Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What Led Darwin Astray? Part I

The Galapagos Archipelago
“The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of America, though separated from that continent by an open space of ocean, between 500 and 600 miles in width.”– Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle
Darwin spent several weeks surveying these “curious” islands, venturing inland to explore and catalog the unique flora and fauna of the archipelago. At that point he was neither a committed Creationist nor a convinced evolutionist. The Galapagos Islands were the proverbial “tipping point” in his career, though it would be several years before he would formulate his theory, and write Origin of the Species. To the young adventurer, the islands were teeming with unanswered questions, some of which he recorded in his journal on the voyage back to England.
“When I see these Islands in sight of each other, and possessed of but a scanty stock of animals, tenanted by these birds, but slightly differing in structure and filling the same place in nature, I must suspect they are only varieties…If there is the slightest foundation for these remarks, the zoology of Archipelagoes will be well worth examining; for such facts would undermine the stability of Species.” - Charles Darwin (The Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner, 1994)

Interesting sidenote:
Darwin did not initially base his theory of natural selection on the varied bills of the Galapagos finches—he didn’t consider his finch specimens to have much merit, so he failed to catalogue them by island, thereby rendering them useless for scientific evaluation—but rather on the variations he observed between the mockingbirds that inhabited the islands and those of the mainland. The popular story about the finches is a myth.


So, what happened on the Galapagos islands that so drastically altered Darwin’s views on the “origin of species?”

To find the answer, we must return to England and examine the state of the church. It was an age of compromise and doubt, the deadly kindling which sparks the flame of error and eventually, cultural demise.

Come back soon for the continuation of this article.

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