Epistemology of wonder

Roy Howard shares some of God's creatures found on the Galápagos Islands.

Galápagos Nazca Booby

Galápagos Nazca Booby

My wife and I, with a couple of life-long friends, recently visited the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, six hundred miles from Ecuador. It was a mind-bending, eye-opening, heart-lifting 7-day adventure on a 16-passenger boat. Beginning with Santa Cruz Island in the southeast, we visited 11 islands, traveling by night as we attempted to sleep to the sound of shifting waves. Each day we walked across remarkable landscapes from lava rocks covered with 200-year-old cacti to mangrove forests and dense woods of the National Park of the Galápagos, where giant tortoises roam freely among humans. In fact, that was the most astonishing experience of all —  how all the creatures of land, ocean and air seem to peacefully accept the presence of humans. We walked among them as members of a community of all creatures.

Standing only a few feet from enormous marine Godzilla-like iguanas. Not only did we stand near them, but we also swam among them. One of the more thrilling moments occurred when I swam alongside a scary-looking iguana as if we were pals. Equally astonishing were the seals and sea lions frolicking around us playfully as we snorkeled, viewing white-tip sharks, and an array of thousands of fish adorned with every imaginable combination of colors. I had the distinct sensation of bird watching under the ocean, looking at fish flying through the water, darting into caves along the rocks.

And speaking of birds! Like nearly all creatures in these islands, the birds co-mingle with humans, and they are wonderfully strange. For instance, the famous booby whose blue feet indicate health and strength for mating or the flight-less cormorant who has evolved to dive deeper for food than winged cormorants or the endemic Galápagos Penguin living well in a warm environment who seem to relish diving and swimming among us. My jaw dropped at the red-billed tropicbird with its extraordinarily long tail flying in the breeze as we gazed over rocky cliffs. And more.

I thought often of Charles Darwin who was only 22 when in 1831 he took the adventure of a lifetime (literally) as the naturalist on the HMS Beagle. I imagined myself as a young Charles during those 5 weeks filled with wonder as these creatures displayed themselves freely to his own imagination. While Darwin’s finches and their different shaped beaks get all the fame as examples of evolution, it was actually the mockingbirds that captivated Darwin, leading the development of his theory of the origin and evolution of species.

Given my non-literal reading of the Bible, receiving it as a testimony to God’s mystery of salvation rather than a science textbook, I find only appreciation for the young Darwin, his imagination kindled, following his questions and developing his theory. A theory is way of interpreting what is experienced; by its nature, a theory is always a work-in-process. This is what scholars mean by an epistemology of wonder.

Such a way of knowing aligns with the Psalmist who acclaimed:
“O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

On that note, if you are still reading, I bid you have a wonderful day in God’s good creation, worthy always of praise and preservation.