Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ever Wonder Why Creationists and Biologists don't see eye-to-eye?

` This is kind of an unexpected entry - I was writing one about birdlike dinosaurs, but it went bye-byes because I did something especially stupid to my browser in a period of boredom. In re-doing everything, I came across a rather typical creationist website - which is one where such people seem to be writing about a completely different universe than the one scientists study. It had an article about feathered dinosaurs - from another dimension, apparently - which I had plenty to say about.
` After working for two days on the dinosaur entry (starting tomorrow), I figured I'd take a break and tell you what I said.

` In this entry, I simply wish to share with anyone who comes here an overly-obvious example of what is probably the most popular ploy these anti-evolutionists use in order to make scientists look stupid - talking on another plane of existence, as it were, as mainstream science.

` The first example I use is about a fossil with a fuzzy little head...

` The argument goes like this:

` A creationist (or other anti-evolution proponent) will often say that most scientists who deal with evolution actually believe some
ridiculous statement, though the scientists in question actually do not! Because of this, the scientists in question look very stupid unless you already know it isn't true.

` This is called 'character assassination!'

` Similarly, such creationists have been known to garble and misrepresent valid scientific data and theories - including the very nature of science! - so that these look just as silly as the fake allegations!

` And why do all that? The creationists - as well as the main Intelligent Design proponents - complain that scientists are threatening their faith by claiming that God did not create life on earth. (If that is their interpretation of the Bible, then fine, but scientists are not interested in disproving religions!)
` Erroneously, they go even further by saying that scientists actually claim that
God does not exist! That seems to be the main motivation for attempting to ruin the reputations of many important scientific minds.
` By doing this, such anti-evolutionists insult botanists, zoologists, paleontologists, paleo-anthropologists, bio-geographers, developmental biologists, cosmologists, geologists, social biologists, bio-physicists, bio-chemists, geneticists, and in fact,
all honest scientists by lying about not only findings and scientists' interpretations of those findings, but the scientific way itself!

` In this article, I have a cluster of similar examples I have randomly come across - I run into them all the time, actually - showing precisely what I've just described.

` The material is from the website of a magazine called Creation. This first part is from a very brief article by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati entitled; 'BPM 1 3-13' - have they finally found a true feathered dinosaur?
` These images are closeups of the specimen in question. This one shows branched structures radiating perpendicularly to the forearm.
` Typical of creationist propaganda, it is full of lots of this false 'what scientists think' gibberish.

` In order to get my point across, it is best that you know what is going on in the heads of scientists, which most people don't actually. If you have already read my Dinosaurs and their Descendents entries, you'd be sure to see that the people at Creation clearly don't seem to be familiar with the work of dinosaurologists and such at all!

` If you have not read my Dinosaurs and their Descendents (DatD) entries (on Saturdays, starting here), or do not know much about the relevant topics of Sarfati's article and the others, yet insist on reading this one anyway, then this article will probably not make a lot of sense. Just to warn you.

` Now, this article is about BPM 1 3-13, a tiny dromaeosaur, which if you have read the DatD, articles, you'd definitely know something about it by now. The fossil itself is comprised of two slabs, mirror images of a tiny dinosaur which has clear impressions of fibers - there appears to be down as well as long feathers protruding from the arms. You can click on and view more images here.

` Other coelurosaur theropods are also known for different forms of feathers similar to or identical to those found on modern birds, including members of the compsognathid, tyrannosaur, oviraptorosaur, therizinosaur, and especially dromaeosaur (a.k.a. 'raptor') clades.

` If you've read my DatD entries, you'd definitely know that one reason that why scientists would really think that small, birdlike dinosaurs had these insulating feathers is because they were endothermic, or 'warm-blooded.'
` As you may know, there is every reason - microscopic and macroscopic - to think that their metabolisms were high enough to need them.
` Also, every feature of birds places them in the maniraptor clade - with BPM 1 3-13 - and now it is becoming clear that feathers are normal for the smaller coelurosaurs.

