Pharyngula

Only a bird

Another feathered dinosaur has been found in China, prompting Ken Ham to dig in his heels and issue denials.

Yet another supposed “feathered dinosaur” fossil has come to light, again in China. (Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, AiG–U.S., reported on another Chinese fossil of a supposed feathered dinosaur in April 2012) Now, one headline described the fossil as “almost birdlike,” and the authors of the report in Nature Communications note many features the fossil shares with living birds, particularly those that live on the ground. In fact, Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell and Dr. David Menton (AiG–U.S.) both examined the photos of the fossil and the criteria the authors used in classifying the fossil as a dinosaur. They agreed that it is a bird, not a feathered dinosaur.

Oh, really? It’s just a bird? Take a look at this image of Eosinopteryx, and you tell me.

eosinopteryx2

Notice a few things about this animal: it’s got teeth. The forelimbs have clawed digits. It has a long bony tail. It lacks the bony keel that anchors breast muscles in modern birds.

The only thing that might cause you to question its dinosaur nature (and it’s a criterion that’s proving more and more inappropriate) is that lovely gray fringe of feather impressions that surround the whole fossil. And look at those forelimbs! It looks like it has stubby wings. It does not, however, have the skeletal and muscular structure to allow for extended flapping flight, and the wings are way too short for it to have been an adequate flyer.

But Mitchell and Menton and Ham looked at that and said ‘ALL BIRD’. They’re idiots.

Ham goes on: there are no transitional forms, he squeaks, there can be no transitional forms, transitional forms don’t exist…all while looking at a winged, feathered reptile with teeth and claws and a bony tail.

The fossil record doesn’t reveal any kind of dinosaur-to-bird evolution—and it certainly does not show a molecules-to-man evolution. We have no proof of transitional forms, and we won’t. God’s Word says clearly that He created animals and plants according to their kinds (Genesis 1). Through genetic loss and other factors, new species have emerged over time—but birds are still birds and apes are still apes. Nothing in the history of biology has legitimately shown that dinosaurs could develop the genetic information to evolve into birds.

Pitiful. Pathetic. I’d like to see a creationist sit down in front of me with that illustration and try to defend the claim that it’s only a bird.


Godefroit P, Demuynck H, Dyke G, Hu D, Escuillie F, Claeys P (2013) Reduced plumage and flight ability of a new Jurassic paravian theropod from China. Nature Communications 4, 1394. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2389

Comments

  1. #1 Adam Etzion
    Israel
    February 4, 2013

    Hi,
    Long time reader, first time commenter etc..

    I really enjoy your blog and find it very insightful and fun (the series of posts regarding evolutionary psychology was fantastic), but as a biology student I do have to wonder:

    These creationists obviously have nothing interesting to say, scientifically. They’re insane, or, at the very least, dogmatic.

    Why bother grappling with them over facts?

    I understand that they’re a major political influence in America and that defending evolutionary biology is an issue, but their “scientific” claims don’t really appear to warrant serious answers – in fact, from where I’m standing, answering them just seems to ratify their claim that there’s even a “controversy” that needs to be debated.

    Wouldn’t it be better to engage the Science Vs. Creationism debate on a theological or philosophical level, instead of letting their voice tarnish the scientific debate?

    I mean, scientists work hard, gather evidence and build theories in order to gain the right to engage in scientific debates – why grace creationists with that right for free?

    Thanks,

  2. #2 Kevin
    February 4, 2013

    I bet there was a time in the past when, if someone asked Ken Ham to draw a hypothetical “transitional form” between a dinosaur and a bird (which of course wouldn’t *really* exist), he would have drawn something darn similar to this animal. =)

  3. #3 Magpie
    February 4, 2013

    Dear Ken: I give you The Reverse Omphalous!

    If god wanted us to know for sure he was there, we’d know. He’s god. He can do that.

    We don’t know, which means he doesn’t want us to know. He’s god. He gets what he wants.

    So anything you think you’ve found that says you’ve proved the existence of god is another way of saying you’ve outsmarted him. You. A human. Have tricked god. Which isn’t possible, and the very claim must be downright insulting to any right-thinking deity.

