January 14, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Cute Dinosaur Forced to Support Evolution

Knee-high to a human, little Eodromaeus looks like a pet, but its discoverers are making the claim that it represents an early stage in dinosaur evolution.  Do the facts support this claim?
    National Geographic announced a “nasty little predator from dinosaur dawn found.”  The BBC News said that Eodromaeus, whose name means “dawn runner” (indicating that the discoverers [Paul Sereno and team, U of Chicago] embedded their interpretation of its evolutionary context into the creature’s name), “casts light on birth of the dinosaurs.”  The news articles went on to discuss how this little fossil fellow, dated at 230 million years old, was the forerunner of T. rex and all the monsters that would emerge in the millions of years to come.
    The dinosaur certainly looks well-equipped for running and taking care of itself, but the BBC article claimed, “Even though their descendents may have gone on to great things, neither of the creatures were dominant in their time, and the researchers believe their eventual rise may be down to blind chance, and perhaps some unknown environmental catastrophe.”  Stuff happens.
    When interpretation outruns the bones, it’s helpful to go to the original source material.  The discovery paper in Science1 contains some assumptions that should be kept in mind when evaluating the claims that Eodromaeus is the ancestor of the great dinosaurs.  For one thing, the dates: Sereno’s team used radiometric dating of the Ischigualasto formation in Argentina to insert the particular level of the rock into the geological time scale.  The caption of their chart contains on the right side “A current geologic time scale, which assumes an average rate of sedimentation between radioisotopically dated horizons.”  What if that assumption is not valid?  The resulting evolutionary picture could change drastically.
    Another glaring observation from their chart is decreasing diversity with time.  If we take their long-age interpretation of the formation, the evidence contradicts evolutionary predictions – and their paper basically admits it [bracketed portions added]:

One explanation for the rise of dinosaurs has been that a few key features led gradually to the competitive dominance of dinosaurs [i.e., traditional Darwinism].  This view has been overtaken by a hypothesis of noncompetitive replacement [stuff happens], in which their rise is split into two successive episodes of extinction and noncompetitive infilling of vacant ecospace [opportunity-knocks Darwinism].  In the replacement hypothesis, the earliest dinosaurs are regarded as particularly rare (1 to 3% of terrestrial vertebrates), their abundance and diversity increasing successively at the Carnian-Norian and Triassic-Jurassic boundaries coincident with mass extinction of rhynchosaurs, traversodontid cynodonts, and dicynodonts and later of (noncrocodyliform) crurotarsal archosaurs.
    In contrast, the fossil record from Ischigualasto indicates that early dinosaurs in the latter half of the Carnian (231 to 228 Ma) were more common and diverse than previously thought, equaling the percentage of dinosaurian genera in the late Norian fauna from the overlying Los Colorados Formation (Fig. 4).  Thus, in terms of taxonomic diversity, dinosaurs did not increase their percentage among terrestrial vertebrates toward the end of the Triassic in southwestern Pangaea.

They went on to note that the disappearance of the other creatures (assuming their timeline) had nothing to do with the rise of dinosaurs: “The disappearance of rhynchosaurs at the Carnian-Norian boundary was not linked to an increase in dinosaur diversity but rather coincided with the local extinction of dinosaurs.”  It’s not like the dinosaurs were taking advantage of space vacated by the unlucky ones that had gone extinct, in other words (vacated perhaps due to their lack of Darwinian fitness).
    The authors furthermore hinted that apparent increase of body size of later dinosaurs might be an artifact of preservation.  “Increased body size probably enhanced the preservation potential of late Norian dinosaurs, which are also recorded from many more sites than late Carnian dinosaurs,” they said.  Is there evidence for the conventional story that dinosaurs started small, like Eodromaeus, and gradually became the monsters we associate with dinosaurs?  “We cannot evaluate whether the increase in body size was gradual or rapid,” they said, “as there are no dinosaurs in the section between late Carnian [230-228 mya] and late Norian [226-225 mya] faunas” (brackets added).
    They noted with some puzzlement the apparent haphazard distribution of herbivores and carnivores from location to location, part of which they attribute to “taphonomic bias” (luck of the draw with what gets preserved as fossils).  It’s not clear, therefore, that the dots can be connected in just one way.
    Moreover, Eodromaeus was a well-developed, complex creature with fast legs and grasping claws, in no way inferior to later dinosaurs in terms of complexity and fitness.  What was there for evolution to do?  Notice what they said about this critter:

The discovery of Eodromaeus, the reinterpretation of Eoraptor as a sauropodomorph, and the faunal record of the Ischigualasto Formation provide additional evidence that, by mid Carnian time (~232 Ma), the earliest dinosaurs had already evolved the most functionally important trophic and locomotor features characterizing ornithischians, sauropodomorphs, and theropods.  These attributes are thus unlikely to have functioned as the competitive advantage to account for the dominance of dinosaurs in abundance and diversity in terrestrial habitats some 30 million years later in the earliest Jurassic (~202 Ma).  Eodromaeus increases the range of salient theropod features present in the earliest dinosaurs, and Eoraptor shows that the enlarged naris, basally constricted crowns, and a twisted pollex were present in the earliest sauropodomorphs.

The bulk of evolutionary advances thus must have appeared all at once in the earliest dinosaurs, according to their own timeline, with later evolution just variations on the theme.  Is this what Charles Darwin envisaged?
    In addition, other paleontologists didn’t react as jubilantly as the press.  They sound downright worried.  Michael Balter in the same issue of Science said this fossil “rattles the dinosaur family tree.2  He quoted Sereno “No one, even ourselves, predicted this repositioning.”  It means that the sauropods and theropods both appeared together.  Another paleontologist worried, “‘Only further research by independent teams can evaluate’ this radical shakeup of the early dinosaur tree.”

1.  Martinez, Sereno, Alcober et al, “A Basal Dinosaur from the Dawn of the Dinosaur Era in Southwestern Pangaea,” Science, 14 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 206-210, DOI: 10.1126/science.1198467.
2.  Michael Balter, “Pint-Sized Predator Rattles The Dinosaur Family Tree,” Science, 14 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6014 p. 134, DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6014.134.

The main take-home message from this comedy of puzzles is that the Darwinian story comes first, and the data are props for it.  The data clearly do not indicate long ages of gradual increases in complexity and diversity, as Darwin would have imagined.  For all the facts show, these extinct creatures could have all appeared suddenly fully-formed, varied a little over the years with no new genetic innovation, and then perished together.  But no: in today’s paleontology, bones must be rounded up and commanded, like reluctant slaves, to build temples for Charlie.
    When the evolutionists have to admit that, according to their own timeline, they cannot see any progress, or any indication whether “stuff happened” gradually or rapidly, they have left science behind and are dealing in tall tales.  Don’t be confused by jargon like “infilling of vacant ecospace.”  What?  Is some hidden real estate agent pushing animals to evolve so they qualify for vacant government housing or something?  This is ridiculous.  It’s obfuscation by linguistic verbosity negating semantic lucidity.  They’re talking about miracles – miracles of chance, “the rise of dinosaurs” for no apparent reason other than sheer dumb luck, with all the major features of dinosaurs present from the beginning, and calling it evolution.
    Unfortunately, the science news reporters take this all as gospel truth and dish it out to the public with no critical analysis whatsoever.  That’s why we’re here, to expose how Darwin Brand Sausage is made.  You never sausage a confused mess.

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