` Now, for some reason, John Sarfati doesn't think that these dinosaurs had feathers at all, despite the fact that it is extremely well-documented by now. Of course, there is no reason a creationist shouldn't accept that any animal has feathers, which even he points out.
` Neither should they have any reason to doubt that the features of birds place them in the maniraptor clade with similar species, just as housecats are placed in the carnivore clade with lions and tigers.
` Unless, of course, these people actually view it as threatening to be some sort of real evidence that (gasp!) birds are maniraptors because they evolved from other maniraptors!

` Perish the thought!

` Sarfati here, though, seems to be for some reason terrified at this idea... Just like a typical creationist; his faith hangs on the threat of evolution and he doesn't seem to understand the complex relationships between these animals, nor many scientific concepts relevant to them.
` For example, the articles here that I've read use words like 'class', which are terms that have been discarded by biologists because they can no longer be used in practice. Then again, perhaps he does know more than he lets on, but chooses to tell lies in an attempt to make scientists look stupid and dogmatic.

` I can't say which is more likely, only that it is typical behavior of his lot.

` Anyhow, here's my running commentary on the actual article: After assuring people that feathered dinosaur fossils do not really exist for real Sarfati writes:

Many of the same things are apparent with BPM as with many of the other now-discredited claims, e.g.:

~ This specimen is 'dated' (by evolutionary/uniformitarian methods) as >20 million years younger than Archaeopteryx, a true bird with flight feathers and an avian lung system. Therefore this can provide no proof that birds evolved from such creatures in the first place.

` Very good, Binky! Scientists do not think that this dromaeosaur evolved into birds, and they are well aware that the idea of any fossil animal evolving into animals which lived beforehand makes no sense. Implying that they do, or that bird-dino evolution somehow rests on this... well, that's a straw man right there.

~ Dr Storrs Olson, Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Natural Histoy of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, has previously been scathing about overzealous bird-dino claims in both Nature and National Geographic... Similarly, he says he cannot discern feathers or feathery structures in this latest discovery, and advises caution against the possibilities that the feathers come from a different source...

` So, Olson can't make out any feathers? I could be wrong, but II think that at this time Olson hadn't even gotten a chance to look at the specimen - he was just making inferences from photographs.

This caution is reasonable - he was one of the first to smell a rat about the Archaeoraptor fraud... Another prominent sceptic of the dino-to-bird dogma, Dr. Larry Martin of the University of Kansas, also warns about the possibility of a fake...

` Okay, one thing... maybe National Geographic was a bit too premature with their Archaeoraptor article, but it wasn't exactly a fraud! (At least not a scientific one!)
` It was an incident involving a poor layman trying to make two similar-looking broken fossils more presentable with glue, and his intention was not to give it to a paleontologist, but to make money, at the risk of his own life. Luckily, it was found by paleontologists anyway, and they discovered two new species from it after they had studied it more thoroughly.
` Also, notice how eager creationists like this one are to put the titles and universities of scientists in their material, whether reputable or not. In fact, anti-evolutionists will sometimes use mainstream and/or reputable scientists' quotes on something they know a lot about, and use them out of context - understandably, this annoys such scientists greatly.

` Honestly, if you read my dino posts, you'd see that this anti-dino-bird business is made of arguments that seriously do not make a lot of sense.

~ We have previously pointed out that feathers on a dinosaur are not ruled out by creationist theory, and would not prove that dinosaurs could overcome the huge hurdles of actually evolving into a bird.

` Huge hurdles? There is are many more similarities between an and a dromaeosaur than an Archaeopteryx and any modern bird! If you don't believe me, check out a skeleton of an Archaeopteryx and then a small dromaeosaur.

Similarly, there's no creationist reason why the pterodactyls shouldn't have a fur-like covering - yet no evolutionist believes that pterodactyls evolved into mammals.

