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Separating fact from fiction in a farcical story!

Were fossil dinosaur feathers really found near the South Pole?

Earth Archives, Facebook.Offending-FB-post
The offending post on social media


Published: 3 December 2019 (GMT+10)

Dino-bird evolution frequently causes excitement on social media platforms so my attention was grabbed by a picture of a fully feathered dinosaur with a sensationalist National Geographic headline that read, “In a first, fossil dinosaur feathers found near the South Pole”.1 However, what had actually been found differed so significantly from the headline that words such as overreaching speculation and grandiose story-telling immediately came to mind. In what follows, I have broken down the article’s salient points to highlight the highly misleading nature of National Geographic’s claims.

What was actually found?

Fact – The research team described ten exquisitely preserved 10–30 mm long fossil feathers, found from 1962 onwards over multiple digs in the Koonwarra Fossil Bed, south-eastern Australia.2 The feathers include downy feathers, contour body feathers, a complex juvenile flight feather “like those on the wings of modern birds”, and one that they refer to as a ‘protofeather’.

Speculation – They allege that the feathers are 118 million years old, and that some of them belonged to ground-dwelling carnivorous dinosaurs. Conventionally, this ‘dates’ from the early Cretaceous period when they believe that the landmass of Australia was joined with Antarctica, before drifting north to its current location. This is why they have fossil feathers coming from near the ‘South Pole’ in their article title, rather than Australia, to make the story even more sensational. Although they think Antarctica would not have been as cold as it is today, they speculate that, “feathers may have been important for insulation, allowing small carnivorous dinosaurs to survive the difficult winter months.”

With what type of dinosaur did they find the feathers? – “None of the feathers are currently associated with distinct dinosaur or bird bones. Instead, they were probably lost during molting or preening and drifted on the wind onto the surface of an ancient lake, where they sank to the bottom and were preserved in the fine mud.”

What they would like to find in the future? – “To actually find the skeleton of a feathered dinosaur here in Australia would be amazing,” said Dr Stephen Poropat, a paleontologist at Swinburne University, Melbourne. It appears that we can agree on something: amazing it would be!

Imposed Ideology – The National Geographic article tries to reinforce the current evolutionary idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs. This is done by use of a spurious picture of a fully-feathered dinosaur (which is simply made up) and the misleading headline. The details in the actual article do not begin to support the idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds, nor even that dinosaurs had feathers (although the creation model does not necessarily rule this out). This kind of blatant propaganda occurs on an all too regular basis; for another example, see: Sorry, how many feathers did you find? The reality is this is simply one more case of paying homage to the altar of naturalistic evolution.

Geological context – The research team presented no direct evidence whatsoever that the feathers did not belong to birds. And they must have been rapidly covered in sediment to preserve them. They have been found in a sedimentary rock layer laid down by water in Australia. The fossil bed also contained numerous other animals: freshwater ray-finned fish, lungfish, various insects, arachnids and other terrestrial invertebrates, aquatic insect larvae, hydrophilid beetles, and horseshoe crabs. Plant fossils were found as well: mosses, liverworts, fern-like plants, Ginkgo, and conifers.

A better explanation – The reality is that these fossil feathers and their geological context fit much better with biblical history. The fossilised feathers provide yet another example of swiftly-lithified fossils. These, along with the range of other creatures and plants mentioned above would have been fossilised during the conditions provided by the Noahic Flood some 4,500 years ago, itself a successive burial of pre-Flood ecosystems. Finding feathers at an alleged 118 million years old adds nothing to the evolutionary story anyway; there are ‘older’ birds with feathers in the fossil record, such as Confuciusornis, an alleged 135 million years old. Genesis 1 clearly teaches that animals were created to reproduce within their own kinds. This is exactly what the fossil record shows, and is what we observe today.

Gondwana Research, 2019.10-feathers
The 10 feathers described by the research team.

