Yet More Feather Denial

An Archaeopteryx feather
For their Acts & Facts article for June, Did Some Dinosaurs Really Have Feathers?, Brian Thomas and Frank Sherwin build on Thomas’ earlier feather denialism:

A new dinosaur fossil discovered in China supposedly indicates that it had feathers. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the fossil of the Yutyrannus huali, the “beautiful feathered tyrant,” was the largest yet found of the now famous Chinese “feathered dinosaurs.” The technical description published in Nature claimed that a “gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China” was recovered. But do these fossils really reveal former feathers, or does another interpretation, perhaps something as simple as decayed skin fibers, better explain them?

Yes, we’ve been here before.

Below its headline, the Christian Science Monitor qualified the “feathered” label: These “feathers” are actually just “feather-like features,” or “simple filaments.” Similarly, the Nature text described them as “filamentous integumentary [skin] structures.” Real bird feathers are complicated, with semi-hollow cores and branching barbs, but the fossil’s filaments apparently did not have these features. If the word “feather” just means “filament,” then could any filament—like a hair or plant fiber—not also be called a “feather”?

They quibble over semantics. Once again, the ‘skin’ inserted into the quote is quite definitely an insert. The trouble is that the fossil isn’t actually all that well preserved, hence the description as ‘filaments.’ But they’re definitely feathers.

Answering this correctly is important. Why would God have placed feathers on dinosaurs when, today at least, only birds have feathers? On the other hand, “The idea of protofeathers [feather-like filaments on dinosaurs] has strengthened the resolve of many palaeontologists that birds are direct descendents of theropod [lizard-hipped, three-toed] dinosaurs,” even though these “feathers” have been discovered on non-theropod dinosaurs, too.

This is an unwise place for the ICR to make a stand. There are blatantly feathered non-avian dinosaurs, as we are going to see.

Also, we have an element of deception here. The protofeathers that Alan Feduccia (for that is a quote from a Feduccia paper) is saying are really collagen are not the same things as the actual feathers that Thomas and Sherwin are calling the same thing. Feduccia does not deny the clear feathers of such animals as Microraptor, for an example, he instead makes the rather extreme claim that this shows that these feathered dinosaurs aren’t actually dinosaurs. When it comes down to it it’s a no true scotsman fallacy, which will be part of why he’s in the minority these days. Take a look at the journal references for this article: they are pulled from quite a small group of researchers.

As for the discoveries of the protofeathers on non-theropod dinosaurs, consider this: Birds have feathers. Pterosaurs, the dinosaurs’ closest relatives, had their own coverings. It’s not, then, inconceivable that all dinosaurs may have had the base structures to work on, some of which then became true feathers.

Also, neither dinosaur skin impressions nor original dinosaur skin has follicles similar to those that produce feathers in bird skin. What purpose would bird feathers serve on those tough dino hides? Plus, dinosaurs could not have evolved into birds because transmutating a dinosaur skeleton into a bird skeleton would have rendered the transitional creatures unfit, being unable to fly or walk properly. These Chinese tyrannosaur fibers, as with perhaps all the famous Chinese fossil dinosaur “feathers” so far, are more straightforwardly interpreted as the fossilized fragments of partly decayed skin.

There are some really interesting adjectives in this article – “tough dino hides” etc. And the claim that the “transitional creatures” would be “unfit” is just bogus.

Skin contains collagen protein fibers that decay more slowly than the soluble biomaterials that surround them. The famous Chinese dinosaurs probably began rotting as they were transported by the waters of Noah’s Flood only 4,500 or so years ago, even as modern carcasses rot. The soluble flesh rotted first. The thickly woven collagen fibers would have soon rotted, too, but the surrounding mud or wet sand quickly turned to dry rock that inhibited growth of collagen-eating microbes.

Researchers in 2005 found an excellent match between partially decayed skin from a variety of animal carcasses and dinosaur “feathers” then published. Even the evolutionary authors contended that calling dinosaur fibers “feathers” was “misleading.” And these new tyrannosaur fibers provide no evidence to overturn that analysis.

Aha. That’s possibly because, again, that Feduccia paper is talking about protofeathers.

The idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds is also misleading. The poster child of Darwinian change is Archaeopteryx, an alleged link via therapod dinosaurs between reptiles and birds. However, unlike dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx had a large braincase for the increased motor control and sensory input that were required for flight. Theropods had a lizard-like pelvis that was distinct from a bird’s frame. Furthermore, Archaeopteryx had a robust furcula (wishbone), a trait characteristic of strong fliers—one that keeps flight muscles from crushing the bird’s delicate internal air sacs. No evidence supports the story that such fully formed wings with fused clavicles “evolved from” the tiny, clavicle-free theropod forelimbs. Even claw measurements of Archaeopteryx fall within the range of true perching birds. It was a bird without a single transitional feature.

What, exactly, is a ‘transitional feature’? Thomas mentions all these features that Archaeopteryx apparently had that dinosaurs did not, but what about all the features that birds have that Archaeopteryx did not? Modern birds do not have teeth – Archaeopteryx did. And the fused clavicles/furcula – one wonders why they did not put the “fused” in scare quotes, as that in itself implies evolution – are present in many non-avian dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurids.

Doesn't look so avian now, does it? (Excuse the French)

In addition, those who insist that dinosaurs evolved into birds have to willfully ignore the fossil bird prints found in rock layers containing some of the “earliest” dinosaurs—the supposed ancestors of birds.

Interesting. The reference for that claim is the Nature paper Bird-like fossil footprints from the Late Triassic. It’s always amusing to me how the ICR attacks and defends the reliability of certain scientific claims not on their merits but by whether they agree with them or not. Here’s an interesting forum topic on the subject. It’s really not conclusive, however.

An Archaeopteryx bird fossil from Solnhofen, Germany, was recently analyzed using new techniques that detect element ratios without destroying the material. The results indirectly, but certainly, identified original feather and bone proteins. It had the same biochemistry that comprises today’s feathers. Fossils show no evolution of feathers.

“Recently” means “published in 2010.” This does not really prove anything when it comes to feathers not evolving. And they did not identify “original feather and bone proteins.”

The original Archaeopteryx tissue also showed how young it must be. Its evolutionary age assignment is about 150 times older than its protein decay age estimate. So, not only does it look purposefully created, but it also appears to be recently fossilized. A separate study found that the supposed “feather” filaments in another Chinese dinosaur from the same large fossil set as that containing this new tyrannosaur, called the Jehol Biota, were also original biochemicals. They could persist in this state for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, but after a million or so years they would have spontaneously degraded to dust.

This is just made up – there is no original tissue here. Fossilised melanosomes are fossilised. They will survive a billion years if you let them.

A feathered dinosaur may someday be discovered. But even then, feathers on a dinosaur would not solve evolution’s biophysical impasse of converting a reptile skeleton into that of a bird. And so far, the evidence for feathered dinosaurs is much better interpreted as decayed skin fibers. Overall, fossils show that dinosaurs and birds have always been separate creatures. And this is exactly what one would expect if dinosaurs and birds were created separately, each to reproduce “after their kind.”

Click to enlargeThey hedge their bets as they conclude their article.

Also present in the article are a number of images. These are labeled “Extinct bird Eoenantiornis with feather impression and darkly colored feather tissue residue, China”; “Extinct dinosaur Caudipteryx labeled, “feathered dinosaur,” China. Dark streaks along spine best match decayed skin fibers, not feathers”; and “Extinct bird Archaeopteryx with feather impressions in rock, Germany.” The middle picture is Brian’s rather blurry image of the Caudipteryx we’ve seen before. A proper image – see to the right – will reveal far more obvious feathers than even the Archaeopteryx below it. It’s really breathtaking.

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8 thoughts on “Yet More Feather Denial

  1. If Archaeopteryx doesn’t have a “dinosaur-like skeleton” then why were a couple of the specimens originally classified as dinosaurs before someone spotted faint feather imprints in the surrounding rock? Basically the skeleton of Archaeopteryx is almost identical to that of a small dinosaur and, as you note, it lacks many features of later birds (e.g., the reversed hallux).

