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Finch Study—More Fodder for Textbook Hoaxes
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

During his journey aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, Charles Darwin spent a great deal of time collecting specimens and studying various animals. Perhaps the most famous are the 13 species of finches Darwin collected from the Galapagos Islands. Within this limited environment there are various sized finches, each demonstrating differences in bill shape, diet, and environment. Peter and Rosemary Grant have studied Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands since 1973. Their latest study, on the selective pressure caused by a drought in 2003, instantly will become a textbook example for natural selection and will be offered as proof that evolution is factual (see Grant and Grant, 2006). In an article titled “Finches Named for Darwin are Evolving,” Associated Press writer Peter Schmid commented: “Finches on the Galapagos Islands that inspired Charles Darwin to develop the concept of evolution are now helping confirm it by evolving” (2006, emp. added). But have the Grants really recorded organic evolution occurring in “real time?”

The Grants examined changes in beak size and discovered that within the past two years the primary population of these birds has returned to smaller beaks. In describing the Grants’ findings, Pennisi wrote:

In 2004, there were about 150 large ground finches and about 235 medium ground finches, and the birds soon exhausted the supply of large seeds. The death toll was severe: About 152 medium ground finches died, as did 137 large ground finches. Among the medium ground finches, the ones that had the largest bills were the worst off; only about 13% of them survived.... [T]he medium ground finch seems to be returning to its smaller-beak days because of selective pressure (2006, 313:156).

Peter and Rosemary Grant contend: “Competitor species can have evolutionary effects on each other that result in ecological character displacement; that is, divergence in resource-exploiting traits such as jaws and beaks” (2006, 313:224). The “take-home” message that undoubtedly will be included in future editions of biology textbooks is that selective pressure of the drought caused the finches to evolve smaller beaks. Simply put, evolutionists will claim that “lack of rain caused these birds to evolve.” However, before we allow this broad generalization to become accepted as fact, we must ask several questions:

1. Do differences in beak size lead to changes from one species to another? In other words, is this anything more than horizontal microevolution? Creationists freely admit that natural selection acts as a conservation principle. While the mainstream media credits Charles Darwin as the originator of this idea, his work only mirrored previous writers who suggested that the survival of an animal was a function of its fitness.

According to Loren C. Eiseley, Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania before his death, “the leading tenets of Darwin’s work—the struggle for existence, variation, natural selection, and sexual selection—are all fully expressed” in a paper written by creationist Edward Blyth in 1835 (Humber, n.d., emp. added).

History records that it was a creationist who first proposed natural selection as a preserving factor for life. However, we should not lose focus from the current study that is alleging evolution in action. Natural selection can explain the differences that the Grants measured in bill shapes, but it does not explain the very existence of the bills or the birds themselves. Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould lamented: “The essence of Darwinism lies in a single phrase: natural selection is the creative force of evolutionary change. No one denies that selection will play a negative role in eliminating the unfit. Darwinian theories require that it create the fit as well” (1977, 86[6]:27). As Harvard-trained lawyer Norman MacBeth observed: “In the meantime, the educated public continues to believe that Darwin has provided all the relevant answers by the magic formula of random mutations plus natural selection—quite unaware of the fact that random mutations turned out to be irrelevant and natural selection a tautology” (1982, 2:18).

How can an evolutionist point at this study and make grandiose claims about vertical macroevolution? The truth of the matter is that the Grants observed the bills getting smaller in the medium ground finch population so they could survive the conditions of the drought. They were finches before the drought—and they remained finches after the drought. No change in species occurred.

2. Are these finches really separate species? Oftentimes when pressed to define a “species,” evolutionist begin playing mental gymnastics—the definition being flexible enough to fit a variety of different situations. However, most agree that if animals are able to interbreed then they represent the same species. Thus, if these thirteen different finches are able to interbreed and produce fertile offspring they do not represent different species—but rather variations of a similar species. While we can measure and identify variations, they provide no evidence for organic evolution. For instance, we can mate two dogs and get a different variety—but that is not proof for macroevolution. It is simply an example of microevolution (changes within limited parameters).

The question of whether Darwin’s finches can breed between species has been extensively studied (see Grant, et al., 2003; Grant and Grant, 1996), and it has been shown that it does occur. For instance, in Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Beak of the Finch, he noted:

Back in 1983, for instance... a cactus finch on Daphne Major, a scandens, courted a female fortis. This was a pair of truly star crossed lovers. They were not just from opposite sides of the tracks, like the Prince and the Showgirl, or from two war families, like Romeo and Juliet: they belonged to two different species. Yet during the chaos of the great flood they mated and produced four chicks in one brood” (as quoted in Milton, 1997, p. 143).

