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Archaeoraptor—Phony ‘feathered’ fossil

The latest ‘feathered dinosaur’ claim provokes even some evolutionists to use words like ‘total hoax’

by

3 February 2000

For updates to this article see:


A National Geographic (NG) article ‘Feathers for T. Rex?’ by the Senior Assistant Editor, Christopher Sloan,1 has attracted fierce criticism from some prominent evolutionists for its promotion of the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs. The article even illustrated a baby T. rex with feathers, as well as putting feathers on another theropod dinosaur, Deinonychus. In a prominent heading, the article proclaimed: ‘We can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals.’2 It was based on a fossil illegally exported3 from Liaoning Province, China, tentatively named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, allegedly a ‘feathered dinosaur’.

Dinosaur-to-bird theory: Problems!

Readers of Creation magazine should be familiar with the extensive scientific critiques of the dino-to-bird evolutionary theory, despite the sensationalist claims in the media—see some of articles hyperlinked in note 4. Even among evolutionists, some have refused to be swept along by the hype. For example, Alan Feduccia, a world authority on birds at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote an encyclopedic book on living and fossil birds.5 He pointed out much evidence against the dinosaur-to-bird theory, including the huge differences in lung and embryonic thumb structure. Also, dinosaurs have exactly the wrong anatomy for developing flight, with their large tails and hindlimbs and short forelimbs. And the so-called ‘feathered dinosaurs’ are ‘dated’ by evolutionists at millions of years later than undoubted birds.

His colleague, University of Kansas paleontologist Larry Martin, commented on the wishful thinking and bias of another ‘feathered dinosaur’ claim:

‘You have to put this into perspective. To the people who wrote the paper, the chicken would be a feathered dinosaur.’6

Evolutionist slams National Geographic for bias and ‘tabloid journalism’

But the NG article was the last straw in shameless sensationalism for Storrs Olson, Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He wrote:

National Geographic has reached an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism.

‘it eventually became clear to me that National Geographic was not interested in anything other than the prevailing dogma that birds evolved from dinosaurs. …

‘Sloan’s article takes the prejudice to an entirely new level and consists in large part of unverifiable or undocumented information that ”makes” the news rather than reporting it.

‘[The feathered dinosaur pictures are] simply imaginary and ha[ve] no place outside of science fiction.

‘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 themselves have become outspoken and highly biased proselytizers of the faith. Truth and careful scientific weighing of evidence have been among the first casualties in their program, which is now fast becoming one of the grander scientific hoaxes of our age—the paleontological equivalent of cold fusion.’7

Among other things, Dr Olsen, an evolutionist, pointed out:

‘None of the structures illustrated in Sloan’s article that are claimed to be feathers have actually been proven to be feathers. Saying that they are is little more than wishful thinking that has been presented as fact.

‘hollow, hairlike structures characterize protofeathers’8 —as:

nonsense considering that protofeathers exist only as a theoretical construct, so that the internal structure of one is even more hypothetical.’7

Piltdown bird?9

Since Dr Olsen wrote that scathing critique of NG, even more disturbing news has surfaced. An eminent paleontologist in Beijing, Xu Xing, now claims that the fossil is not even genuine. Rather, ‘Archaeoraptor liaoningensis’ was really combined from the body and head of a birdlike creature and the tail of a different dinosaur. Dr Xu said that a fossil in a private collection in China contains the mirror image of the tail of the alleged Archaeoraptor.

But it mightn’t be a deliberate fake like ‘Piltdown Man’, a human skull and an ape’s jaw. Dr Xu said:

‘For science, this is a disaster. When pieces are stolen and smuggled out, sometimes blocks of fossils are matched together mistakenly. That can be a big mistake, and it misleads the public.’10

At the time of writing, research is still ongoing, but Czerkas said that Xu may be right, and National Geographic plans to publish a correction in the March issue.10

After that, scientists in China claimed to have discovered yet another faked tail—this one added by a Chinese farmer to a flying pterosaur. Apparently this one has fooled the editors of Nature, another journal singled out by Dr Olsen (above) as overzealous to proselytize the dinosaur-to-bird theory.11

History of hoaxes

This wouldn’t be the first time that National Geographic, in its eagerness to proselytise for the evolutionary faith, has rushed into print with ‘evidence’ that has turned out to be a hoax or an overblown claim that was later discredited. Many years ago, the magazine had a glossy picture displaying amazing artistic licence of our supposed ancestor, the ‘missing link’ Zinjanthropus boisei or ‘Nutcracker man’, discovered by Louis Leakey.12 Now no evolutionist would claim that this robust australopithecine was a human ancestor—see Marvin Lubenow’s book Bones of Contention.