Lessons to learn that should have been learnt

Social media is used to share news stories quickly and widely. In doing so, organisations often use unique punchy headlines to get people’s attention, hoping that they visit their websites, and read their material. Creation Ministries International also use social media (why not give us a like if you have not already?). However, we are very careful to ensure that our article headlines, images and captions are factually accurate and not misleading. Unfortunately, organisations that zealously promote big-picture evolution, such as National Geographic in this bold and fanciful instance, frequently do not take the same care when titling their articles or matching the content to real facts and verifiable history.

This is not the first time that National Geographic has blatantly promoted the false idea of dinosaur to bird evolution. After the notable Archaeoraptor hoax scandal, a phony dino-feathered fossil that they published and promoted, but then had to recant, one might hope they had learnt their lesson. Leading paleornithologist Alan Feduccia was scathing in denouncing the debacle over Archaeoraptor:

In his open letter to Peter Raven, Storrs Olson asserted that National Geographic had “reached an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism,” and “The idea of feathered dinosaurs . . . 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.” Although the scandal was resolved through the self-corrective process of science, it is worth noting that it would not have occurred had a more critical attitude toward dinosaurs and the origin of birds prevailed in the scientific and popular literature. In illustrating the degeneration of scientific discourse with respect to this issue, Olson’s letter clearly illustrated that the highly respected magazine National Geographic and a major scientific journal, Nature, were incapable or unwilling to consider critically the question of the origin of birds.3
Jonathan Chen, Wikipedia.orgArchaeoraptor-Paleozoological
The fraudulent archaeoraptor fossil

Christians should always adhere to a higher standard of truth, being careful in the information they present to others. In the National Geographic article the intention of the headline is clear, as well as the implications: another ‘helpful’ example of evolution has now been discovered, which adds to the enormous body of evidence that evolution is a fact. Yet many readers likely never clicked on the story, and actually read the details, so this is the message that they would have taken away. However, had they read carefully, with an inquisitive mind, then they should have been left with a very different understanding altogether. In view of the unwarranted imagination promoted to an unsuspecting public as fact (compared to the factual data about these fossil feathers), the whole story is farcical.

Our prayer at CMI is that people will come to embrace the alternative and true understanding of the world around them: Humanity was created in the image of God (the day after the birds, and on the same day as dinosaurs; Genesis 1:20–31), but we are separated from Him due to our fallen nature (Romans 3:23). This, we have inherited from Adam, and our own personal sin further condemns us (Romans 5:12; 1 John 1:8, 10). This is bad news: each of us is totally helpless because we cannot make up for our sin towards God (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27). But God, being gracious, sent His son Jesus to live a perfect life, to shed his blood on the cross in payment for sin, and that all those who repent and believe on Him can be saved: This is good news to all people. Amen!

References and notes

  1. Pickrell, J., Fossil dinosaur feathers found near the South Pole, nationalgeographic.com, 19 November 2019; accessed 27 November 2019. Return to text.
  2. Kundrát, M. et al, A polar dinosaur feather assemblage from Australia, Gondwana Research, 11 November 2019 | doi:10.1016/j.gr.2019.10.004. Return to text.
  3. Feduccia, A., Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China, Yale University Press, pp. 8–9, 2014 (Kindle Edition). Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Dragons or Dinosaurs?
by Darek Isaacs
US $16.00
Soft Cover
Guide to Dinosaurs
by Brian Thomas and Tim Clarey
US $17.00
Hard Cover
Dinosaur Fun with Letters
by Bryan Miller (Illustrator)
US $13.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Jon M.
About 18 months ago, I took two of my sons to the new Discovery Centre science museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We have been to see many of the larger collections of dinosaur bones in North America, including the Royal Tyrrell in Drumheller, Alberta. I told my kids at an early age to always take the posted ages of dinosaur fossils with a grain of salt - so the millions of years posted next to the bones has never been a problem for them (and my family was not surprised when scientists started cracking open T. rex bones and finding blood cells and soft-tissues a few years ago). Anyway, Halifax had a small display of dinosaurs, so we couldn't resist going in for a visit. At the entrance of the dino section, were a couple of raptors (models) - you guessed it, completely covered in feathers. My first thought was "good grief, dishonest bunch of..." and before I could even finish my thought, my 9 year old son was exclaiming (loud enough for everyone on our floor to hear) "What a bunch of... - there's no dinosaurs with feathers! What is this?" We waited over five minutes as he demanded that someone who worked there explain this to him. He couldn't find any takers. ... I think his sentiment was just about right.
Shane M.
It's interesting that most people who disagree with CMI do not understand the difference between operational science and studies of the past. Even Bill Nye seemed totally ignorant.
Michael K.
Horse feathers! Maybe those are real after all, too.

