December 13, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Bird Evolution Explodes

Did birds arrive in a ‘big bang’ of evolution, or is their explosive appearance yielding a scattered jetsam of Darwinian theories?

With the genomes of 48 species of birds now in hand, Science Magazine just published a major series of papers on the evolution of birds that Live Science and National Geographic describe as a “big bang” of evolution.  The introductory article by Zhang, Jarvis and Gilbert says 8 papers were published in Science, and 20 other papers in other journals.  Each paper, while trusting evolutionary theory, is not what Darwin would have predicted:

  1. Zhang et al. say that bird genomes are constrained in size, and show “a remarkably high degree of evolutionary stasis” despite having diversified into so many forms.  They appeal to “convergent evolution.”
  2. Pfenning et al. write that birds and humans experienced “convergent evolution” of singing ability, which involved not only multiple genes but how they interact.  Many of these same gene forms are found in humans.  (See explanation in New Scientist.)
  3. Meredith et al. say that the common ancestor of all living birds lost its teeth.  (See summary on PhysOrg.)
  4. Qi Zhou et al. indicate that sex chromosomes in birds have undergone “complex evolutionary trajectories” involving “punctuated events” and “tremendous diversity.”
  5. Green et al. are surprised that crocodiles (among archosaurs, the putative ancestors of birds) show slow evolution, while birds show rapid evolution.
  6. Xing Xu et al. describe “occasional bursts of morphological novelty” and “an unavoidable complex, mosaic evolutionary distribution of major bird characteristics on the theropod tree.”
  7. Mirarab et al. say that genomic trees can be misleading due to “incomplete lineage sorting” (ILS). They recommend another way to tease out the evolutionary tree of birds.
  8. Jarvis et al. claim to have resolved 48 bird genomes into a single phylogenetic tree, but they had to invoke “massive protein-coding sequence convergence” and ILS.

The sixth paper above is interesting, given that Xing Xu is famous for many of the “feathered dinosaurs” that have come to light in recent years (but only, interestingly, in China).  While claiming that studies have “enriched our understanding” of the origin of birds, Xing’s team notes that “The evolution of flight, nonetheless, remains highly debated.”  The paper references Ken Dial’s 2003 “wing-assisted incline running” hypothesis by the partridge family several times (see 6/25/14) but leaves the question unresolved.  See Illustra documentary Flight: The Genius of Birds for reasons why flight requires intelligent design.

Other journals published additional results, mentioned in the popular science press:

  • Researchers at the University of Kent say that chickens and turkeys are closest to the dinosaurs. (PhysOrg)
  • Penguins began to evolve their “distinct evolution” 60 million years ago, a team publishing in GigaScience claims, finding a way to work “global warming” into their story.  (PhysOrg)

Back in Science Magazine News, Elizabeth Pennisi wrote about some of the key players and evolutionary surprises.  Among them is this surprise: “the hoatzin is not a relative of the cuckoos—which it faintly resembles—but instead belongs with cranes and plovers.”  Also in the special issue, Sarah Crespi presented a slide show called “untangling the bird family tree,” describing seven of the major findings in the Science Magazine papers.  The summary paragraph says that “Birds “radically expanded and diverged” after surviving whatever killed the dinosaurs. Very little in the captions supports Darwin’s view of slow, gradual accumulation of traits through common ancestry:

  1. Bird genomes are, on average, 70% smaller than those of mammals.
  2. Crocodiles have changed very little in the last 50 to 100 million years, but are supposed to be bird ancestors.
  3. It “turns out that vocal learning has arisen several times in birds,” Crespi says.  These involve 55 genes that are “ramped up or suppressed” in some birds and in humans.
  4. Birds except for penguins can see with four kinds of color receptors.
  5. Predatory birds have one common ancestor, but all other birds “lost these predatory traits.”
  6. Genes for colorful plumage vary by a factor of 8 in bird lineages.
  7. The common ancestor of all birds lacked teeth, but some extinct birds, like Archaeopteryx, had teeth.

Nature took note of this “flock of genomes” and what they reveal.  Ewen Callaway begins with an anecdote by Denmark museum curator Tom Gilbert who got the idea for studying bird evolution when “a pigeon crapped on me,” as if that might be symbolic of the results.

