stupid fancies. Their utmost conjecture is that this grand system which displays great wisdom must have a Maker, but this conjecture is incomplete and this insight is defective. The affirmation that this system must have a creator does not amount to a positive affirmation that He does in truth exist. Such a conjecture cannot bestow satisfaction upon the heart, nor remove all doubt from it. Nor is it a draught which can quench the thirst for complete understanding which man’s nature demands. Indeed, this defective understanding is most dangerous, for despite all its noise it amounts to nothing.”
If you read my different collections especially the one about Religion and Science, you would gradually come to believe that there is indeed a Creator of our universe and He is also Personal God who actively participates in human affairs.