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Monday, December 1, 2008

"But it's just a bird"

Ah, Archaeopteryx. Doesn't Ray realise that we found his crocoduck back in 1861?

She's one of the most talked about ancient creatures today, at least in the public arena, and with good reason: the 7 known Archae fossils (and 1 feather) paint an extremely clear picture of modern bird ancestry, and it most certainly doesn't indicate creation from nothing.

Or does it? Is Archae really a transitional fossil, or is she 'just a bird'?

Well, they're right on one count: Archae is defined as a bird. Despite appearances, she's not a dinosaur, or even a reptile: she's a bird.

But most certainly not 'just a bird'.

You see, Archae is defined as a bird based on having the following avian (bird-like) characteristics:

This is the big one, the defining characteristic of birds which Archae has. All modern birds have feathers, and no known dino- oh wait, scratch that! With the discovery of Protoarchaeopteryx robusta and Caudipteryx zoui, we've well and truly established that some dinosaurs had feathers. So, since feathers appeared in dinosaurs before they appeared in birds, you'd expect a transitional to have them.

Opposable Big Toe
Far more obscure, but equally defining, all birds have an large toe facing backwards. __*link*__Take a look for yourself. No known dinosaurs have this (although some have something similar), but Archae does. So this feature is 100% unadulterated bird.

Fused Wishbone
Although all birds have a wishbone, in some it can be so poorly formed that it is not fused in the centre, which would strictly mean it isn't a wishbone at all. In addition, several species of dinosaur have been discovered with a wishbone, and many more with clavicles (the two bones
which fuse to become the wishbone).

Reversed, elongated, Pubic bone
This is also found in several types of dinosaur, although Archae's is more developed than theirs.

So, apart from the oppposable toe, all the other features by which Archae is defined as a bird are shared with dinosaurs! But wait: what about her reptile characteristics?

No bill/beak
All modern birds have a hard mouthpiece, covering their jawbone. Archae completely lacks this feature, like most dinosaurs and all modern reptiles.
No modern birds have teeth, although some have deactivated genes which can produce vestigial teeth if reactivated. Archae has natural teeth, like all reptiles.
No Fused Vetebrae
Archae doesn't have these, like all reptiles. All birds do have them.
Neck attaches to skull from the rear
... as in reptiles. In birds, it attaches from below.
Long bony tail with completely free vertebrae
Birds have a short tail with fused vertebrae, often with feathers elongating it into a rudder.
Flexible wrist joint and free hand
Birds have completely fused wrists and hand bones.

Etc. etc. etc... the list continues.

I think it's quite clear, then: Archae, despite being defined as a bird because of a few features, is much more similar to ancient reptiles than modern birds. Why the 'just a bird' claims then? Why wouldn't they try to say it's 'just a reptile with feathers', which would be far easier to argue in a scientific arena?

Because the individuals who make the 'just a bird' claims are not interested in arguing in a scientific arena. They want ammunition, not discussion. A glance at Archae's feathers is enough for them to come to a conclusion about her, and that conclusion is appealing to intuition, but not to reasoning or critical thinking. "It looks like a bird, ergo, it is a bird", is not how science works: but it sums up creationism perfectly.


  1. They want ammunition, not discussion.

    Very, very well said.

  2. "But feathers are so specialized that they could not have evolved! Boo! Hiss!"

    Great post. Odd happenstance that I actually started reading into the subject myself a couple of days ago.

  3. Well, if that is just a bird, what the fuck is this????

  4. Well, if that is just a bird, what the fuck is this????

    Your mom *rim shot* Thank you, I will be here all night.

  5. "Your mom *rim shot* Thank you, I will be here all night."



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