Casey Luskin summarized the findings from a design viewpoint in Evolution News & Views, showing that they do not fit Darwinian predictions, but support intelligent design.  Some other findings about birds in the secular news would support that view:

  • Amazing FactsEven without external ears, birds can detect both the lateral and vertical sources of sounds, aiding their near 360° field of view.  “The system is highly accurate: at the highest level, birds can identify lateral sounds at an angle of elevation from -30° to +30°,” a researcher at Technical University of Munich said.  In owls, the ruffed feathers on their heads function similar to external ears, helping the night hunters focus on sound in front of them. (Science Daily)
  • Hummingbirds achieve their “aerobatic feats,” Vanderbilt University says, by controlling how vortices of air form around their wings and thereby gaining additional lift on both forward and backward strokes.  The ability to hover and fly in all directions is “much trickier” than just flapping wings faster than other birds.
  • Homing pigeons use advanced technology, PhysOrg says: No one knows how homing pigeons do it, but now a team of Swiss and South African scientists have discovered that the bird’s navigation is affected by disturbances in gravity, suggesting that they navigate using a gravity map and that they may carry an internal gyroscope to guide them home.”
  • Vultures can eat rotting meat that would poison other birds because of their super gut flora.  Nature News reports, “vultures seem to have adapted by producing unusually destructive gastric juices, and by hosting a gut flora that helps them to prosper on a diet of carrion, a study of the birds’ microbial communities suggests.”
  • Electronic tracking devices are giving scientists a new high in studying the habits of eaglesPhysOrg reports that one male eagle soared up to 6000 meters, and a female traveled 15,000 km.  The data reveal that “eagles are intelligent strategic hunters who regularly visit a few key spots in their range.”

Flight: The Genius of BirdsSpeaking of “explosive” origins, Genesis claims that God filled the sky with a wide variety of flying creatures that reproduce “after their kind” in one day.  Any evolutionary theory that wants to spread the origin of birds over millions of years, from heavy, earth-bound dinosaur ancestors, faces huge challenges from the evidence, as the papers in Science show.  Not only does an evolutionary theory have to account for the origin of flight (with all the systems that make it possible), it also must explain why evolution went so slow in crocodiles, but then underwent a “big bang” explosive diversification in birds.  Then it must account for the rapid development of numerous innovations seen in eagles, hummingbirds, ostriches, parrots, penguins, owls, cormorants, meadowlarks, vultures, flamingos, birds of paradise, falcons, ducks, quail, pigeons, doves, toucans, crows, storks, Arctic terns, and many others—highly successful animals that inhabit land, sea, and air all over the globe—that from all appearances in fossils and genomes literally “exploded” onto the scene.

And that’s not all.  “It’s long been known that the Cambrian explosion isn’t the only explosion of organisms in the fossil record,” Casey Luskin writes.  “There’s also something of a fish explosion, an angiosperm explosion, and a mammal explosion.”  To him these latest revelations show that “The evidence for intelligent design just keeps getting stronger.”

It’s not just that the case for ID gets stronger; the case for Darwin being the biggest hoaxster in the world also grows.  He sent the world on a 155-year snipe hunt, looking for evidence to support his picture of slow, gradual accumulation of new things by purely random, aimless processes. Nothing we know that has structure for a purpose comes about that way.  Evolutionists sometimes say nature has an “illusion” of design, but design is the reality.  Evolutionists keep seeing an illusion of evolution; that’s why the Brits call it evillusion.  They’re captivated by the horizontal variation within created kinds (a design feature for robustness), and think variation can explain molecules to man.  It’s like hearing a mynah bird mimic some human words, and extrapolating that into believing mynah birds originated the dictionary.

Evolutionary scientists have turned into divination artists, looking through DNA the same way Babylonians looked into the liver to conjure up images of victory.  The whole secular intellectual world has fallen for Charlie’s gimmick.  What has it produced?  A tale as incredible as it is ugly.  It’s like a jumble of parts thrown in a pile, held together with impossible things like “convergent evolution” and “mosaic evolution” and “explosive diversification.”  Maybe it qualifies as art, but as science, it won’t fly.  It’s something like this piece of modern art in downtown Los Angeles:

Sculpture from the Museum of Contemporary Art

Sculpture from the Museum of Contemporary Art

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  • Plazatoro says:

    It is no small matter to ask how much money, and whose money has been thrown away on this rubbish and all the other rubbish that is served up in the name of evolutionary research. Starting from the wrong premises can only lead to wrong conclusions, and as such is an enormous waste of time, energy resources and money which could be better applied elsewhere.

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