by Susan Trollinger
A foundational premise for AiG is that “We all deal with the same evidence (we all live on the same earth, have the same fossils, observe the same animals, etc.).” Building on that premise, AiG claims that “The difference lies in how we interpret what we study.” On the face of it, this might seem to be a reasonable argument. To paraphrase, the paradigm or “presuppositions” (to use AiG’s language) that one brings to the study of any evidence will shape (if not determine) the interpretation that is developed of that evidence.
But is AiG right? Do we all deal with the same evidence?
Yes, we all live on the same planet. Yes, we all have the same fossils (in some theoretical sense, since most of us probably don’t have any fossils). Yes, we all observe the same animals.
Or do we?
In the Science chapter of Righting America, we offer a close reading of the many placards and videos that are displayed in the Wonders Room and the Flood Geology area. Our central question about these placards and videos is: Does the Creation Museum provide, as it promises, abundant scientific evidence for a biblical creation and a young Earth? In the course of conducting that reading, we came across one especially interesting placard that may be relevant for the question at hand.
The placard appears in the Flood Geology area and more specifically in the section that offers an account of what happened after the Flood. A primary purpose of that section of the Flood Geology area is to answer some challenging questions that a global flood poses, including how the relatively few creatures on the Ark (just two per “kind” for a total of about 16,000, according to AiG) dispersed very rapidly so that they were able to re-populate all of the continents in a short period of time.
The placard of interest presents the “biogeographical rafting model.” (Just a note—for AiG, creation scientists develop models based in evidence that are supposed to confirm a biblical creation and a global flood.) Although the placard is somewhat cryptic, it appears to mobilize evidence on behalf of the idea that after the Flood animals were quickly dispersed by the “billions of trees” brought down by the Flood. Those trees, so the model argues, became “log mats [that] served as ready-made rafts for animals to cross oceans.”
The evidence on the placard comes in the form of three maps. The first map shows coastal areas on opposite sides of oceans where plants or animals of similar types currently reside. A second map shows where the Ark landed (in present-day Armenia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea) with arrows indicating the paths animals took to this or that continent once the flood waters receded. A third map identifies three locations where giant tortoises (Geochelone) reside (the Amazon basin, Galapagos Islands, and Seychelle Islands). Each location is accompanied by a photograph of a tortoise. In addition to the tortoises, the map displays arrows indicating the location of large circular currents in the oceans and the path that the tortoises took from the Amazon basin to the Seychelles. (Just a note: two tortoises [one female and one male] would have to successfully complete each leg of the trip. In addition, they would also have to leave behind at least two more tortoises [one male and one female] so that they could produce the population of tortoises that we now see in each location.)
The path begins with a 700-mile trek over land from the Amazon basin to the coast of South America. It continues with a 650-mile sea-voyage on a log north along the coastline of South America to the Galapagos Islands. The third phase of the trip consists of an 8,400-mile sea-voyage (on a log). The last leg of the trip would be a 6,200-mile sea-voyage from New Guinea, across the Indian Ocean, to the Seychelles. By the way, all distances here assume a straight-line path from each starting point to each destination (Righting America, 100).
In the science chapter, we did not attempt to discern the truth-value of scientific claims made in the Creation Museum since we are not scientists. Except in the case of this one placard. As we studied this placard carefully in an effort to understand it, we realized that certain features of the model strained credulity to such an extent that we had to ask a few factual questions.
We contacted Justin Gerlach who is “a zoologist with particular expertise in Geochelone tortoises, senior member of the faculty at Robinson College at the University of Cambridge, and scientific coordinator of the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles” (Righting America, 99). We shared the evidence that appears on the maps with Professor Gerlach and asked him to comment.
Here’s what we learned:
- While the tortoises that live in the Amazon basin look like Geochelone tortoises (that is, they are big), they are not, in fact, Geochelone tortoises (as the placard suggests).
- Moreover, there is real skepticism among scientists with expertise on tortoises that the kind of tortoise found in the Amazon basin share a common ancestor with the Geochelone tortoise. (Thus, they may have no relationship to one another whatsoever.)
- While Geochelone tortoises are very good at “dispersing” themselves over water—that is, they are good at floating in water and can be carried across long distances from one land mass to another—there is no way they could survive a trip of the kind that the third map charts. Even assuming ideal weather conditions and the tortoises’ ability to navigate the currents (on a log) in such a precise way as to chart a straight-line path from each starting point to each destination, such a trip would take at minimum five months to complete. A much more likely scenario, said Gerlach, would be that they would “’be stuck in the middle of the Indian Ocean for months or years’” (Righting America, 101).
AiG says that the differences between what they say is true and what mainstream scientists say is true is not a factual matter but a matter of interpretations that are based in two different paradigms—creation and evolution.
But is that all? It would seem from this example that there is more going on here than that.
The tortoise that AiG sees is not the same tortoise that Justin Gerlach sees. AiG’s Geochelone tortoise lives in the Amazon basin. Justin Gerlach’s does not. AiG’s Geochelone tortoise shares a common ancestor that walked off the Ark. Justin Gerlach’s does not. AiG’s Geochelone tortoise can float on a log for many months (if not years) as well as navigate complex currents in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean (on a log). Justin Gerlach’s cannot.
If we all share the same evidence then why don’t these two tortoises look the same? It would seem that while Gerlach’s tortoise is grounded in actual scientific evidence, the Creation Museum’s tortoise is a fanciful invention aimed at proving a biblical creation no matter what.
But if that is the case then who are the folks that care about the truth and who are the post-truth relativists?