With University Of North Carolina paleontologist Alan Feduccia’s new book, Feathered Dragons, the Noes may have their say again for a bit, after the assumed victory of the Yesses. (For a short history of the controversy about whether birds are essentially the last dinosaurs, go here.)
From the publisher’s blurb:
Examining and interpreting recent spectacular fossil discoveries in China, paleontologists have arrived at a prevailing view: there is now incontrovertible evidence that birds represent the last living dinosaur. But is this conclusion beyond dispute? In this book, evolutionary biologist Alan Feduccia provides the most comprehensive discussion yet of the avian and associated evidence found in China, then exposes the massive, unfounded speculation that has accompanied these discoveries and been published in the pages of prestigious scientific journals.
Part of the speculation drive is the general wish to believe that the dinosaurs did not really all die out, but live on as birds.
It’s true that some birds do look that way sometimes, but if convergent evolution teaches us anything, it is that appearances deceive.
Creation-Evolution Headlines (April 27, 2012) offers some thoughts on the question in “Questioning the Dino-Bird Hypothesis.” First, contrary to some claims, Feduccia is not a creationist; rather,
His position does not deny an evolutionary origin of birds, but places the “feathered dinosaurs” so often portrayed as ancestors of modern birds on a dead-end branch. He claims his position is more in line with 19th century paleontologist Richard Owen and 20th century evolutionist Gavin de Beer. These men viewed flightless birds as degenerate products of variation, not stages toward flight; for instance, de Beer in 1956 “showed conclusively that flightless birds descended from flying ancestors and have never re-evolved flight.”
He quotes Feduccia’s warning,
Birds as “living dinosaurs” is now a cornerstone of modern palaeontological thought. But a consensus is always in danger of turning into dogma. Indeed, given the cult-like belief in the field’s orthodoxy, it seems that every fossil pulled from the Chinese deposits is accompanied by hyperbolic pronouncements of it having filled a major evolutionary gap. Yet many of these discoveries lack normal scientific stringency, and we see a transition from normal scientific falsificationism to simply confirming what is already thought to be known.
This sort of thing, of course, sets a discipline up for embarrassments from nature, which never seems to get the memo …
See also: Giant fossil bird found in central Asia