News About Bird Evolution

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Posted on May 8, 2014 in Birds, Darwin and Evolution, Dinosaurs, Dumb Ideas, Fossils, Philosophy of Science

We’ve just heard about some amazing birds.  Now, what to secular scientists say about how they evolved?

Secular scientists are chained to the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  Many say that birds are dinosaurs.  Under that conviction, they cannot, and will not, consider any alternative, no matter how surprising the observation.  Here are some examples of paradigm-driven explanation.

Survival of the shrinkest

A press release from Oxford announces confidently, “Shrinking helped dinosaurs and birds to keep evolving.”  We are told:

A study that has ‘weighed’ hundreds of dinosaurs suggests that shrinking their bodies may have helped the group that became birds to continue exploiting new ecological niches throughout their evolution, and become hugely successful today.

The question is: did the birds decide to shrink, or did nature do it to them?  If the latter (as it must be in neo-Darwinism), why didn’t the same rule apply to mammals?  Evolutionists believe the first mammals were small, shrew-like creatures, long before they evolved into giraffes and elephants.  Weren’t they under the same selective pressure to succeed at the same time, and in the same circumstances, in which birds were shrinking?

The Oxford experts tell us that the birds didn’t decide to shrink.  It was their lineage that decided that for them:

The evolutionary line leading to birds kept experimenting with different, often radically smaller, body sizes – enabling new body ‘designs’ and adaptations to arise more rapidly than among larger dinosaurs. Other dinosaur groups failed to do this, got locked in to narrow ecological niches, and ultimately went extinct.

This is very odd reasoning; inconsistent, too.  First, it personifies an “evolutionary line,” turning it into an experimenter.  But then it attributes the success of birds to downsizing.  Surely the successful diversity of large dinosaurs never put a premium on smallness.  It wasn’t for evolutionary reasons the big dinosaurs went extinct.  According to the most favored theory for the extinction, they got hit with a happenstance meteor strike.

A Smithsonian expert likes the new idea, but confessed that “we’ve understood very little about how size was related to their overall evolutionary history.”  It’s not apparent by what quantum his understanding has been increased with this new idea.

The Early Burst Gets the Evolution

In a review of the paper in PLoS Biology referenced by the Oxford press release, Daniel Moen and Helene Morlon think they have the idea figured out:

In this issue, Benson et al. test the idea of a “deep-time” adaptive radiation in dinosaurs, compiling and using one of the most comprehensive phylogenetic and body-size datasets for fossils. Using recent phylogenetic statistical methods, they find that in most clades of dinosaurs there is a strong signal of an “early burst” in body-size evolution, a predicted pattern of adaptive radiation in which rapid trait evolution happens early in a group’s history and then slows down. They also find that body-size evolution did not slow down in the lineage leading to birds, hinting at why birds survived to the present day and diversified. This paper represents one of the most convincing attempts at understanding deep-time adaptive radiations.

But merely stating that a lineage did not slow down does not explain why it did not slow down.  A similar fallacy in another subject was discussed in The Conversation by two lecturers, who pointed out that merely observing differences does not explain the differences.  Moen and Morlon give a cameo appearance to Darwin’s finches in their review, as they mumble over why the “early burst” pattern is so rare in phylogenetic trees.  In those discussions, “poorly understood” and “little explored” provide context for their praise of Benson’s paper that at last provides “one of the most convincing attempts at understanding” the subject.  Clearly, this paper had an easy contest among weak contenders.

They point to the key insight that Benson et al. made explains why the bird lineage succeeded where the other dinosaur lineages failed:

Benson et al. suggest that this last result connects deep-time adaptive radiation in the dinosaurs, which quickly exhausted the possibility of phenotypic space, with the current radiation in extant birds, which survived to the present day because their constant, high rate of evolution meant that they were constantly undergoing ecological innovation. This gives a glimpse into why modern birds have so many species (an order of magnitude higher than the nonavian dinosaurs) and so much ecological diversity.

Once again, this is an observation masquerading as an explanation.  It begs the question why the bird lineage, and not the other lineages, kept exploring phenotypic space with their innovations.  Worse, the language employs design language to refute design: birds innovate while dinosaurs get exhausted.   Ironically, Moen and Morlon end by saying that Benson et al. give a “new spin” on a mystery posed by George Gaylord Simpson 60 years ago: the causes of early-burst adaptive radiation.

