Aerodynamic simulation suggests a role for the Microraptor’s extra set of wings.
Animals with four wings are certainly not unheard of. (Just consider the dragonfly!) But modern birds only have two. So the discovery of the four-winged Microraptor gui in 2003 naturally excited interest in aerodynamic possibilities. Not all modern birds fly, so did Microraptor? And if so, how? “New Model for Hindwing Function in the Four-Winged Theropod Dinosaur Microraptor gui,” presented by Justin Hall and Michael Habib at October’s meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in North Carolina, suggests an answer.1
This Microraptor gui fossil’s anatomically modern feathers, denoted by white arrows, are visible on its limbs and tail. Black arrows mark “halos” where investigators suspect additional unpreserved feathers would have been located. Click image to enlarge. The scale bar on the expanded image is 5 cm long. Image by David W. E. Hone, Helmut Tischlinger, Xing Xu, Fucheng Zhang from “Extent of the Preserved Feathers on the Four-Winged Dinosaur Microraptor gui under Ultraviolet Light,” www.plosone.org.
Although anatomically modern feathers are visible on Microraptor fossils, reconstructions have varied greatly. The fossils, of course, are crushed specimens offering few clues to the three-dimensional appearance of the original, much less its normal methods of locomotion. Some reconstructions have pictured all four limbs extended outward, and others have suggested a biplane appearance.
“The anatomical problem with the previous model is that essentially the animal was doing the splits and would have nearly had to dislocate its hips to get its legs into that position,” Hall said. “As anatomy instructors, Mike and I both knew it was physically impossible for the animal to have done that.” Furthermore, aerodynamically, using the rear wings for flight “made the animal worse both at flying and gliding than if it had used its front wings alone.”1
Habib and Hall instead analyzed a model of the bird (which they, like many evolutionists, classify as a raptor-like dinosaur) with its rear wings tucked up under it. Like rudders, the feathery limbs could be extended to facilitate turning. The long tail’s feather fan could have been useful for pitch control. Their model suggests the resulting agility would have enabled Microraptor to turn twice as fast as a two-winged animal.
This reconstruction of Microraptor suggests a biplane arrangement to enhance gliding. Of course, the possibilities for running on the ground don’t look too promising! Image from www.3dhistory.co.uk
This model of the Microraptor represents its rear limbs tucked under its body out of the way until needed for rudder control. Image: David Krentz from blogs.scientificamerican.com
As Hall explained, “There wasn’t an alternative until we raised this new model which keeps the legs directly under the body in a way that is consistent with the posture we see in all known dinosaurs, in birds and also in the original specimen of this type of animal. . . . We combined our knowledge of anatomy with an understanding of the aerodynamics of how animals actually fly.”1
“A combination of pitch control by the tail, roll generation by the ‘hindwings’ and multi-purpose control by the main wings would have made Microraptor a highly maneuverable animal,” Habib explained. The rear limb feathers would have created a lot of drag. “For every surface, you pay a little drag tax,” Habib said.2 But the advantage of improved ability may well have outweighed this problem. “For the first time, we appear to have a solid answer to the mystery of dinosaur hind-wings, as well as the function of the tail feather fan,” he said. “In the process, we have solved a major problem in the evolution of dinosaur flight—the problem of control.” 1
“This study provides a plausible mechanism by which dinosaurs that otherwise have strongly Velociraptor-like bodies could take to the air and control themselves while in flight,” Hall added. “Obviously crashing is bad for the long-term health of the animal, but until now we had little idea how the earliest flying dinosaurs avoided such catastrophes given their relatively simple wing structure.”1
Many evolutionists classify Microraptor as a dinosaur, making its genuine-appearing feathers appear to be at the top of the transitional tree in their hypothetical evolutionary pathway from dinosaurs to birds.3 And regardless of their thoughts on what Microraptor were, evolutionists still look to this creature for clues to elucidate the evolution of flight. Some have suggested the crow-sized animal could not fly at all, while others propose it glided down from trees to grab dinner and extended its flight by flapping. Still others suggest it flapped and ran along the ground or up an incline to take-off into the trees, much as juvenile birds do when learning to fly.4 Some flap-running proponents object to Habib and Hall’s model, but Habib says their model works for either flapping or gliding.