Some atheistic/evolutionary/sceptical/anti-Christian websites are, amazingly, trying to downplay the Archaeoraptor fiasco, by pointing out that it was ‘science’ that put it right. Of course, they deceitfully equate ‘science’ and ‘evolution’, although evolutionary wishful thinking was responsible for the hoax in the first place! And now they tell us that NG is a popular general interest magazine and not a peer-reviewed scientific journal—not a peep from them while NG’s shameless evolutionary sensationalizing remained unexposed! See also Be sceptical of the Skeptics!

What should we think about ‘feathered dino’ claims?

  • Start with the Bible, the Word of the Creator God who was there, and never lies or errs. The Bible teaches that birds and other flying creatures were created on Day 5, while dinosaurs and other land animals, and man, were created on Day 6.
  • Facts never speak for themselves; rather they are always interpreted within a framework, or paradigm. Most important are the two opposing frameworks of Christianity and materialism. And the dino-to-bird scenario has become a dogma into which the evidence must be twisted.
  • Don’t believe everything you read in the media. Mostly, the media are biased towards evolution and against God. We should not be surprised that they splash supposedly pro-evolution ‘evidence’ on the front pages, but when this ‘evidence’ is refuted, even by other evolutionists, this is either buried in an obscure place, or not reported at all. This has happened repeatedly—remember the alleged life from Mars in an Antarctic meteorite, now almost universally discounted? See the articles hyperlinked in Ref. 13. And it has happened with many other ‘missing link’ claims, including alleged ‘feathered dinosaurs’. Another example is Pakicetus, based on a few skull fragments, which was heavily touched up as a ‘missing link’ between land mammals and whales, to indoctrinate schoolteachers. As shown, the NG article simply takes media sensationalism to a new low. But for a change, the news media have publicised the Archaeoraptor problems—of course, accusations of fraud usually sell newspapers far better than quiet discrediting of ‘evidences’ for evolution that informed evolutionists no longer believe.
  • There is nothing in creationist theory forbidding dinosaurs from having feathers—it would not make them any more a transitional form than the egg-laying mammals, the platypus and echidna. But so far the evidence is lacking. And even if they existed, it would not prove they evolved from scales—feathers are completely different from scales in just about every respect.4,14
  • The dino-to-bird claim has huge scientific problems as outlined above.4,5,7 In fact, Feduccia wrote: ‘All in all, I find the whole dino-bird business a total hoax.’15

Further Reading

Related Media

References

  1. Sloan, C.P., Feathers for T. Rex?, National Geographic 196(5):98–107, November 1999. Return to text.
  2. Ref. 1, p. 105. Return to text.
  3. Ref. 1, p. 102. Return to text.
  4. For example: Bird evolution flies out the window, Kentucky Fried Dinosaur?, Dino-Bird Evolution Falls Flat!, Putting Feathers on Reptiles, Blown away by design: Michael Denton and birds’ lungs. For more detail, see Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, Ch. 4, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, USA, 1999. Return to text.
  5. Feduccia, A., The Origin and Evolution of Birds, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2nd Ed.,1999. Return to text.
  6. Cited on the CNN website <http://www.cnn.com/>, June 24, 1998. Return to text.
  7. Olsen, S.L., Open letter to: Dr Peter Raven, Secretary, Committee for Research and Exploration, National Geographic Society, emphases added. Return to text.
  8. Ref. 1, p. 103. Return to text.
  9. Hecht, J., Piltdown bird: A ‘missing link’ in avian evolution was nothing of the sort, New Scientist 165(2223):12, January 29, 2000. Return to text.
  10. <http://www.cnn.com/2000/NATURE/01/21/feathereddinosaurs.asp/> 21 January 2000. This article is no longer available. Return to text.
  11. Friend, T., The ‘missing link’ that wasn’t, USA Today, front page, 1 February 2000. Return to text.
  12. Leakey, L.S.B., Finding the world’s earliest man, National Geographic, September 1960. Return to text.
  13. For example: Life on Mars? Separating fact from fiction, Mars Claims Weaken Further. Return to text.
  14. Brush, A.H., On the origin of feathers, Journal of Evolutionary Biology 9:131–142, 1996. Return to text.
  15. Feduccia, A., email to J. David, 26 October, 1999; permission to share this email given 3 November 1999. Return to text.

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