What to Benson et al. themselves have to say about it?  In the PLoS Biology paper’s abstract is this conundrum:

This raises the possibility that the uneven distribution of biodiversity results not just from large-scale extrapolation of the process of adaptive radiation in a few extant clades, but also from the maintenance of evolvability on vast time scales across the history of life, in key lineages.

Questions pour forth from this sentence.  Is this just a possibility, or a scientific theory?  Is it a law of nature?  Is it descriptive or normative?  Are they saying that adaptive radiation occurs by the process of adaptive radiation, and that it happens except when it doesn’t?  Is this a reformulation of the Stuff Happens Law?  What is a “key lineage” compared to a non-key one?  What makes a lineage maintain its evolvability?  Did birds maintain theirs on purpose?  There is no explanation here.  There is only technical verbiage masquerading as explanation, concocted out of phylogenetic trees they created, that assume evolution to explain evolution.  Future philosophers unchained to this paradigm could have a lot of fun with this “explanation.”

Experts Weigh In

Fortunately, we have the experts at the American Association for the Advancement of Science to come in, like cops, and arrest the pretenders.  In a piece in Science Magazine called “How Birds Survived the Dinosaur Apocalypse,” they will surely set the record straight on why dinosaurs went extinct, but birds survived:

When nearly every dinosaur went extinct 66 million years ago, the only ones that survived were those that had shrunk—that is, the birds. Today, there are 10,000 species of these feathered fliers, making them the most diverse of all the four-limbed animals. A new study reveals why this lineage has been so successful: Birds started downsizing well before the rest of the dinosaurs disappeared.

This is a very impressive piece of work and by far the most comprehensive analysis of dinosaur body size that has been conducted,” says Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the research.

This means trouble.  The cops have joined the orgy.

Evolution of Flight

The Science Magazine piece adds a toast the the ideas of a California museum curator.  He not only likes the vacuous explanation by Benson et al.; he expounds on it, describing what happened next in the Survival of the Shrinkest saga:

This size reduction was essential for the evolution of flight, says Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California, who was not involved in the study. “Flight is easier for smaller animals” because it is “a lot less energetically demanding,” he says. And during all those millions of years when maniraptorans were changing body size more quickly than other dinos, Chiappe says, “they were experimenting with various degrees of birdness.

Velociraptor Chicken Feed

Remember the big claws on those velociraptors in Jurassic Park?  Some of the dinosaurs that sported those mean, sickle-shaped claws may have used them for sap, not blood.  Live Science aired the new idea that some dinosaurs, like the enigmatic therizinosaurs, were vegetarian, despite sporting huge claws:

However, despite gigantic claws that might seem like ideal weapons for killing prey, therizinosaurs were herbivores. To understand how these plant eaters might have used their claws, Lautenschlager digitally scanned the claws of 65 theropod species and generated computer models to simulate how the dinosaurs might have used such talons. He also compared those reptile talons with claws from 40 mammal species, which scientists know the function of.

Lautenschlager discovered therizinosaurs may have used their giant claws for digging, grasping or piercing.

The grasping function can roughly be compared with a rake or grappling hook,” Lautenschlager said. “These claws were probably used to grasp a branch and pull it closer to the animal to reach parts of the vegetation otherwise out of reach.” The dinosaurs may have used digging claws to unearth tasty roots.

It would be like future archaeologists looking at a man-made grappling hook and assuming it was used as a weapon of war.  Even with this reinterpretation, the evolutionists maintained their confidence that birds are evolved dinosaurs.  “These findings might shed light on the evolution of modern birds from ancient theropods.”

Readers can decide whether laughing or puking are appropriate responses to the above links.  (If you answer both, perform them sequentially, not simultaneously, for your own safety.)  The number of fallacies is astounding.  If future philosophers of science are not appalled about what passed for science in 2014, it will be a sad commentary on the human race.  Perhaps it could also be considered prima facie evidence for human devolution.

For your own sanity, follow this up with another viewing of Flight: The Genius of Birds.

 

 

 

One Comment

Ian P. May 8, 2014

This size reduction was essential for the evolution of flight.” Size reduction didn’t seem to be an issue for pterosaurs. The largest species had a wingspan over 30′ from tip to tip. The same can be said for many species of birds. California Condors have wingspans of 9′. Some types of vultures have wingspans of 10′-11′. Storks have wingspans of 11′. Pelicans have wingspans of 12′. All evolutionists can really say is that size reduction was essential for the evolution of flight, except when it wasn’t.

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