Nothing about this study actually supports the notion that dinosaurs evolved into birds or that the ability to fly had to evolve at all. God created flying creatures on the fifth day of Creation week about 6,000 years ago, and they already were equipped to fly. What the study does do is reveal a possible aerodynamic way that this extinct four-winged bird compensated for what paleontologists think were “small pectoral muscles”5 to get off the ground. The Microraptor was neither a clumsy evolutionary intermediary nor an evolutionary success story but rather a fully functional flying creature whose unique aerodynamic design reveals another aspect of the variety in God’s amazing designs for flying creatures.
Ancient flying fish flew in far-flung reaches of the globe.
Flying fish fossils found in China’s Middle Triassic rock layers are forcing a slight rethink of the evolutionary picture of recovery after the “Permian mass-extinction.” Evolutionists view the Permian rock graveyard as memorializing a mass extinction from which evolution slowly recovered.
This fossilized Potanichthys xingyiensis specimen demonstrates the larger lower lobe of the tail fin as seen in modern flying fish. Image from Dr. Guang Hui Xu from rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org
Modern flying fish have a fossil record in Eocene rock, but Thoracopteridae, the extinct variety, have been found deeper, in European Upper Triassic rock. China’s Middle Triassic fish therefore represents the deepest known fossil record of flying fish.6 The discovery of this flying fish so early in the fossil record suggests to evolutionists that worldwide evolution of biodiversity got back on track pretty quickly after the Permian disaster.
Modern flying fish do not “flap” their wing-like fins as birds do. They do not have sufficient pectoral musculature to accomplish such a feat. Instead, they gain speed underwater and then launch themselves using rapid movement of a highly asymmetrical tail fin. (Modern flying fish have a tail fin with a very robust bottom lobe. Therefore, fossilized fish with big “wing-like” pectoral fins but without this tail fin asymmetry are no longer considered flying fish.) Modern flying fish can glide as much as 400 meters (nearly 440 yards) in 30 seconds, so the extinct variety, since it is anatomically similar, probably did the same.7
Evolutionists believe the presence of modern flying fish fossils and the extinct variety in different layers of the fossil record proves that gliding ability “convergently evolved” twice in fish. Gliding from tree to tree is an efficient way for gliding mammals, lizards, and frogs to travel. However, for a fish, the launch-and-glide maneuver is a costly activity in terms of energy and is not used by modern flying fish, as far as anyone knows, for ordinary migration. The selective advantage likely conferred instead was the chance to escape from predators. Modern flying fish are common dolphin dinner, so similar predators likely stalked Thoracopteridae, their Triassic “non-cousins.” The presence of a fish with this gliding adaptation so deep in Triassic rock, to evolutionists, suggests there had to be sophisticated marine predators around to drive the evolutionary process. The obvious conclusion, then, is that the post-Permian evolutionary recovery was quicker than previously thought.
But could there be another interpretation? “Mass extinctions” are levels in the fossil record believed by evolutionists to represent the simultaneous extinction of many sorts of organisms. However, the geology expected from the global Flood—with catastrophic deposition of sediment containing organisms swept together from various ecosystems—explains many layers of fossils. Thus much of the fossil record represents the order of burial associated with the global Flood and subsequent localized post-Flood catastrophes. The “mass extinctions” are indeed a timeline, but not one lasting millions of years.8
God created fish on the 5th day of Creation week about 6,000 years ago. They did not evolve from anything else or into anything else. The global Flood occurred around 1,700 years later, so it is not surprising to see flying fish preserved in similar rock layers on opposite parts of the globe. Gliding ability did not have to evolve twice, or even once. The kinds of fish we have today are just varieties of fish descended from the originally created fish. Nothing about this discovery demonstrates evolution of fish from non-fish but is fully consistent with the biblical history of creation and the global Flood.
Cooking: the key to evolutionary success
Nutritional maxims remind us that our brains need a steady supply of energy, exhort us to feed our kids a healthy breakfast before school, and instruct us on the foods we should eat to think our best. Extrapolating from nutritional observations, Brazilian evolutionary neuroscientists Suzana Herculano-Houzel and Karina Fonseca-Azevedo have defined the metabolic limits of brain growth possible for primates on a raw food diet. Since juicers hadn’t yet been invented, they claim cooking was the key enabling humanity’s ancestors to evolve bigger brains.
“If you eat only raw food, there are not enough hours in the day to get enough calories to build such a large brain,” says Herculano-Houzel. “We can afford more neurons, thanks to cooking.”
