At a Glance

  • Oregon State University scientists have released a new study debunking the alleged evolution of dinosaurs into birds.
  • The study focuses on the relationship between birds’ leg and pelvis anatomy and their breathing system, and notes the absence of that relationship in dinosaurs.
  • This is only the latest volley in the debate over bird evolution. Expect to hear either a sharp, vocal response from other evolutionists—or total silence.

Birds did not evolve from dinosaurs: what creationists have been pointing out for years is now buttressed by new research.

The notion that theropod dinosaurs evolved into birds has almost certainly become one of the most widely accepted “facts” of evolution. The question for many evolutionary researchers had transitioned from “if” to “how.”1 Even artists’ depictions of some dinosaurs (such as velociraptors) began to include feathers.2 Except for a few notable critics, such as University of North Carolina paleobiologist Alan Feduccia, evolutionists seem to have all but agreed on birds’ dinosaurian origins.

Now, a new paper in the Journal of Morphology presents the research of two Oregon State University scientists who don’t agree with the evolutionary dogma on bird origins.3 Doctoral student Devon Quick conducted the investigation into bird breathing and its connection with dinosaur-to-bird evolution as part of her dissertation.

Background

The research hinges—almost literally—on the femur (upper leg bone) of birds. Unlike other walking creatures, a bird’s femur does not move significantly, and birds instead articulate the lower portion of their leg to walk or run. Quick’s surprising discovery is that this “knee running” anatomy, with nearly fixed femur bones and musculature, is crucial in preventing a bird’s air-sac lung from collapsing whenever the bird takes a breath.

Quick explained, “This is fundamental to bird physiology. It’s really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight.”

Dinosaurs lack this fixed femur, however, and that includes the theropod dinosaurs from which birds supposedly evolved. Oregon State zoologist John Ruben, a coauthor on the paper, commented, “Theropod dinosaurs had a moving femur and therefore could not have had a lung that worked like that in birds. Their abdominal air sac, if they had one, would have collapsed. That undercuts a critical piece of supporting evidence for the dinosaur-bird link.”

He continued, “It’s really kind of amazing that after centuries of studying birds and flight we still didn’t understand a basic aspect of bird biology.” Ruben added that the appearance of birds before dinosaurs in the fossil record is a “serious problem” that is ignored by those who advocate dinosaur-to-bird evolution (see also The Early Bird Catches the Dinosaur).

What Does it Mean?

The conclusion is so revealing—especially considering that it comes straight from evolutionist researchers—that we borrow it directly from the Oregon State press release4:

OSU research on avian biology and physiology was among the first in the nation to begin calling into question the dinosaur-bird link since the 1990s. Other findings have been made since then, at OSU and other institutions, which also raise doubts. But old theories die hard, Ruben said, especially when it comes to some of the most distinctive and romanticized animal species in world history.

“Frankly, there’s a lot of museum politics involved in this, a lot of careers committed to a particular point of view even if new scientific evidence raises questions,” Ruben said. In some museum displays, he said, the birds-descended-from-dinosaurs evolutionary theory has been portrayed as a largely accepted fact, with an asterisk pointing out in small type that “some scientists disagree.”

Our work at OSU used to be pretty much the only asterisk they were talking about,” Ruben said. “But now there are more asterisks all the time. That’s part of the process of science.”

In the research, the scientists also noted other “specialized features” of bird anatomy which allow the substantial oxygen intake required for flight, as well as features present in both birds and mammals but not dinosaurs (the researchers believed these features evolved independently, as evolutionists do not consider birds and mammals closely related).

Conclusion

An Anatomist’s Thoughts

Dr. David Menton, an award-winning anatomist, had this to say about the new research:

So certain are most evolutionists that birds evolved from dinosaurs that birds are now widely regarded as being, in fact, Coelurosaurian dinosaurs. Still, the growing lines of evidence coming from “dinosaurs as birds” skeptics like Ruben and Feduccia are eroding this confidence. This new study by Quick and her mentor Ruben presents compelling evidence from an anatomical feature of birds that was previously ignored—the bird’s femur. Unlike all mammals and reptiles (including dinosaurs), bird femurs are tucked up into the body, and thus the visible part of a bird’s leg is from the knee on down. This curious arrangement was once alluded to in a humorous book title: Do Penguins Have Knees?