    The “lizard-like pelvis” is typical creationist ignorance. Theropods were “lizard-hipped” (Saurischians) because they had a pelvis that pointed forwards (rather than backwards, like a bird’s): but it was nothing like the small pelvis of a lizard — -rather it was an elongated, rod-like structure (again, like a bird’s). Theropods closely related to Archaeopteryx have a pubis that is in an intermediate postion (pointing downwards rather than forwards) to the condition in Archaeopteryx. I”m not a dinosaur expert, but there may be some known now with a backwardly-pointing pubis, can find out if you like.

    • I think I once heard a creationist try to claim that birds were supposed to have evolved from bird hipped dinosaurs. At any rate, how hard could it be to play around with a bone a bit?

  2. Why would they bother arguing on this? Creationism is a get out of jail free card on this matter. Feathers on dinosaurs? God just made them that way. It’s completely unfalsifiable, but instead they’ve got into an argument they’ve already lost.

    • I don’t know, really. The desire to sow confusion? Claiming, with great certainty, that the sky is green could have a similar effect… (I’ll have to test it someday)

  3. YEC Christians always helpfully flag the fact that they are going to deny the obvious whilst pretending to be ‘scientific’. They use the word ‘supposedly’.

    They don’t ever suppose. They PRE-suppose.

  4. My recent two emails to Answers in Genesis (they never respond):

    (1)
    ‘Evolutionary call to arms’ article of 1 June (on the AiG website)

    The Abstract to the Nature paper on Yutyrannus huali reported “Y.
    huali bears long filamentous feathers, thus providing direct evidence
    for the presence of extensively feathered gigantic dinosaurs”.

    The 14 April article on the AiG website claimed “In this case the ‘
    feathers’ consist of filamentous structures ‘too densely packed’ to
    determine their structural characteristics and filamentous structures
    whose ‘morphological details are not preserved'” and “On the other
    hand, calling dinosaur-associated filamentous structures that lack
    ordinary feather anatomy feathers does not make them feathers. (Such
    is this situation.) This convenient identification also does not make
    those structures ‘primitive feathers’ or ‘proto-feathers’ or any kind
    of transitional structure” and “Many experts believe filamentous
    structures such as those described here are collagen fibrils, a sort
    of connective tissue commonly found, among other places, in skin.
    (Feathers are made of keratin, not collagen.)”.

    Thus you MISREPRESENTED and REJECTED the conclusions of the Nature
    paper.

    According to Darren Naish, blogging in Scientific American on 4
    April:
    “If you’re wondering, claims that the integumentary structures
    present
    in coelurosaurian theropods might actually be decayed collagen fibres
    (yes, collagen fibres ? – I’m not kidding!!) are not likely and never
    have been”.

    THUS Russell Garwood is CORRECT to write in Nature recently: “The
    novelty of a large dinosaur with feathers was a selling point of the
    recent paper. However, in spite of a widespread agreement on birds’
    dinosaur origins, a limited number of researchers remain sceptical.
    Within days of the paper appearing, the influential creationist
    organization Answers in Genesis had exploited this disagreement. It
    misrepresented the Nature paper and disagreement about the
    equivalence
    of dinosaur feathers and bird feathers, concluding: “Dinosaurs did
    not evolve into birds… no evidence of feather evolution has been found
    in the fossil record.” It had presented an exciting discovery and a
    genuine scientific debate (albeit one that has almost run its course)
    as evidence against evolution, rather than as attempts to refine
    knowledge in this interesting area”.

    • Dammit, I knew I was lacking followup on the collagen thing. I’ll have to read Naish’s blog even more closely… At any rate, while AiG might be ‘cunning’ (not enough, it seems) these two sure aren’t.

  5. (2)
    I have just seen Ken Ham’s blog of 5 June, entitled ‘Evolutionist sees
    AiG as a threat’.

