Sunday, 27 May 2007

Archaeopteryx - an Icon of Evolution that Refuses to Turn into a Feathered Dinosaur

Image: Wikipedia

Joel Kontinen

It has wings and feathers. It looks like a bird. It has a bird’s beak and a wishbone. But it also has a long bony tail, teeth and claws on its wings. The Archaeopteryx, a magpie-sized extinct bird, is often paraded as the missing link that is no longer missing. The University of Berkeley website, for instance, says, “It has long been accepted that Archaeopteryx was a transitional form between birds and reptiles.” This sounds like hype since scientists in the 1984 International Archaeopteryx Conference agreed that it was a true bird.

Evolution needs transitional forms that would give support to the hypothesis that all life forms share a common ancestor. However, there are grave problems with the dino-to-bird hypothesis. Writing in the March 2003 issue of Scientific American, Richard Prum and Alan Brush acknowledged: “Archaeopteryx offers no new insights on how feathers evolved, because its own feathers are nearly indistinguishable from those of today's birds."

The presence of teeth does not support the belief that Achaeopteryx has evolved from a reptile ancestor. Some other extinct birds also had teeth while some reptiles do not have them. The same applies to claws; even the ostrich has claws on its wings. Thus, the traits of Archaeopteryx are not so unique as evolutionists would like to believe. Of today’s birds, the ostrich looks less like a true bird than Achaeopteryx does. In fact Achaeopteryx looks like a strong flier. Angela Miller of the Natural History Museum in London says, “a CAT scan reveals that Archaeopteryx had the large brain and optic lobes of modern birds, not the brain of a dinosaur.”

The long bony tail does not mean that Archaeopteryx is partly a dinosaur. According to biologist Michael Pitman, “In the embryo some living birds have more tail vertebrae than ‘Archy’”. He adds that some present-day birds, such as cormorants, darters, gulls and parrots have similar vertebrae.

Most evolutions still cling on to their pet theory. For instance, Richard Dawkins says, “feathers are modified reptilian scales.” However, as Dr. Jonathan Sarfati explains, there is no way a bird’s feathers, which consists of an intricate network that seems to be especially designed for flying, could have evolved from scales: “But scales are folds in skin; feathers are complex structures with a barb, barbules and hooks. They also originate in a totally different way, from follicles inside the skin in a manner akin to hair. Finally, feather proteins (f-keratins) are biochemically different from skin and scale proteins (a-keratins) as well.”

Darwinian evolution desperately needs transitional forms. It needs them between birds and dinosaurs and mammals and whales, for example, but these have been few and far between. Even the few remaining ones are highly disputed, often by evolutionists themselves. Over-zealous evolutionists have time and again used extremely questionable fossil remains as proof of transitional forms. Thus, Pakicetus was judged to be a water-dwelling whale ancestor on the basis of two bones from the head. After more bones were found, it was seen that Pakicetus was a land animal resembling a pig.

For many decades, evolutionists have used the same examples to support the view that time and chance can change living beings into very different species. Archaeopteryx was one of the examples Dr. Jonathan Wells used in his book Icons of Evolution (2000), in which he documented the widespread use of erroneous and misleading proofs of evolution in biology textbooks. These included the Miller-Urey origin of life experiment, Darwin’s tree of life, homology (similar structures in different species), Haeckel’s embryos, the peppered moth, Darwin’s finches, mutant fruit flies, human origins, and evolution being taught as fact.

Archaeopteryx is one of the most well-known icons. Ten fossils of Archaeopteryx have been found. Supporters of evolution have given it a number of pet names, such as Dino bird, Reptile bird, Archy and Archie.

Dr Alan Feduccia, who is a world authority on birds at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an evolutionist, has said, “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.”

Archaeopteryx has been dated as being 150 million years old. The purported feathered dinosaurs appear in the fossil record several tens of millions of years after “Archie”. This has prompted Dr. Jonathan Wells to ask how an ancestor can be younger than its descendants, saying that this is as logical as claiming that David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first prime minister] is the uncle of Abraham.

The dino-to-bird link has other major hurdle to overcome as well. Molecular biologist Dr. Michael Denton says that biology textbooks do not even attempt to explain how small random mutations required by Darwinian evolution could gradually produce highly complex systems. “A classic example is the lung of the bird, which is unique in being a circulatory lung rather than a bellows lung. I think it doesn’t require a great deal of profound knowledge of biology to see that for an organ which is so central to the physiology of any higher organism, its drastic modification in that way by a series of small events is almost inconceivable. This is something we can’t throw under the carpet again because, basically, as Darwin said, if any organ can be shown to be incapable of being achieved gradually in little steps, his theory would be totally overthrown.”

