Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles below.

Archaeopteryx

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Please note:
More recent articles on Archaeopteryx are available on this Web site. See, for example, ‘Bird Evolution flies out the window

Creation scientists and speakers have a wealth of documentation to support their claim that the general nature of the fossil record is hostile to evolution but supports the predictions of the creation model. All higher kinds of plants and animals appear abruptly and without transition. Are we misrepresenting evolution to insist on transitional forms? How many should we expect? If we examine the mutation/selection theory, which is the mechanism of evolution held by the overwhelming majority today, we see that each change is slow and gradual, involving the accumulation of a vast number of ‘micromutations’ or ‘point mutations’. We see then, that the number of transitional forms involved in the transformation of, say, fish to amphibian over hundreds of millions of years are incredibly vast—so much so that we would not expect to be able to recognize end forms and transitional forms separately—there would be an almost imperceptible ‘oozing’ of one kind into another. Furthermore, it is an integral part of the theory that each form is successful, that is, each ‘successive approximation’ has a survival or reproductive advantage over its predecessor, or else it would not become established and give rise to subsequent forms. Therefore there is no reason whatever for the ‘end forms’ to have more chance of fossilization than the ‘intermediates’. Sampling errors (which includes the ‘poverty of the record’ argument) are random, and while they could account for occasional or sporadic gaps, they may not be used as an excuse for systematic gaps.

Photo of Archaeopteryx find
Photo of the second find, Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paleontologie und historische Geologie

What do most evolutionists offer in the place of the millions upon millions of transitional forms between higher kinds predicted by their model? The answer is usually ONE transitional form—Archaeopteryx. You see, by making the prediction of NO transitional forms versus BILLIONS of such forms, creationists are really ‘laying it on the line’. All the evolutionist has to do is produce one indisputable transitional form between the higher kinds to seriously challenge the creation model. Others are occasionally mentioned, such as Seymouria, but these are not seriously considered as links by informed evolutionists (although many still do) for the simple reason that their supposed descendants appear ‘earlier’ in the fossil record than these ‘transitional forms’! However, Archaeopteryx is usually proudly mentioned as a classical example of a transitional form (without of course mentioning that it is essentially the only example).

Let’s take a close look at this remarkable ancient creature. The first specimen was found in Upper Jurassic limestone in Bavaria in 1861, missing only the right foot, the lower jaw and a few cervical vertebrae. The second specimen was found ten miles away in 1877. There have been two more finds since, very fragmentary, but all our knowledge is based on these first two.

Archaeopteryx had many features which caused most investigators to class it immediately as a bird, Aves. The feathers were identical in structure and arrangement to those of modern birds, a highly complex arrangement. It also had a birdlike posture, perching feet, a long sinuous neck holding its head high and a beaklike structure. However, it had many features not typical of modern birds and more typical of the class Reptilia. The most obvious two are the long, drooping tail and the teeth it possessed. Modern birds do not have teeth. However, extinct birds such as Ichthyornis and Hesperornis, which were unquestionably 100% birds, also had teeth. Closer examination reveals many other features which Archaeopteryx shared in common with reptiles. For example, the skull has many ‘reptilian’ features including lack of the posterior domelike expansion typical of birds otherwise.

Other such features are listed below and most may be visualized by a comparison diagram between Archaeopteryx and the modern pigeon. [Editor’s note: original publication had accompanying illustrations that could not be reproduced for the Web site.]

  • The cervical vertebrae lacked the heterocoelous centra peculiar to birds.
  • The trunk vertebrae were not fused together as in birds.
  • The weight of most birds is supported by a solid synsacrum. Archaeopteryx had a tail which functioned to counterbalance his weight and the weight of his abdominal viscera was supported by a belly wall stiffened with gastralia, thin slivers of bone.
  • The ribs were not connected by uncinate processes nor anchored into the sternum, as in birds.
  • The pelvic bones were much smaller than most birds and did not extend nearly so far along the vertebral column. However, they had the avian backward twist of the pubes below the ischia.
  • It had claws at the ends of the three digits. There are three living birds today which have claws in either the adult or juvenile form. Archaeopteryx seems to have been able to crawl agilely through the trees as well as making short flights. That it was not a powerful flier may be inferred from the small area of origin which it had for flight muscles.
  • The hand and wrist were not in the form of an inflexible blade.
  • It had 3 independent metatarsals, rather than one as birds do.
  • The fibula was equal in length to the tibia, as in reptiles, but not birds.
Artist reconstruction
Artist reconstruction of how Archaeopteryx may have appeared

In summary, it may be said that Archaeopteryx is truly unique, and appears to exhibit a mosaic of characters, sharing some in common with the class Aves and some with the class Reptilia. It seems to have been suited to a lifestyle of short flights and agile crawling in trees, and those features which make it unquestionably a bird for classification purposes are uniquely and completely present and perfect. The feathers are not halfway transition from scales to feathers, an assumed transformation of the most astounding complexity. If for no other reason, this would disqualify it as a transitional form. A bat is not a transitional form between bird and mammal, nor is a platypus transitional between duck and mammal, even though it exhibits some features of both. The evolutionist Lecomte du Noüy recognizes this. In the book Human Destiny (N.Y. 1947) he writes:

‘… we are not even authorized to consider the exceptional case of Archaeopteryx as a true link. By link, we mean a necessary stage of transition between classes such as reptiles and birds, or between smaller groups. An animal displaying characters belonging to two different groups cannot be treated as a true link as long as the intermediary stages have not been found, and as long as the mechanism of transition remains unknown.’

Furthermore, Archaeopteryx stands alone, uniquely himself with no fossil between himself and either birds or reptiles. The evolutionist Barbara Stahl, in her book Vertebrate History: Problems in Evolution (McGraw-Hill 1973) writes:

‘Since Archaeopteryx occupies an isolated position in the fossil record, it is impossible to tell whether the animal gave rise to more advanced fliers …’ (This section of her book was reviewed by Prof. Alfred Romer.)

The evolutionist W.E. Swinton writing in Biology and Comparative Physiology of Birds (Ed. Jock Marshal, Academic Press, 1960, p.1) states that:

‘The origin of birds is largely a matter of deduction. There is no fossil of the stages through which the remarkable change from reptile to bird was achieved.’

All of this is surely enough to establish that this bird is not a transitional form. Yet the above has been known for years, and still many evolutionists present it as a striking example of a transitional form. There has been a new discovery which surely demolishes the last hope in this direction. A bird which is unquestionably a true bird has been found which dates (by the evolutionists’ own methods) at some 60 million years older than Archaeopteryx. This was announced in Science-News 112:198, Sep. 1977) The find was assessed as above by Dr James Jensen of Brigham Young University. The article also quotes Prof. John Ostrom of Yale:

‘… we must now look for the ancestors of flying birds in a period of time much older than that in which Archaeopteryx lived.’

As Gish has said in another context, children cannot be older than their parents!

I will restate simply the reasons why Archaeopteryx cannot be regarded as a transitional form.

  1. It has a ‘mosaic’ of characters in common with both groups but shows no true transitional structure such as a part-scale, part-feather.
  2. There are no fossil links between it and either reptiles or birds—it stands alone.
  3. True birds have been found which are assigned by evolutionists to an earlier time than Archaeopteryx.