The Non-Evolution of Sauropod Dinosaurs
A dinosaur expert uses the e-word evolution 20 times, but never once
explains how these huge beasts could have actually evolved
They are among the most magnificent animals to have ever walked the earth: sauropod dinosaurs. With their long necks and equally long tails, thick bodies and giant legs, these beasts defy description. They would have amazed anyone who saw them. The expression on the face of paleontologist Dr Alan Grant in the original Jurassic Park movie when he beheld a Brachiosaurus feeding on a tall tree probably represents what our own reactions would have been to see one. Fortunately, the sauropods were vegetarian.
Evolutionists believe that these and all other creatures evolved by blind, unguided processes—essentially, by mistake. In Current Biology 23 Jan 2023, Dr P. Martin Sander wrote a Primer on sauropods that is open-access for all to read. The first paragraph describes the mighty beasts.
This article begins as many others on sauropods before it: “Sauropod dinosaurs were the largest animals to ever walk the Earth, by far”. The largest sauropods were easily four times heavier than the largest land mammals (and the largest other dinosaur species, for that matter). The iconic body plan of sauropods is dominated by their very long neck, in some species exceeding 14 meters in length, provided with a relatively small head (Figure 1). The neck was mostly held horizontally or at a low angle. The massive but relatively short trunk was supported by four columnar legs, much like in an elephant. The bones in the fore foot of sauropods are oriented vertically, and some late forms even lost their finger bones, walking on their metacarpals (middle bones of the hand). The hind leg, which bore most of the weight, has a half-upright foot. The femur (thigh bone) was the largest bone in the skeleton, like in most other true land vertebrates (amniotes). The long neck was counterbalanced by the long tail, the base of which also functioned as the anchoring region of the muscles that pulled back the hind leg during walking.
Sander uses the words evolution, evolutionary, evolutionarily, evolve, evolved, and other Darwinian terms 20 times. Is his explanation informative, or a snow job? Let us count the ways:
- Whereas in popular culture sauropods are often depicted as the ultimate failure in evolution, exactly the opposite is the case.
- Size itself arguably is a measure of evolutionary success. [Why not just a success?]
- Strikingly, giant body size evolved independently in virtually all lineages of sauropods….
- …and was an attribute from early on in their evolutionary history. [Why not just history?]
- As recorded by their fossil bones, true sauropods only evolved in the Early Jurassic, after the end-Triassic mass extinction, 201 million years ago [and yet an early sauropod named by Sander had “the typical features of the group”].
- Mamenchisaurids are the first full-blown sauropods, so to speak. They are large to giant and sport amazingly long necks. In fact, mamenchisaurs have the highest number of neck vertebrae of any sauropod, up to 19. However, neck elongation in the evolution of sauropods mainly is achieved by the lengthening of the individual vertebrae, rather than their increase in number.
- Unfortunately, the Early Cretaceous sauropod record is less complete in many ways than that of the Late Jurassic and Late Cretaceous, so patterns of sauropod evolution are less well understood for this period.
- At that time [Late Cretaceous], Europe was a highly fragmented archipelago due to the high sea level and complex tectonics, leading to the evolution of an island dwarf titanosaur (Magyarosaurus), only the mass of a bull, from Romania. [Note: dwarfing is not evolution, since the complete animal has all the parts, but differs only in size.]
- The questions of sauropod thermal physiology and metabolic rate are of central importance for their biology and evolution. [Sander could have stopped at the word biology.]
Heat but Not Light
Sander discusses the engineering challenge of cooling a large body. Does this sound like an evolutionary explanation or an after-the-fact accommodation of facts to a preconceived origin story?
The largest terrestrial modern endotherms, such as elephants, overheat easily. Because of their small body surface relative to their large body volume, elephants have difficulty shedding the heat generated metabolically and by locomotion. In fact, the large ears of African elephants evolved as cooling radiators. Because of their even larger size, sauropods had a worse surface-to-volume ratio than elephants, despite the extra surface area provided by the long neck and tail. Simple biophysical heat flow models would suggest that overheating must have been a major problem. However, the sauropod respiratory system may have removed excess body heat by expiration.
That sounds like an engineering success: sauropods possessed a solution to a major problem. What’s evolution got to do with it? But Sander is not done praising Darwin yet:
- [in regard to egg-laying], evolutionary body-size increase could not be followed by evolutionary offspring-size increase, unlike in viviparous mammals.
- Repeatedly, it has been shown that extrinsic causes do not explain the unique gigantism of sauropods, simply because their maximum body size does not track physical parameters during their evolutionary history. [a seeming argument against an “evolutionary” history. Why not just their history?]
Nearing the end of the article, Sander does not find an easy explanation in Darwinian evolution. He just assumes it and “visualizes” evolution.
Sauropod gigantism thus has a complex, multifactorial explanation centered around the unique interplay of basal traits, such as egg laying and not chewing (not even with their stomach), and derived traits, such as the very long neck, the bird lung and a fast metabolism. Some of these traits act in a cascading fashion, with one trait facilitating evolution of another, and so on. This is particularly evident in the evolution of the long neck, as visualized in an evolutionary cascade model (Figure 5).
How Evolutionary Evolution Evolves and Brings Us Understanding
If anyone could explain how sauropods emerged from natural processes without guidance, one would think Sander could. But in the final paragraph, he uses the e-word three times, and puts the longed-for “understanding” of evolution into futureware:
Obviously, understanding sauropods and their gigantism has much wider implications for understanding evolution and the importance in biology of studying extinct animals. Sauropod gigantism drives home the role of historical contingency in evolution and its additive nature. We need to study the bauplan and biology of these amazing extinct animals to understand the full spectrum of evolutionary options.
Multiple choice quiz: Sander’s evolutionary explanation for sauropod evolution is—
C. A snow job
D. Unsuitable for public instruction
E. All of the above
We would add another choice to the quiz question: F: Profane, or Irreverent, or even Blasphemous. He just described some of the greatest animals that ever lived and did not give credit to their Maker. He said they evolved! That means they appeared by accident! Would anyone dare do that with art or music or any other example of magnificent creations? Who would say that symphonies “evolved” through time without composers? Who would say cities “evolved” through time without architects? Who would say that science evolved without intelligent minds?
Job was a better scientist than modern evolutionists, at least in terms of providing explanations that can account for the particulars in observation by appealing to necessary and sufficient causes:
7 “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
8 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
9 Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.
11 Does not the ear test words
as the palate tastes food?
12 Wisdom is with the aged,
and understanding in length of days.
13 “With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding. [Job 12:7-13]
And when Job became a little haughty about his own understanding, God appeared to him and gave him a few object lessons from creation, including eagles, lions, and horses. Near the end of the parade of animals, God includes what sounds like a sauropod or other mighty dinosaur. This implies Job had seen one.
15 “Behold, Behemoth,
which I made as I made you;
he eats grass like an ox.
16 Behold, his strength in his loins,
and his power in the muscles of his belly.
17 He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
18 His bones are tubes of bronze,
his limbs like bars of iron.
19 “He is the first of the works of God;
let him who made him bring near his sword!
20 For the mountains yield food for him
where all the wild beasts play.
21 Under the lotus plants he lies,
in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.
22 For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
the willows of the brook surround him.
23 Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened;
he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth. [Job 40:15-23]
We need to stop listening to so-called experts who can use jargon but explain everything by saying Stuff Happens. Would that P. Martin Sander abandon Darwin’s empty futureware and take courses in engineering. Then he could use his knowledge to speak about sauropod traits as elegant engineering successes, not “evolutionary” successes.