Darwin and the Galapagos Islands
I’ve just finished writing about Darwin’s experiences in the Galapagos Islands and, surprizingly, it took less time and less space than I had originally anticipated. On reflection I can see that this should not have been a surprize because Charles Darwin spent a relatively trifling amount of time in the Galapagos considering the duration of his journey on the Beagle and, when there, it certainly did not strike him as the key to evolution as it has often been portrayed. None of this is to diminish the importance of the Galapagos Islands and its native inhabitants in contributing to Darwin’s understanding of how species might be transformed into new species, but it helps to get some perspective on both Darwin (it’s not like he was Superman when it came to instant insight) and the Galapagos (they were not so much the key as they were the keyhole: they provided a peek at natural selection but Darwin still had to find the means of opening the door).
When I was in the Galapagos, some of the animals I found most intriguing and, ultimately, most instructive when it came to understanding evolution were not even mentioned by Darwin or otherwise barely so: for example, the Galapagos flamingo, the Galapagos penguin, and the flightless cormorant. It’s as if we looked through different keyholes. But – and this is the really cool thing about Darwin’s evolution by Natural Selection – when you finally get to open the door, to see how Natural Selection really works, it explains all those different views of it. And surely that is the true test of a universal truth. Nearly 150 years after Darwin first proposed it, we can find little to refute Natural Selection and so much to support it – and it really doesn’t matter whether you look at Galapagos tortoises, Galapagos finches or Galapagos flamingoes.