Was Archaeopteryx Devolving? Thus Losing It’s Ability to Fly?

The below is a response to a conversation elsewhere on the WWW.

ARCHAEOPTERYX

I have a digital edition of Science Magazine and they allow me to read all the past articles (like this one, Archaeopteryx: Early Bird Catches a Can of Worms). In the article a wild eyed creationist… er… I mean, a respected evolutionist discusses how Archaeopteryx is more bird like, not the missing link between dino and bird.

In the article we find this:

  • feathers are 100% bird feathers;
  • hollow bones like birds;
  • It’s claws were perching claws (similar to the Bowerbird)…
  • doubts connected with dico/bird progression

…even the father of the modern “bird/dino” theory, John Ostrom, says this of recent revelations about Archaeopteryx:

  • “I’m just having a ball,” he said with a chuckle. “It sounds to me as if Alan [Feduccia] has presented a very good argument; I’m not sure he’s absolutely right, but I’m sure he’s on solid ground.”

Since the writing of the linked article at Science, more evidence (I will repeat, e-v-i-d-e-n-c-e) has come to light supporting the articles authored (Alan Feduccia) and curator of birds at the Smithsonian Institute, Storrs Olson:

  • bumps in the bone where feathers were connected (just like birds);
  • the avian lung was present in Archaeopteryx [pneumatized vertebrae and pelvis];
  • Cat Scans of the skull shows that the brain was birdlike, not dino-like (“Axial and appendicular pneumaticity in Archaeopteryx,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B. 267:2501–2505, 2000);
  • similar inner ear findings (“The avian nature of the brain and inner ear of Archaeopteryx,” Nature 430(7000):666–669, 5 August 2004; Witmer, L.M, “Inside the oldest bird brain, perspective,” same issue, pp. 619–620);
  • In 2011, “the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, the researchers wrote that Archaeopteryx’s assignment to a dinosaur group earlier this year ‘was acknowledged to be weakly supported’, They constructed new cladograms that pictured Archaeopteryx with birds, and not with any dinosaurs, with a caption that reads, ‘Archaeopteryx robustly reinstated as the most basal bird’.” (“Likelihood reinstates Archaeopteryx as a primitive bird,” Biology Letters. Published online before print October 26, 2011).

Some more resources for the above bullet points:

  1. Archaeopteryx (unlike Archaeoraptor) is NOT a hoax—it is a true bird, not a “missing link”
  2. Archaeopteryx Is a Bird… Again
  3. Dinosaurs vs. Birds: The Fossils Don’t Lie

AND FINALLY

Since other feathered “birds” have been found around the same time or earlier than Archaeopteryx, causing Alan Feduccia to quip, “You can’t be older than your grandfather” (Creation.com)… Nature has published an article pointing out that Archaeopteryx is JUST LIKE modern flightless birds.

And so it could have been losing its ability for flight (like modern birds have).

“We know Archaeopteryx was living on an archipelago during the Jurassic. And with its feathers and bones looking so much like modern flightless island birds, it just makes me wonder,” says…. Michael Habib, a biologist at the University of Southern California….

[….]

“Just because Archaeopteryx was the first feathered dinosaur found, doesn’t mean it has to play a central role in the actual history of the origins of birds,” says palaeontologist Thomas Holtz of the University of Maryland in College Park. “We have to remember it appears 10 million years or so after the oldest known bird-like dinosaurs and so our famous ‘first bird’ may really be a secondarily flightless one.”

(NATURE JOURNAL)

Recent events cast even further doubt on Archaeopteryx as a transitional form. If the claims of Sankar Chatterjee prove to be valid, then certainly Archaeopteryx could not be the ancestral bird, and dinosaurs could not be ancestral to birds. Chatterjee and his co-workers at Texas Tech University claim to have found two crow-sized fossils of a bird near Post, Texas, in rocks supposedly 225 million years old—thus allegedly 75 million years older than Archaeopteryx and as old as the first dinosaurs. Totally contrary to what evolutionists would expect for such a fossil bird, however, Chatterjee claims that his bird is even more bird-like than Archaeopteryx! In contrast to Archaeopteryx, this bird had a keel-like breastbone and hollow bones. In most other respects, it was similar to Archaeopteryx.14 If evolutionary assumptions are correct, this bird should have been much more reptile-like than Archaeopteryx. In fact, he shouldn’t even exist!