    ***The universe must, whether there’s a god or not, look exactly like a universe with no god.***

    Anyone who says they’ve got evidence for god is either wrong or lying, and is definitely blasphemous. God ‘aint silly. Even if he created us a couple of thousand years ago, he’s not so clumsy as to leave evidence. He could quite cheerfully run the universe backwards from that point to make a real history, then pop back at humans and keep going. It’s not a deceptive history: it really happened. Just, you know… backwards.

    He’s god. He’s got ALL da skillz.

    Therefore, Ken Ham is a numpty. QED.

  4. #4 Fizzygoo
    February 4, 2013

    It’s weird that that block of cheese got stuck in its shoulder though.

  5. #5 Fizzygoo
    February 5, 2013

    Okay, so either I have really failed to grasp a moment in reality or the images in the post have changed, either way my previous “cheese” comment does not make sense and, from one transitional form to others, I apologize for any confusion.

    The previous image had a wonderful close up of the skull, showing the teeth.

  6. #6 Nightjar
    February 5, 2013

    Fizzygoo,

    The previous image was by Dave Peters. PZ replaced it after some commenters over at FreeThoughtBlogs Pharyngula pointed out that Peters’s illustrations are generally not very reliable. See

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2012/07/03/world-must-ignore-reptileevolution-com/

    for Darren Naish’s explanation.

  7. #7 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 5, 2013

    It lacks the bony keel that anchors breast muscles in modern birds.

    Indeed, the breast”bone” didn’t ossify at all.

    Why bother grappling with them over facts?

    Because they’re wrong.

    Maybe it’s a bit like the reason for climbing Mount Everest: “Because it’s there.”

    their “scientific” claims don’t really appear to warrant serious answers –

    What do you mean by “warrant”? They’re seriously wrong, so they get serious answers.

    Wouldn’t it be better to engage the Science Vs. Creationism debate on a theological or philosophical level,

    Theological? PZ is an atheist. :-) But see comment 3!

    Philosophical? PZ does that, pointing out every once in a while what a narcissistic thing creationism is.

    instead of letting their voice tarnish the scientific debate?

    What scientific debate?

    So anything you think you’ve found that says you’ve proved the existence of god is another way of saying you’ve outsmarted him. You. A human. Have tricked god. Which isn’t possible, and the very claim must be downright insulting to any right-thinking deity.

    Interesting point.

  8. #8 David Marjanović
    February 5, 2013

    BTW, here is the paper, and the name of the beast is Eosinopteryx brevipenna.

  9. #9 Schenck
    February 5, 2013

    This sort of thing only proves (and has proven before with previous similar discoveries) that creationists are simply lying to themselves.
    It’s clearly not a bird skeleton, with obvious feathers/fuzz covering it. These dino-birds are practically the very definition of a “classical” transitional fossil. They utterly obliterate the idea that “species can’t change”, denying that is tantamount to bowing out of the conversation. Even /conceptually/ they should admit that this sort of thing is possible, to start with “weak” protofeathers and then advance to more complex feathers over time, to start with a bipdeal theropod skeleton and transform into a bird skeleton in stages over time; it’s ridiculous on the face of it to deny that it’s conceptually possible, and then to balk at numerous specimens /actually showing it/ is ludicrous.

  10. #10 Adam Etzion
    Israel
    February 6, 2013

    So anything you think you’ve found that says you’ve proved the existence of god is another way of saying you’ve outsmarted him. You. A human. Have tricked god. Which isn’t possible, and the very claim must be downright insulting to any right-thinking deity.

    Unless god actually only wanted us to find him now, via these means.

    Don’t try to disprove god with logic. If they were using logic, they wouldn’t believe in god in the first place.

  11. #11 Zach Miller
    February 6, 2013

    The heel-digging implies that the most important anatomical feature to these people in terms of birdability is the presence of feathers, since skeletal features show that it’s clearly NOT a bird. So that makes me wonder what these yahoos think of Sinosauropteryx, Dilong, Beipiaosaurus, and other feathered theropods that are quite far from birds.

