Karl Giberson teaches at Gordon and at Eastern Nazarene College, and is director of Gordon's Forum on Faith and Science. His books include Species of Origins, Oracles of Science and Saving Darwin.
Recently my wife, Myrna, and I went on a most amazing cruise among the Galápagos Islands--the islands made famous by Charles Darwin’s visit almost two centuries ago when he was traveling about the globe on the Beagle.
I was fortunate to be invited on this “celebrity cruise” as an academic resource to lead discussions about evolution, creation, and how scientists of faith balance those things. The theme of the cruise was “Origins,” and many of the participants had read extensively in preparation. One executive read my book and announced to his wife, “I have just read a book that will make me the resident expert on this topic.” His wife deflated him by responding, “You know the author will be on the cruise, don’t you?”
Tom and Lynn Shields, longtime friends (and neighbors) of Gordon College, helped organize the cruise. They had insisted from the start that at least one of the resources for this topic should be a religious believer.
We began and ended our journey in Quito, one of the largest cities in Ecuador. Its airport is the one used to launch flights to the Galápagos, which are a part of Ecuador. Ecuador is rich in culture and natural beauty, and should be a more popular tourist destination.
Myrna and I boarded the Expedition cruise ship Sunday, September 14. The Expedition is the finest vessel allowed in the region, and everyone on board was treated like royalty. We made two daily excursions to different islands; professional naturalists served as guides, pointing out the extraordinary flora and fauna of the islands. We snorkeled in several locations.
The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago, a cluster of volcanically formed islands consisting of 13 main islands, six smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. There is great variety among them--some resemble rocks sticking up like the hulls of sunken ships.
Others are eerie volcanic vistas where rare life forms struggle to survive. The odd species Darwin encountered on these barren volcanic islands--islands Hermann Melville had called “evilly enchanted ground”--pointed him in the direction of his revolutionary ideas.
Some islands are set aside as wildlife refuges, protecting species--like this turtle--that are unique to the Galápagos.
Some even have beautiful, white-sand beaches.
The islands are amazing. Sea lions tamer than pets were everywhere; they were lying on the benches on the dock when we arrived, preventing us from sitting down while we waited for shuttles to the ship.
Several of the islands were densely populated by blue-footed boobies--fascinating birds with peculiar blue feet and so tame you had to avoid stepping on them.
It was mating season, and the males, with unnatural looking blue feet, cavorted about the females trying desperately to impress them. In general the females seemed completely bored and uninterested.
Huge black iguanas--thousands of them--made some of the beaches look like scenes from a horror movie. They stared motionless at the sun for hours like reptilian zombies waiting for a signal to awaken.
Pelicans and frigate birds dove after fish. Male frigate birds would puff out their red “chests” for days at a time trying to impress the females.
Anorexic flamingos strutted about on skinny legs.
Darwin’s famous finches and countless other birds flitted everywhere.
The most recent island, formed from volcanic eruptions just a few decades ago, is almost devoid of life. Eerie and irregular expanses of lava support nothing but the tiniest lizards and an occasional hardy plant rooted in solid lava.
The other academics on the cruise were Sol Gittleman, former provost of Tufts University, baseball fanatic, and something of a polymath; and Paul Sniegowski, an evolutionary biologist from University of Pennsylvania. Paul’s wife was a former literature professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, and we soon discovered we had much in common. My wife and I became good friends with them during our week at sea. Paul was supposed to be a hostile anti-creationist in the mold of Richard Dawkins, and I was supposed to be a defensive young-earth creationist. Neither of us, of course, hold those views, but we did a skit one evening in which we literally wore hats and played those roles. Most of the time we just talked with the animated group about God, evolution, science in the public schools, and the appropriate role played by religious beliefs in this complicated topic.
Unlike Darwin, who lived on uninteresting fare, talked daily with illiterate sailors, and was constantly sick while he traveled the Galapagos, we had gourmet meals with rich conversation three times a day. Lunch was always out on the open deck accompanied by live music and soaring frigate birds following the scent of the open grill. Supper was an extended four-course gourmet meal over which we talked about life, God, evolution, children and blue-footed boobies. It was a special time, and my wife and I made many new friends, some of whom have already had us to their home for supper.