"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision."
Karen C.
Great stuff that the scientists are researching are based on sound evidence and are able to debunk the tabloid attitudes of National Geographic. I feel sure the founding parent of this company would not present vulgar fabricated evidence. National Geographic has lost all credibility with me, that they would even make these statements without real science behind [them]. Just people with something to gain by supporting sensationalist and falsely perpetuating for the gratification for themselves.
This is not science. This is just vulgar greed.

[Regarding] attempting the linking of the two ... birds and dinosaurs: Birds have entirely different lung and respiration processes to the lungs of other animals ...
Lillie T.
People can't see in the dark no matter how much information you give to help them navigate. So, until the lights are on in their house (spiritually) keep sharing the truth. Some will certainly come to see the truth.
Michael F.
Science makes mistakes, frequently. But science keeps on searching until the correct answer is found. Thus, the phone or computer you are reading this message on, thus the running water in your homes and elsewhere, thus vaccines, etc. Please take your head out of the sand & embrace Science.
Philip Robinson
You seem to be confused as to what the different types of science are. The 'operational' science (observable, testable, repeatable), that gives us such things as phones, computers, etc, Biblical Creationists have no issue with. Indeed there are many active Creation Scientists engaged in operational science worldwide, holding numerous patents for their inventions. You can read the profiles of Dr John Sanford and Professor Stuart Burgess as testimonies to this. Evolution on the other hand, It's not science, rather it is a way of looking back into the past based (when they claim no-one was there to observe it) on purely naturalistic assumptions. And, yes, you are right it frequently makes mistakes, and frequently has to change its story because of a new finding which didn't fit the evolutionary narrative of the moment. Whereas everything that we view around us fits consistently with Biblical history because it is true, and was given to us either by God who was witness, or those who lived through it. I would sincerely ask you to really consider the whole truth of the Bible (read and study it) and in prayer turn to your Creator seeking Jesus while you still have time.

Malcolm T.
I am surprised that there are people like David P,who still throw around those tired old arguments about the Scriptures and display their own ignorance by what they say. The strangest thing is that they even believe their own lies! I guess there is none so blind who will not see.
Chuck R.
What is most unfortunate is that, with the 15-second attention span of the general public when a prestigious magazine such as National Geographic or Nature boldly proclaims that some discovery such as this one 'proves' evolution, it is quickly accepted as fact, with few bothering to think it through or question the claim.
Even when later discovery show previous claims were wrong, that information is given far less prominence and many never know.
We really do "wrestle against against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Eph 6:12
Jack S.
Many years ago I had the privilege of participating (as chief diver and underwater photographer) in a National Geographic (NG) underwater archaeology expedition off the coast of Turkey. When the article was published (1963) I commented to my wife, "I wish I had been on that expedition." Even in such a mundane article as that the NG editors took great liberties with the facts and "glamorized" the event. It is no surprise, therefore, that they (NG) would go to such lengths as you described when promulgating their naturalistic world views. It is commendable that you take NG to task when they use nothing more than propaganda and presumption in an attempt to convert their readers to such a false narrative. Thanks for your faithfulness to the difficult and demanding task the Lord has invested in you.
Colin B.
I cancelled my subscription to National Geographic magazine over twenty years ago after their unbelievable series on human evolution. The artistic license displayed in those articles, with drawings of half human half ape beings that never existed, is still on display today with the current drawing of a feathered dinosaur that has actually never been found.
With so much storytelling and fiction in their articles could it mean that National Geographic is for entertainment purposes only.
David P.
Your entire thesis on a young earth is your statement above that "Christians should always adhere to a higher standard of truth." But your truth is "what's written in the Bible." That's no truth at all. It's a collection of hand me down stories gathered over the ages and put together, some books ignored because they didn't fit the poltico thinking of the time. If you would only open your eyes and ears and see common sense when it is based on solid scientific proven evidence instead of fairy stories then I think you'd be better able to cope with this modern world. Continental drift entirely explains how dinosaurs with feathers - oh and coal from trees, remember? - are found in frozen Antarctica. Trouble is it took billions of years . . .
Philip Bell
You are entitled to your opinion of course, but painting with such a broad brush undercuts the very ground upon which you think you stand so securely. That's putting it very politely; to be more blunt, you're engaging in 'elephant hurling': "...where the critic throws summary arguments about complex issues to give the impression of weighty evidence, but with an unstated presumption that a large complex of underlying ideas is true, and failing to consider opposing data, usually because they have uncritically accepted the arguments from their own side" (for the source of this quote and more, see 15 ways to refute materialistic bigotry).

