Evolution in the News - April 2007
by Do-While Jones

A Bird By Any Other Name

Evolutionists define birds to be dinosaurs, and vice versa, just to prove evolution.

Science News wrote an excellent summary of a recent analysis of Microraptor gui. One paragraph of that summary said,

Four years ago, paleontologists described a species of feathered dinosaur from China that they named Microraptor gui (SN: 1/25/03, p. 51: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20030125/fob1.asp). A series of long feathers on the creature's legs and feet led those scientists to speculate that the dinosaur splayed its hind limbs to create an extra, hind set of wings. Other researchers cast doubt on that idea, noting that hip joints permitting such flexibility aren't found in any related dinosaur.

Now, a pair of scientists has come up with a four-winged flight posture that doesn't require M. gui to be a contortionist. In the new scenario, the animal held its feathered legs and feet beneath the body, says Sankar Chatterjee, a paleontologist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. This pose would place the secondary wings below and slightly behind the main wings, just like those in aerobatic biplanes. Chatterjee and his colleague R. Jack Templin, an aeronautical engineer from Ottawa, describe their analysis of the four-winged dinosaur online and in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 1

Anxious to learn what Chatterjee and Templin had discovered, we read their article. Near the beginning of the article they set the stage by saying,

Hundreds of small, exquisitely preserved, feathered theropods were discovered in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Group of northeastern China as they died some 125 million years ago, smothered in the "Cretaceous Pompeii." Both anatomy and phylogeny strongly suggest that these theropods, including Sinosauropteryx, Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx, Microraptor, Sinornithosaurus, Cryptovolans, and the early bird Confuciusornis, show constructions ranging from small winged, arboreal theropods to fully winged, active flying birds. They offer new insights into the origins of feathers and flight, favoring the arboreal ("trees-down") over the cursorial ("ground-up") hypothesis.

Among these recent finds, Microraptor gui offers the best evidence that arboreal dromaeosaurs might have acquired powered flight through a gliding stage where both forelimbs and hindlimbs were involved. 2

They then presented a lot of technical detail about its feathers, skeletal structure, muscle attachment, space for internal organs, and a description of the computer models they used to analyze the flight potential of M. gui. They reached this conclusion:

Flight Performance

Microraptor displays several anatomical features that suggest it could become airborne: elongate and asymmetric vanes in the flight feathers at the distal segment of each limb; a scapulocoracoid whose ends are oriented at an acute angle to each other; a laterally facing glenoid for gentle dorsoventral movement of the wing; a single, enlarged sternum for attachment of the flight muscles; ossified sternal ribs and well developed uncinate processes for resisting compression force on the thoracic cavity imposed during downstroke; strongly bowed outer metacarpal; and a flattened central digit for attachment of primaries. 3

Aircraft designers have mimicked many of nature's flight "inventions," usually inadvertently. Leading edge slats delay stalling, as does the alula of birds; birds' feet act as airbrakes, and streamlining reduces drag. Now, it seems likely that Microraptor invented the biplane 125 million years before the Wright 1903 Flyer. 4

There seems to be no question that it had feathers and wings, and could fly. The question we have is, “Was it a dinosaur?” Merriam Webster gives us the conventional definitions of words.

di·no·saur

Etymology: New Latin Dinosaurus, genus name, from Greek deinos terrifying + sauros lizard

Date: 1841

1 : any of a group (Dinosauria) of extinct often very large chiefly terrestrial carnivorous or herbivorous reptiles of the Mesozoic era

2 : any of various large extinct reptiles (as ichthyosaurs) other than the true dinosaurs

3 : one that is impractically large, out-of-date, or obsolete

Definition 3 is a symbolic application of the notion of extinction, which need not concern us. A dinosaur is an extinct terrible lizard—some kind of extinct reptile. What is a reptile?

rep·tile

Etymology: Middle English reptil, from Middle French or Late Latin; Middle French reptile (feminine), from Late Latin reptile (neuter), from neuter of reptilis creeping, from Latin reptus, past participle of repere to crawl; akin to Lithuanian réplioti to crawl

Date: 14th century

1 : an animal that crawls or moves on its belly (as a snake) or on small short legs (as a lizard)

2 : any of a class (Reptilia) of air-breathing vertebrates that include the alligators and crocodiles, lizards, snakes, turtles, and extinct related forms (as dinosaurs and pterosaurs) and are characterized by a completely ossified skeleton with a single occipital condyle, a distinct quadrate bone usually immovably articulated with the skull, ribs attached to the sternum, and a body usually covered with scales or bony plates

3 : a groveling or despised person

Again, definition 3 is an irrelevant symbolic connotation. We were slightly surprised that the definition did not include the fact that reptiles are cold-blooded. All the example creatures are cold-blooded, but perhaps cold-bloodedness isn’t actually a required characteristic of reptiles.

What is a bird?

bird

Etymology: Middle English brid, bird, from Old English bridd

Date: before 12th century

1archaic : the young of a feathered vertebrate

2: any of a class (Aves) of warm-blooded vertebrates distinguished by having the body more or less completely covered with feathers and the forelimbs modified as wings

3: a game bird

The definition of a bird does not include the ability to fly because some birds can’t fly. The important diagnostic characteristics are wings and feathers.

