As A Transitional Form Archaeopteryx Won't Fly
by Duane T. Gish, Ph.D.*
Impact article #198**, September 1989
(Published by the Institute for Creation Research)
There is a growing consensus that Archaeopteryx, a bird whose
fossils have been found in the Solnhofen Plattenkalk of Franconia (West
Germany), was indeed capable of flight. The claim, however, that
Archaeopteryx was a transitional form between reptiles and birds simply
Recent fossil discoveries and recent research on Archaeopteryx
argue strongly against the suggestion that it is transitional between
reptiles and birds. The rocks in which fossils of Archaeopteryx have
been found are designated Upper Jurassic, and thus are dated at about
150 million years on the standard evolutionary geological time scale.
Ninety years ago, with reference to Archaeopteryx and to two other
ancient birds, Ichthyornis and Hesperornis, Beddard declared, "So
emphatically were all these creatures birds that the actual origin of
Aves is barely hinted at in the structure of these remarkable
remains."(1) During the years since publication of Beddard's book, no
better candidate as an intermediate between reptiles and birds has
appeared, and so, in the eyes of its beholders, Archaeopteryx has become
more and more reptile-like until it is now fashionable to declare that
Archaeopteryx was hardly more than a feathered reptile. In 90 years,
Archaeopteryx has thus evolved from a creature so emphatically bird-like
its reptilian ancestry was barely hinted at, into a creature some
evolutionists declare to be nothing more than a reptile with feathers!
What is the true status of Archaeopteryx? Was it a transitional
form between reptiles and birds? First, the general nature of the
evidence: The sudden appearance, fully formed, of all the complex
invertebrates (snails, clams, jellyfish, sponges, worms, sea urchins,
brachiopods, trilobites, etc.) without a trace of ancestors, and the
sudden appearance, fully formed, of every major kind of fish (supposedly
the first vertebrates) without a trace of ancestors, proves beyond
reasonable doubt that evolution has not occurred. Quarrels about
disputable cases such as Archaeopteryx are really pointless.
Furthermore, there are three other basically different types of flying
creatures--flying insects, flying reptiles (now extinct), and flying
mammals (bats). It would be strange, indeed even incomprehensible, that
millions of years of evolution of these three basically different types
of flying creatures, each involving the remarkable transition of a land
animal into a flying animal, would have failed to produce large numbers
of transitional forms. If all of that evolution has occurred, our
museums should contain scores, if not hundreds or thousands, of fossils
of intermediate forms in each case. However, not a trace of an ancestor
or transitional form has ever been found for any of these creatures!
Archaeopteryx had an impressive array of features that
immediately identify it as a bird, whatever else may be said about it.
It had perching feet. Several of its fossils bear the impression of
feathers. These feathers were identical to those of modern birds in
every respect. The primary feathers of non-flying birds are distinctly
different from those of flying birds. Archaeopteryx had the feathers of
flying birds,(2) had the basic pattern and proportions of the avian
wing, and an especially robust furcula (wishbone). Furthermore, there
was nothing in the anatomy of Archaeopteryx that would have prevented it
being a powered flyer.(3) No doubt Archaeopteryx was a feathered
creature that flew. It was a bird!
It has been asserted that Archaeopteryx shares 21 specialized
characters with coelurosaurian dinosaurs.(4) Research on various
anatomical features of Archaeopteryx in the last ten years or so,
however, has shown, in every case, that the characteristic in question
is bird-like, not reptile-like. When the cranium of the London specimen
was removed from the limestone and studied, it was shown to be
bird-like, not reptile-like.(5) Benton has stated that "details of the
brain case and associated bones at the back of the skull seem to suggest
that Archaeopteryx is not the ancestral bird, but an offshoot from the
early avian stem."(6) In this same paper, Benton states that the
quadrate (the bone in the jaw that articulates with the squamosal of the
skull) in Archaeopteryx was single-headed as in reptiles. Using a newly
devised technique, computed tomography, Haubitz, et al, established that
the quadrate of the Eichstatt specimen of Archaeopteryx was
double-headed and thus similar to the condition of modern birds,(7)
rather than single-headed, as stated by Benton.
L.D. Martin and co-workers have established that neither the
teeth nor the ankle of Archaeopteryx could have been derived from
theropod dinosaursÄthe teeth being those typical of other (presumably
later) toothed birds, and the ankle bones showing no homology with those
of dinosaurs.(8) John Ostrom, a strong advocate of a dinosaurian
ancestry for birds, had claimed that the pubis of Archaeopteryx pointed
downward-Äan intermediate position between that of coelurosaurian
dinosaurs, which points forward, and that of birds, which points
backward. A.D. Walker, in more recent studies, asserts that Ostrom's
interpretation is wrong, and that the pubis of Archaeopteryx was
oriented in a bird-like position.(9) Further, Tarsitano and Hecht
criticize various aspects of Ostrom's hypothesis of a dinosaurian origin
of birds, arguing that Ostrom had misinterpreted the homologies of the
limbs of Archaeopteryx and theropod dinosaurs.(10)
A.D. Walker has presented an analysis of the ear region of
Archaeopteryx that shows, contrary to previous studies, that this region
is very similar to the otic region of modern birds.(11) J.R. Hinchliffe,
utilizing modern isotopic techniques on chick embryos, claims to have
established that the "hand" of birds consists of digits II, III and IV,
while the digits of the "hand" of theropod dinosaurs consist of digits
I, II, and III.
