March 28, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

More Ignorance About Bird Flight Admitted

Fifty years of speculation has
offered no solution to how birds fly


A prominent paleontologist admits no solution to how bird flight evolved. But one must look past the bluffing overconfidence to understand the dire situation facing evolutionists on this key question.

Kevin Padian, a well-known evolutionary paleontologist at UC Berkeley, celebrated “The 50th anniversary of a key paper on how bird flight evolved” in Nature March 19, 2024. It didn’t make it into last Thursday’s article, “Origin of Bird Flight: Pick Your Miracles” due to access issues. Now that we have his article, let’s see if he adds any support for the notion that powered flight in birds is a natural product of mutation, variation, and natural selection.

Padian’s upbeat tone might lead one to feel that evolutionists have made great progress in the last 50 years understanding the origin of bird flight. The anniversary of the “key paper” he highlights, written by John Ostrom in 1974, “turned the debate on its head” between the ground-up (cursorial) and tree-down (arboreal) approaches, each of which suffered from “imaginary ancestries, imaginary life histories and imaginary aerodynamics” (pause for LOL). Now, he imagines, the approach is standing on firm scientific grounds. But is it really?

Specimen of Archaeopteryx discovered in 2005 in Eichstadt, Germany, now housed in the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Photos by David Coppedge

Ostrom’s contribution, according to Padian, was to imagine theropods (bipedal dinosaurs) as the ancestors, and to think of ways their forearms, freed up from locomotion, could be co-opted for other uses like display, predation, and flapping. Ostrom claimed that Archaeopteryx, a winged bird with flight feathers, resembled theropod dinosaurs in many ways, even though most theropods are big, fat, lunky beasts like T. rex. In essence, Padian praises Ostrom for eliminating the arboreal hypothesis from the debate.

Because Ostrom showed in 1974 that Archaeopteryx had no arboreal features, and that birds probably evolved from bipedal, terrestrial theropods, the arboreal theory was effectively dead, although it still has its proponents.

It was debate by subtraction: ‘Here is a hypothesis that we know doesn’t work.’ Such a debate strategy does nothing to confirm his preferred hypothesis.

Ostrom’s imaginary theropod ancestor did away with all the other imaginary ancestors, such as thecodonts, crocodiles, ornithischian dinosaurs, various other saurischian dinosaurs, and (another LOL moment) “a hypothetical type of tree-dwelling crocodile” which supposedly launched itself from a branch millions of times for millions of years until presto! Wings happened. Enter the dragon, Bruce Lee?

Somehow, the imaginary creature began to fly.

Nope. Watch Padian mock these pre-1974 ideas with seven repetitions of the word “somehow”—

Here is the importance of Ostrom’s seminal paper on the origin of bird flight from 1974. For a century, there had been two prevailing scenarios. The arboreal, or ‘trees down’, scenario proposed that birds evolved from a terrestrial quadrupedal reptile that (somehow) became bipedal, then (somehow) started climbing trees, then (somehow) began jumping between branches and eventually (somehow) gliding, and then (somehow) evolved powered flight. The contrasting ‘ground up’, or cursorial (meaning running), scenario posited that bird ancestors were terrestrial reptiles that (somehow) became bipedal good runners they were free to elaborate their forelimbs (somehow) into wings. There was no real empirical evidence for either scenario.

Padian also dismisses the arboreal scenario’s argument that flight could have emerged from gliding. Here is the eighth “somehow”—

A red herring in the arboreal model is the idea that gliding is somehow related to the evolution of powered flight. Gliding has evolved at least two dozen times in vertebrates, yet none of these groups is closely related to those with the ability to fly (birds, bats and pterosaurs). Gliding is a perfectly good adaptation, but no one has shown how the rudimentary aerial structures of gliders could lead in any way to active flight.

Having shamed the “somehow”sers, Padian had better make good on his better “scenario.”