Evolutionists believe humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. Modern apes have smaller brains than humans. And human brains utilize 20% of the body’s energy at rest compared to only 9% for primate animals.9 Evolutionists therefore search through the sands of time to find what fueled the evolution of bigger and presumably brighter brains. Herculano-Houzel and Fonseca-Azevedo write, “The human brain is a linearly scaled-up primate brain in its relationship between brain size and number of neurons.”10
The neuroscientists counted the number of brain neurons in 13 species of primates as well as a number of other mammals. Having thus confirmed that brain size and the number of neurons are proportional, they estimated the number of neurons in living great apes, “extinct hominins,”10 and modern humans. Then they calculated the energy requirements for those neurons. And finally, adjusting for body mass, they estimated how long each primate would have to eat raw food each day to support its brain’s needs.
Chimps and orangutans could get by on 7.3 and 7.8 hours a day, but gorillas need to munch their veggies for 8.8 hours a day. Modern humans cross the line of feasibility with a 9.3 hour requirement. “Apes can’t afford both brain and body,” Herculano-Houzel says, and “King Kong could not exist,” even with a pea-brain.11
Homo erectus, an early human with an average brain size thought to have been slightly smaller than modern humans, fell into the calculations between the gorillas and modern humans. Since archaeologists have found evidence that Homo erectus cooked (see News to Note, April 7, 2012), the neuroscientists conclude that a raw diet placed a limit on potential brain power, a limit that Homo erectus overcame with its hearth fires. They write, “This limitation was probably overcome in Homo erectus with the shift to a cooked diet. Absent the requirement to spend most available hours of the day feeding, the combination of newly freed time and a large number of brain neurons affordable on a cooked diet may thus have been a major positive driving force to the rapid increase in brain size in human evolution.”10
“The reason we have more neurons than any other animal alive is that cooking allowed this qualitative change—this step increase in brain size,” Herculano-Houzel explains. “By cooking, we managed to circumvent the limitation of how much we can eat in a day.” Evolutionists consider this analysis support for Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham’s “cooking hypothesis.” The title of Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, sums up his contention that learning to control fire and cook food was the secret to humanity’s evolutionary success. (See News to Note, August 27, 2011 and News to Note, April 7, 2012 for more information.) He pointed out that cooking makes more calories available faster and facilitates growth. Wrangham agrees that this study confirms “an ape could not achieve a brain as big as in recent humans while maintaining a typical ape diet.”
Of course, the notion that learning to control fire has been the key to humanity’s success is nothing new. Ancient Greeks believed that the demigod Prometheus stole fire and gave it to man in defiance of Zeus’s restrictions. Control of fire and all sorts of technology historically has advanced human civilization (there being no other kind). But the idea that being able to cook food transformed ape-like nonhumans into humans by enabling them to grow more neurons falls into the category of myth, like the Promethean story. Both are “just-so-stories.” Evolutionists assume humans evolved from ape-like ancestors simply because we exist, not because of experimental proof.
“Gorillas are stuck with this limitation of how much they can eat in a day; orangutans are stuck there; H. erectus would be stuck there if they had not invented cooking,” Herculano-Houzel reasons. “The more I think about it, the more I bow to my kitchen. It's the reason we are here.” She concludes, “Much more than harnessing fire, what truly allowed us to become human was using fire for cooking.”11 But her belief about our origins—which unlike the number of neurons in a brain and the number of calories obtainable from food is not amenable to actual scientific testing—is based purely upon her evolutionary worldview, not upon verifiable science.
Knowing that bigger brains require an efficient supply of energy in no way supports the notion of human evolution. Neither cooking food nor learning to walk upright could transform a hypothetical ape-like ancestor into a human being. God created the first two humans in His image, having unique mental and spiritual attributes, on the sixth day of Creation Week, about 6,000 years ago. According to Genesis chapter one, He made land animals, including apes, the same day. He created all kinds of living things to reproduce after their kinds, not to evolve into more complex kinds. And while our common Designer gave us some similar physical features, He created apes and humans with distinct intellectual and spiritual differences. Nothing in the fossil record or genetics actually demonstrates human evolution from ape-like ancestors; such connections are the unverifiable conclusions of evolutionists superimposed on the actual “facts.”
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gooseberry.”
