Frank Zindler Published: 10/07/2000
Updated: 10/07/2000
THE KIWI QUESTION

by Frank R. Zindler

Sooner or later, every rational person comes face-to-face with one of those willfully irrational people known as creationists. Usually, before the rationalist can come to terms with the fact that so primitive an outlook could be alive and well this late in the history of science, the creationist will be on the attack. Within seconds, the rationalist will be struggling to avoid suffocating under a veritable avalanche of bogus data about bullfrog proteins, Neanderthal Man's arthritis, the impossibility of left-handed amino acids originating without magical intervention, the uselessness of only half-evolved eyes, the imperfection of the fossil record, and the supposed forgery of all known Archaeopteryx fossils. Usually, rationalists can find some argument with which to repel the creationist's unnatural advances. Even so, the first encounter with a high-octane creationist can be rather disturbing, and it is not unusual for rationalists to spend several days thinking of better arguments they could have used.

Eventually, it becomes clear that the main error committed was to allow the creationist to seize the offensive. Why weren't the tenets of creationism challenged? Why wasn't the creationist made to provide evidence to support the more bizarre claims of Genesis geology or bible biology? Why wasn't the creationist put on the defensive?

Fortunately, persons finding it necessary to argue with creationist apologists (as at PTA and school board meetings) can put creationists on the defensive quite easily, simply by demanding evidence to support the fable of Noah's flood, the most vulnerable of creationist tenets. Actually, it is one of the few such tenets that is definable enough to be attacked at all! When attacking Noah's ark, however, it is imperative that novices not aim their torpedoes at the wrong end of the boat. All too often, beginners will ask how Noah could have shanghaied critters in all the far-flung regions of the earth and brought them back to be put into his termite-filled1 wooden boat.

"How did Noah get to South America to pick up the giant anteater," they will ask. "How did he get to Australia to round up the platypuses and numbats? How did he get to Antarctica to collect emperor penguins? And how did he do all that in just seven days, as implied in Genesis 7:4?"

It goes without saying, even creationists without portfolio or stipend can usually make short shrift of this quibble.

"If you would spend more time reading the bible, and less time dreaming of evolutionary impossibilities," a reasonably adroit creationist would retort, "you would know the answer to your question. It says in Genesis 7:14-16, 'Wild animals of every kind, cattle of every kind, reptiles of every kind that move upon the ground, and birds of every kind - all came to Noah in the ark, two by two of all creatures that had life in them. Those which came were one male and one female of all living things; they came in as God had commanded Noah [hopefully, our evolutionist Lochinvar will point out that this contradicts Genesis 7:2,2 where Noah is commanded to save "clean animals" by sevens!] , and the Lord closed the door on him.'"

It will be pointed out that Noah didn't go out to get the animals - the animals miraculously were directed to come to him. You can't fight with a miracle. Even so, after playing their trump card - magic - many creationists will feel a bit embarrassed over having had to resort to such heavy weaponry so early in the war, and they will strain to find a less unfair argument. In this case, they don't need to think long.

"What makes you think that kiwis had to come from New Zealand, and giant tortoises had to come from the Galapagos?" they will ask. "Before the flood, all the different species of animals lived in the same region of the world as Noah did. It was only after the flood that geography changed, and the animal species got scattered all around. Although getting the animals into the ark appears to have been miraculous, it wasn't really that big a miracle."

Now of course, the evolutionist can point out that fossil kiwis have never been found outside of New Zealand, fossil kangaroos outside of Australia, and fossil elephant birds have never been found outside Madagascar-Southeast Africa. Our scientist could add that Iraq (presumably the region where Captain Noah and his menagerie began their voyage) is not known for its fossil platypuses or giant anteaters. But the conclusion that the fossil record indicates giant moas had to trek (!) from New Zealand to Iraq to buy tickets for the cruise will be rejected. With icy scorn, the defender of the faith will observe:

"It is curious that evolutionists try to explain away gaps in the fossil record when defending their pet theory, but argue that the gaps are significant when used against scientific theories of creation! You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you can say that connecting links between invertebrates and vertebrates existed, despite the gaps in the fossil record, we can say that platypuses lived on the banks of the Euphrates before the flood! Because of the improbability of any given animal becoming fossilized, none of the Mesopotamian Monotremes3 just happened to become fossilized."

Stalemate!

There is, of course, a better way to expose the implausibility of the deluge delusion. As we have said, our hypothetical evolutionist has launched torpedoes at the wrong end of the boat. The dialogue should have been begun with a different question: "Do you mean to tell me kiwis actually are Turkish refugees?"