For example, "Continental drift entirely explains how dinosaurs with feathers - oh and coal from trees, remember? - are found in frozen Antarctica." The creation model doesn't exclude the possibility of a feathered dinosaur (a mosaic like the platypus perhaps) but no hard evidence has ever been forthcoming; so belief in feathered dinosaurs is a matter of faith in wished-for evidence, not factual science. Continental drift? Try continental sprint (Catastrophic Plate Tectonics), which has far more explanatory power. Billions of years? Another belief that is held in the face of much contrary evidence.
Gillian C.
There are none so blind as those who don't want to see, or those who are deaf who don't want to listen.
David B.
What struck me as odd was that even in their own paradigm, these feathers could belong to birds (flying avialans) -- ah, but then I remembered, according to them, BIRDS ARE DINOSAURS, so either way... (shaking my head and rolling my eyes).
Chris M.
"If you don't watch the news you're uninformed. If you do watch the news you are misinformed."
Philip Bell
Smile! There's sadly a lot of truth in what you say. This is why, when it comes to reports about science topics that relate to origins, we encourage people to stay connected with CMI. Regularly visit our website, sign up for our Infobytes and even the CreationDaily e-mails. Staying informed (by feeding from God's truth, the Bible, and good apologetics sites, like CMI's) is a good antidote to misinformation.
Miss Yvonne R.
Praise to GOD and thank you CMI - I have never wanted to believe the images created by computer technology regarding Jurassic Park nonsense, and the sketch of that so called dinosaur bird you have displayed. How can a human being determine the skin colour, whether feathers or not, or the outward appearance of bone structures found buried in the solidified rock. Having an opinion does not make for common sense in the simplest form. This really shows how desperate evolutionists are to prove what they have never seen. Science is the study of what can be observed, one would believe, but all sound reasoning is abandoned to the baseless theory of evolution. In the 1970's I attended museum lectures, having an interest in what I then saw as evolution because that was the only description I knew. In 1980 I knew the blessing of GOD, becoming a Christian, then in 1985 GOD provided an understanding of Creation Science. The significance of the Word given to us by GOD has been enhanced to the glory of GOD. I have rejoiced ever since - ever thankful to GOD.
Pauline T.
Thank you Phil.
Another intriguing article.
It can seem that creationists are party - spoilers, because we (you :)...) so often undo the sensational story telling of evolutionists with plain scientific fact and simple logical interpretation !!
Thank you so much for clarifying things for us all.
But who cares enough to bother "thinking" about it?
Not only is it hard work presenting scientific (creationist- perspective) truth to non-believers ... it is often a steep uphill grind getting BELIEVERS to take an interest in the issue !
But with CMI's wide range of useful topics we are equipped to refute lies and explain historical truths as ground-breakers for Gospel seed-planting. Awesome - thanks again.
May our Creator-God and Savior continue to guard and guide you all.

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