Also Available in:

Table of Contents

Refuting Evolution

Book Index 


Foreword & Introduction

Chapter 1

Facts & Bias
See Study Guide, Lesson 1

Chapter 2

Variation and Natural Selection Versus Evolution
See Study Guide, Lesson 2

Chapter 3

The Links Are Missing
See Study Guide, Lesson 3

Chapter 4

Bird Evolution?
See Study Guide, Lesson 4

Chapter 5

Whale Evolution?
See Study Guide, Lesson 5

Chapter 6

Humans: Images of God or Advanced Apes?
See Study Guide, Lesson 6

Chapter 7

See Study Guide, Lesson 7

Chapter 8

How Old Is the Earth?
See Study Guide, Lesson 8

Chapter 9

Is the Design Explanation Legitimate?
See Study Guide, Lesson 9

Chapter 10


Refuting Evolution—Chapter 4

A handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution

by , Ph.D., F.M.

Bird evolution?

First published in Refuting Evolution, Chapter 4

Birds are animals with unique features like feathers and special lungs, and most are well designed for flight. Evolutionists believe they evolved from reptiles, maybe even a type of dinosaur. Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science even presents an alleged dinosaur-bird intermediate as evidence for evolution. This intermediate and other arguments for bird evolution are critically examined in this chapter. This chapter also provides detailed information on some of the unique features of birds.


Teaching about Evolution has several imaginary ‘dialogues’ between teachers. In one of them (p.8), there is the following exchange:

Karen: A student in one of my classes at university told me that there are big gaps in the fossil record. Do you know anything about that?

Doug: Well, there’ Archaeopteryx. It’ a fossil that has feathers like a bird but the skeleton of a small dinosaur. It’ one of those missing links that’ not missing any more.

Archaeopteryx fossil
Teaching about Evolution pictured an Archaeopteryx fossil like this one.

On the same page, there is a picture of a fossil of Archaeopteryx, stating:

A bird that lived 150 million years ago and had many reptilian characteristics, was discovered in 1861 and helped support the hypothesis of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species two years earlier.

However, Alan Feduccia, a world authority on birds at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an evolutionist himself, disagrees with assertions like those of ‘Doug’:

Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’ not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleobabble’ is going to change that.1

Archaeopteryx had fully formed flying feathers (including asymmetric vanes and ventral, reinforcing furrows as in modern flying birds), the classical elliptical wings of modern woodland birds, and a large wishbone for attachment of muscles responsible for the downstroke of the wings.3 Its brain was essentially that of a flying bird, with a large cerebellum and visual cortex. The fact that it had teeth is irrelevant to its alleged transitional status—a number of extinct birds had teeth, while many reptiles do not. Furthermore, like other birds, both its maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) moved. In most vertebrates, including reptiles, only the mandible moves.4

Feathered dinosaurs?

Archaeopteryx artist reconstruction
A legitimate artist’ reconstruction of Archaeopteryx, consistent with its known bird features.2

In the last few years, the media have run headlines about alleged ‘feathered dinosaurs’ proving that dinosaurs evolved into birds. These alleged ancestors are types of theropods, the group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex.

We should remember that the media often sensationalize ‘proofs’ of evolution, but the later disproofs, even by other evolutionists, hardly rate a mention. For example, in 1996 there were headlines like ‘Feathered Fossil Proves Some Dinosaurs Evolved into Birds.’5 This was about a fossil called Sinosauropteryx prima.6 Creationist publications advised readers to be skeptical and keep an open mind.7 They were vindicated when four leading paleontologists, including Yale University’ John Ostrom, later found that the ‘feathers’ were just a parallel array of fibres,8 probably collagen.

[Update: Research after the book was published shows that the collagen filaments were part of a single structure such as a dermal crest or frill, as in some frilled lizards today, not separate feathers. See Lingham-Soliar T., The evolution of the feather: Sinosauropteryx, life, death, and preservation of an alleged feathered dinosaur, J. Ornithol. 153(3):699–711, 2012 | doi:10.1007/s10336-011-0787-x; and paper based on this, Sarfati, J., ‘Feathered’ dinos—no feathers after all!, J. Creation 26(3):8–10, 2012.]

