Myth versus Science: Biogeography Series (Part 3)

Part 3, in which we discuss Creation Myth versus Empirical Science.

The science of biogeography arose in the middle of the 18th Century, when almost everyone approached the Bible as literal history. It was generally believed that the earth and all present organisms were created in a single series of events, termed genesis. These events were thought to have happened several thousand years before the 18th Century, and all organisms were believed to be perfect. And because they were created in perfection, these organisms did not need to change, nor had any ever gone extinct. The past and present were assumed to possess the same biota.

This reasoning  clearly violates the foundations of biogeography. In fact, the history of biogeography is essentially a continuing conflict between creation myth and empirical science. When biogeography was blossoming as a science, conflict immediately arose. When Carolus Linnaeus began naming and describing organisms, he assumed that each one belonged to a stagnant species. However, he soon discovered that characteristics within a species were not always constant. Linnaeus addressed this conundrum with his idea of dispersal. His explanation supported a center of origin, which he believed to be Mount Ararat where the Biblical Noah’s ark had come to rest. The tall mountain offered many different zones of elevation, to which each species became adapted before spreading to its respective environment.

In the same time period, zoologist Comte de Buffon challenged Linnaeus’ hypothesis. He realized that similar environments found in different geographical regions contained distinct distributions of species. He also thought it unlikely that species could disperse across inhospitable habitats. He accepted that some species had gone extinct, and he supported the idea that landmasses change over time. A short time later, Alexander von Humboldt also contested Linnaeus’ ideas and argued that the history of organisms and history of earth were intertwined. Charles Lyell, the father of geology, agreed that climates change throughout time and that the earth must be older than a few thousand years. However, he rejected the idea that species could change.

Numerous scientists have continued to contribute their ideas to biogeographical theory, and numerous arguments continue to arise. Recent scientific advances have revolutionized the concept, including the general acceptance of plate tectonics and the development of new phylogenetic methods. Creationist groups still resist the theory of evolution and so dispute many biogeographic concepts.

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