Feature Article - July 1998

Wish Bones

Recent discoveries of "feathered dinosaurs" have been hailed as the missing link between birds and dinosaurs. In fact, some people go so far as to say that birds are dinosaurs.

"Dinosaurs did not become extinct," he [Yale paleontologist John Ostrom] proclaimed. They live today in feathered form, as swallow, hawk, hummingbird, and magpie.1

"Proclaiming" a hummingbird to be a dinosaur does not make it one. One can't change facts simply by changing a definition.

A classification system is a human invention that makes it easier to study things as a group. A well-designed classification system divides things into groups large enough to contain many individual things, but small enough that all the individual things are very similar.

It makes sense, for example, to study the diets of water fowl. If we define T. Rex to be a kind of water fowl, then the study is probably not going to produce any useful results.

Sir Richard Owen coined the word "dinosaur" in 1841, shortly after the first dinosaur bones were discovered, because the bones were so much different from all known species that he had to create a special category for them. Now evolutionists are so desperate to prove a link between dinosaurs and birds, they are willing to make the absurd statement that dinosaurs are birds, and put them both in the same category.

Looking for the Link

An 18th century sage once proposed that birds arose from fish cast upon the land: "Fins turned into quills, the dried scales became feathers, the skin assumed a coating of down, the belly-fins changed into feet." Not until the mid-19th century did scientists note that birds were built a lot like reptiles but with a beak instead of teeth and three reptilian fingers hidden inside wings. No one had a snatch of evidence, however, to connect the two.2

Evolutionists commonly criticize creationists for having pre-conceived notions and then looking for data to support those prejudices. For example, Biblical creationists believe that Noah's flood covered the entire earth. They say the discovery of marine fossils on every continent is evidence that supports that hypothesis. This approach, evolutionists claim, is "not science."

But in the quote above, it is freely admitted that a link between dinosaurs and birds has long been postulated without "a snatch of evidence." Considerable effort has been expended to find the missing evidence to support their prejudice. If this approach is "not science" when creationists do it, then it must not be science when evolutionists do it.

We believe that looking for confirming evidence, when done properly, "is science." The scientific method begins with a hypothesis, which is followed by an investigation to try to prove or disprove the hypothesis. In the ideal case, this investigation involves a repeatable experiment, whose outcome has been be predicted. When this isn't possible, one must examine whatever evidence can be found to see if it is consistent with the hypothesis.

There is, of course, danger that one's prejudices will influence one's interpretation of the evidence. Evolutionists are just as likely to do this as creationists. An evolutionist's supposition that a particular fossil is a "missing link" is no more (or less) valid than a creationist's interpretation that it is a "created kind." You must evaluate the legitimacy of any scientist's claim on the basis of the strength of the evidence. Consider this claim:

From their reptilian beginnings the ancestors of birds evolved traits that would later aid the cause of flight. They gave up jaws with heavy teeth in favor of beaks, for example, and thinned and hollowed their bones (the skeleton of a three-pound frigatebird weighs but four ounces). Tiny air sacs and tubes evolved to honeycomb nearly every body space. Metabolism and temperature were souped up to sustain the chemical reactions that produce sufficient energy to stay aloft, so that a thrush now lives at what for us would be a fever heat, 105oF. The genome of birds is smaller than that of reptiles or mammals. Some scientists speculate that birds evolved a smaller genome to make their cells more metabolically efficient.

It's hard to imagine all this hot life and free flight arising from a sluggish reptile.3

Yes, it is as hard to imagine as the 18th century sage's belief that fish turned into birds. Compare the evidence that fins turned into quills with the evidence that jaws turned into beaks. (None in either case.) Compare the evidence that dried scales became feathers with the evidence that birds figured out how to hollow their bones. (None in either case.) There is no evidence, either, that tiny air sacs and tubes evolved out of some unspecified feature, or that metabolism can increase without killing the creature. Why does the 20th century tale sound less ridiculous than the 18th century one? Simply because we've been told the 20th century fable all our lives.

Advanced Forms

Does the fossil record really show that "modern" critters are more "advanced" than "primitive" ones? That depends on what your definition of "advanced" is.

Most people would say that intelligence is a measure of advancement. A starfish, on the other hand, might say that the ability to grow a new arm to replace one that gets cut off is a better measure of evolutionary advancement. A cheetah might believe that the faster you can run the more advanced you are. An eagle would probably say that a critter isn't really advanced unless it can see a mouse thousands of feet away. Of course, an amphibian would say that the ability to breathe both air and water is the pinnacle of advancement. A trilobite might measure advancement by number of legs or number of lenses in the eye. A sea turtle might measure advancement by how long it can live. An elephant might measure advancement by size or strength. Practically every species could make some reasonable claim to being more advanced than human beings.

