November 12, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Archaeopteryx May Have Devolved from a Flying Bird

In all the debates about the status of Archaeopteryx between reptiles and birds, no one till now expected this wild idea: it lost its ability to fly.

Michael Habib (Univ. of Southern California) raised eyebrows in Los Angeles last week when he told a packed house at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting that he believes Archaeopteryx was secondarily flightless.  Nature News reported,

The idea that it was instead evolving to lose its flight and becoming flightless again, or ‘secondarily flightless’, occurred to Habib while he was calculating limb ratios and degrees of feather symmetry in Archaeopteryx, and comparing the values to those of living birds, to better understand its flying ability. In doing so, he found that the creature’s traits were surprisingly similar to those of modern flightless birds such as rails and grebes that frequently dwell on islands.

Nature said that if this suggestion had been made over a century ago when the famous fossil was discovered, it “might have been considered madness.”  That’s because for many years it was Exhibit A for Darwinism – a transitional form.  Discovered just two years after The Origin, it appeared to be evolving from reptile to flying bird, just as Darwin had predicted.

The reaction of  paleontologists at the meeting was varied.  Some were skeptical.  This one saw some logic in Habib’s argument:

Just because Archaeopteryx was the first feathered dinosaur found, doesn’t mean it has to play a central role in the actual history of the origins of birds,” says palaeontologist Thomas Holtz of the University of Maryland in College Park. “We have to remember it appears 10 million years or so after the oldest known bird-like dinosaurs and so our famous ‘first bird’ may really be a secondarily flightless one.

Others noted that birds use their wings for many functions beside flying.  Ken Dial was there (see 12/03/12, #2), pointing out that some living bird species fly as juveniles but lose their flying ability as adults.  Another paleontologist remarked, “We really need an improved understanding of how anatomy relates to these diverse behaviours, so we can better interpret the fossil record.

No one called Archaeopteryx a “feathered dinosaur” back then, because the phrase only came into vogue with the Chinese fossil discoveries.  From Darwin’s day till recently, it was argued to be a transitional form between reptiles and birds.  Evolutionists emphasized the reptilian traits (teeth, claws on the wings), and creationists emphasized the flight feathers and anatomy that seemed to show it capable of powered flight. They also pointed out that some living birds, like the hoatzin, have claws on their wings as juveniles.  People saw what their biases wanted to see.  Astronomer Fred Hoyle tried to prove it was a forgery.  Today’s evolutionists use the “feathered dinosaur” label, but there is no guarantee that today’s consensus will not shift again.  The new proposal it was secondarily flightless implies a win for creationists – it devolved from a fully-functional flying bird, just like some living birds with stunted wings have on the Galapagos Islands.  Loss of function is not what Darwin needs!

Let’s think about Nature‘s comment that the suggestion Archaeopteryx was losing the ability to fly “might have been considered madness” back in 1861 (actually, all the way from 1861 to just a few years ago).  This tells us that if evolutionists consider something madness now, it might be considered sanity later.  It further means that the sane ones could be the skeptics of the consensus, and the mad ones in the majority.  Don’t be deterred, therefore, if you feel you have good evidence and arguments for your position when it runs counter to the consensus.  It’s entirely possible for the intellectual majority to be suffering from delusions.  “We really need an improved understanding … so we can better interpret the fossil record” – good advice, but it implies that understanding is lacking and interpretation is flawed.  If they haven’t gotten it down after 152 years, don’t expect major improvements any time soon.  They might just be secondarily clueless.



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