    According to Messrs Ham and Golden, “Dr [Elizabeth] Mitchell pointed
    out that “Despite the tendency of the media and many evolutionists to
    continually refer to the existence of feathered dinosaurs as an
    established fact, not all evolutionists agree with that claim.””
    However, her ‘News to Note’ article of 14 April ONLY quoted Dr Alan
    Feduccia – and a comment by him that is 7 years’ old and therefore not
    evaluating the Yutyrannus dinosaur! As I understand it, incidentally,
    Dr Feduccia is not sceptical of evolution. A further, unsubstantiated,
    comment by Dr Mitchell was: “Many experts believe filamentous
    structures such as those described here are collagen fibrils, a sort of
    connective tissue commonly found, among other places, in skin.
    (Feathers are made of keratin, not collagen.).”

    The 5 June blog states: “What seems to be the problem here, however,
    is not that Dr. Mitchell “exploited” any disagreement with evolutionary
    ideas – she simply pointed out that there is disagreement. Rather, it
    seems that the problem is that she mentioned any disagreement at all”.
    Dr Mitchell did NOT merely mention ‘disagreement’; she stated that
    “dinosaurs did not evolve into birds” and implied that, based on this
    PRE-SUPPOSITION, therefore Yutyrannus was not a feathered dinosaur and
    the minority scientific view is correct – despite the 2012 Nature
    paper which of course refers to a ‘new’ species.

    Garwood stated in Nature on 16 May: “The novelty of a large dinosaur
    with feathers was a selling point of the recent paper. However, in
    spite of a widespread agreement on birds’ dinosaur origins, a limited
    number of researchers remain sceptical. Within days of the paper
    appearing, the influential creationist organization Answers in Genesis
    had exploited this disagreement. It misrepresented the Nature paper and
    disagreement about the equivalence of dinosaur feathers and bird
    feathers, concluding: ?Dinosaurs did not evolve into birds ? no
    evidence of feather evolution has been found in the fossil record.? It
    had presented an exciting discovery and a genuine scientific debate
    (albeit one that has almost run its course) as evidence against
    evolution, rather than as attempts to refine knowledge in this
    interesting area”.

    A reminder that the Abstract of the Nature paper about Yutyrannus
    reported: “Y. huali bears long filamentous feathers, thus providing
    direct evidence for the presence of extensively feathered gigantic
    dinosaurs and offering new insights into early feather evolution”. The
    AiG’s News to Note did NOT mention this. Yet in his blog Mr Ham informs
    his supporters “Dr. Mitchell quoted the findings directly from the
    paper”. The filaments in question were around 7 inches long. She did
    not mention that, she merely provided a (non-live) link to the
    Abstract.

    Russell Garwood has already acknowledged my first email, below (unlike
    Answers in Genesis).

    Scientist Christine Janis recently informed me:
    “An important point here is that collagen is derived from *mesoderm*,
    and thus is formed in the *dermis* (ie., not in the top layer of the
    skin, the epidermis, where keratinous structures are found).
    The “collagen fibers” notion comes from a critique of Sinosauropteryx
    by John Ruben. He proposed that the apparent short “frill” along the
    backbone of this animal was actually frayed collagen fibers under the
    epidermis, that had become exposed via decay. This is, to the best of
    my
    knowledge, THE ONLY PLACE where anyone has proposed that dinosaurs’
    integumentary (ie skin) structures are collagenous.
    This interpretation is not impossible (although not particularly well-
    supported) for Sinosauropteryx. However, structures that obviously
    *protrude* from the surface of the skin, such as in Yutyrannus,
    cannot
    possibly be made of collagen, it would be developmentally impossible.
    More proof that the AiG “scientists” don’t know their science, and
    are
    just cherry-picking from any scientific papers that they can find
    that
    support their claims.”

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, after my email to AiG
    dated 2 June, they DID reject (on the basis of claimed disagreements
    among palaeontologists among other things) the conclusions of the
    Nature paper.

    “In fact, all the evidence we find in palaeontology, archaeology, and
    other areas of science only serves to confirm the Bible?s account of
    Creation, the Flood, and rest of history”. Oh no it doesn’t! Including
    Australopithecus afarensis – which the AiG’s Creation Museum is now
    pretending was merely ‘some sort of gorilla’. Given THAT blatant fraud,
    how could any UNBIASED person trust your other claims about what you
    call ‘science’?

    The Institute of Creation Research have also denied the protofeathers
    possessed by Yutyrannus. Eye on the ICR has just published another
    counter-blog.

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