"Advancement" is a subjective term. If you define features of creatures commonly found in lower rock layers as "primitive" and features commonly found in higher rock layers as being "advanced", then the fossils in the upper layers will be more advanced than those in the lower layers simply because you defined your terms that way. For the fossil record to show true evolutionary advances, one has to do something like this:

First, you need an objective, quantitative criteria for measuring the complexity of a creature. At the molecular level this could be the number of genes, or the number of base pairs in the DNA. At a more visible level one might count the number of internal organs, or kinds of cells. Somehow, you would have to come up with a process that could apply a numerical value representing advancement.

Second, you would have to apply this criteria to all living species and rank them according to advancement. If your criteria is valid, then the species ranking should seem reasonable to most scientists. If your criteria says that a worm is more advanced than a hummingbird, there is probably something wrong with your criteria.

Third, you would have to apply your criteria to every fossil type. (This might not be possible if it involves something like DNA. In that case, you would have to assume the fossil is as advanced as the most similar living creature.) If the oldest fossils in the record are "simple" according to this criteria, and become increasingly complex as geologic time increases, then you could legitimately show evolution has occurred.

If Evolution Didn't Happen

But suppose that evolution didn't happen. Suppose that all critters were created fully formed and functional, with individual strengths and weaknesses, and various degrees of complexity. Imagine what would happen if you tried to measure the evolutionary advancement of creatures that did not evolve.

You probably would not be able to find any satisfactory way to quantify the advancement (that is, complexity) of a living organism. For example, if you used the number of chromosomes (because worms have two chromosomes, mosquitoes have six, and people have 46), you would come to the conclusion that a potato (with 48 chromosomes) is more advanced than a person. Goldfish have 94 chromosomes, and shrimp would be the most evolved creatures with 254 chromosomes. Therefore, one can conclude that chromosome counts do not accurately measure evolutionary advancement.

Almost any criteria you could imagine would come up with similarly bizarre results. But suppose you did find criteria that ranked living creatures in an order that wasn't obviously preposterous. If all critters were created in their present forms and did not evolve, then if you tried to rank the first appearance of fossils by that method, it should not show any advancing trend.

What Do We Find?

First, we find no quantitative ways to measure evolutionary advancement. All methods for measuring advancement are subjective, qualitative, and influenced by prejudice.

Second, even if one examines the subjective criteria evolutionists use, it fails. Evolutionists claim that the Cambrian (oldest) fossils are simpler than modern critters. But is that really true?

Eyesight is a complex process that requires significant evolutionary advancement. Those of us who have designed infrared guidance systems for missiles have a deeper appreciation for the problem than most other people. Take my word for it, image detection and processing is not simple. Trilobites, which appear in some of the oldest fossil bearing rocks, have fully developed eyes as complex as any we find in living creatures.

If you look at the fossil record, you just don't see any progression from simple to complex. You see simple and complex Cambrian fossils. You see simple and complex modern creatures.

"We don't have the evidence to support any kind of direct lineal descent," says Ostrom. "there are many gaps in the fossil record. We're in the business of connecting the dots scattered in time and space."4
Ostrom puts his faith in the unseen, undiscovered fossils that he believes exist in the alleged "gaps" in the fossil record. Maybe the reason they don't have the evidence is because there isn't any direct (or even indirect) lineal descent. Maybe the problem isn't the gaps in the fossil record. Maybe they are in the business of connecting dots that never were connected.

Jennifer Ackerman, who wrote the 26-page National Geographic July cover story which claims, "The evidence that birds descended from dinosaurs-indeed are dinosaurs-has become conclusive for most paleontologists and evolutionary biologists"5 has trouble believing her own story. She says, "I have been trying to think of bird evolution as a smooth linear progression, it is no go. Cladograms and family trees may give the impression of tidy order, but there is nothing neat about bird evolution."6

There is nothing neat about horse evolution, or whale evolution, or human evolution, or pre-biotic evolution, or any other kind of evolution, either.

The ancestry of birds has aroused as much passionate debate as any puzzle in evolution, except perhaps the origin of life itself and the beginnings of our own tribe.7
The evolution of chemicals to cells, dinosaurs to birds, and apes to people, are puzzling mysteries that defy logic because these things didn't happen.

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Footnotes:

1 "Dinosaurs Take Wing", National Geographic, July 1998, page 92 (Ev+)
2 ibid. page 84
3 ibid. page 89
4 ibid. page 92
5 ibid. page 96
6 ibid. pages 98-99
7 ibid. page 84