If the relevance of this question is not immediately obvious to the fundamentalist apologist, it should be pointed out that Noah allegedly parked his ark on some mountains (plural, according to Genesis 8:4!) in what is now Turkey. After the flood, the kiwis (along with dinosaurs and dodos) had to stumble down one or more mountains and then make their way (without the dinosaurs and dodos) to New Zealand - even though they can neither swim nor fly. Not only did the kiwis have to make it all the way from Turkey to New Zealand, the giant flightless moas (now extinct) had to do it also, along with the takahe, a flightless gallinule, and the weka, a flightless rail. The flightless emus had to journey to the island continent of Australia, as did the cassowaries also. Rheas, flightless birds which occupy ecological niches similar to those of ostriches and emus, had to find their way to South America. Dozens and dozens of species of birds which can neither swim nor fly had to find their ways to the most remote islands on the planet. They had to do what lions and tigers and bears were unable to do.

Not only did these unlikely travelers make it to such unlikely destinations as New Zealand and New Caledonia, they did so without ending up anywhere else. If rheas can thrive on the Pampas of Argentina, why aren't they also found in Africa's veldt or on the plains of Australia? Isn't it curious that fossil types of rheas, as well as extant rheas are found in America only? None are to be found along the way from Turkey to South America.

"If these flightless birds now found on remote islands are descended from ancestral species capable of flight," our evolutionist might point out, "we can understand how they came to be where we find them. Only an evolutionary explanation - in some cases with help from continental drift over utterly un-biblical amounts of time - can explain these oddities of biogeography."

"Not at all," the creationist could reply. "We creationists accept the possibility of degenerative changes in the history of life. In fact, the story of Adam's fall and the beginning of the Second Law of Thermodynamics demand that if changes occur, they can only be down-hill. Flightless birds on desert islands are actually proof of creation."

"Birds eight feet tall and well suited to their ecological niche can hardly be considered degenerate," the evolutionist might reply, adding, "if all these strange birds and mammals now found scattered in the remote regions of the earth traveled out from Ararat along with the people, isn't it strange that no human culture outside New Zealand reveals traces of giant moa stories, no cultures outside Australia tell stories about kangaroos or platypuses, and no culture outside South America seems to remember the giant anteaters that slid down Mt. Ararat along with their ancestral tribesmen. It is also curious that the parasites that went along with the kiwis are found in kiwis, but on no other species of birds anywhere else on earth. Even more curious is the fact that none of these odd creatures is remembered in the bible!"

It could be pointed out that the feather louse Rallicola gadowi is found only on the kiwi Apteryx australis. Not only is this species of louse not found on any other birds outside New Zealand, it doesn't even infest other species of kiwis! The two other species of kiwi, A. haasti and A. oweni, have their own special species of Rallicola, R. gracilentus and R. pilgrimi, respectively. If the ancestors of the kiwis were once shut up with all the other bird species in the tight confines of a wooden boat, surely R. gadowi should be found on all sorts of other birds all over the world, and louse types found on a wide variety of other birds should be found on kiwis in addition to the Rallicola lice. The biogeography of parasites makes sense if evolution has occurred, but it is utterly incompatible with the idea that all the species of animals were confined together in a box just a few thousand years ago.

The problems posed by flightless birds and their parasites to the "theory" of Noah's flood are just a drop in the bucket compared to the problems posed by biogeography in general. Consider the mammalian fauna of Australia, for instance. The marsupial population of Australia contains animal families, genera, and species found nowhere else on earth - not even in fossil form. We are to suppose that each species of marsupial managed to get from Mt. Ararat to Australia, but couldn't find its way to any other part of the world - including those regions located between Turkey and Australia. Despite the fact that most marsupial species seem to be out-gunned when they are forced to compete with placental mammals (hence the extinction of so many marsupial species after the introduction of European mammals), we are to suppose that wombats and wallabies, bandicoots and koalas, kept ahead of lions-'n-tigers-'n-bears all the way to Indonesia, and then - although the superior placental predators couldn't manage it - continued on to Australia. As if this were not mind-boggling enough, after all this implausible world travel, and after all the dust had settled, it turns out that the types of marsupials that made it to Australia just happened to form an ensemble able to fill all the ecological niches available!

Thus, there were marsupial moles, anteaters, mice, grazers, carnivores, frugivores, etc. - not one of which can be found anywhere else in the world. If this highly diversified marsupial population has descended with modification (evolved) from one or a few primitive, generalized marsupials which reached Australia by "sweepstakes dispersal" millions of years ago, this peculiar situation is understandable. But if all these creature had to journey from Turkey to Australia as an ensemble, it is incredible beyond computation.