Another famous alleged dino-bird link was Mononykus, claimed to be a ‘flightless bird.’9 The cover of Time magazine even illustrated it with feathers, although not the slightest trace of feathers had been found.10 Later evidence indicated that ‘Mononykus was clearly not a bird … it clearly was a fleet-footed fossorial [digging] theropod.’11

Many news agencies have reported (June 1998) on two fossils found in Northern China that are claimed to be feathered theropods (meat-eating dinosaurs). The fossils, Protarchaeopteryx robusta and Caudipteryx zoui, are claimed to be ‘the immediate ancestors of the first birds.’12

The two latest discoveries are ‘dated’ at 120 to 136 million years while Archaeopteryx, a true bird, is ‘dated’ at 140 to 150 million years, making these ‘bird ancestors’ far younger than their descendants!

Feduccia is not convinced, and neither is his colleague, University of Kansas paleontologist Larry Martin. Martin says: ‘You have to put this into perspective. To the people who wrote the paper, the chicken would be a feathered dinosaur.’13 Feduccia and Martin believe that Protarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx are more likely to be flightless birds similar to ostriches. They have bird-like teeth and lack the long tail seen in theropods. Caudipteryx even used gizzard stones like modern plant-eating birds, but unlike theropods.14

There are many problems with the dinosaur-to-bird dogma. Feduccia points out:

‘It’ biophysically impossible to evolve flight from such large bipeds with foreshortened forelimbs and heavy, balancing tails,’ exactly the wrong anatomy for flight.15

There is also very strong evidence from the forelimb structures that dinosaurs could not have been the ancestors of birds. A team led by Feduccia studied bird embryos under a microscope, and published their study in the journal Science.16 Their findings were reported as follows:

New research shows that birds lack the embryonic thumb that dinosaurs had, suggesting that it is ‘almost impossible’ for the species to be closely related.17

Did gliders turn into fliers?

Feduccia and Martin reject the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs, with good reason. But they are unwilling to abandon evolution, so instead they believe that birds evolved from reptiles called crocodilomorphs. They propose these small, crocodile-like reptiles lived in trees, and ‘initially leapt, then glided from perch to perch.’18

But a gliding stage is not intermediate between a land animal and a flier. Gliders either have even longer wings than fliers (compare a glider’ wingspan with an airplane’s, or the wingspan of birds like the albatross which spend much time gliding), or have a wide membrane which is quite different from a wing (note the shape of a hang-glider or a flying squirrel). Flapping flight also requires highly controlled muscle movements to achieve flight, which in turn requires that the brain has the program for these movements. Ultimately, this requires new genetic information that a non-flying creature lacks.

Another problem is:

Neither their hypothetical ancestor nor transitional forms linking it to known fossil birds have been found. And although they rightly argue that cladistic analyses [comparisons of shared characteristics] are only as good as the data upon which they are based, no cladistic study has yet suggested a non-theropod ancestor.19

In short, Feduccia and Martin provide devastating criticism against the idea that birds evolved ‘ground up’ from running dinosaurs (the cursorial theory). But the dino-to-bird advocates counter with equally powerful arguments against Feduccia and Martin’ ‘trees-down’ (arboreal) theory. The evidence indicates that the critics are both right—birds did not evolve either from running dinos or from tree-living mini-crocodiles. In fact, birds did not evolve from non-birds at all! This is consistent with the biblical account that distinct kinds of birds were created on Day 5 (Gen. 1:20–23).

The differences between reptiles and birds

All evolutionists believe that birds evolved from some sort of reptile, even if they can’t agree on the kind. However, reptiles and birds are very different in many ways. Flying birds have streamlined bodies, with the weight centralized for balance in flight; hollow bones for lightness which are also part of their breathing system; powerful muscles for flight, with specially designed long tendons that run over pulley-like openings in the shoulder bones; and very sharp vision. And birds have two of the most brilliantly designed structures in nature—their feathers and special lungs.


Feduccia says ‘Feathers are a near-perfect adaptation for flight’ because they are lightweight, strong, aerodynamically shaped, and have an intricate structure of barbs and hooks. This structure makes them waterproof, and a quick preen with the bill will cause flattened feathers to snap into fully aerodynamic shape again.20

A feather magnified

Examine the amazing close-up (left) of the barbules of a feather showing the tiny hooklets and grooves (magnified 200 times).21

The atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins, in a book highly recommended by Teaching about Evolution, glibly states: ‘Feathers are modified reptilian scales,’22 a widely held view among evolutionists. But scales are folds in skin; feathers are complex structures with a barb, barbules, and hooks. They also originate in a totally different way, from follicles inside the skin in a manner akin to hair.