Does eating plants violate their “rights”? In view of recent evidence that pepper plants can “hear” sweet fennel, must a gardener take care to provide his chili-peppers with good social conditions? Can plants suffer? “Plants can warn other plants of a predator by releasing a chemical, and the warned plants can release chemicals to make themselves unpalatable to the predator,” says Australian biologist Monica Gagliano. “I think we might realize that plants are more sensitive than we think.” So must farmers look forward to a future in which they could be prosecuted for causing undue stress to the flora?
If attorney Steven Wise and author Michael Marder have their way, the future could shape up that way. Wise, representing the Nonhuman Rights Project, plans to file multiple lawsuits to secure rights for plants. So far no state acknowledges “that a nonhuman plaintiff can be a legal ‘person’ in the eyes of the law.” But while “plants’ rights” has not taken root in America, in 2008 Ecuador became the first country to guarantee constitutional rights to plants, granting nature “the right to the maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes” (emphasis ours). And in Switzerland the "dignity" of plants is protected by law, rendering "forced sterilization" of plants through genetic modification illegal and even making the "decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason" an illegal and immoral act.12
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) seeks such legal recognition of the “Rights of Nature.” Mari Margil of CELDF says, “a river may be recognized as having the right to flow, fish and other species in a river may be recognized as having the right to exist and evolve” (emphasis ours).
Michael Marder, author of Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, calls for “plant liberation.” Though he admits that plant suffering differs in character from animal suffering, he nevertheless says, “The commendable desire to ameliorate the condition of animals, currently treated as though they were meat-generating machines, does not justify strategic argumentation in favor of the indiscriminate consumption of plants.” Therefore, he concludes, “the struggles for the emancipation of all instrumentalized living beings should be fought on a common front.”
Not all agree. Rutgers University's law professor Gary Francione counters, “If plants are not sentient — if they have no subjective awareness — then they have no interests. That is, they cannot desire, or want, or prefer anything. . . . I reject completely the notion that we can have direct moral obligations to plants. I reject completely that plants have any interests whatsoever.” Animal rights advocate Tom Regan says basic moral rights belong only to those who are “aware of the world, aware of what happens to them.” Plants, he says, “are not aware of the world, nor are they aware of what happens to them.”
“Plant liberation” has its roots in a humanistic philosophy and an evolutionary interpretation of history. Evolutionists assume without proof that single-celled life randomly emerged from nonliving elements. They claim—also without any observable mechanism demonstrating how—that such a cell multiplied and acquired increasing complexity, eventually forming itself into multicellular organisms to climb the evolutionary ladder over millions and millions of years. Because all living things share this common ancestor, evolutionists sometimes argue that all life is of equivalent moral value. Ideas like “mother earth’s rights” and “plant liberation” are offshoots of this evolutionary view.
Ironically, the same worldview that promotes plants’ rights typically does not acknowledge the sanctity of human life and does not defend the right of an unborn human or a debilitated person to life. For instance, in an article favoring killing people to harvest their organs, two medical ethicists wrote, “If killing were wrong just because it is causing death or the loss of life, then the same principle would apply with the same strength to pulling weeds out of a garden. If it is not immoral to weed a garden, then life as such cannot really be sacred, and killing as such cannot be morally wrong” (emphasis ours).13
From a biblical perspective we understand this statement to be an absurd logical fallacy inconsistent with the plain reading of Scripture. Biologically, a dandelion may be considered alive. However, pulling a weed or eating spinach doesn’t cause suffering or death of any sort of life in a moral sense. The Bible uses the word nephesh in reference to the life of humans and animals but never plants. Plants were given for food in the perfectly good world God created. Yet from an evolutionary point of view, a human life would be no more important than a dandelion, perhaps less so if the human is beyond reproductive years and the dandelion hasn’t yet gone to seed.
Without a moral system based on the Word of the Creator, morality is merely a matter of human opinion. A biblical worldview recognizes our human responsibility to be good stewards of the environment and its resources, and that includes the avoidance of cruelty to animals even while recognizing that humans—not animals—are created in the image of God. However, prevention of botanical suffering or guaranteeing a plant’s “right to evolve” are humanistic constructs without basis in the created order.
The book of Genesis tells us that God created the earth to be a good place for man to live. As Creator, God gave man dominion over the earth and the job of subduing it (Genesis 1:28). This so-called “dominion mandate” calls us to a balanced view. That balanced view demands a correct view of humans, animals, and plants. Human beings, unlike animals, were created in the image of God. And edible plants were designed as food for both.
