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Archaeopteryx, Icon of devolution not evolution

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HT: David Coppedge

In all the debates about the status of Archaeopteryx between reptiles and birds, no one till now expected this wild idea: it lost its ability to fly.

Michael Habib (Univ. of Southern California) raised eyebrows in Los Angeles last week when he told a packed house at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting that he believes Archaeopteryx was secondarily flightless. Nature News reported,

The idea that it was instead evolving to lose its flight and becoming flightless again, or ‘secondarily flightless’, occurred to Habib while he was calculating limb ratios and degrees of feather symmetry in Archaeopteryx, and comparing the values to those of living birds, to better understand its flying ability. In doing so, he found that the creature’s traits were surprisingly similar to those of modern flightless birds such as rails and grebes that frequently dwell on islands.

Nevertheless, the NCSE defends Archaeopteryx as an icon of evolution:

Archaeopteryx has features intermediate between those of living birds and ancient reptiles; along with many other fossils,
http://ncse.com/creationism/analysis/icon-5-archaeopteryx

David Coppedge observes:

No one called Archaeopteryx a “feathered dinosaur” back then, because the phrase only came into vogue with the Chinese fossil discoveries. From Darwin’s day till recently, it was argued to be a transitional form between reptiles and birds. Evolutionists emphasized the reptilian traits (teeth, claws on the wings), and creationists emphasized the flight feathers and anatomy that seemed to show it capable of powered flight. They also pointed out that some living birds, like the hoatzin, have claws on their wings as juveniles. People saw what their biases wanted to see. Astronomer Fred Hoyle tried to prove it was a forgery. Today’s evolutionists use the “feathered dinosaur” label, but there is no guarantee that today’s consensus will not shift again. The new proposal it was secondarily flightless implies a win for creationists – it devolved from a fully-functional flying bird, just like some living birds with stunted wings have on the Galapagos Islands. Loss of function is not what Darwin needs!

Let’s think about Nature’s comment that the suggestion Archaeopteryx was losing the ability to fly “might have been considered madness” back in 1861 (actually, all the way from 1861 to just a few years ago). This tells us that if evolutionists consider something madness now, it might be considered sanity later. It further means that the sane ones could be the skeptics of the consensus, and the mad ones in the majority. Don’t be deterred, therefore, if you feel you have good evidence and arguments for your position when it runs counter to the consensus. It’s entirely possible for the intellectual majority to be suffering from delusions. “We really need an improved understanding … so we can better interpret the fossil record” – good advice, but it implies that understanding is lacking and interpretation is flawed. If they haven’t gotten it down after 152 years, don’t expect major improvements any time soon. They might just be secondarily clueless.

4 Replies to “Archaeopteryx, Icon of devolution not evolution

  1. 1
    John Witton says:

    I like the word “DEvoLUSION” better than “devolution” because it synonymous with the word “delusion”; a recurring disorder among one group of people.

  2. 2
    vjtorley says:

    I don’t know if Archaeopteryx was ancestral to modern birds or not. But even if it was ‘secondarily flightless’, that wouldn’t account for the fact that like reptiles, it has 20 bones in its tail, compared with six for modern birds. I don’t know of any secondarily flightless modern bird which has regained those extra bones. As far as I know, they all have six. See this paper: From Fond to Fan: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Short-Tailed Birds by Stephen Gatesy and Kenneth Dial (Evolution 50(5), 1996, pp. 2037-2048 – see especially pp. 2046-2047). Any thoughts, Sal?

  3. 3
    scordova says:

    Any thoughts, Sal?

    Actually, I should be the one asking you! You obviously have a deeper grasp of paleontology than I.

    As far as I know, no one thinks we have the real missing link in the dino-bird evolution, Archaeopteryx is stated as having some intermediate features which could be similar to the hypothetical transitional.

    A major theme I’ve been trying to emphasize is loss of function. Things may diversify (like dogs), but loss of coordinated function seems in evidence in the present, and now possibly the past.

    I’ve argued that it seems certain transitional forms seem virtually impossible even in principle.

    I don’t spend too much time in these sort of questions because, if the latest is to be believed, this illustrates how much time had been wasted on dead end idea (Archaeopteryx).

    Any thoughts, Sal?

    Paleontology will continue to have more retractions about their ideas like the retraction of the idea that Archaeopteryx was an example of how flight can evolve — it might be a good example of how flight can devolve. We don’t know for sure, but I’ve said, real evolution is loss of function, not acquisition of it.

    How things came to be in ages past is a matter of speculation and faith, and might always be. But it seems to me, some ideas are closer to the truth than others.

    Your observation of the supposed loss of bones is quite compelling. A list of transitional forms dino to bird should have one with:

    19 bones

    then one with

    18 bones

    then one with
    …..

    7 bones

    That’s a pretty compelling prediction of what we think we might find in the fossil record if gradualism is correct, otherwise, it was punctuated, otherwise maybe there was no evolution. 🙂

    My understanding is you accept common descent. I respect that, but given what you found, it might be worth it to find out if evolutionists have a story for the count of bones in the transitionals. That would be a splendid topic of discussion!

  4. 4
    PWall says:

    I think your title is misleading. Whether or not Archeaopteryx shows a step in the gain or loss of flight, it still remains an example of the evolution from reptile to bird.
    Both evolution and devolution, depending on your perspective, no?

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