September 10, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Flightlessness Evolved Four Times

An article on Science Daily claims that the famous flightless birds – African ostriches, Australian cassowaries and emus, New Zealand kiwis and South American rheas – are unrelated.  There was no flightless common ancestor.  They lost their ability to fly independently, scientists say, because of “parallel evolution.”
    This would also mean that emus are more closely related to flying birds than they are to ostriches – even though they resemble ostriches.  A conventional evolutionary idea is a casualty of this view.  “Previously,” the article explains, “the ratites [including emus] were used as a textbook example of vicariance, a term that describes the geographical division of a single species, resulting in two or more very similar sub-groups that can then undergo further evolutionary change and eventually become very distinct from one another.”  This flightless ancestor was thought to inhabit an ancient continent named Gondwana (see 09/08/2008), which split into Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand.  Its descendants evolved into their characteristic forms, the textbooks said.
    The new genetic analysis (part of the NSF “Assembling the Tree of Life” Project) suggested to evolutionists that flying birds flew to the new continents after the breakup of Gondwana, and lost their flying abilities independently.  That raises new questions, the article said: “For example, why did these birds evolve into such similar organisms in such different environments?”  They did not even think to ask such a thing before now.  “But nobody would have asked that question without the type of data we’ve collected, which raises the question in the first place.”

Flightlessness is a loss of function – a downward trend – that is easier to explain than flight, a gain of function.  Even so, notice how evolutionary theory and geological speculation about millions of years led scientists down a primrose path to folly.  It was not the data that led to the textbook evolutionary view: it was the absence of data.
    One needs to ask of what value evolutionary theory was in the first place.  Why does one need to even continue thinking Darwinly after so many upsets?  The remarkable similarity of emus and ostriches (despite their genes) might lead an independent thinker (not drunk on Dar-wine) to propose that they were independently created.  If science is supposed to follow the evidence, why not at least consider the possibility?

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Categories: Birds, Genetics

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