Uniqueness of humans is reflected in the way their genes are regulated.
Protein-coding genes in chimpanzee and human DNA have many similarities. Evolutionists claim this proves common ancestry. For years, scientists have suspected that much so-called “junk DNA” served regulatory functions, and the revelations from the ENCODE14 project have confirmed that “junk” is not really “junk.” But if humans and chimps have so many genetic similarities, why are they so different?
In “Genome-wide comparison of genetic and epigenetic regulatory mechanisms in primates,” presented at the 2012 meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, human geneticist Dr. Yoav Gilad showed that most of the differences in genetic expression between humans, chimps, and rhesus monkeys can be explained by a regulatory mechanism that determines the way a genetic blueprint for a protein gets transcribed to RNA. (Genetic instructions for building proteins are copied onto RNA and transported to the protein-manufacturing sites in cells.)
By regulating when, where, whether, and how the genetic recipes for each protein are expressed, therefore, very different results are achieved. Even this regulatory mechanism-called “histone modification”—differs between the species. Gilad reports, “We estimate that up to 70% of inter-species gene expression differences can be accounted for by corresponding changes in transcription factor binding and/or the presence of histone modification marks.”15
So does this mean that all the genetic information to become human, chimp, or monkey already existed in some ape-like ancestor and only had to be regulated in advantageous combinations to produce each sort of evolutionary result? Not at all. First of all, there is no known way by which natural processes could have produced life itself or the increasingly complex genetic information to get to that point in the first place. Secondly, the existence of biochemical and genetic similarities between humans, apes, and monkeys is evidence, not of common ancestry, but of common design.
Molecular geneticist Dr. Georgia Purdom of Answers in Genesis explains:
It's not surprising that we see large differences in DNA regulation between humans, chimps, and monkeys. All mammals whether chimps, humans, dogs, or cats all share the same basic bodily functions. Therefore, the genes that encode the information for those functions would need to be very similar. The real difference would be expected in when the genes are expressed, where they're expressed, why they're expressed, how much they're expressed, and under what conditions they're expressed. This difference in DNA regulation obviously plays a major role in the phenotype or characteristics of mammals including humans.
Determining the genetic basis for differences between humans and chimps does not explain the origin of those differences. We share not a common ancestor but a common Designer. God used similar genetic building blocks to produce features needed in similar sorts of organisms. God created each kind of organism and equipped each with the DNA information to reproduce after its kind. That information included both the protein-coding genes themselves and the mechanisms that regulate them to achieve dramatic differences.
We know from the book of Genesis that God did not use one organism as raw material for the next but instead spoke each into existence over the course of a few days. All kinds of land animals were created on the same day as Adam and Eve. Human beings have remarkable differences including a spiritual nature that chimps have never and will never have. Ancestral biology cannot explain the origin of the information for physical and mental differences, much less the spiritual differences. But the Bible does.
If you ever wonder “how so many animals fit on the Ark of Noah” and you’ve read articles on this website, you surely understand that “kinds” and “species” are not the same thing. Baraminology is the science of trying to determine what constituted each created kind. We see in the modern world that speciation and variation can occur rapidly within created kinds and produce dramatic differences. Be sure to check out the recent article in Answers Research Journal discussing the various “Mammalian Ark Kinds.” You may be surprised to find what a small number of mammals would be required to produce the variation we see in the world today! And while the numbers Dr. Jean Lightner reports amaze you, you (and your kids!) can enjoy the many beautiful animal photos included to illustrate this enlightening piece of research.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
Help keep these daily articles coming. Support AiG.
Discover how compromise starting in Genesis has filtered down from Christian seminaries and colleges to pastors—and finally to parents and their children. This erosive legacy is seen in generations of young people leaving the church—two-thirds of them. Get the facts, discover God’s truth, and help bring a new reformation to churches and families by helping to call them back to the authority of God’s Word.
Answers magazine is the Bible-affirming, creation-based magazine from Answers in Genesis. In it you will find fascinating content and stunning photographs that present creation and worldview articles along with relevant cultural topics. Each quarterly issue includes a detachable chart, a pullout children’s magazine, a unique animal highlight, excellent layman and semi-technical articles, plus bonus content. Why wait? Subscribe today and get a FREE DVD download!