In chapter 2 we showed that every structure or organ must be represented by information at the genetic level, written in a chemical alphabet on the long molecule DNA. Clearly, the information required to code for the construction of a feather is of a substantially different order from that required for a scale. For scales to have evolved into feathers means that a significant amount of genetic information had to arise in the bird’ DNA which was not present in that of its alleged reptile ancestor.

As usual, natural selection would not favor the hypothetical intermediate forms. Many evolutionists claim that dinosaurs developed feathers for insulation and later evolved and refined them for flight purposes. But like all such ‘just-so’ stories, this fails to explain how the new genetic information arose so it could be selected for.

Another problem is that selection for heat insulation is quite different from selection for flight. On birds that have lost the ability to fly, the feathers have also lost much of their structure and become hair-like. On flightless birds, mutations degenerating the aerodynamic feather structure would not be as much a handicap as they would be on a flying bird. Therefore, natural selection would not eliminate them, and might even select for such degeneration. As usual, loss of flight and feather structure are losses of information, so are irrelevant to evolution, which requires an increase of information. All that matters is that the feathers provide insulation, and hair-like structures are fine—they work for mammals.23 That is, natural selection would work against the development of a flight feather if the feathers were needed for insulation. And hairy feathers are adequate.

Downy feathers are also good insulators and are common on flightless birds. Their fluffiness is because they lack the hooks of flight feathers. Again, natural selection would work to prevent evolution of aerodynamic feathers from heat insulators.

See the contrast here between the detailed structures of a feather (left) and scales (right), both magnified 80 times.

Finally, feather proteins (Φ-keratins) are biochemically different from skin and scale proteins (α-keratins), as well. One researcher concluded:

At the morphological level feathers are traditionally considered homologous with reptilian scales. However, in development, morphogenesis [shape/form generation], gene structure, protein shape and sequence, and filament formation and structure, feathers are different.24

The avian lung

Drastic changes are needed to turn a reptile lung into a bird lung. In mammalian lungs, the air is drawn into tiny sacs (alveoli, singular alveolus) where blood extracts the oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. The stale air is then breathed out the same way it came in. Reptiles have the same bellows system, but their lungs are septate; i.e. like one big alveolus divided by centrally directed ingrowths called septa (singular septum) coming from the walls. The gas exchange occurs mostly on the septa. Birds also have septate lungs, but their breathing is much more complex. But birds, in addition to their lungs, have a complicated system of air sacs in their bodies, even involving the hollow bones. This system keeps air flowing in one direction through special tubes (parabronchi, singular parabronchus) in the lung, and blood moves through the lung’ blood vessels in the opposite direction for efficient oxygen uptake,25 an excellent engineering design.26

How would the ‘bellows’-style lungs of reptiles evolve gradually into avian lungs? The hypothetical intermediate stages could not conceivably function properly, meaning the poor animal would be unable to breathe. So natural selection would work to preserve the existing arrangement, by eliminating any misfit intermediates.

Also, even assuming that we could construct a theoretical series of functional intermediate stages, would natural selection ‘drive’ the changes? Probably not—bats manage perfectly well with bellows-style lungs—some can even hunt at an altitude of over two miles (three km). The avian lung, with its super-efficiency, becomes especially advantageous only at very high altitudes with low oxygen levels. There would thus have been no selective advantage in replacing the reptilian lung.27

We should probably not be surprised that Alan Feduccia’ major work on bird evolution doesn’t even touch this problem.28

Some recent researchers of Sinosauropteryx’ lung structure showed that ‘its bellows-like lungs could not have evolved into high performance lungs of modern birds.’29

Interestingly, some defenders of dinosaur-to-bird evolution discount this evidence against their theory by saying, ‘The proponents of this argument offer no animal whose lungs could have given rise to those in birds, which are extremely complex and are unlike the lungs of any living animal.’30 Of course, only evolutionary faith requires that bird lungs arose from lungs of another animal.

