May 24, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Be-WAIR of Clawed Birds

Evolutionists have not come up with a better theory for bird flight than a silly hypothesis concocted 16 years ago.

Are Enantiornithines Pre-Birds?

Fossils of extinct birds called enantiornithines (“other birds”) have generated enormous discussion and confusion about the history of birds and, especially, how flight originated. Enantiornithines had claws on their wings and teeth in their beakless mouths, but apparently could fly well (at least some of them, depending on who classifies what). Evolutionists consider them missing links on the way from “feathered theropods” to modern birds. Creationists argue that the entire fossil record shows much more diversity of animal life than we have today. Some of the fossils dubbed “feathered dinosaurs” that were unable to fly, they argue, could be secondarily flightless descendants of flying birds. Ostriches, emus, cassowaries, penguins, recently depleted moas, and the extinct “terror birds” provide plenty of examples of successful birds that are not evolving toward flight. Other flightless birds like the flightless cormorant of the Galapagos and perhaps the kiwi of New Zealand appear to have “devolved” from flying birds more recently. It’s much easier to lose a trait than to gain it, Michael Behe argues in his newest book, Darwin Devolves.

Darwin’s Hurdles

For evolutionists to explain flight, they need to see progress from the ground or from elevated places like trees to get from terrestrial limbs to true, powered flight. They need all the accessory equipment (including brain software, lighter bones, streamlined bodies and much more) to appear simultaneously and independently. All this, furthermore, must arrive by natural selection of mistakes – not intelligent design. And that’s not their only set of worries. They need to explain powered flight four times independently: in insects, pterosaurs (reptiles), birds and bats (mammals).

Where Did WAIR Come From?

In the case of birds, one evolutionist concocted a story that, when it first came out in 2003, we critically analyzed as – well, to put it bluntly, stupid. Ken Dial, a Montana DODO (see Darwin Dictionary), used living partridge chicks to build his story, which he gave the fancy name WAIR: “wing assisted incline running.” He got chukar partridge chicks to run up inclined ramps and noticed that they stuck out their arms. He speculated that, once upon a time, a dinosaur stuck out its arms running uphill from predators. Presto: The evolution of flight! A key step on the origin of wings had been demonstrated!

The problems with this hypothesis are legion. Not only is it Lamarckian, but the birds he used were already programmed to fly and are born with all the flight equipment necessary to take off with flapping flight a short time after hatching. They stick out their wing bones because, being programmed to fly, that is what they will be doing after gaining a little more weight and maturing into adults. Did Montana evolutionist Ken Dial identify a germline mutation that made a dinosaur stick out its forelimbs? No. Did he identify a gene that got selected? No. Did he watch a dinosaur lift its arms and try to fly? Obviously not. He did nothing but invent a silly story that, at best, could only represent a tiny step in a much bigger challenge (see the helicopter analogy in 2/13/2013 commentary). But since it was an evolutionary story, he became famous. Almost all the other evolutionists leapt to WAIR like a man excitedly flapping his arms. To this day, WAIR is the best story they have going (see “Best-in-Field Fallacy” in the Baloney Detector). It seems to have escaped today’s evolutionists that WAIR has since been falsified. (19 July 2016).

Adult hoatzin from Peru (Credit: Carin06, Flickr)

Enter the Hoatzin

The hoatzin is a bird with claws on its wings in the juvenile stages. Creationists have long argued that the presence of claws is not evidence of evolution from dinosaurs to birds. One can almost hear Duane Gish quipping, ‘Some birds have claws, and some don’t. Some birds had teeth, and some don’t. Some people have teeth, and some don’t.’ Many extinct birds had wing claws. The hoatzin proves that the presence of claws on wings does not provide evidence for evolution.

How Wings Lost Their Claws (Science). Science Magazine this week tried to drag the hoatzin back into Ken Dial’s WAIR tale.

As birds evolved, most lost the claws that characterize the wings of Archaeopteryx, a dinosaur from the evolutionary transition point between nonavian and avian dinosaurs. Curiously, hatchlings of the hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) have similar claws on their wings but lose them by adulthood. Abourachid et al. observed the swimming and climbing movements of four fledgling hoatzins. While swimming, the chicks exhibited a synchronized motion of their wings like that of modern birds. However, the chicks climbed with the help of their claws using an alternating motion. This seeming reappearance of an ancient trait suggests greater plasticity in bird evolution than previously thought.

The paper they cite in Science Advances, sure enough, resurrects the WAIR just-so story. In “Hoatzin nestling locomotion: Acquisition of quadrupedal limb coordination in birds,” Abourachid et al say,

Juvenile extant birds may provide key insights into our understanding of the evolutionary and functional transformations that took place toward the evolution of modern birds. Before they are capable of active flight, most juveniles flap their wings in the context of wing-assisted incline running (WAIR) to move up steep slopes. During WAIR, the wings generate aerodynamic forces that help the animal ascend obstacles. As the synchronous wing coordination observed during flying and WAIR is shared by many birds across the majority of clades, it is likely basal for the group.

The non-sequitur here is obvious. WAIR has nothing to do with dinosaurs evolving into birds. Why must this be labeled “evolutionary,” anyway? Little birds hold out their forelimbs while running, as stated before, because they are already programmed to fly. Where’s the evolution? The high perhapsimaybecouldness index in this statement disqualifies it as science. The authors make a big deal of alternating vs synchronized limb motions in living birds. What does that possibly have to do with dinosaurs evolving flight? Observe the power of suggestion using Jargonwocky to obfuscate the naked speculation going on:

Our results thus suggest the existence of a larger locomotor repertoire in transitional forms likely including both WAIR wing flapping and quadrupedal limb coordination during climbing allowed by the presence of claws on wings.

In plain English, living hoatzin chicks are ambidextrous. They come equipped with highly-coordinated limb movements. That’s the science, folks. Evolution has nothing to do with it.

WAIR theory is Shakespearean in its ponderous, eloquent intensity. But the play is “Much Ado About Nothing.”


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