May 23, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Proving Evolution With Imaginary Facts

Need evidence? Make some up.
Since evolution is a fact, the
evidence must have existed.

 

Today’s Evolution Storyland tour features new exhibits in Darwin Fantasyland,
where the mere need for evidence makes it appear—in the imagination.

New fossil brings us a step closer to unravelling the mystery of feather evolution (The Conversation, 21 May 2024).

Recent Darwin Party inductee Zixiao Yang from the University of Cork pops the cork on his new discovery of imaginary feathers on a dinosaur. He has learned his propaganda lessons well. If feathers don’t exist on a fossil that needs them, make some up!

Want to see a feathered dinosaur? Here’s one, he promises. Behold—it had scaly skin like a reptile! Be impressed! Applaud!

Our study shows that at least some feathered dinosaurs still had scaly skin, like reptiles today. This evidence comes from a new specimen of Psittacosaurus, a horned dinosaur with bristle-like feathers on its tail. Psittacosaurus lived in the early Cretaceous period (about 130 million years ago), but its clan, the ornithischian dinosaurs, diverged from other dinosaurs much earlier, in the Triassic period (about 240 million years ago).

Wait a minute; you were looking for feathers, like what birds wear—not bristles.

In the new specimen, the soft tissues are hidden to the naked eye. Under ultraviolet light, however, scaly skin reveals itself in an orange-yellow glow. The skin is preserved on the torso and limbs which are parts of the body that didn’t have feathers.

More scales? Where are the feathers on this dang dinosaur? Yang is just teasing the reader, building up for the climax.

The fossil skin cells have much in common with modern reptile skin cells. They share a similar cell size and shape and they both have fused cell boundaries – a feature known only in modern reptiles.

The distribution of the fossil skin pigment is identical to that in modern crocodile scales. The fossil skin, though, seems relatively thin by reptile standards. This suggests the fossil scales in Psittacosaurus were also similar in composition to reptile scales.

Do you get the picture now? This dinosaur had thinner scales than crocs. The skin must have been getting ready for feathers to evolve. The dinosaur was thinking about it.

Collectively, the new fossil evidence indicates that Psittacosaurus had reptile-style skin in areas where it didn’t have feathers. The tail, which preserves feathers in some specimens, unfortunately did not preserve any feathers or skin in our specimen.

However, the tail feathers on other specimens show that some bird-like skin features must have already evolved to hold feathers in place. So our discovery suggests that early feathered animals had a mix of skin types, with bird-like skin only in feathered regions of the body, and the rest of the skin still scaly, like in modern reptiles.

Not finding real feathers on his specimen, Yang has just passed the evidential hot potato to “some specimens” that he says had feathers. But lo, he provided a link to the evidence! Let’s look there—in a 2016 paper in the journal Palaeontology. Any feathers found? Well, maybe if you imagine really hard.

Although the psittacosaur bristles are probably homologous with avian feathers in their origin from discrete cell populations, it is uncertain whether they developed from a follicle, one of the developmental hallmarks of true feathers. In particular, we note a striking resemblance between the psittacosaur bristles and the cornified spine on the head of the horned screamer, Anhima cornuta, an extant anseriform bird. Similar, albeit thinner keratinous filaments of extant birds are the ‘beard’ of the turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, and the crown of the Congo peafowl, Afropavo congensis. All of these structures of extant birds are distinct from true feathers, and because at least the turkey beard does not develop from follicles, detailed future studies of their development would be invaluable towards deepening our understanding of dinosaur filamentous integumentary structures.

Those aren’t feathers. They’re bristles! They are “integumentary structures” (which could be anything from hard skin to a rooster’s comb). And the bristles don’t grow out of follicles, like the true feathers on birds.

Feeling cheated? Mustn’t get angry; futureware, Yang the Darwin salesman promises, will provide “understanding” of how dinosaurs evolved feathers. Until then, keep my funding coming! This jalopy will fly in due time!

Watch young Yang grinning in his university press release. He’s glad he didn’t find any feathers; it gives him job security. The patches of possibly bird-like skin on his psittacosaur suggests it was probably dreaming about growing feathers some day. Get all excited!

The most exciting aspect of the discovery, however, is what it tells us about the evolution of feathers in dinosaurs. Prof. McNamara, senior author on the study, says:

The evolution of feathers from reptilian scales is one of the most profound yet poorly understood events in vertebrate evolution. While numerous fossils of feathers have been studied, fossil skin is much more rare.

