October 10, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Have We Been Sold a Bill of Goods About Feathered Dinosaurs and Bird Evolution?

Most people remember the poignant moment at the end of Jurassic Park when the professor, on a flight away from his harrowing experiences on the island of dinosaurs run amok, sees a flock of modern birds and ponders their peaceful existence as descendants of the velociraptors and tyrannosaurs that nearly killed him and his friends.  The story of birds evolving from dinosaurs has taken on the status of confirmed truth in the minds of many.  This has been reinforced by repeated announcements of alleged “feathered dinosaur” fossils being uncovered in China.  Yet Alan Feduccia, a paleontologist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has long contested this view.  He and his colleagues have just come out swinging against his fellow evolutionists, accusing them of easy-believism and wish-fulfillment in spite of the evidence.  According the U of NC press release:

“The theory that birds are the equivalent of living dinosaurs and that dinosaurs were feathered is so full of holes that the creationists have jumped all over it, using the evolutionary nonsense of ‘dinosaurian science’ as evidence against the theory of evolution,” he said. “To paraphrase one such individual, ‘This isn’t science . . . This is comic relief.’”   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

Feduccia has published 150 papers and six major books, including one The Age of Birds (Harvard, 1980) and The Origin and Evolution of Birds (Yale, 1996).  He and his colleagues have published these attacks on bird-from-dinosaur evolution in the Journal of Morphology.  His views were also reported by EurekAlert that asked, “Did feathered dinosaurs exist?”
    Although Feduccia believes birds and dinosaurs had a common reptilian ancestor, he argued, “to say dinosaurs were the ancestors of the modern birds we see flying around outside today because we would like them to be is a big mistake.”  His team, using powerful microscopes, compared the skin of reptiles, the effects of skin decomposition, and the alleged “protofeathers” on fossils.
    Here are some of the reasons in the press release for doubting the dino-to-bird evolution story:

  1. Resemblance only:  “They found that fossilized patterns that resemble feathers somewhat also occur in fossils known not to be closely related to birds and hence are far more likely to be skin-related tissues….”
  2. Taxonomy confusion:  “Much of the confusion arose from the fact that in China in the same area, two sets of fossils were found.  Some of these had true feathers and were indeed birds known as ‘microraptors,’ while others did not and should not be considered birds at all.”
  3. Preservation bias:  Because collagen has low solubility in water and is tough, “we would expect it to be preserved occasionally from flayed skin during the fossilization process,” Feduccia said.
  4. Wanting to believe:  The strongest case for feathered dinosaurs was Sinosauropteryx, found in 1996, which sported a coat of “dino-fuzz.”  Some concluded this fuzz provided insulation and pointed to the possibility dinosaurs were warm-blooded.  Major journals presented Sinosauropteryx as definitive evidence for feathered dinosaurs, complete with artist renditions of colorful feathery coats on the creatures.  “Yet no one ever bothered to provide evidence — either structural or biological — that these structures had anything to do with feathers,” said Feduccia.  “In our new work, we show that these and other filamentous structures were not protofeathers, but rather the remains of collagenous fiber meshworks that reinforced the skin.”
  5. Fumble fingers:  The most critical link between dinosaurs and birds, according to Feduccia, has been the three-fingered hand pattern.  Dinosaurs used digits 1, 2, and 3, but the team found that developing bird wings in the embryo derive from digits 2, 3 and 4.  “To change so radically during evolution would be highly unlikely,” the article states.
  6. Back to the future:  The earliest known birds predate the feathered dinosaurs.

    Also, the current feathered dinosaurs theory makes little sense time-wise either because it holds that all stages of feather evolution and bird ancestry occurred some 125 million years ago in the early Cretaceous fossils unearthed in China.
        “That’s some 25 million years after the time of Archaeopteryx, which already was a bird in the modern sense,” he said.  Superficially bird-like dinosaurs occurred some 25 million to 80 million years after the earliest known bird, which is 150 million years old.”

    Feduccia himself had studied Archaeopteryx in detail.  “He determined its flying ability by observing that the fossil’s feathers had leading edges significantly shorter than their trailing edges, which is characteristic of all modern flying birds.”

With all these evidences against bird-from-dinosaur evolution, why would the story take hold so deeply in the popular mind and in scientific circles?  Feduccia argues that the promoters simply wanted to believe it.  In a ruthless attack, he claimed that the desire to believe and promote this story indicates a serious collapse of credibility in the field of paleontology:

Feduccia said the publication and promotion of feathered dinosaurs by the popular press and by prestigious journals and magazines, including National Geographic, Nature and Science, have made it difficult for opposing views to get a proper hearing.
    “With the advent of ‘feathered dinosaurs,’ we are truly witnessing the beginnings of the meltdown of the field of paleontology,” he said.  “Just as the discovery a four-chambered heart in a dinosaur described in 2000 in an article in Science turned out to be an artifact, feathered dinosaurs too have become part of the fantasia of this field.  Much of this is part of the delusional fantasy of the world of dinosaurs, the wishful hope that one can finally study dinosaurs at the backyard bird feeder.”

So what does Feduccia himself believe about the evolution of birds?  “It is now clear that the origin of birds is a much more complicated question than has been previously thought,” he said.

Is it possible that the leading scientific journals in the world, including Nature and Science – both of which highlighted artwork of feathered dinosaurs on their covers – were capable of falling for and promoting a “delusional fantasy”?  Does this mean that major museums, like the Natural History Museum of Washington DC and many others, with their “Birds are Dinosaurs” displays, are promoting falsehoods based on flawed evidence?  Does this mean the traveling museum exhibit of feathered dinosaurs is a fraud?  Is it possible that evolutionary paleontology is imploding from the credibility gap caused by this lapse of rigor?  Does this raise the possibility that Darwinists are wrong about other claims?  You heard it right here – from an evolutionist – chagrined at the fact that these “wishful hopes” touted as fact have given ammunition to the creationists.  We hope you enjoyed the comic relief.  Relief from comedy posing as science would be better.
Project:  Print out copies of this press release and take them to your nearby natural history museum docent staff (see 09/22/2005 story).

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Categories: Birds, Dinosaurs

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