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Animals on Rafts: Are the Creationists Even a Tiny Bit Right?

Earlier today I Tweeted a link to a picture someone took of a Creation Museum (Kentucky) sign that explained how animals ended up on opposite sides of oceans. You and I would probably suggest this is due to continental drift, a basic scientific concept most of us learned along with plate tectonics when we were about 9 years old [EDIT: or it’s due to simple dispersal over land, as noted by Holytape]. The creationists, however, prefer this explanation:

This is currently being retweeted like a mofo, and a number of people have replied to tell me something like this:

So, are the creationists right?

In a word: no.

But in several words: still no.

There are five species of mammal on the Galapagos Islands that weren’t introduced by men. All the species are small: two kinds of bats and three kinds of rats. Scientists do believe that the rats, along with some lizards, reached the Galapagos by floating there while stranded on bits of vegetation. This makes sense: lizards can go for a long time without sustenance, and small herbivores can hunker down awhile and snack on the vegetation they’re on. The vast majority will die, but enough could make it from South America to the Galapagos (A to B, about 500 miles at the moment) to set up a breeding population:

How does that compare to the Creation Museum’s claim? Well, they’re saying that RHINOCEROSES rode TREE TRUNKS for 4,000 MILES from Southeast Asia to southern Africa and had enough survive to breed.

No. Just . . . no. Though I would like to see a dramatization of that become the next entry in Dreamworks’ Madagascar series.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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60 Comments

  1. Even if we took them at their word, even if we capitulated and said, sure, why not, let’s say one time there was a flood and a guy put two of every animal on a big boat and then let them go when the flood was over and they floated around on log rafts until they got to their final destinations, and let’s say this explains why there are “similar animals and plants on opposite sides of oceans”…

    Why are they only similar? There are no identical animals on opposite sides of oceans, only animals that are similar, animals that appear to have evolved from the same ancestor. And why are these similar animals only on opposite coasts from one another? If they had free reign to float, wouldn’t they be spread out all over the place? If logs were floating all over the ocean, why wouldn’t we have the exact same vegetation everywhere? Why, for example, are the giant redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) ONLY on the west coast of North America and nowhere else? There are lots of other places they could grow.

    Bah, these arguments are so dumb but so maddening.

  2. I’m always amazed by the existence of people who don’t even ask the simplest of questions when presented with this sort of information (how far are the galapagos islands from the mainland as compared to the distance accross the pacific? What species have supposedly made the journey and how long could they survive in those conditions? What animals successfully migrated to the Galapagos this way and are they a good model for all animals? etc.). It doesn’t even hold up under the most minimal scrutiny, but there will be people repeating it for years, if not decades. People like Hannah Crew up there don’t want a good answer, they just want an answer.

  3. Well, they’re saying that RHINOCEROSES rode TREE TRUNKS for 4,000 MILES from Southeast Asia to southern Africa and had enough survive to breed.

    These are the same people that think that 2 of each species was enough to keep it going after the flood, so I’m sure they’ll believe that only two of each animal needed to get to an island and they can just throw in some goddidit to make up for the rest.

  4. Well, d’uh… The rhinos were babies… And God and such…. Why do you hate America?

    (It should be stated that the ranges of groups like Rhinocerotidae are a result of dispersal (over land), and not plate movements. In the case of rhinos, the family started off in North America. Then they were widespread in both Eurasia and North America, and then they moved in to Africa and Southeast Asia. Then all of the northern and new world species went extinct, leaving only the southern species. Thus giving an historically North Hemisphere taxa an apparent Gondwanian distribution. )

  5. So how did frogs and other animals with a low tolerance for salt water – which are suspiciously absent on the Galapagos – end up all over the world?

    Also, did plants and trees hitch a ride on those rafts too? Good thing Eucalyptus trees were on the same raft as the Koalas then.

  6. The esteemed high-school graduates who conceive displays at these museums follow a special variant of the scientific method to answer questions of this sort. In summary:
    1. Make something up
    2. Ask yourself “Will this explanation convince people who are really really eager to believe it in order to bolster the worldview they have dedicated their lives to and whose powers of credulity allow them to believe that an omnipotent being had to have a son (who was actually him) so he could die because he created people who sinned (which he knew they would do)?”
    3. It is fact

  7. @pzmyers: Oh, well… that makes much more sense. Presumably, the rhinos wandered the seas in search of Dryland, but were thwarted at every turn by the evil, atheist Smokers. Luckily, the rhinos are ultimately saved by an heroic dinosaur named The Mariner who leads them to the completely not-mythical promised land.

  8. So God didn’t do a very good job of killing off all the animals then, did he?

    Why the heck did he have Noah crowd 2 of each kind into the ark when all the animals could just float around on tree trunks?

  9. @Skepotter: That picture made me crack up!

    @Rebecca Watson: Re: Your art. Maybe I’m mistaken, but weren’t you supposed to send a ‘thank you’ MS Paint artwork to all those goodly people who donated $$$ to get you a new laptop after The Break In? I guess I’m gonna have to steal the Floating Rhino jpeg and make it my wallpaper instead :)

  10. @Evelyn: Well, God couldn’t beat Jacob at wrestling without cheating, or kill Moses before Moses’ wife performed an emergency circumcision on their baby, or drive out the people of the plains because they were riding chariots of iron…his resume is pretty spotty in terms of job performance.

  11. @scribe999:
    “It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a 1 pound coconut.”

    “Listen, in order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings 43 times every second, right?”

    “Am I right?”

  12. Wasn’t the whole point of the ark to keep the animals out of the water? If they could just hop on rafts, why didn’t they do that in the first place?

    The thing that’s always bugged me about taking the flood literally is that it never mentions what happened to all the plants. Some plants could repopulate after being underwater for months, but not most. Certainly not saguaro cacti, for example. At one point during the flood, Noah sends out a bird who comes back with an olive leaf (Gen. 8.11). How did that work?

  13. @banyan: There are several other small details to be bugged (and/or amused) about regarding the literal flood story. You can quickly run the numbers and find that a flood that covers all the land in 40 days requires the addition of 478 billion cubic kilometers of liquid water to be added to the Earth’s atmosphere out of nowhere. Also, rain would fall at a rate of 2.6cm/s, creating a force that someone (I forget who) has pointed out would easily sink a battleship, never mind a little DIY ark.

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