Was M. gui a dinosaur or a bird? To be a dinosaur, it had to be a reptile. A reptile crawls or moves on its belly or on small short legs, and has a body usually covered with scales or bony plates. A bird has wings and is covered with feathers. Clearly, M. gui was a bird.

This leads us to the more important question, “Why would scientists call a bird a dinosaur?” Here is one possibility that we will present to you for your consideration. Perhaps the discoverers of the fossil did not want to suffer the same fate Larry Doby did. You don’t know who Larry Doby was? That isn’t surprising.

Just three months after Jackie Robinson signed with Brooklyn, Larry Doby broke the American League color barrier by becoming a member of the Cleveland Indians. As a player, Doby didn’t have the immediate impact that Robinson did, but he did develop into a star, leading the AL in both home runs and RBIs in 1954. Doby faced the same prejudices as Robinson, but received very little media coverage. It was, as someone once commented, similar to being the second man who invented the telephone. 5

Evolutionists believe M. gui died out 125 million years ago. They believe Archaeopteryx, a true bird, died out 155 to 150 million years ago. If M. gui was a bird, it wouldn’t be the oldest known bird, so it would get as little press coverage as Larry Doby did. When was the last time you saw a headline that said, “Second oldest fossil [whatever] discovered!” You probably haven’t ever seen such a headline. It is always the oldest [whatever] discovered.

M. gui isn’t worth much ink if it is just a bird—even a four-winged bird. But, if it is a dinosaur on its way to evolving into a bird, then the people who fund the digging will continue to fund the project in hopes of finding even more evidence for evolution.

It’s hard to believe dinosaurs evolved into birds once, and twice as hard to believe it happened twice. But if the dates and classifications are correct, then an unknown dinosaur evolved into Archaeopteryx, and 25 to 50 million years later, M. gui was evolving into another kind of four-winged bird. Those four-winged birds must not have been very well suited for survival because they are extinct today. Why would an inferior kind of bird attempt to evolve 25 million years after the superior Archaeopteryx already evolved?

Horses and whales

This isn’t the first time evolutionists have defined one kind of creature to be something else just to prove evolution. They do the same thing with horses and whales. We have discussed horses in detail four other times in the last 10 years 6, we will spare you all the gory details. Suffice it to say that in 1874, Othniel Marsh published a paper on horse evolution in which he claimed that fossil evidence showed how a small five-toed animal evolved gradually into a large one-toed animal. Although they are displayed as part of a sequence of “horse evolution,” Hyracotherium, Mesohippus, Merychippus, and Pliohippus, aren’t horses. That’s why their names end in “therium” or “hippus” instead of “equus.” Even though they weren’t horses, they were defined to be horses just to show evolution. Furthermore, there isn’t any evidence that any of them begat the next one in the supposed sequence. But the general public assumes they did because they are all “horses.”

At least the supposed horse ancestors looked like horses. The fable about whale evolution is even more bizarre. Since we’ve discussed this before 7, we will just give a brief recap here. Whales supposedly evolved from Pakicetus. This creature was named because it was found in Pakistan, and was supposedly a cetacean (whale). The first fossil was a “52-million year old skull” found in 1983 by Phil Gingerich. Since he only found the skull, he assumed (actually, he wished) the body would be whale-like. When more complete skeletons were found in 2001, it was clear that Pakicetus was a fully terrestrial mammal like a cow, goat, or pig. If a whole skeleton had been found initially, it would have been too ridiculous to call it a whale. But since it had previously been declared to be a whale, the classification stuck. It became proof that whales evolved from land mammals.

The simple fact that somebody classifies a land mammal as a whale doesn’t make it a whale ancestor. We hope you thought it funny when our parody about Darbo, the Flying Elephant was classified as an ancestral whale, but when you think about it, an elephant makes a more plausible whale ancestor than Pakicetus.

Bad Science

Calling a Chinese bird a dinosaur doesn’t prove that dinosaurs evolved into birds. It is just bad science. The theory of evolution is detrimental to science because it distracts scientists from important work by sending them on a wild dino-goose chase.

If creationists had discovered these fossils, much of the analysis would have been the same. Creation scientists would have studied its feathers, skeletal structure, muscle attachment, and space for internal organs, just like the evolutionists did. They would have developed computer models to analyze the flight potential of the creature, just like the evolutionists did. The difference is that they would have spent more effort comparing M. gui to birds and bats and insects (especially dragonflies) in an effort to understand principles of flight, and would not have wasted any time trying to figure out how a dinosaur could turn into a bird, or how the ability of flight could have happened by chance.

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Footnotes:

1 Perkins, Science News, Vol. 171, No. 4, Jan. 27, 2007, “Ancient Glider: Dinosaur took to the air in biplane style” p. 53.
2 Chatterjee and Templin, PNAS, January 30, 2007, vol. 104, no. 5, “Biplane wing planform and flight performance of the feathered dinosaur Microraptor gui” 1576-1580
3 ibid.
4 ibid.
5 John R. Groesbeck, Tidbits, 2 February 2007, “Our National Pastime”
6 Disclosure, May 1997, “The Many Myths of Evolution
Disclosure, October 1997, “Education Behind The Times
Disclosure, April 1999, “Scientific Honesty
Disclosure, July 2004, “The Elder Statesmen of Evolution
7 Disclosure, August 1999, “In A Whale of Trouble
Disclosure, November 2001, “Whale Tale Two