“Our discovery suggests that soft, bird-like skin initially developed only in feathered regions of the body, while the rest of the skin was still scaly, like in modern reptiles. This zoned development would have maintained essential skin functions, such as protection against abrasion, dehydration and parasites. The first dinosaur to experiment with feathers could therefore survive and pass down the genes for feathers to their offspring.”

Like all Darwin Party members, McNamara and Yang will spend their careers searching for the “understanding” promised by the Bearded Buddha to all who close their eyes and imagine what evolution must have been like millionzzzz of yearzzzzz ago zzzzzzzz.

First ‘warm-blooded’ dinosaurs may have emerged 180 million years ago (University College London, 15 May 2024).

Dinosaurs were reptiles and birds are birds, but here’s another UK Darwin Special telling us how dinosaurs “may have” become more birdlike millionzzzz of yearzzzz ago on the mythical moyboy timeline. Adorned with creative artwork to show an imaginary feathered dinosaur pondering how to become warm blooded so that it could evolve into Tweety Bird some day, this article raises the perhapsimaybecouldness index using the power of suggestion to create imaginary facts in the unsuspecting reader’s skull. Using all the synonyms for Darwinian evolution in the thesaurus, the article tells us what “may have” happened in Darwin’s Stuff Happens Fantasyland.

  • Warm bloodedness “may have evolved” in some dinosaurs…
  • Some dinosaurs migrated north, “suggesting they may have developed endothermy”
  • birds’ unique temperature regulation may have had its origin in this Early Jurassic epoch.

The assistant chief storyteller thinks “might” makes right:

Co-author Dr Juan L. Cantalapiedra, of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain, said: “This research suggests a close connection between climate and how dinosaurs evolved. It sheds new light on how birds might have inherited a unique biological trait from dinosaur ancestors and the different ways dinosaurs adapted to complex and long-term environmental changes.”

And you thought Science was about assembling demonstrable evidence using observational facts, not shlooping about imaginary facts.

Origins of extinct duck revealed (University of Otago, 20 May 2024).

A stuffed merganser duck sits in a museum in New Zealand. If you stare at it long enough while mumbling the mantra ‘Stuff Happenzzzz’ you can visualize it evolving from a pre-duck. “The evolutionary history of mergansers in New Zealand has been ‘shrouded in mystery’ since the extinction of the Auckland Island merganser in 1902,” the photo caption teases. (Everybody loves a good mystery.) They’re searching not just for a history of this bird; they want an evolutionary history – the kind they can offer in praise to the Bearded Buddha. Associate professor Nic Rawlence, studying to become a Darwin temple priest, is on tap for this job. Sadly for him, he tells us he’s lost.

The study’s lead author Associate Professor Nic Rawlence, Director of the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory, says the evolutionary history of mergansers in New Zealand has been shrouded in mystery since the extinction of the Auckland Island merganser, the last surviving population, in 1902.

There is not even a deep-time fossil record of these birds in the Southern Hemisphere,” Associate Professor Rawlence says.

Until now, the evolutionary relationship between the Southern Hemisphere mergansers, when their ancestors arrived in the region, and from where, have been unknown.

Before he tells us how he runs divination on ancient DNA from museum specimens to try to find his way with imaginary facts,—

Alert! We interrupt this just-so story with a solution to the mystery. Ducks can fly!

Why was there a mystery about this? Even creationists believe in variation within families. These were not just ducks; they were merganser ducks. Some flew to New Zealand when it was closer to the mainland after the Flood, and through continuous environmental tracking with their well-designed embedded sensors, adapted themselves internally to their new home for awhile. No deep time needed. No evolutionary history. No shroud of mystery.

Oh, but that would interrupt Rawlence’s research, and probably his funding.

 Scientists solve mystery of ancient ‘tree of life’ (BBC News, 15 May 2024).

Oh boy, another mystery. The press went wild for a day when Nature wrote about “The rise of baobab trees in Madagascar.”

Using these data together with ecological analyses, we uncover the evolutionary history of this genus, including its origin, diversification, population history and patterns of interspecific hybridization. Our findings provide valuable insights for developing effective and biologically informed conservation strategies for these spectacular trees in a changing world.

BBC reporter Helen Briggs was taken in by the prospect of understanding more about evolution.

According to DNA studies, the iconic trees first arose in Madagascar 21 million years ago. Their seeds were later carried on ocean currents to Australia and also to mainland Africa, evolving into distinct species.

But wait; wherever they came from (African mainland, Madagascar, or Australia), they were already baobab trees! The research paper only tries to explain how they became geographically isolated with distinct features in six species. But again, they all belong to the same genus, and have all the same parts, so there’s nothing Darwinian about these trees. The main differences involve which animals pollinate them.