` Ooo-kay... For one thing, what is the purpose of this article? If God can create dinosaurs any way He wants, then why bother denying them feathers and other avian characteristics - most of which are shared by dromaeosaurs?
` Why deny what scientists report about the structures of any fossil, for that matter? If God can create dinosaurs that are part-way to true birds on a whim (= they really could have existed), then why bother to refute their existence? In other words, this comment of Dr. Sarfati's seems to say; "What I said earlier means nothing."

` The logical conclusion? This whole article must have been written out of Sarfati's fear of science ruining his religion. And the thing about pterodactyls, which are called pterosaurs by anyone who knows the first thing about them, was merely misdirection: If they had projectile skin filaments (similar to hair), that probably means they were endothermic (warm-blooded), not that they evolved into mammals.

` Anyhow, I'm reading another piece of material from the site - The 'Feathered Dinosaur' Find... by Carl Weiland. He paints the picture of dino-bird biologists as being fanatical, hardcore, dogmatic idiots. Basically, he's like; 'feather impressions are either not from feathers, or they are feathers but the animals were true birds.'
` Yeah... Alan Feduccia, who is one of those really annoying scientists who shirks their objectivity by not considering everything that's relevant, says that some of the feathered dinosaurs were flightless birds. That just goes to show you how birdlike these animals were - not much different than prehistoric birds in most ways! (But there are small features that distinguish them.)

` Also, he acts like 'Ha! They admit their arms were too short to be wings, and Mark Norell says they're 'nonavian dinosaurs', so according to him, they're not partway to birds!' That's not what 'nonavian dinosaur' means! A nonavian dinosaur could be any dinosaur that is not a true bird, but the dinosaur in question may have been anywhere from something resembling an Archaeopteryx to the other end of the spectrum where you have species like Triceratops and Stegosaurus.
` He writes; 'Even the deepest enthusiasts are forced to acknlowedge that these are not actually feathers.' Well, while the oviraptor-like Caudipteryx (one of Feduccia's 'birds') has true feathers, the others had 'protofeathers', which appear to be the same thing, but without the microscopic hooklets and barbules. Clearly, they are related structures.
` But then he goes on to say that if this is true, then so what? It's still consistent with their creation story - the only reason they reject the idea is because they were conditioned to think dinosaurs looked one way, but preconceived ideas (of scaly, lizardy things) have been changing... bla bla bla...
` So is the reason they are really rejecting this because they like pseudoscience so much? Or is it because they like to make decent scientists look stupid?

` Another article is; Which came first, the dino or the bird? by Jonathan Sarfati. He says:

According to the Word of One who was there, the bird came first - air and sea creatures were created on Day 5 while land creatures (which must logically include dinosaurs) were created on Day 6.

` According to his
version of Genesis anyway - not all of them are the same!

However, evolutionists, who weren't there, believe that birds evolved from land creatures, and therefore must have come after them.

` Like any skeptic, if I was 'there', watching God creating life in whatever vague way he's talking about it that was not evolution, I'd be quick to agree. But from the vast records of the rocks, embryos, and DNA strands, we can infer only what happened by what the earth and its life forms tell us - and it's a lot different.
` It is probably not worth noting, however, that Sarfati was 'not there' as well. So I'll pretend I didn't say so. Instead, I will wonder what day he believes that ostriches were created on - they are not 'fowls of the air'. (However, I think this term also has to do with which translation you are looking at.)

One group of evolutionists believes that birds evolved from small tree-dwelling reptiles (not dinosaurs), hence it's called the arboreal theory. Its intellectual leader is probably Dr Alan Feduccia, University of North Carolina ornithologist and author of the encyclopedic book The Origin and Evolution of Birds.

` Feduccia, as well as a few others, are 'leaders' that stand alone in their ideas. It is almost unanimous that birds evolved from small, probably tree-dwelling dinosaurs, which is a hypothesis that does not involve those lizard-looking things. (To learn more about tree-dwelling dinosaurs - and the 'lizard-looking things' - that have been found, consult my DatD blog.)
` And why do creationists side with such evolutionists? Because they inhabit the weird world of fringe science and pseudoscience and things like that. Basically, what happens with Feduccia is that all he does is argue with the other scientists and they have no choice but to tell him to consider all the other evidence, which he won't. This gives the false impression that there is some kind of controversy, and this is the kind of thing anti-evolutionists pick and choose from to further their ideas.

