A recent 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 into 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’.
Readers of Creation magazine should be familiar with the extensive critiques of the dino-to-bird evolutionary theory, despite the sensationalist claims in the media.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
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 Olson, 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.’ Olson referred to the claim by Sloan — i.e. that ‘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
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? And it has happened with many other ‘missing link’ claims, including alleged ‘feathered dinosaurs’. As shown, the NG article simply takes media sensationalism to a new low.
- 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.4,9
- 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.’10
- Sloan, C.P., Feathers for T. Rex?, National Geographic 196(5):98–107, November 1999. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 105. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 102. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Bird evolution flies out the window, Creation 16(4):16–19, September 1994 | Sarfati, J., Flighty flap, Creation 19(4):49, September 1997 | Sarfati, J., Kentucky fried dinosaur? Creation 19(2):6, March 1997. For more detail, see Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, Ch. 4, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, USA, 1999. Return to text.
- Feduccia, A., The Origin and Evolution of Birds, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2nd Ed., 1999. Return to text.
- Cited on the CNN website cnn.com, 24 June 1998. Return to text.
- Olson, S.L., Open letter to: Dr. Peter Raven, Secretary, Committee for Research and Exploration, National Geographic Society, emphases added; posted on the CMI website. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 103. Return to text.
- Brush, A.H., On the origin of feathers, J. Evol. Biol. 9:131–142, 1996. Return to text.
- Feduccia, A., email to J. David, 26 October, 1999; permission to share this email given 3 November 1999. Return to text.
STOP PRESS: Piltdown bird?1
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.’
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.2
- Hecht, J., Piltdown bird: A ‘missing link’ in avian evolution was nothing of the sort, New Scientist 165(2223):12, January 2000.
- Feathered dinosaurs, cnn.com, January 2000.