Tales of Turtles: Zoology is a Great Career
As a teenager I was active in the Boy Scouts, and in lower levels of school I had an interest in science and math. I was a radioman in the US Navy during the Second World War, and in college I majored in zoology with very strong concentrations in Bible and chemistry.
During my senior year at Wheaton College I did a research project on why fish died when removed from the water. It is not because of an oxygen lack, but rather that the oxygen does not get into the body in sufficient quantity since when a fish is out of the water its gills collapse. I taught at a middle and high school and then did a master’s degree in embryology working with the first cancer-inhibiting drug (8-azaguanine). At that time I particularly was interested in embryology because I had heard that as embryos develop they summarize their evolutionary history, but I soon found out that this not only was not true but also that this false idea had resulted in a retardation of the whole field of embryology.
Then I accepted a position teaching biology at The King’s College (Briarcliff, New York), and while I was on the faculty there completed a doctorate in zoology at Rutgers University where I was dealing mostly with biochemical classification of turtles. My advisor, Dr. Alan Boyden, the Department Chairman of Zoology when I went to Rutgers, was strongly opposed to evolution. He used to call evolutionists “ancestor worshipers”. So here too I learned many good reasons for doubting popular evolutionary dogma. For example, turtles appear abruptly in the fossil record, and there is no agreement regarding their possible evolutionary ancestry.
One summer I accepted a temporary appointment at the US Fisheries Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where I was assigned to determine if larvas of Canadian scallops might be washing down the eastern coast of the United States so that later the adults were being harvested by United States fishermen. At that time nobody had been able to distinguish Canadian-hatched scallops from those hatched in United States waters off the New England coast. To attack the problem I developed methods for harvesting and processing scallop blood cells for immunological tests. We obtained scallops from a Canadian population and two US populations (Cape Cod Bay and Georges Bank).We quantitated reactions of the organic molecules in the blood cell membranes with antibodies produced in rabbits. The results indicated that indeed the Cape Cod Bay population was more like the Canadian scallops than like scallops in the Georges Bank population. So the US government had paid me to find out what Canada, and not the US, wanted to hear.
Over the years I continued to maintain activity as a creationist, and another biologist, Percival William Davis, and I published the book, A Case for Creation, which has been in print for 33 years and has had several revisions. I was present when the Creation Research Society was being formed in 1963, and have served as a Board member for thirty years and I have also been secretary, vice-president and president. In 1981 I participated as a creationist witness in the creation/evolution court trial in Little Rock, Arkansas. It always has been a pleasure for me to attend, and sometimes to speak at, various conferences where creation was being discussed, the most recent of these being the baraminology gathering at Liberty University in August 1999.
While teaching at The King’s College most of my scientific research has involved reptiles, mostly turtles, and a lot of effort has gone into determining the diversification that has occurred among the turtles since the time of their creation.
Paleontologists tell us that turtles appear suddenly in the fossil record without any apparent evolutionary ancestors. But turtles have diversified into nearly three hundred species. Based on the studies of proteins in our laboratory we have made many discoveries about this diversification among turtles since their beginning. For example the European pond turtle which is the only native turtle in most of western and central continental Europe tested most like the blanding’s turtle from the Great Lakes region of Canada and the USA. So very likely some ancestors of the present European turtle which at that time were on the land that is now the North American continent diversified and radiated. This resulted in populations of the blanding’s turtle and other American species including the wood turtle, spotted turtle, bog turtle, box turtle, and western pond turtles.
Among scientists it has been a common belief that turtles in Australia diverged in isolation from the rest of the world. But our protein studies clearly showed that some side-necked turtles in Australia are more like some South American side-necked species than they are like some other Australian side-necks. So there apparently is a closer relationship between South American and Australian animals than most current evolutionists heretofore had realized.
One of the studies in our laboratory involved some simple research on red blood cells (erythrocytes) which are quite large in turtles. Very little was known about turtle erythrocytes, and at that time (in the 1970’s) we were collecting blood from many sea turtles; so we decided that we would routinely measure the sizes of the erythrocytes. Soon we discovered that the larger turtles had larger red blood cells. This enlargement could have resulted from additional hemoglobin because of aging or physiological requirements. We derived equations for determining the size of the shell of the turtles based upon the blood cell measurements.
In connection with this study we surveyed red blood cells of various vertebrates. At that time the literature on blood of vertebrates routinely echoed nineteenth century evolutionary ideas. The most popular belief was that during the evolution from fish to amphibians to reptiles to birds and mammals the erythrocytes had become progressively smaller. Was this true or not?
So we initiated a study across the various vertebrate groups. The largest turtle cells based upon our measurements were from the largest living type of turtle, the giant leatherback sea turtle. But when we looked at the whole vertebrate picture, the many exceptions raised serious doubt about the theory of evolutionary erythrocyte sizes. The largest red cells are not in fish but rather in the amphibians with tails (urodeles). Some birds even have larger cells than some fish. So rather than trying to use an evolutionary framework, investigators should stress considerations of the entire hemodynamic (blood functioning) conditions in the various animal types. For example birds and mammals are “warm-blooded” and therefore apparently will function best with smaller erythrocytes which can load on and release oxygen more readily than larger erythrocytes could. It appears that particular animals have the particular blood cells which are best suited for their own metabolism. This is consistent with intelligent design.
Sometimes my scientific friends and colleagues wonder what kind of game I am playing with my speaking out against evolution when of course as a scientist I certainly must believe in it. I try to explain that based upon the scientific evidence there are good reasons to doubt and even to reject macroevolution although I recognize that many fine people do accept it.
I believe that studying nature is probing the mysteries of God’s creation (Romans 1:19,20). I have worked with many scientists in a variety of projects over the years. Some have been creationists like myself, and others have been evolutionists. In fact over the years I have authored scientific papers with about seven different atheists. My philosophy has been and still is to “cooperate without compromise”, which I believe is a good way to live. Sometimes scientists with whom I was working would inject evolution into our reports. Virtually in every case this was not justified on the basis of our actual discoveries. In every situation this material was removed because it was most fair to do this. My main concern within the scientific community has been to do the very best thorough research I could.
It always is a pleasure to share my knowledge and experience with other people, and most recently I have been teaching science to some home-schooled young people. One day I asked them to bring their pet animals to the church where we meet. I brought my live turtles, and we had a good time talking about and comparing the different animals. I have hoped not only to teach about nature but also to inspire appreciation and enjoyment of God’s creation.
Subscribe to Dialogue