References and notes

  1. Cited in V. Morell, Archaeopteryx: Early bird catches a can of worms, Science 259(5096):764–65, 5 February 1993. Return to text.
  2. Courtesy of Steve Cardno, 1994. Return to text.
  3. A. Feduccia, Evidence from claw geometry indicating arboreal habits of Archaeopteryx, Science 259(5096):790–793, 5 February 1993. Return to text.
  4. D. Menton and C. Wieland, Bird evolution flies out the window, Creation 16(4):16–19, September–November 1994. Return to text.
  5. The Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania, 19 October 1996. Return to text.
  6. Ann Gibbons, New feathered fossil brings dinosaurs and birds closer, Science 274:720–721, 1996. Return to text.
  7. J.D. Sarfati, Kentucky fried dinosaur? Creation 19(2):6, March–May 1997. Return to text.
  8. New Scientist 154(2077):13, 12 April 1997; No dino feathers after all, Creation 19(3):6, June–August 1997. Return to text.
  9. A. Perle et al., Flightless bird from the Cretaceous of Mongolia, Nature 362:623–626, 1993; note correction of the name to Mononykus, as Perle et al.’ choice, Mononychus, was already taken, Nature 363:188, 1993. Return to text.
  10. Time (Australia), 26 April 1993. Return to text.
  11. D.P. Prothero and R.M. Schoch, editors, Major Features of Vertebrate Evolution, On the Origin of Birds and of Avian Flight, by J.H. Ostrom (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1994), p. 160–177. Return to text.
  12. Ji Qiang, P.J. Currie, M.A. Norell, and Ji Shu-An, Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China, Nature 393(6687):753–761, 25 June 1998. Perspective by K. Padian, same issue, p. 729–730. Return to text.
  13. Cited 24 June 1998, CNN website www.cnn.com. Return to text.
  14. Washington Post, 25 June 1998. Return to text.
  15. A. Gibbons, New feathered fossil brings dinosaurs and birds closer, Science 274:720–721, 1996. Return to text.
  16. A.C. Burke and A. Feduccia, Developmental patterns and the identification of homologies in the avian hand, Science 278(5338):666–8, 24 October 1997, with a perspective by R. Hinchliffe, The forward march of the bird-dinosaurs halted? p. 596–597; J.D. Sarfati, Dino-bird evolution falls flat, Creation 20(2):41, March 1998. Return to text.
  17. The Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 October 1997. Return to text.
  18. P. Shipman, Birds do it … Did dinosaurs? New Scientist 153(2067):26–31, 1 February 1997, p. 28. Return to text.
  19. Ibid. Return to text.
  20. A. Feduccia, The Origin and Evolution of Birds (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 130. Return to text.
  21. Photo courtesy of Dr David Menton. Return to text.
  22. R. Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1996), p. 113. Return to text.
  23. A. Feduccia, The Origin and Evolution of Birds (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 130. Return to text.
  24. A.H. Brush, On the origin of feathers, Journal of Evolutionary Biology 9:131–142, 1996. Return to text.
  25. M. Denton, Evolution, a Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1985), p. 199–213; K. Schmidt-Nielsen, How birds breathe, Scientific American, December 1971, p. 72–79. Return to text.
  26. Engineers make much use of this principle of counter-current exchange which is common in living organisms as well—see P.F. Scholander, The wonderful net, Scientific American, April 1957, p. 96–107. Return to text.
  27. Michael Denton, Blown away by design, Creation 21(4):14–15. Return to text.
  28. A. Feduccia, The Origin and Evolution of Birds (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996). However, this book shows that the usual dinosaur-to-bird dogma has many holes. Return to text.
  29. Ann Gibbons, New feathered fossil brings dinosaurs and birds closer, Science 274:720–721, 1996. Return to text.
  30. K. Padian and L.M. Chiappe, The origin of birds and their flight, Scientific American 278(2):38–47, February 1998, p. 43. Return to text.

By downloading this material, you agree to the following terms with respect to the use of the requested material: CMI grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable license to print or download one (1) copy of the copyrighted work. The copyrighted work will be used for non-commercial, personal purposes only. You may not prepare, manufacture, copy, use, promote, distribute, or sell a derivative work of the copyrighted work without the express approval of Creation Ministries International Ltd. Approval must be expressed and in writing, and failure to respond shall not be deemed approval. All rights in the copyrighted work not specifically granted to you are reserved by CMI. All such reserved rights may be exercised by CMI. This Agreement, and all interpretations thereof, shall be deemed to be in accordance with the law of the state of Queensland, Australia. Any dispute arising out of this Agreement shall be resolved in accordance with Queensland law and the courts of Queensland shall be deemed to be those of proper jurisdiction and venue.
Download the whole book from our store for a modest cost.