Are Birds Just Flying Dinosaurs?
Birds from dinosaurs? Not so fast, says one North Carolinian.
The publication of a new book by retired UNC-Chapel Hill professor Alan Feduccia could make our state a battleground in an argument among evolutionary scientists.
This fight between evolutionists could make creationists as happy as Democrats watching the Republican presidential candidates tear each other apart.
This difference of opinion between two groups of scientists, all of whom accept the tenets of evolution, pertains to the origin of birds.
The majority view embraces the idea that birds are the "last dinosaurs." Based on fossils and bones representing millions of years of evolutionary development, the scientific majority believes birds are the lineal descendants of dinosaurs.
Evidence of dinosaurs with feathers, wings and birdlike features supports their idea that some dinosaurs could fly, and these flying dinosaurs, they say, are the ancestors of present-day birds. Or put another way, our birds are dinosaurs.
If there is any question about the idea that birds are descendants of dinosaurs, you will not find it in respected popular science publications such as National Geographic. In its November 1999 edition, it proclaimed in headlines, "We can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals." (Theropods were or are a variety of dinosaurs.)
Although the fossils that were the "proof" of National Geographic's claim turned out to be inauthentic - a glued-together composite of entirely different creatures, the resulting embarrassment did not bother scientists like Christopher Brochu, who asserted, "That birds are derived from theropod dinosaurs is no longer the subject of scholarly dispute."
More recently, research sponsored by National Geographic led to claims that the vibrant colors of the feathers of the flying dinosaurs can be determined.
The popular and scientific views come together in colorful movies and museum exhibits that appeal to those open to the presentation of science in an "amazing tales" format.
In the March 2012 issue of National Geographic, I found a flier (pun intended) promoting David Attenborough's film "Flying Monsters." The fantastic illustration had a bulky, colorful, dinosaur-like flying creature soaring over the landscape, his wings easily lifting his massive body into the air.
"When dinosaurs walked the Earth, monsters ruled the skies," the flier proclaims. "Dig for pterosaurs, find a theater, see REAL flying monsters, and more!"
For a look at the film, go to http://movies.nationalgeographic.com/movies/flying-monsters/
Not so fast, says professor Feduccia in "Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China," published by Yale University Press.
Alan Feduccia has a longstanding disagreement with the "birds from dinosaurs" theories. Although birds and dinosaurs may have come from a common ancestor and share some common features, Feduccia and his 300-page book, packed with research results, illustrations and data, cast doubts on the majority opinion.
Feduccia's science might be hard for a layman to follow. But he has some powerful common-sense questions about how dinosaurs learned to fly. For instance, how did a large, ground-based animal with small forearms evolve into a flying animal?
This "ground-up hypothesis for the origin of flight," Feduccia says, is "terribly flawed." He points out that most flying animals (flying squirrels, for instance) had ancestors that lived in trees. The "trees-down" theory of the origin of birds and other flying species makes more sense to Feduccia than the "ground-up" one espoused by other scientists.
So, will creationists laugh deridingly at this argument between Feduccia and other evolutionists?
"This is comic relief," said one creationist quoted by Feduccia.
Maybe they should not be so quick to laugh. Differences among scientists who are open to searching for the truth should be expected and welcome.
I do not know how this argument about birds and dinosaurs will evolve. But I am pulling for the underdog, the brave North Carolina scientist who is not afraid to challenge the current prevailing opinion.
D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which returns Sunday at 5 p.m. To view prior programs, go to http://video.unctv.org/ program/nc-bookwatch/.
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