April 6, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Does Observing Flight Explain Its Evolution?

In various research labs, evolutionists are studying the origin of flight.  Recent articles, though, only show them observing animals or fossils that already fly or flew.  Does this provide any insight into how flight might have originated by a purposeless material process?

  1. Birds:  With a quote from Charles Darwin decorating the heading, PhysOrg announced a book Living dinosaurs: The evolutionary history of modern birds by Gareth Dyke and Gary Kaiser (Wiley, May 2011).  Darwin speculated on a straightforward evolutionary path from dinosaurs to birds via Archaeopteryx, a new fossil discovered in his day.  “Yet in the centuries [sic] following this discovery the rise of modern birds remains greatly debated,” the article began, with rise signifying an evolutionary rise.
        So what do Dyke and Kaiser offer to win the debate?  The article said they “set out to unite ornithologists and paleontologists to form a modern understanding of the evolution of birds at the beginning of the 21st century.”  They don’t believe birds evolved beginning in Y2K, of course; they just wanted to get the debating wingless humans to join hands.
        But first, they had to sweep away the simplistic march of progress imagined by Darwin and Huxley.  “After slumbering for more than a century avian paleontology has been awakened by startling new discoveries on almost every continent,” co-author Gary Kaiser said, undoubtedly thinking of discarded ideas that Archaeopteryx represented a transitional form.  “Old controversies have been swept away and replaced by new and more difficult questions, such as how did birds learn to fly and how did they survive the great extinction that ended the Mesozoic Era?”
        This replacement of old controversies with newer, more difficult ones indicates that not much progress has been made in the last 150 years of Darwinian theory.  The authors are still trying to figure out the most basic question: how did birds learn to fly?  Any answers are in future tense: “Answers to these questions may help us understand how the different kinds of living birds are related to one another and how they evolved into their current niches,”  PhysOrg just reproduced this press release verbatim from Wiley publishers.
  2. Flies:  What about insect flight?  PhysOrg in a separate article announced cheerfully, “History of flies takes flight.”  The headline suggested that an explanation of the origin of flight in flies would be forthcoming.  Unfortunately, again, a team of 25 international scientists led by Simon Fraser University only had flying flies to exhibit.  They used “genomic sequencing and morphological information to plug gaps in the 250-million-year history of Diptera” (true flies).
        By definition, though diptera (two wings) already had wings, and presumably already flew.  Did the article provide information on the origin of fly flight?  A look at the body of the article finds discussion of fly radiation, fly survival and fly extinction, but nothing about how the first non-flying insects evolved wings, muscles, and brains that allow these tiny acrobats to dazzle Caltech engineers (12/08/2003, 11/20/2006).
        The work was all “part of a large-scale effort to place all living organisms into a comprehensive tree of life,” the article said.  Strange that they left out the most important limb of all: the one leading to flight.
  3. Have wings, may fly:  Scientists at the University of Illinois discovered the oldest known flying insect.  In PNAS,1 they announced the following.  Look for any explanation of how flight evolved:

    Insects were the first animals to evolve powered flight and did so perhaps 90 million years before the first flight among vertebrates.  However, the earliest fossil record of flying insect lineages (Pterygota) is poor, with scant indirect evidence from the Devonian and a nearly complete dearth of material from the Early Carboniferous.  By the Late Carboniferous a diversity of flying lineages is known, mostly from isolated wings but without true insights into the paleoethology of these taxa.  Here, we report evidence of a full-body impression of a flying insect from the Late Carboniferous Wamsutta Formation of Massachusetts, representing the oldest trace fossil of Pterygota.  Through ethological and morphological analysis, the trace fossil provides evidence that its maker was a flying insect and probably was representative of a stem-group lineage of mayflies….

    But mayflies not only may fly, they do fly.  Where did their ancestors learn how to get from desire to accomplishment?  National Geographic News posted a photo of the fossil imprint.

Each of these articles spoke confidently about the evolution of flight, but as evidence, only showcased flying things.  Wouldn’t arguing that flight evolved require showing a sequence of animals progressing from flightless to flying? 

1.  Knecht, Engel, and Benner, “Late Carboniferous paleoichnology reveals the oldest full-body impression of a flying insect,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print April 4, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015948108 PNAS April 4, 2011.

What a scam artist this Darwin was.  His science doesn’t fly.  Don’t invest in his company’s promissory notes; they’re already 150 years old and not backed by any collateral.  But oh, did Charlie know how to hire fast-talking hot air salesmen.  Put your stock in biomimetics.  Those are the guys who know design when they see it (03/15/2011, 02/20/2011).

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