    Tianyulong, too.

  12. #12 Left-fielder
    February 8, 2013

    Can I identify myself as a creationist without having everybody pile on, with a lot more name-calling and insults to boot? The last time I posted something on a science story comment section and didn’t (virtually speaking) wear my yellow lapel identifier, I was accused of being a deceptive “stealth creationist,” and I wouldn’t want you to think that.
    As Zach suggests, it seems that for Ken Ham the distinguishing feature of “bird” is the presence of feathers. Personally, I think it’s more accurate to say that God created feathered dinosaurs. Why not? He created flying mammals and swimming reptiles and mammals, at least two or three different forms of insect flight, so why not apply the theme of feathered flight in more ways than one?
    The problem with pointing to intermediate fossil forms is that there’s no way to tell if they’re truly intermediate, and if they are, it’s possible they were going in the other direction. Has anyone had access to the full original research report yet? I’m wondering if the authors even tried to rule out the possibility that Eosinopteryx is the descendant of a creature that flew. The relative lengths of the forelimb, and the robustness of the humeri combined with the gracility of the more distal elements of the forelimbs seems consistent with that; at any rate the thing doesn’t look built to use its forelimbs for much of anything. It’s interesting that there’s a high degree of similarity to Anchiornis, and quite a bit to Archaeopteryx for that matter, along with the uncertain dating that’s about the same. What dinosaurs (or sister-group relatives) are these believed to have evolved from?

    “what these yahoos think of Sinosauropteryx, Dilong, Beipiaosaurus, and other feathered theropods that are quite far from birds. Tianyulong, too.”

    As far as I can recall, the “feathers” on all of these can arguably be something else, either quill-like scales, or fluff or fuzz that might not have been all that much like feathers in life, or maybe wasn’t even present in life but was something added (or the result of decay of something different) post-mortem. I don’t recognize the last one, though. Ah, I see it had “long, hollow filaments” – there you go, not feathers. Longisquama had long, feathery scales, too, but I don’t think many here would say they were feathers or ancestral to bird feathers, as Longisquama wasn’t closely related to dinosaurs. Likewise, perhaps, with “Tiny”: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29758488/
    ” ‘The reality is that dinosaurs may have evolved a variety of projecting integumentary appendages, things that stick out of the skin, and may have evolved them for a lot of the same reasons, for behavioral display or for regulating body temperature,’ Witmer said. “

  13. #13 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 8, 2013

    If they were using logic, they wouldn’t believe in god in the first place.

    Many believe very firmly they’re using logic.

    Personally, I think it’s more accurate to say that God created feathered dinosaurs. Why not? He created flying mammals and swimming reptiles and mammals, at least two or three different forms of insect flight, so why not apply the theme of feathered flight in more ways than one?

    But if everything is equally likely, how can you determine what really happened with any degree of confidence? You’re bound to end up with the great religious war between the Last Tuesdayists and the Last Thursdayists.

    Making a hypothesis untestable doesn’t save it. It makes it thoroughly useless.

    at least two or three different forms of insect flight

    What do you mean?

    The problem with pointing to intermediate fossil forms is that there’s no way to tell if they’re truly intermediate, and if they are, it’s possible they were going in the other direction.

    Oh, sure. Fortunately, they come in entire trees, not one by one.

    Has anyone had access to the full original research report yet?

    Uh, what? Of course.

    You know, you can simply write to the authors and ask them for the pdf. Unlike the publisher, the authors have no financial or other interest in the paywall around their paper. In my experience as a scientist, there are two kinds of colleagues: those who gladly send their papers to anyone who asks, and those who don’t read their e-mail.

    It’s interesting that there’s a high degree of similarity to Anchiornis

    Oh yes. They’re both very early troodontids.

    and quite a bit to Archaeopteryx for that matter

    Birds and troodontids are very close relatives.

    along with the uncertain dating that’s about the same

    No, Eosinopteryx and Anchiornis are about 10 million years older than Archie.

    What dinosaurs (or sister-group relatives) are these believed to have evolved from?