14. S. Weisburd, Science News, August 16, 1986, p. 103; Tim Beardsley, Nature 322:677 (1986).

(ICR)

But even if its classification waffles again, it is disqualified as an evolutionary ancestor for birds by the fact that scientists found a crow-size bird and extinct four-winged birds in rock layers designated to be below those containing Archaeopteryx.3,4

3. Thomas, B. Early Bird Gets the Boot: Researchers Reclassify ArchaeopteryxICR News. Posted on icr.org August 5, 2011, accessed October 27, 2011.

4. Beardsley, T. 1986. Fossil bird shakes evolutionary hypothesesNature. 322 (6081): 677. (pictured at beginning of post)

There is just as much [at best] evidence for this proposition as the next. “Devolution” — a loss of specificity, may be a more reasonable position to take via observed evidence. We see this all the time (directly below is an example from Lee Spetner’s new book), and EVOLUTION NEWS says that “looks like Archaeopteryx may have to be reclassified as a different sort of icon — symbolizing evolution by loss of function.” Oops.

Antibiotic Resistance

The evolution of antibiotic resistance has been for some time the Dar­winists’ favorite example for “demonstrating” evolution (Common De­scent). Superficially their case looks good. Antibiotics date only from about 1930 with the discovery of penicillin (Fleming 1929), followed by the development of a method to produce it with high yield (Chain et al. 1940). Antibiotics were first introduced to the public in 1942 to cure bacterial infection (Levy 1992, 4), and by the mid 1940s the first strains appeared of Staphylococcus resistant to penicillin (Fisher 1994, 15). Just a few years after antibiotics were introduced, resistant strains of the pathogens were found to have already evolved. As each new an­tibiotic was discovered and put into use against pathogenic bacteria, resistant strains soon followed. The argument then goes, with a wave of the hand, like this: If a small but significant evolutionary change like antibiotic resistance can evolve in only a few years, then surely in a mil­lion years huge evolutionary changes must occur. Darwinists expect this argument to support Common Descent.

An examination of the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance, however, shows it lends no support at all to Common Descent (Spetner 1997, 138­143). Antibiotics are natural molecules produced by some microorgan­isms for the purpose of killing other hostile microorganisms. A microor­ganism that makes an antibiotic must, itself, be resistant to the antibiotic it makes. For this purpose it is typically endowed with a battery of genes that code for a resistance mechanism. Most useful antibiotics have come from soil bacteria (D’Costa et al. 2006). How bacteria have acquired this resistance initially is not known, nor can neo-Darwinian theory shed any light on it. Antibiotic resistance genes have been found to predate the use of antibiotics by at least many thousands of years (D’Costa et al. 2011). Moreover, bacteria are known to be able to transfer genetic ma­terial to other bacteria through HGT (see above). On occasion, copies of the genes for resistance can find their way from a type of bacterium that is normally resistant to a type that is not normally resistant. When that happens, the recipient bacterium becomes resistant. This is indeed evolution, but it is a limited evolution of the population-change type. It is not the Common-Descent type of evolution.

The resistance genes already exist in the biosphere. No new informa­tion has appeared in the biosphere through this type of evolution of an­tibiotic resistance. Common-Descent evolution cannot be achieved by this procedure even if it were repeated innumerable times in succession, because no new information would be built up. This method of evolving antibiotic resistance therefore lends no support for Common Descent.

Sometimes, however, antibiotic resistance can indeed appear through a random mutation — a DNA copying error, which would bring something new to the biosphere. This kind of change looks like it might satisfy the requirements for Common Descent, so I shall give a brief description of it here, although I have already dealt with it in my previous book.

As an example, let us look at how a bacterium acquires resistance to streptomycin through a random mutation. All cells, whether of bacteria or of plants or animals, contain organelles called ribosomes, whose function it is to make protein according to instructions from the DNA of a gene. Proteins are large molecules, consisting of long chains of small molecules called amino acids, and are essential to all living things. They function as enzymes, which catalyze all the chemical reactions in a cell — each chemical reaction catalyzed by a specific enzyme. Proteins can also serve as structural elements. Of­ten, and maybe even always, a structural protein functions also as an enzyme. For an enzyme to perform its function, it must have a specif­ic sequence of amino acids.

