Improbable Rafting Is Central to Darwinism
Evolutionary theory requires rare improbable events, but stuff happens in millions of years, they say.
A recent book by Sean B. Carroll explicitly equates Darwinism to the Stuff Happens Law (SHL). In A Series of Fortunate Events (Princeton 2020) Carroll even labels the first section “Stuff Happens.” That is why we exist, he argues: we are the result of unplanned, propitious events that didn’t have to turn out the way they did.
Now, in an article on The Conversation, Nick Longrich from the University of Bath amplifies the case for chance in human origins. He says we wouldn’t be here unless monkeys from Africa found a way to cross the Atlantic Ocean on vegetation rafts. His article, “One incredible ocean crossing may have made human evolution possible,” states this openly:
The role rafting played in our history shows how much evolution comes down to chance. Had anything gone differently – the weather was bad, the seas rough, the raft washed up on a desert island, hungry predators waited on the beach, no males aboard – colonisation would have failed. No monkeys, no apes – no humans.
It seems our ancestors beat odds that make Powerball lotteries seem like a safe bet. Had anything had gone differently, the evolution of life might look rather different than it does. At a minimum, we wouldn’t be here to wonder about it.
Could large mammals really get across the ocean on vegetation rafts? How rare is that? Longrich does not point to any observations that this happens. He just thinks that given enough time, it might happen. All his examples are from tens or hundreds of millions of years ago, assuming evolution.
The odds are against such crossings. A lucky combination of conditions – a large raft of vegetation, the right currents and winds, a viable population, a well-timed landfall – is needed for successful colonisation. Many animals swept offshore simply die of thirst or starvation before hitting islands. Most never make landfall; they disappear at sea, food for sharks. That’s why ocean islands, especially distant ones, have few species.
Rafting was once treated as an evolutionary novelty: a curious thing happening in obscure places like the Galapagos, but irrelevant to evolution on continents. But it’s since emerged that rafts of vegetation or floating islands – stands of trees swept out to sea – may actually explain many animal distributions across the world.
It “may” explain animal distributions, he says, begging the question that the Galapagos species rafted there. Even if they did, that’s a much shorter trip than crossing the Atlantic. (Note: the famous finches flew there.)
But isn’t it contrary to scientific thinking to use chance as an explanation?
One of Darwin’s great insights was the idea that everyday events – small mutations, predation, competition – could slowly change species, given time. But over millions or billions of years, rare, low-probability, high-impact events – “black swan” events – also happen.
Yes; Darwin’s great insight was that stuff happens. Since the SHL seems to work for getting monkeys to raft across the ocean, maybe it could be more widely useful. Bizarre as the idea seems, it has become a pinnacle of evolutionary theory, Longrich says. Rafting gets stuff to happen wherever needed to keep the story alive.
Oceanic crossings aren’t an evolutionary subplot; they’re central to the story. They explain the evolution of monkeys, elephants, kangaroos, rodents, lemurs – and us. And they show that evolution isn’t always driven by ordinary, everyday processes but also by bizarrely improbable events.
If human emergence did not have to happen, then any thought that people have a purpose for life drowns in the sea.
Anti-creationists sometimes mock Bible believers for thinking that animals from Noah’s Ark could migrate around the earth after the Flood. Carroll and Longrich make it clear that Darwinists have the same problem: in fact, rafting by chance is now “central” to the evolutionary story (emphasis on story). Their rafting hypothesis is an ad hoc idea brought into the theory to support a predetermined worldview. Any theory that reduces to”stuff happens,” however, is not a respectable theory in science.
Creationism has an advantage here. If the Creator’s purpose was to fill the earth with creatures, there is no need to invoke chance. If His purpose after the Flood was to repopulate the earth, then God did it by design with foresight and oversight. The greatest advantage to the creation position is that it gives humans a purpose in life, and real eternal value. The difference in implications for human behavior could not be more momentous.