An even stronger case can be made if we compare the faunas of any two biogeographic provinces which have similar climates and geomorphological characteristics. It is probable that every type of habitat to be found in Africa exists also in South America. Nevertheless, almost none of the vertebrate species inhabiting these two similar worlds are the same. If lions (Panthera leo) thrive in Africa, why aren't they found in South America? If cougars (Felis concolor) do well in South America, why not also in Africa? If cougars could travel from Turkish Armenia all the way to South America, shouldn't we expect to find them in Africa as well - which by comparison is just next door?

If this be not evidence enough against the idea that a dormant volcano in Asia Minor is the center from which all the animal species of the world have dispersed, we may consider the problem of cavernicolous (cave-dwelling) species of animals. Many of these creatures are blind, and we can imagine the trouble they had reading road-maps while finding their ways to caves in Patagonia, Florida, New Zealand, and Sardinia. While evolutionists have no difficulty in explaining how it comes about that nearly all separate cave systems in the world have unique faunas - practically every cave and sink-hole system in Florida has its own unique species of camel crickets, for example - it is hard to understand how this can be explained from a creationist viewpoint. (It is also hard to understand how the delicate stalactites and stalagmite formations found in some of these caves could have escaped being damaged when the world ended in the year 2,348 BCE.)

To put the last biogeographic nail in the coffin of creationism, we pass from our discussion of terrestrial biogeography to a consideration of aquatic biogeography. The most glaring proof that the flood myth in Genesis was the product of prescientific minds is the fact that Noah is said to have taken only air-breathing animals into the ark. Plants and aquatic animals had to fend for themselves. Now of course, delicate corals and salt-sensitive freshwater fishes could not have survived a world-destroying flood, and Noah would have had to have carried enormous numbers of aquaria (both freshwater and saltwater) in his nail-less boat of gopher wood. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that fishes were able to survive the muddy flood that snuffed out the rest of the world toward the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, we ask why it is that totally different species, genera - indeed families in some cases - settled out of the flood into the lakes and rivers of Australia, Africa, and South America. Is it not astonishing that 170 species of cichlid fishes settled out of the biblical brine into Lake Victoria - but not into any other lake in the world, including lakes only several miles from Lake Victoria? Should it not boggle the creationist mind (or re-boggle?) to learn that of the seventeen species of cichlids that inhabit Barombi Mbo, a volcanic crater lake in Cameroon, twelve (including four endemic genera) represent species found nowhere else in the world?! Where in Genesis does it prepare us to learn that each of the three southern continents has its own genus of lungfish, the Australian form even constituting a family separate from the one containing the African and American forms?

Of course, when one is prepared to admit magic as a plausible explanation for the oddities of the world around us, anything is possible - including the fauna of Barombi Mbo. But for creationists who have not surrendered reason completely, the argument from biogeography should be a convincing proof of the reality of evolution and the impossibility of Noah's flood.

Notes

1 - Termites. Not only did Noah have to take termites into his ark to save them from extinction, as commanded by Yahweh, he had to take thousands-indeed millions- of them into the ark as food for the various species of anteaters and aardvarks. Since termites appear to be ritually "unclean" animals, Noah would have taken only one pair of each species on the ark. This creates a dilemma for the creationist. If the termite-eating animals were to survive during the flood year (indeed, according to the Hebrew text of Genesis 8:19, they had to be reproducing during the cruise, so they could come off the ark "in families"), they had to eat termites. Alas, with each flick of an aardvark's tongue, several dozen species of termites would become extinct-despite the fact that Noah was commanded to save the termites by taking them in his wooden boat! We leave it as an exercise for the reader to calculate how many species of termites and ants Noah had to take into the ark in order to feed ten or twenty species of anteaters throughout the flood year, if each animal ate several thousand termites per day and if each species had one or two babies per year. Having calculated the termite population of Noah's ark, the reader may then wish to compute how much "gopher wood" the insects would have consumed during their residence beside Noah and his manure-shoveling family. Back

2 - Genesis 7:1 And the Lord said unto Noah… 2. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. 3. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth… 5. And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him… 8. Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth, 9. There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah. Back

3 - Monotremes. Egg-laying mammals, now including only echidnas and platypuses. The order Monotremata takes its name from two Greek words meaning "single hole," an allusion to the fact that these primitive mammals-like their reptilian ancestors-have but one posterior body opening, the cloaca, which serves for elimination of both solid and liquid wastes, and for carrying out reproductive functions. In higher mammals, the male has two separate openings, the female three. Back

  • The publishing was authorized by the author of the original essay.
  • The original essay is available at http://www.atheists.org/bone.pit/kiwi.html
  • Translations to spanish, suggestions and grammar corrections on the translation to portuguese are welcome.