    Uh, sisters aren’t mothers. They’re sisters.

    Are you asking if direct ancestors are known? They’re not. The fossil record isn’t dense enough for that. Consider how many species exist today, and how many of them have no known fossil record.

    Are you asking what their closest known relatives are? Troodontids and dromaeosaurids are sister-groups; together they’re the sister-group of the birds; all three together are apparently the sister-group of the oviraptorosaurs…

    As far as I can recall, the “feathers” on all of these can arguably be something else, either quill-like scales, or fluff or fuzz that might not have been all that much like feathers in life, or maybe wasn’t even present in life but was something added (or the result of decay of something different) post-mortem.

    Oh no, no, no, no, no. They’re pretty exactly what feathers look like when you soak them in water and then press them flat. The experiment has been done. It’s obvious at first glance that they’re not scales (you must have confused them with Longisquama); and it’s also obvious that they’re not the result of decay – for one thing, the animals that you’d expect to have scales are preserved with scales in those very same sites*, those that you’d expect to have smooth skin are preserved with smooth skin; those that you’d expect to have hair are preserved with hair.

    * Two surprises: 1) the tail quills on that Psittacosaurus, though the rest of the animal is covered in scales; 2) Tianyulong, though the presence of some sort of feathers in that one was expected from Psittacosaurus.

    Ah, I see it had “long, hollow filaments” – there you go, not feathers.

    Hang on a second. Feathers aren’t all-or-nothing. They evolved stepwise, too. The first expected stage (expected from the way feathers develop in bird embryos) is a hollow quill; well?

    Longisquama had long, feathery scales, too, but I don’t think many here would say they were feathers or ancestral to bird feathers, as Longisquama wasn’t closely related to dinosaurs.

    Also, because they weren’t feathery at all – they were huge bloated thin-walled things quite unlike a feather.

    ” ‘The reality is that dinosaurs may have evolved a variety of projecting integumentary appendages, things that stick out of the skin, and may have evolved them for a lot of the same reasons, for behavioral display or for regulating body temperature,’ Witmer said. “

    That’s a nice speculative answer to the question “if they’re not feathers, what are they?”.

    You see, that Robin Lloyd person didn’t quite understand what they were writing about. Science journalists almost never understand what they’re writing about – that’s normal. You can tell from the inclusion of the nonsense about collagen fibers under the skin: in a few specimens, such fibers are preserved in addition to feathers, and they look quite different – as had to be expected for a long list of reasons.

  14. #14 Chrissie
    http://isawthelightsgodown.tumblr.com
    February 12, 2013

    hello!,I like your writing so much! proportion we keep in touch more about your article on AOL? I require an expert on this house to unravel my problem. Maybe that is you! Looking ahead to see you.

  15. #15 Maria Teodósio
    Portugal
    February 12, 2013

    I’ve read that this feathered dinossaur made scientists doubt about the importance of Archaeopteryx. Can you please explain?

  16. #16 Maria Teodósio
    Portugal
    February 12, 2013

    And by the way, I agree creationists are dumb and dishonest

  17. #17 Zach Miller
    February 12, 2013

    No, Archaeopteryx is still important. The presence of other feathered dinosaurs simply means that feathers don’t “make the bird” anymore. That used to be Archaeopteryx’s defining birdy feature. Nowadays, the urvogal’s position among dinobirds is somewhat in flux between being at the base of birds and at the base of Deinonychosauria. Keep in mind, though, that birds and deinonychosaurs are sister groups, so the animals at the base of both would look virtually identical.

  18. #18 Maria Teodósio
    Portugal
    February 12, 2013

    Thanks.

  19. #19 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 13, 2013

    While Archaeopteryx is by no means irrelevant*, it now has a context instead of lying around in a void as an isolated “missing link”. It’s part of a tree now. We have Xiaotingia and Anchiornis and Eosinopteryx and Jinfengopteryx and Microraptor and Sinornithosaurus and Mahakala and Pedopenna and Rahonavis and Shenzhouraptor and on and on and on…

    * But then, given where I am, I would say that, wouldn’t I. ;-)

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