The other, more vocal group believes that birds evolved from running dinosaurs, so it's called the cursorial theory. The dinosaurs concerned are types of theropod (carnivorous dinosaur) called the Dromaeosaurs, the group to which Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame belongs.

` These scientists do not think that birds evolved from dromaeosaurs. Generally, it is thought that birds and dromaeosaurs shared a common ancestor, which may have climbed trees. Also, I believe Feduccia himself was the one who said that they were more vocal, though he is the one who has to resort to screaming hatefully at those who ignore him. Really though, there's not much controversy except what you find in the mass-media.

Bird evolution is one of the most controversial areas in evolutionary paleontology, and leaders of both groups have made extremely powerful (and sometimes acrimonious) criticisms of the other.

` As I said, this is not true.

I think they are both right in their criticisms - birds evolved from neither!

` Oh, how clever.

One of the most scathing critiques was by Dr. Storrs Olson, Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, in an open letter:

` Him again...

'The idea of feathered dinosaurs and the theropod origin of birds is being actively promulgated by a cadre of zealous scientists acting in concert with certain editors at Nature and National Geographic who have become outspoken and highly biased proselytizers of the faith. Truth and careful scientific weighing of evidence have been among the first casualities in their program, which is now fast becoming one of the grander scientific hoaxes of our age - the paleontological equivalent of cold fusion.'

` Aw, he's just jealous. As Olson warned in this letter - which was about 'Archaeoraptor' - people should not be taking fossils from the black market, because they are often more than one fossil glued together by Chinese villagers who evidently think they look better that way. At least they discovered from the Archaeoraptor mishap two new species - Microraptor, the tree-dwelling, winged dromaeosaur, and Yanornis, a bird.

In early December, papers published by different groups of Chinese students within a day of each other in the two top secular science journals were used to support both camps.

` Secular science? As if there's more than one type! The truth is, science can only falsify corporeal claims, not supernatural thought-experiments.
` Anyway, yeah, so Microraptor was discovered and so was an enantiornith bird. At first they looked like they really did fit together, though...

` And then the end of the article reminds the reader that carbon dating cannot actually determine anything for real, and that the only reason why animals seem to be buried at different points in time has to do with The Great Flood burying them in a particular order.
' How enlightening.

` Then there's another article that was linked to in 'have they finally found a true feathered dinosaur' about the misidentification of Archaeoraptor. They found that it wasn't one animal but the flying/gliding dromaeosaur and a bird. As I've said before.

` He says that because this mistaken identification occurred, this somehow means that it is 'proof' that feathered dinosaurs did not exist. That was a human error, though, and after the truth was revealed, they found more bits of Microraptor: It had flight feathers on its arms, legs, and tail! How this logic goes, I can't tell you.
` Considering that there have been multiple and double-sided specimens of other feathered dinosaurs found (which are impossible to fake) that have been better studied, there is no reason to say that these others are hoaxes or mistaken identities or what-have-you. But no, they would rather focus on Archaeoraptor.

` On top of this, there is a tirade of acidic and extreme criticism by Doc Olson over which I roll my eyes. I'm writing about it in my future DatD entries.

` This article ends with Sarfati advising people to consult the Bible before they think about the origins of anything and that; 'Facts never speak for themselves.'
` I'd write more about this in detail, but the fact is, it is so riddled with waffle that in my current state of sleep deprivation, it would take weeks to pick apart. Also, I don't think many people would have the attention span. Besides, I should get some sleep.

` (However, I do have something I've already written from a much larger article I've excavated about Archaeopteryx. It's full of even more obvious, and therefore laughable trickery!)

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