|God & Nature Magazine||
GalÁpagos : God, Darwin, and Me
By Janet Warren
"Penguin!” A fellow snorkeler lifted her head briefly from the clear turquoise water to inform the rest of us. We kicked our way over, but haste was not needed. The playful creatures (the only ones that live north of the equator) happily and rapidly swam among us gawkers.
I recently delighted in a trip to the Galápagos Islands, staying on a small yacht and visiting mostly uninhabited volcanic islands. This archipelago lies about 1,000 km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador and, of course, is known for inspiring Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. During the famous voyage of the Beagle, the young naturalist visited the Galápagos and was intrigued by the unique species he encountered, and by how traits in animals differed even among the different islands. Because of their distance from shore, the islands are still known for their low biodiversity and distinctive wildlife.
Fellow scientists forgive me, but I was there primarily for fun and sun. However, I did make a few observations of my own. First, I stood (or swam or hiked or lay on my back) in awe of God’s creation. My snapshots illustrate the beauty in the scenery, the colors, the creatures. I observed incongruity – both symmetry and asymmetry. Snorkeling one day I saw a carpet of tiny starfish on the sand below; that night I lay on my back viewing the myriad stars sprinkled in the night sky. Galápagos sharks frequently circled the boat. Prehistoric-looking frigatebirds hovered above. A sea lion decided to spend one night on board; another preferred the benches at the marina. A pink flamingo wandered alone in a quiet lagoon. Bright-red large (actually almost everything there is supersized) crabs crawled on black rock. Once I saw a Great Blue Heron in deep conversation with a marine iguana. I noted the resilience of creation. Hiking on “fresh” (less than 200 years old) volcanic lava, we encountered tiny cacti that had managed to find a smidgen of soil on which to make their home. On another barren island I happened upon a patch of Morning Glories. The next day I walked along a beach watching a baby stingray seemingly trying to escape the ocean.
Again, I seek forgiveness from fellow scientists, but frankly, many creatures, even if awe-inspiring, are downright ugly—see my iguana photo for example. The saying “a face only a mother could love” doesn’t even apply, as most reptiles don’t bother to care for their young. (Actually, baby iguanas are quite cute and teensy geckos even more so—I wanted to line them up according to size for a photo, but none of the lizards would cooperate.) Apparently, Darwin called marine iguanas “clumsy lizards…imps of darkness.”
Once I involuntarily broke the rule of silence with loud laughter when a startled iguana came charging at high speed out of a bush. Frigatebirds, sharks, iguanas—all look like creatures from horror movies that I don’t watch. Indeed, apparently the alien in the movie ET was inspired by the Galápagos giant tortoise. Speaking of these, I realize that wisdom and advanced age are generally associated, but, frankly, those 150-year-old tortoises with stupid grins and bits of grass hanging out of their mouths were hardly the epitome of wisdom. Interestingly, the islands were named after these ugly things (galápago means tortoise in Spanish).
Blue-footed boobies, with their turquoise-colored feet (actually an indicator of health, as the color reflects their nutrition), clumsy walking and comical mating rituals, also get their name from Spanish: bobo means “clown” or “fool”; apparently, I’m not the only one to find these birds funny. Another example is the male frigatebird with its ridiculously expanded red pouch; this is apparently attractive to females (female frigatebirds, that is).
Second, I observed and applauded (except perhaps the US $100 park fee) the creation care that was evident in the Galápagos. Our luggage was searched and scanned, the airplane was sprayed with disinfectant, and even our shoes were washed prior to entering the islands. No one is allowed in most areas unless accompanied by a naturalist guide licensed by the Galápagos National Park. No touching, no flash photography, no food, water only. On our first hike we were reminded to walk only on the path; however, with multiple cacti interspersed with thorn bushes on either side, I was not tempted to disobey. Another rule was to stay two meters away from the animals; once I had to walk around a heron that did not know about the rule. Generally, the animals were unafraid of humans, since they had not been fed or otherwise tormented.
Third, I did not observe an “atheist mecca” that a Christian acquaintance had cautioned me about. At the Darwin research station I found the non-tourist library (going in just to get out of the sun, of course), and glanced at a children’s book called Charlie and the Tortoise. Somewhere in the first few pages it described science as a tool for understanding the world. Yes, observations inspire theories and aid understanding. Yes, we are called to explore the creation we’ve been gifted with, as the quote from Darwin in my photo illustrates. Yes, we can praise the God who has created things with the ability to change and adapt to their environment. We can also praise the God who delights, alongside us, in making flamingos a delicate coral color and painting the feet of birds. (I suspect that God, too, chuckles at sprinting iguanas.) But we do not have all the answers (why on earth would boobies need turquoise-colored feet?) and likely never will.
The glorious Galápagos. I played. Darwin studied. But the glory goes to God.
E. Janet Warren is a Family Physician and an independent scholar in theology. She is currently president of the CSCA and has published two books: Cleansing the Cosmos (Wipf & Stock, 2012) and Holy Housekeeping (Essence, 2017). Janet lives in Hamilton, Ontario where she worships at Graceworks Baptist Church; but mostly she loves worshiping outdoors!