A ribosome is an organelle within a cell that manufactures protein. It makes a protein by putting together a chain of amino acids according to the instructions in the DNA. A segment of the DNA is transcribed into an RNA molecule that matches the DNA nucleotide by nucleo­tide. This RNA is called messenger RNA because it carries the DNA message to the ribosome. The ribosome translates the message in the DNA into amino acids according to the genetic code. Three nucleotides translate into one amino acid. Accordingly, the ribosome constructs a chain of amino acids to form a protein.

The antibiotic streptomycin, for example, acts on a bacterial cell by attaching to a ribosome at a site to which it matches, the way a key fits into a lock. When the streptomycin molecule attaches to this site, it in­terferes with the ribosome function and causes it to make mistakes lead­ing to incorrect, dysfunctional or nonfunctional, protein. The errors it causes prevent the cell from growing, reproducing, and eventually from living. The important feature of streptomycin, and indeed of all other antibiotics, is that it kills bacteria but does not harm the mammalian host. Streptomycin kills the bacterial cells that are infecting you without killing your own cells. It discriminates between the cells of the bacteria and the cells of the host by its specific attachment to a matching site on the bacterial ribosome, a site not found on the host’s ribosomes.

A bacterium will gain resistance to streptomycin if a point mutation occurs in the gene coding for the protein in the ribosome, ruining the matching site, destroying the specificity of the protein, and preventing a streptomycin molecule from attaching. If the streptomycin cannot at­tach to the matching site, the bacterium is resistant. Just one mutation in the portion of the DNA coding for the matching site can mess up the site so the streptomycin cannot attach. It turns out that any one of several mutations in that portion of the DNA will grant the bacterium resistance (Gartner and Orias 1966). Note that this type of resistance is caused by a single random point mutation, but it cannot serve as an example of mutations that can support Common Descent. One cannot expect mutations destroying specificity, no matter how many of them there are, to build information and lead to Common Descent. Destruc­tion of specificity does not add information — it destroys it. One can­not add information by destroying it, no matter how many times one repeats the process. I have previously (Spetner 1997) compared trying to build up information in this manner to the merchant who was losing a little money on each sale but thought he could make it up on volume. The acquisition of antibiotic resistance is indeed evolution, but only a limited form of it. It cannot lead to Common Descent.

No example of antibiotic resistance in bacteria adds information to the biosphere. To become resistant, the bacteria either pick up ready-made resistance genes from other bacteria or they undergo a mu­tation that destroys information. Antibiotic resistance cannot therefore be an evolutionary example that could support Common Descent be­cause a chain of such mutations, no matter how long, does not add in­formation and thus cannot lead to Common Descent. The Darwinists’ favorite example of evolution fails to pass muster.

End Notes

Chain, E. et al. (1940) Penicillin as a Chemotherapeutic Agent. Lancet 239: 226-228.

D’Costa, Vanessa M., Katherine M. McGrann, Donald W. Hughes, and Gerard D. Wright. (2006) Sampling the antibiotic resistome. Science 311: 374-377.

D’Costa, Vanessa M. et. al. (2011) Antibiotic Resistance is Ancient. Nature 477:457-461.

Fisher, Jeffrey A. (1994) The Plague Makers: How we are creating catastrophic new epidemics — and what we must do to avert them. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Fleming, A. (1929) On the antibacterial action of cultures of a Penicillium, with special reference to their use in the isolation of B. influenzae. British Journal of Experimental Pathology 10: 226-238.

Gartner, T. K. and E. Orias, (1966) Effects of mutations to streptomycin resistance on the rate of translation of mutant genetic information. Journal of Bacteriology 91: 1021-1028.

Levy, Stuart B. (1992) The Antibiotic paradox: How Miracle Drugs are Destroying the Miracle. New York: Plenum Press.

Spetner. L. M. (1997) Not by chance! Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution. Brooklyn: Judaica Press.

Lee Spetner, The Evolution Revolution: Why Thinking People Are Rethinking the Theory of Evolution (Brooklyn, NY: Judaica Press, 2014), 119-120.

A friend comments about the newer position on his Creation/Evolution Headlines saying one “paleontologist remarked, ‘We really need an improved understanding of how anatomy relates to these diverse behaviours, so we can better interpret the fossil record’.” Continuing he adds his thinking to the matter:

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.

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