Creationists have no issue with organisms using their built-in programming to adapt to the pollinators available. That ability, they say, exemplifies foresight and engineering for robustness. The trees already possessed the difficult things for Darwin to evolve: male and female reproductive parts, molecular motors, photosynthesis, and the whole caboodle of intricately engineered and interconnected systems.

Evolutionary propagandists need to understand this. Creationists are not impressed with “evolutionary histories” that describe nothing more than variations within a family, especially within a genus like baobab trees. To prop up Darwin, they need to explain the major discontinuities between created kinds—not just variations within a kind. They don’t need Queen Mary University Darwinites to tell us how “the species evolved different flower structures to attract hawkmoths, lemurs and bats.” Modification of existing parts fits within the purview of intelligent design and even within young-earth creationism. It is not evolution in the common Darwinian sense.

A Breath of Fresh Air

These strange-looking but amazing baobab trees that have been called the upside-down tree, the mother of the forest, and the tree of life. Readers want to hear more about their design! Fortunately, Briggs emerged briefly from her Darwin trance to share some amazing facts:

Amazing FactsThe trees can live for thousands of years, growing to a huge size and storing large amounts of water in their trunks to survive through the dry seasons.

Their fruits are regarded as a super food and their trunk can be used to make fibres which are used for ropes or clothing.

They produce large white flowers that open at dusk, attracting bats as pollinators, which travel vast distances to feed on their nectar, and they are important nesting sites for birds.

That sounds like good design by a benevolent Designer, reminiscent of the Moringa “drumstick” trees (also called trees of life) that offer numerous beneficial uses to man and beast (see 24 Oct 2018 and 11 April 2017).

OK, how much “understanding” did King Charley give you?

Can reporters kick the Darwin habit and just admire what’s wonderful and amazing on this privileged planet, with all its amazing interrelationships, without fanciful “evolutionary histories” that titillate the imagination and drag Darwin into everything? People want real facts in science, not imaginary facts (see sophoxymoroniac in the Darwin Dictionary).

 

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Comments

  • kwirth says:

    One need only read Articles appearing in peer review journals or books written by expert evolutionary paleontologists or biologists to see how
    Much imagination is used to spin evolutionary stories.

    Those articles and books contain tons of tentative yet imaginative nuancing that seeks to connect the evidence with their evolutionary explanations.

    almost certainly
    an indication of
    apparently already developed
    apparently became
    apparently belong to
    apparently include
    apparently originated
    appear to be primitive
    appear to be transitional
    appear to have diverged
    appear to have undergone
    appears to have arose in
    appears to have been
    assumed to represent

    cannot confidently be reconstructed
    could have been

    evidently evolved

    have not been established

    indicates that
    indicating perhaps
    indicating that
    it has been suggested that
    it is believed that
    it is highly probable
    it is not improbable that
    it is probable
    it seems likely that
    it seems logical to believe
    it seems probable that
    it thus appears probable
    it very likely

    likely became
    likely diverged
    likely evolved
    likely indicates that
    likely originated
    likely spurred
    likely started from

    may also be
    may be affiliated with
    may be allied with
    may be associated with
    may be close to
    may be derived from
    may have been
    may have been derived from
    may have been necessary
    may have been preceded by
    may have diverged
    may have evolved from
    may have formed
    may have hindered
    may have increased
    may have occurred
    may have resulted from
    may have served
    may include
    may possibly be
    may represent
    may show
    might be from
    might have arisen
    might have been capable
    might have been modified
    might have given rise
    might well have been
    must already have evolved
    must have been
    must have been a transition from
    must have begun
    must have evolved
    must have occurred
    must have originated
    must have undergone

    not well known

    paleontologists have long presumed that
    possible relationship
    possibly ancestral to
    presumably comparable
    presumably expanded
    presumably facilitated
    presumed to have evolved
    presumed to have played
    probable ancestor
    probably closely related to
    probably derived from
    probably formed
    probably occupied
    probably related
    probably represents

    seems to be
    strongly suggests that
    sufficiently similar to suggest
    suggest a relationship
    suggested by
    suggests that
    suggests that it probably evolved
    support close affinities with
    supposedly modified

    there may have been
    thought to be
    thought to link

    very probably

    was thought to represent
    we assume that
    we can infer that
    we may assume
    we may infer
    we speculate that
    were probably
    would presumably have

    Using this nuancing so freely and prolifically amounts an outright admission that there are insurmountable problems with establishing evolutionary histories.

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