Rebuttal to Dr. Bert from T.O.!
From: Augray (augray@...)
Subject: Re: commentary on November 2004 National Geographic
Date: 2004-11-30 13:14:40 PST
First of all, I'm sorry this took so long, but really life kept
First of all, the "reconstruction" of Archaeoraptor is terrible, and
has only a vague similarity what the National Geographic picture
looked like. Compare their "reconstruction" with the picture in
http://www.canoe.ca/CNEWSScience0004/07_dinosaur.html which is what
was shown in National Geographic. A larger version can be found at
Note that the wings in the photo have visible claws (a common trait of
early birds), where as the "reconstruction" doesn't. The model in the
photo has feathers on its tail, while the "reconstruction" doesn't.
In the "Alleged Reptile-to-Bird Evolution" section, the writers quote
Othniel Marsh, who wrote "He is certainly a wise man who today can
tell a bird from a reptile, with only the fragments of an ancient
form before him". I don't have quick access to the source of this
quote, but I'm pretty sure that he wasn't referring to
_Archaeopteryx_. Marsh had discovered several fossil birds in western
America by that point, some of them fragmentary. I'm going to track
down this quote through interlibrary loan.
Sir Richard Owen is cited as believing that _Archaeopteryx_ was
"unequivocally a bird", and this is correct. However, the only known
skeleton of _Archaeopteryx_ at that time, which Owen had studied,
lacked both a skull and a sternum, and Owen assumed that it had a
beak, no teeth, and had a keel on its sternum (used in modern birds
for the attachment of flight muscles, the "breast" of chicken and
turkey dinners). But later specimens showed Owen to be wrong. He had
based his conclusions on his "Law of Correlation", an early
competitor to Darwin's Natural Selection.
We're now treated to a quote from Alan Feduccia, who states
Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an
earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it's not. It is a bird, a
perching bird. And no amount of 'paleobabble' is going to change
that. [Morell 1993]
This is from an article in the journal Science that summarized
different opinions regarding _Archaeopteryx_ as an introduction to a
paper by Feduccia (1993) in the same issue. It was written to counter
claims that _Archaeopteryx_ was descended from dinosaurs, lived on
the ground, and that flight evolved "from the ground up", an idea
championed by John Ostrom (1974). And a few paragraphs later, we're
treated to a quote from that paper:
I conclude that _Archaeopteryx_ was arboreal and volant,
considerably advanced aerodynamically, and probably capable of
flapping, powered flight to at least some degree.
_Archaeopteryx_...was, in the modern sense, a bird.
But what's omitted by the ellipses? The full sentence is:
_Archaeopteryx_ probably cannot tell us much about the early
origins of feathers and flight in true protobirds because
_Archaeopteryx_ was, in the modern sense, a bird.
In other words, _Archaeopteryx_ is to far along the evolutionary path
to birds to tell us anything about the origin of feathers and flight.
But Feduccia still believes that it's a transitional form. In the
same paper he states that
Most likely, _Archaeopteryx used the claws of the manus [hand]
clinging to branches because it had not yet achieved the balance
that is characteristic of modern birds.
He also writes that:
Archaeopteryx was probably incapable of taking off from the
Obviously Archaeopteryx wasn't a strong flyer, another characteristic
we'd expect from a transitional form. And lest there be any doubt,
Feduccia has stated that:
Creationists are going to distort whatever arguments come up, and
they've put me in company with luminaries like Stephen Jay Gould,
so it doesn't bother me a bit. _Archaeopteryx_ is half reptile
half bird any way you cut the deck, and so it is a Rosetta stone
for evolution, whether it is related to dinosaurs or not. These
creationists are confusing an argument about minor details of
evolution with the indisputable fact of evolution: Animals and
plants have been changing. The corn in Mexico, originally the
size of the head of a wheat plant, has no resemblance to
modern-day corn. If that's not evolution in action, I do not know
what is. [Svitil 2003]
We now turn to _Mononykus_, a purported bird that was first announced
in 1993. Initially named _Mononychus_ (Perle et al. 1993a), it was
quickly renamed a few months later when it was discovered that
_Mononychus_ was already the name of a genus of insect (Perle et al.