The Grants called this hybridization (an extreme form of outbreeding), and they studied the survival rates for hybrids (Grant, et al., 2003, 57[12]:2912).

But this is not the only study that indicates these finches may be variations of a similar species. Nicholas Wade, staff writer for The New York Times, reported on a DNA study on Darwin’s finches from a team led by Jan Klein of the Max Planck Institute. Wade observed: “[T]hey could not distinguish among the species of ground finch, suggesting the different species may continue to interbreed. The same was true of the tree finch species” (1999, p. F5).

Over a century ago, in his Journal of Researches, Darwin noted:

I have stated, that in the thirteen species of ground-finches, a nearly perfect gradation may be traced, from a beak extraordinarily thick, to one so fine, that it may be compared to that of a warbler. I very much suspect, that certain members of the series are confined to different islands; therefore, if the collection had been made on any one island, it would not have presented so perfect a gradation (Darwin, 1839, p. 287).

In the second edition of this book Darwin continued: “Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends” (Darwin, 1909, p. 339, emp. added). Over 100 years ago, Darwin was speculating that all of these finches may simply be variations of an original pair. The evidence seems to be proving him correct. But if these birds can interbreed, then they offer no support for evolutionary theory. Could it simply be that the 13 finches Darwin collected demonstrated a “gradation” of variations brought about by breeding among various groups? If these birds can interbreed (and science has shown they can), then they no longer should be considered different species.

3. Does the speed of beak changes support the general theory of evolution? The Grants reported the progression to smaller beaks occurring in a relatively short amount of time. Evolutionists always have maintained that evolution is a slow, gradual progression that occurs over eons of time. Consider how flexible the evolutionary theory must be to justify these current findings. Mason Inman noted: “Evolution may sometimes happen so fast that it’s hard to catch in action” (2006). Inman continued: “Researchers from New Jersey’s Princeton University have observed a species of finch in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands that evolved to have a smaller beak within a mere two decades. Surprisingly, most of the shift toward smaller bills happened within just one generation, the scientists say” (2006).

For years, evolutionists have chided creationists who suggest that many varieties of animals could result in the relatively short time-span following the Noahic Flood. A critical mind would quickly realizes that the newly reported data better supports the creation model. Creationists consistently have maintained that the varieties we see today could have occurred in a relatively short period of time due to selective pressure of nature. Unfortunately, the media are quick to support the anti-God mantra of evolution. As Pennisi observed: “This competitor-driven shift in beak size is an example of what evolutionary biologists call character displacement.... But this is the first time they have seen it happen in real time in the wild, says Jonathan Losos, an animal ecologist at Harvard University: ‘This study will be an instant textbook classic’ ” (as quoted in Pennisi, 2006, 313:156, emp. added). Sadly, those textbooks teach only part of the story. When the Grants observe a finch evolving into a turtle or an iguana, then evolutionists can stand up and shout. Until then, we all would do well to consider this research for what it really is—an investigation of microevolution.


Darwin, Charles (1839), Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin’s Journal of Researches (England: Penguin Books, 1989 reprint).

Darwin, Charles (1909), Voyage of the Beagle: Journal of Researches Into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of HMS, Beagle Round the World (New York, NY: Modern Library, 2001 reprint).

Gould, Stephen Jay (1977), “The Return of Hopeful Monsters,” Natural History, 86[6]:22-30, June/July.

Grant, Peter R. and B. Rosemary Grant (1996), “High Survival of Darwin’s Finch Hybrids: Effects of Beck Morphology and Diets,” Ecology, 77:500-509.

Grant, Peter R. and B. Rosemary Grant (2006), “Evolution of Character Displacement in Darwin’s Finches,” Science, 313:224-226, July 14.

Grant, Peter R., B. Rosemary Grant, Lukas F. Keller, et al., (2003), “Inbreeding and Interbreeding in Darwin’s Finches,” Evolution, 57[12]:2911-2916.

Humber, Paul G. (no date), “Natural Selection—A Creationist’s Idea,” ICR Impact Article #238, [On-line], URL:

Inman, Mason (2006), “‘Instant’ Evolution Seen in Darwin’s Finches, Study Says,” National Geographic News, [On-line], URL:

MacBeth, Norman (1982), “Darwinism: A Time for Funerals,” Towards, Spring, 2:18.

Milton, Richard (1997), Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions).

Pennisi, Elizabeth (2006), “Competition Drives Big Beaks Out of Business,” Science, 313:156, July 14.

Schmid, Peter (2006), “Finches Named for Darwin Are Evolving,” ABC News, [On-line], URL:

Wade, Nicholas (1999), “Finch DNA Shows Darwin Was Right,” The New York Times, F5, May 11.

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