Delayed Shame

Padian’s essay unmasks the emptiness of pre-1970s hypotheses for how flight evolved—and that was 111 years after Darwin concocted his theory to explain all the adaptations in life without a Creator. Here are some of the points of shame that one might wish students realized back 50 years ago:

One could speculate about how birds evolved flight, without knowing what ancestors they evolved from, or with no information on the specifics of their body form, ecology or behaviour. And that had been exactly the state of the debate among palaeontologists and ornithologists since the issue was first broached in the 1870s, using imaginary ancestries, imaginary life histories and imaginary aerodynamics.

Now it is 165 years after Darwin’s Origin. Is the situation any better for Padian and his other evolutionary paleontologists?

He imprisons himself in a theoretical cage, assuming that “Birds had to have come from forerunners.” This begs the question of evolution. Birds could have been designed or created. But because Darwinism is a totalitarian philosophy that will not consider non-materialistic ideas, he is stuck with imaginary ancestries, imaginary life histories and imaginary aerodynamics. That is known as “science” (in his imagination).

Not Another Partridge Family Episode Again!

It’s ba-a-a-ck: Ken Dial’s ghost makes another apparition in Padian’s imagination. The only graphic in Padian’s paper is a drawing of chukar partridge chicks running up slopes. At a certain angle, they can do it without holding out their wings. As the slope gets steeper (and they are presumably running from imaginary predators), they stretch out their wings. The feathered wings create a vortex that adds aerodynamic lift. From there, natural selection refines the vortices, and powered flight is born! Sound familiar?

That was Ken Dial’s silly “WAIR” hypothesis (wing-assisted incline running) from 2003 that gave him job security. Padian references it in the footnotes and gives it good press in his final paragraph:

By contrast, there is now copious evidence that baby birds of most living groups can escape terrestrial predators by running vertically up tree trunks and other surfaces (Fig. 1), using their foot claws for grip and flapping their small proto-wings to create a vortex wake that holds them to the surface. This unquestionably shows a crucial early adaptation of feathers, and rules out the idea that proto-birds must have climbed trees using their hand claws. But the problem has never really been ground up versus trees down: it has been about the evolution of the flight stroke, which can now be seen as having helped proto-birds to escape from terrestrial predators. Ostrom reset this debate in 1974, and its implications continue to resound.

We had mocked this just-so story ever since it first came out (2003 Dec 22, 25 Jan 2008) and declared it dead after it had done its dirty work (19 July 2016). For Padian to run it up the flagpole again in 2024 without critique is intolerable. Must we remind him that chukar partridges already have the complete genome for powered flight, including all the adaptations in all their systems (with instincts) to grow wings with correctly-position flight feathers and use them? If some reptile ran up a slope and escaped a predator, nothing would happen unless a chance beneficial mutation recorded whatever gave it that advantage and spread through the population— presuming that Mrs Theropod also got the lucky mutation. From every angle, this story falls far short of…

The Rigorous Demands of Science

Padian mocked the other scenarios that lacked evidence. Well, where is it for this silly story? Show us a proto-dinobird with proto-feathers creating a proto-vortex. Show us the random mutations that put these things onto a theropod dinosaur. Show how they got naturally selected and became dominant in the population.

Without evidence, Padian has abandoned the rigorous demands of science and misled the readers of Nature. The editors of Nature must demand higher standards. It would be better for them all to admit that they have no idea how flight originated than to keep posting illogical, speculative, evidence-free “scenarios” about how bird flight (somehow) evolved.

Darwin skeptics, take note: this is another evil fruit of Darwinism. Without debate and critique, evolutionists get away with promoting old “scenarios” that had already been debunked years ago. For 165 years the Darwin Party has insisted that Charlie’s Stuff Happens Law explains all the complexities of life. Darwin was publishing “imaginative scenarios” back then, and his disciples continue the unscientific practice today. It’s way past time to call these rascals on the carpet for their sloppy shlooping and totalitarian censorship of critics.

Take off the Darwin glasses and marvel at the truth: the genius of flight.

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