googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: They Were Wrong About Bird Evolution

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

They Were Wrong About Bird Evolution

A fellow creationist recently brought this article to my attention: Huge Genome-scale Phylogenetic Study Of Birds Rewrites Evolutionary Tree-of-life. The title alone speaks volumes. For years, I’ve heard how that famous nested hierarchy is evidence for common descent (AKA evolution). But after this new study, I guess scientists are busy rearranging all of our feathered friends into new places in the hierarchy. Of course, I suppose they'll still consider it evidence for their theory, but never mind that now.

There is so much in this article that I’d like to highlight and I don’t know exactly where to begin. I certainly want to draw your attention to the opening sentence:
"The largest ever study of bird genetics has not only shaken up but completely redrawn the avian evolutionary tree." [bold added]
Now, Sciencedaily is devoted to headline-journalism science. They want the article to seem earth-shattering. But given the info from the rest of the article, they may be onto something. Consider this quote:
“Birds are among the most studied and loved animals, and much of what we know about animal biology -- from natural history to ecology, speciation, reproduction, etc. -- is based on birds.”
Did you get that? Look again:
“Birds are among the most studied and loved animals, and much of what we know about animal biology…is based on birds.”
So, much of what we know about biology we learned from studying birds (among the most studied animals). But now, the article plainly states that, “much of bird classification and conventional wisdom on the evolutionary relationships of birds is wrong.” Keep in mind, of course, that birds are extant animals! We've studied them for hundreds of years. We've studied them at length since Darwin wrote his book. And we've been mostly wrong about their evolutionary relationships. Ask yourself this question; if they were this wrong about the evolutionary relatedness of living animals, how much confidence can we have in the study of the evolutionary relationship between living animals and long extinct animals?

What’s especially funny is that, on the same page as this article is a link to another article entitled, “Molecular Analysis Confirms Tyrannosaurus Rex's Evolutionary Link To Birds.” Isn’t that a hoot? They still aren’t sure how modern birds are related (after years of being among the most studied animals) but they have confirmed T-Rex is certainly related to birds. But I digress.

There’s another subtle point made several times in the article. Here are a couple of examples:
“Birds adapted to the diverse environments several distinct times”
“Similarly, distinctive lifestyles… evolved several times.”
“Birds that look or act similar are not necessarily related.”
There’s a common understanding among evolutionists that animals which are closely related share common characteristics because they are closely related. A human and a chimp, for example, share certain features because they are assumed to be closely related. However, we see here that certain characteristics are shared among birds that scientists now believe are NOT closely related. How do they explain the similar characteristics then? They believe the same trait just happened to evolve several times! (otherwise known as convergent evolution)

This is significant because homology is supposed to be evidence for evolutionary relatedness. But here we see unrelated birds sharing traits. Therefore, similar features are not necessarily evidence of anything. They just share characteristics. Of course, another perfectly reasonable explanation for similar characteristics is a common Creator!

Let’s look at one last point made in the article:
“The evolution of birds has been notoriously difficult to determine. This is probably because modern birds arose relatively quickly (within a few million years) during an explosive radiation that occurred sometime between 65 million and 100 million years ago. The result of this rapid divergence early in the evolutionary history of birds is the fact that many groups of similar-looking birds (for example, owls, parrots and doves) have few, if any, living intermediary forms linking them to other well-defined groups of birds.” [bold added]
So the evolutionary links between many common birds (such as owls) is tenuous. I suppose some might say there are “missing links.” According to Wikipedia, “The Paleocene genera Berruornis and Ogygoptynx show that owls were already present as a distinct lineage some 60-58 mya (million years ago).” So owls have always been owls. There’s no obvious progression from T-Rex, to ostrich, to owl (or anything like that).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Sciencedaily is ready to throw out evolution simply because we’ve been wrong about bird evolution all this time. But I wanted you to see this for what it is. The evolution of one of the most studied animals, from which we can much of our knowledge of biology, has been wrong. The old facts have been replaced with new facts. I’m weird in that I ascribe to facts the characteristic of being true. If the old facts weren’t true then there were never facts, were they?

1 comment:

NP said...

RK, why does your blog's goal appear to be to spread misinformation?

- The study reaffirmed that the major avian branches have been correctly classified. What it challenged were certain hypotheses regarding the phylogeny of birds in lower taxonomic levels - something that required a broad molecular study such as this one. It's not like it's saying that falcons are more closely related to ostriches than to eagles.

- I don't know how you gather that the nested hierarchy has been dissolved with this new analysis. Can you point out a case where morphological characters contradict the molecular phylogeny? That is to say, does the molecular analysis place in the same clade, birds that exhibit few shared synapomorphies?

- We've studied birds for a long time, but gene sequencing tools that make such a study possible are fairly recent. This is like blaming 19th century scientists for not knowing about pulsars, even though the stars have been studied for centuries. Your argument is ridiculous.

- The level of certainty of the phylogeny of certain fossils is of course not absolute, and it is likely to change if analyses are redone with newer technologies, or if new fossils are discovered. However, there is enough certainty to know that australopithecenes were
primates rather than rodents.

- There is plenty of evidence indicating that dinosaurs and birds are related; there is the fossil evidence, and there is now also molecular evidence for this. A step-by-step evolutionary sequence in the fossil record is not necessary. Assuming that the mythic Adam existed, would it be rational to say that you could not be a descendant of his unless you can produce a detailed genealogy without any gaps?

- I don't know where you're going with convergent evolution, other than you placing a misinformed spin on it.

- When using morphology to derive the phylogeny of organisms, it is usually done with as many features as possible in order to arrive at a more accurate phylogeny. One also looks at synapomorphies - which are unique to the lineage, and so evolutionary relatedness is not determined through a superficial comparison of homologous features as you seem to be implying.

- Again, the same old silly "owl is still an owl, ostrich is still an ostrich" misdirection. In fact, it's rather disingenuous given that several fossils e.g. Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis provide a clear example of a transitional from theropods to birds, as well as other primitive groups like Enantiornithes.

- Lastly, you don't seem to have any clue as to how the process of science operates. New data refining old hypotheses don't keep scientists up at night; it is precisely this process that leads to advancement in science. And just in case you missed it, I'll repeat: the study challenges certain hypothesis of bird phylogeny at lower taxonomic levels, but provides unambiguous evidence that corroborates the accepted phylogeny at higher taxonomic levels. This is how science moves forward.