In 2002 Dr. Alan Feduccia and Julie Nowicki published a paper in which they showed that there are even more problems with the dino-to-bird hypothesis. After studying the embryonic thumb growth in ostrich eggs, they noticed that whereas in dinosaurs the hands developed from digits 1, 2 and 3, in ostriches, which are regarded as “primitive” birds, they develop from digits 2,3 and 4. Feduccia concluded, "This creates a new problem for those who insist that dinosaurs were ancestors of modern birds. How can a bird hand, for example, with digits two, three and four evolve from a dinosaur hand that has only digits one, two and three? That would be almost impossible.”

Moreover, in January 2005 the prestigious science journal Nature reported that there was evidence of ducks co-existing with dinosaurs. Dr. Julia Clarke and colleagues say this means that “at least duck, chicken and ratite bird relatives were coextant with non-avian dinosaurs.”

Archie’s woes do not end here. While animals that have characteristic of more than one species or even genus might be rare, they are not non-existent. The best-known living “mosaic” is the duck-billed platypus. This Australian furry mammal has a beaver’s tail and a duck’s bill but it also lays eggs. It has more mosaic features than Archie. Had platypus become extinct and known only from the fossil record, it would have produced an interesting hypothesis of its origins. Dr. Duane Gish says that the duck-billed platypus is “a creature evolutionists wish never existed.”

The “living fossil” Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) is another well-known mosaic. Evolutionists suppose that it is closer to land animals than to fish, as it even gives birth to living offspring. Yet, Coelacanth, dubbed the dino fish, is undoubtably a fish and not a half mammal. Evolutionists believed it used its fins to walk on the seabed but observations have shown this to be false.

There are animals that look surprisingly similar but belong to different species. Dr. Carl Wieland, CEO of Creation Ministries International –Australia explains that the now probably extinct Tasmanian wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus) is a marsupial but looked like the wolf that is a placential. The Flying Phalanger (Petaurus) living in Australia and New Guinea is a marsupial that looks like the flying squirrel. The Darwinian explanation for this phenomenon is convergent evolution, that is, different species are thought to have evolved the same traits independently. A more logical explanation would be common design – the use of “good engineering” in different species.

Dr. Wieland uses the analogy of similar features in different car makes to explain these similarities. The early Porches had an air-cooled rear engine. So did the Volkswagen Beetle. Both cars had the same designer - Ferdinand Porsche, who used his intelligence and utilised functional parts of one of the cars he designed in another car. Common design is a better explanation than convergent evolution. The bones, wings and feathers of Archaeopteryx support the view that it was intelligently designed to be a flying bird. Biologist Michael Pitman says of avian feathers, “behold the parts of a precision instrument of aerospace, unparalleled in design and workmanship by human technology.” He says that reptiles could not have evolved into birds. “There is no decisive genetic or fossil evidence for evolution from scale to feather, cold to warm-bloodedness, non-flight to flight. Almost every tissue, bone and organ differs dramatically in birds.”

Anatomist Dr. David Menton sums up the dino-to birds view by saying, “The theory of the evolution of flight is not about the birds, so much as it’s a theory ‘for the birds.’” Accepting this view would involve concluding, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be - a feathered t-rex, of course!”

There is a more logical theory, though. It involves rejecting the common ancestor hypothesis in favor of Intelligent Design. It seems that the “after their kinds” view of the Book of Genesis explains biological reality much better than Darwinian evolution does.

The few “mosaic” features notwithstanding, Archaeopteryx looks like it was designed to be a flying bird, not a feathered dinosaur recycled from odd bits and pieces. There are several living animals, such as the duck-billed platypus, Coelacanth and ostrich, with mosaic traits. None of them is a missing link. Neither is Archie; it has too many traits that only true birds have, so it cannot be an icon of evolution. This elegantly designed bird points to supranatural technology that surpasses everything humans have ever been able to come up with.


Anon. 1999. Blown Away by Design: Michael Denton and Birds' Lungs. Creation 21(4):14–15.

Gish, Duane T. 1995. Evolution: The fossils Still Say NO! El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research.

Menton, David and Carl Wieland. 1994. Bird Evolution Flies Out The Window: An Anatomist talks about Archaeopteyx. Creation Ex Nihilo 16(4): 16- 19.

Pitman, Michael. 1984. Adam and Evolution. London: Rider.

Prum, Richard O. and Alan H.Brush. 2003. Which Came First, the Feather or the Bird? Scientific American 288 (3):60 –69.

Sarfati, Jonathan. 1998. Book review: Climbing Mount Improbable. TJ 12(1):29–34.

________________. 2002a Refuting Evolution. 2nd ed. Acacia Ridge, Australia: Answers in Genesis.

________________. 2002b. Ostrich Eggs Break Dino-to-Bird Theory. Creation 25(1):34–35.

Wells, Jonathan. 2002. Inherit the Spin: Darwinists Answer “Ten Questions” With Evasions and Falsehoods.

Wieland, Carl. 2004. Dynamic Life: Changes in Living Things. (DVD). Answers in Genesis.

____________. 2005. Dinos Breathed like Birds? TJ 19(3): 11 –12.