The importance of the bird femur to avian respiration has not been appreciated until now. Quick and Ruben point out that the avian style air-sac system of breathing requires support from the uniquely positioned femurs of birds to keep their abdominal air-sacs from collapsing during inspiration. They conclude that “the likely absence of bird-like pulmonary function in theropods is inconsistent with suggestions of cardiovascular anatomy more sophisticated than that of modern crocodilians.”

One hopes that this new evidence will now prompt evolutionists to reconsider their claimed evidence for “feathers” in dinosaurs. No other cutaneous appendages are as strikingly different in their development, structure, function, and mode of replacement as scales and feathers. It appears that both feathers and the avian mode of breathing are unique to birds. But will all of this have any impact on the current birds-are-dinosaurs dogma? I think not: experience has shown that evolutionary dogma, once established, dies hard.

What do the researchers conclude about bird evolution, then? “This discovery probably means that birds evolved on a parallel path alongside dinosaurs, starting that process before most dinosaur species even existed,” Ruben noted.

“That’s quite possible and is routinely found in evolution. It just seems pretty clear now that birds were evolving all along on their own and did not descend directly from the theropod dinosaurs, which lived many millions of years later,” said Quick.

The scientists believe the similarities between birds and dinosaurs show that they possibly shared a common ancestor that eventually gave rise to not only birds and dinosaurs, but also crocodilians. However, their research reported that the lung structure and physiology of dinosaurs was likely much more similar to crocodilians than to birds.

Creationists should keep in mind several important points regarding this research:

  • Once again, the evolutionary “facts” have been challenged. What scientists believe about the evidence frequently changes, even while their presupposed belief in evolution is held constant. Don’t be fooled by the “facts” that evolutionists themselves may doubt tomorrow!
  • We may well hear a sharp response from other evolutionists attacking this research or, at least, emphasizing that birds still evolved, even if only from an unknown ancestor. Alternatively, we may hear virtually nothing if evolutionists hope the story goes unnoticed.
  • Whenever evolutionists demonstrate that specialized features originated separately (i.e., the evolutionary branches are farther apart), it multiplies the number of miraculous mutations that would have had to occur to produce the specialized anatomy in organisms on both branches.
  • The “overlap” between bird anatomy and mammal anatomy, and between bird anatomy and reptile anatomy—along with the plentiful uniqueness of bird anatomy—all shouts “design.” Evolution can only explain such recurring anatomical elements with the fanciful justification of “convergent evolution” (i.e., concluding that two similar features evolved separately because the organisms are on different evolutionary branches). Creationists instead have the common-sense understanding that the Creator chose for each organism whatever designs best suited its purpose, and sometimes He reused the best designs.
  • Perhaps most importantly, this research identifies an incredible, previously unknown element of bird biology—a sophisticated design that enables bird flight and reflects on the ingenuity of the Creator.

Taking aim at the traditional evolutionary view, Ruben quipped, “A velociraptor did not just sprout feathers at some point and fly off into the sunset.” Sadly, that romanticized view seems to prevail among evolutionists, who have abundant faith—even without scientific justification—that all the biodiversity and incredible “design” we see in nature today is merely a product of natural processes acting on accidents. So, even adding one more “miracle” to evolution—as this new research does—is unlikely to shake their faith.

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Footnotes

  1. See, for example, the first paragraph of K. H. Platt, “New Feathered Dinosaur Found; Adds to Bird-Dino Theory,” National Geographic News, January 16, 2009. Back
  2. For instance, the first image, by Michael Skrepnick, on J. R. Hutchinson, “The Dromaeosauridae,” University of California Museum of Paleontology, November 24, 1995 (image added later). Back
  3. D. E. Quick and J. A. Ruben, “Cardio-pulmonary anatomy in theropod dinosaurs: Implications from extant archosaurs,” Journal of Morphology, 2009. Back
  4. “Discovery Raises New Doubts About Dinosaur-Bird Links,” EurekAlert, June 9, 2009. Back