How Birds Evolved by Incorrigible Storytelling
An article by a free-lance science writer about dinosaurs evolving into birds takes the cake for speculative just-so storytelling, but it got published and republished anyway.
It’s not often that a whole article deserves “Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week,” but this one comes close: “How Birds Evolved From Small Meat Eating Dinosaurs,” by Joel N. Shurkin, published by Inside Science News Service and republished by Live Science. Aside from beginning with the Kipling-style title, Shurkin wrote a completely fact-free story, relying on nothing but imagination: in short, “The arms got longer, the legs got shorter, and they were flying.”
Shurkin assumes that for one reason or another, limb proportions changed in dinosaurs. “Some time, perhaps 150 million years ago, small-feathered dinosaurs called maniraptorans began to develop longer arms and shorter hind legs, kick- starting the evolutionary process to becoming the birds we see today.” They didn’t just start flying, “of course,” he quips as he launches into storybook land:
Some of the creatures had longer wings and maybe shorter legs than others and found they could run faster and be more maneuverable than others. From there, natural selection took over….
What happened then? One possible — if simplistic — scenario is that one day, one of the creatures with longer arms, while leaping over a hole, or snapping at something to eat, or trying to avoid being eaten, spread its forearms, and left the ground for a second or two. He or she tried it again, maybe flapping the arms, and suddenly he or she was flying.
Just like that. The rest was just refinements. “This, of course, happened over millions of years.” Of course.
Shurkin also had stories for how flying reptiles emerged, and flying mammals, too (bats). They “probably evolved the same way,” he said, relying on his storytelling assistants, Hans Larsson of McGill University and Gregory Erickson of Florida State. At least the storytellers left themselves an out:
“It’s hard to reconstruct the capacity for flight,” he said. To fully understand the process scientists would need to apply “forensic science to the fossil record” because scientists don’t have samples of the muscles. Larsson’s study, he said, was the best done so far, but it is still an educated guess.
“We’ll never really know,” Erickson said.
The article on Inside Science set off a lively set of comments by a creationist reader. To settle the issue, they all might best watch the documentary Flight: The Genius of Birds. In the film, several scientists explore the “multiple independent points” that work together in a bird to allow powered flight in the heavier-than-air creatures: hollow bones, a redesigned respiratory system, movement of the center of mass, the most efficient digestive system in the animal kingdom, special flight musculature, navigation systems, orientation systems, flight feathers with a million parts each, and much more.
Unfettered storytelling is the besetting sin of evolutionists. Coupled with an imagined omnipotent power of the Stuff Happens Law (natural selection), no story is too silly to get told, retold and admired by the Darwin Party. Rescue a storyteller today; take them to Storytellers Anonymous or to a deprogramming session, where they must write “I will not tell just-so stories” on the board 100 times before lunch. Especially hard cases might require devices that deliver a mild electric shock on the wrist every time they say “maybe” or “might have” or “scenario.” There can be outdoor experiments, too. Take the subject outside to run on a track with a hole in it, and instruct him to stretch out his forearms and flap as he jumps over the hole. If he still thinks this could lead to human flight by natural selection (but over millions of years, “of course,”) ask which accidental mutations will get passed on to his offspring that have anything to do with his experience of jumping over a hole and flapping his forearms. Deprogramming requires a lot of patience and time. That’s why so few invest effort in it. It explains evolutionary storytellers, like lost souls, roam the halls of academia, addicted to their habit, lacking a merciful hand to intervene. There’s a quicker alternative: buy copies of Flight: The Genius of Birds to share with them. Blessed are the merciful.