Scales are flat horny plates; feathers are very complex in
structure consisting of a central shaft from which radiate barbs and
barbules. Barbules are equipped with tiny hooks which lock onto the
barbs and bind the feather surface into a flat, strong, flexible vane.
Feathers and scales arise from different layers of the skin.
Furthermore, the development of a feather is extremely complex, and
fundamentally different from that of a scale. Feathers, as do hairs,
but unlike scales, develop from follicles. A hair, however, is a much
simpler structure than a feather. The developing feather is protected
by a horny sheath, and forms around a bloody, conical, inductive dermal
core. Not only is the developing feather sandwiched between the sheath
and dermal core, it is complex in structure. Development of the cells
that will become the mature feather involves complex processes. Cells
migrate and split apart in highly specific patterns to form the complex
arrangement of barbs and barbules.(12)
Philip Regal attempts to imagine how feathers may have developed
from scales.(13) Regal presents a series of hypothetical events whereby
the elongation of body scales on reptiles, as an adaptive response to
excessive solar heat, eventually produced feathers. What we are left to
believe is that a series of genetic mistakes, or mutations, just
happened somehow to result in a sequence of incredible events that not
only converted a simple horny plate into the tremendously complex and
marvelously engineered structure of a feather, but completely
reorganized the simple method of development of a scale into the highly
complex process necessary to produce a feather. What an incredible
faith in the blind forces of evolution! Regal's paper simply adds
another "Just-so" story to evolutionary scenarios, completely devoid of
Recent events cast even further doubt on Archaeopteryx as a
transitional form. If the claims of Sankar Chatterjee prove to be
valid, then certainly Archaeopteryx could not be the ancestral bird, and
dinosaurs could not be ancestral to birds. Chatterjee and his co-
workers at Texas Tech University claim to have found two crow-sized
fossils of a bird near Post, Texas, in rocks supposedly 225 million
years old--thus allegedly 75 million years older than Archaeopteryx and
as old as the first dinosaurs. Totally contrary to what evolutionists
would expect for such a fossil bird however, Chatterjee claims that his
bird is even more bird-like than Archaeopteryx! In contrast to
Archaeopteryx, this bird had a keel-like breastbone and hollow bones.
In most other respects, it was similar to Archaeopteryx.(14) If
evolutionary assumptions are correct, this bird should have been much
more reptile-like than Archaeopteryx. In fact, he shouldn't even exist!
Another threat to the notion that Archaeopteryx was intermediate
between reptiles and birds are the claims of Sir Fred Hoyle, the famous
British astronomer, fellow astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe, and
Israeli scientist Lee Spetner, based on detailed photographic evidence,
that Archaeopteryx is a fraud.(15,16) They maintain that an artificial
matrix was placed on a reptilian fossil and that modern feathers were
used to impress the matrix, to leave a likeness of fossil feathers.
Scientists of the British Museum of Natural History have defended the
authenticity of the fossil.(17) If the allegations of Hoyle,
Wickramasinghe, and Spetner turn out to be correct, it would be a
devastating blow to evolutionists. If the fossil is a forgery, however,
it would have to be a devilishly clever one, because the forger would
not only have to fake the feathers, but also somehow emplace the many
bird-like features described in this article.
The conclusion which appears to be most reasonable is that
Archaeopteryx was a true bird, remarkably isolated from any alleged
reptilian progenitor and other birds. A discussion of other features of
Archaeopteryx, such as its teeth and clawed wings, may be found in
"Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record."(18)
* Dr. Gish is Vice-President of the Institute for Creation Research.
1. F.E. Beddard, The Structure and Classification of Birds,
Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1898, p. 160.
2. Alan Feduccia and H.B Tordoft, Science 203:1020(1979).
3. S.L. Olson and Alan Feduccia, Nature 278:247(1979).
4. A.J. Charig, A New Look at Dinosaurs, Heinemann, London, 1979,
5. K.N. Whetstone, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
6. M.J. Benton, Nature 305:99(1983).
7. B. Haubitz, M. Prokop, W. Dohring, J.H. Ostrom, and P.
Wellnhofer, Paleobiology 14(2):206 (1988).
8. L.D. Martin, J.D. Stewart, and K.N. Whetstone, The Auk 97:86
9. A.D. Walker, Geological Magazine 117:595 (1980).
10. S. Tarsitano and M.K. Hecht, Zoological Journal of the Linnaean
Society 69:149 (1980).
11. A.D. Walker, as described in Peter Dodson, "International
Archaeopteryx Conference," Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
5(2):177, June 1985.
12. A.M. Lucas and P.R. Slettenhein, Avian Anatomy: Integument.
[J.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1972.
13. P.J. Regal, The Quarterly Review of Biology 50:35 (1975).
14. S. Weisburd, Science News, August 16, 1986, p. 103; Tim
Beardsley, Nature 322:677 (1986).
15. Gail Vines, New Scientist, 14 March 1985, p. 3; Ted Nield, New
Scientist, 1 August 1985, P. 49
16. Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Archaeopteryx: The
Primordial Bird, A Case of Fossil Forgery, Christopher Davies
Publishers, Swansea, 1986.
17. A.J. Charig, F. Greenaway, A.C. Milner, C.A. Walker, and P.J.
Whybrow, Science 232:622(1986).
18. D.T. Gish, Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record,
Creation-Life Publishers, El Cajon, CA, 1985.
* Dr. Gish is Vice-President of the Institute for Creation Research
** Should be Impact article #195
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