1993b). It was initially claimed to be a bird due to several skeletal
similarities, and that it was more closely related to modern birds
than _Archaeopteryx_ was. This caused a storm of controversy, with
several scientists asserting that _Mononykus_ was closely related to
birds, but not one itself. And in the years since, three of the four
authors of the original paper have produced family trees that show
_Mononykus_ *not* to be a bird, but closely related to them (Clark et
al. 2002; Chiappe 2002). However, there's no doubt that its short
forelimbs weren't used for flight. What they *were8 used for is a bit
of a mystery, although digging or tearing open termite mounds has
Which brings us to the following quote supplied by Thompson and
Mongolian and U.S. researchers have found a 75-million-year-old,
bird-like creature with a hand so strange it has left
paleontologists grasping for an explanation.... Paul Sereno of
University of Chicago notes that Mononychus had arms built much
like those of digging animals. Because moles and other diggers
keeled sternums and wrists reminiscent of birds, the
of Mononychus becomes difficult, he says. [Monastersky 1993]
This provokes Thompson and Harrub to state "Thus, evolutionists now
are faced with the possibility that birds may have evolved from moles
instead of reptiles!" This is a gross misrepresentation, and there's
no doubt in anyone's mind that _Mononykus_ is a theropod dinosaur (a
grouping that includes birds), and no one claims that it's an ancestor
to modern birds. Where Thompson and Harrub have placed ellipses in the
quote, there are six paragraphs missing, which is most of the short
article. But absolutely no one claims, or even hints at the
possibility that birds evolved from moles. What Sereno is stating is
that a lineage of dinosaurs may have evolved powerful forelimbs for
digging, reminiscent of the powerful forelimbs needed for flight.
Powerful forelimbs are not, in and of themselves, an indication of
flight, or affinity with birds.
For more on Colin Patterson, see
Now we're treated to _Protoavis_. Most paleontologists don't believe
that it's what is discoverer, Sankar Chatterjee, says it is, and even
Chatterjee doesn't see it being a problem for _Archaeopteryx_, or
evolution in general (Chatterjee 1997). The following quotes are from
references used by Thompson and Harrub:
_Protoavis_ also has reptilian features: four teeth in the
part of its jaw, a tail and clawed fingers.
Much of its anatomy--including its toothy jaws--resembles a small
meat-eating dinosaur. [Anderson 1991]
While some of the bones appear bird-like, they also look
dinosaurian, and could represent a new type of theropod
_Protoavis_ is based on extremely fragmentary remains, and
interpreting what kind of creature it is is difficult:
Ostrom stresses, however, that the remains are very fragmentary,
and while agreeing with Chatterjee's tentative classification
the case is not finally proven. [Beardsley 1986]
Gauthier, who has examined the actual _Protoavis_ specimens, says
most of the bones are poorly preserved, making it extremely
difficult to identify many of the features that important to
Chatterjee's argument. "It's crushed, smooshed and in really
terrible shape," he says. [Monastersky 1991]
The material has become a paleontological Rorschach test of one's
training, theoretical bias, and predisposition.
[Padian & Chiappe 1998]
_Protoavis_, based on disarticulated bones from the Upper
Dockum Formation of Texas, has not been accepted as avian by most
researchers and is regarded here as a chimera [a mix of two or
animals] composed of several disparate Triassic reptiles. The
four-digit manus [hand, or in this case, wing], for example, is
more appropriately identified as an archosaurian pes [foot].
[Sereno 1997, 460]
The picture of the "_Archaeopteryx_lithographica_ fossil" is not what
it is claimed to be. It looks like a parody of the real thing, or
something that might have been done by a child in art class. It's a
Thompson and Harrub also claim that there are "colossal differences in
reptilian and bird lungs", but such claims have been discredited as
they relate to the evolution of birds (Paul 2001). As well,
precursors to flight feathers have been found (Chen et al. 1998;
Currie & Chen 2001; Padian et al. 2001; Schweitzer 2001; Schweitzer
et al. 1999; Xing et al. 1999; Xu et al. 2001).
Thompson and Harrub write that there are problems with "the
embryological hand development of dinosaurs versus birds", but since
no one knows how the hands of extinct dinosaurs developed, their
claim is baseless.
Anderson, A. 1991. Early Bird Threatens _Archaeopteryx_'s Perch.
Beardsley, T. 1986. Fossil bird shakes evolutionary hypothesis.
Chatterjee, S. 1997. The Rise of Birds. Baltimore: The John Hopkins
Chen, P.-J., Dong, Z. M., and Zheng, S.-N. 1998. An exceptionally
well-preserved theropod dinosaur from the Yixian Formation of China.
Chiappe, L. M. 2002. Basal Bird Phylogeny: Problems and Solutions. In
"Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs", edited by Luis M.
Chiappe & Lawrence M. Witmer, pp. 448-472. Berkeley: University of
Clark, J. M., Norell, M. A., & Makovicky, P. J. 2002. Cladistic
Approaches to the Relationships of Birds to Other Theropod Dinosaurs.
In "Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs", edited by L. M.
Chiappe & L. M. Witmer, pp. 31-61. Berkeley: University of California
Currie, P. J., & Chen, P.-J. 2001. Anatomy of _Sinosauropteryx prima_
from Liaoning, northeastern China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences
Feduccia, A. 1993. Evidence from Claw Geometry Indicating Arboreal
Habits of _Archaeopteryx_. Science 259:790-792.