The scientific consensus has pretty much declared it a fact of natural history that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  One evolutionary professor remains a gadfly, though.  He contests the evidence on which the hypothesis is based, and also believes his maverick position is growing.

Alan Feduccia, a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, wrote an essay for New Scientist (subscription required).  His position does not deny an evolutionary origin of birds, but places the “feathered dinosaurs” so often portrayed as ancestors of modern birds on a dead-end branch.  He claims his position is more in line with 19th century paleontologist Richard Owen and 20th century evolutionist Gavin de Beer.  These men viewed flightless birds as degenerate products of variation, not stages toward flight; for instance, de Beer in 1956 “showed conclusively that flightless birds descended from flying ancestors and have never re-evolved flight.”

Similarly, Feduccia holds that the “feathered dinosaurs” attracting so much attention in the media were either pure scaly dinosaurs with whose decayed collagen has been misinterpreted as “proto-feathers,” or were degenerate flightless birds.  His own view is that the birds evolved from archosaurs, the predecessors in evolutionary history of the true dinosaurs.  He thinks some of the archosaurs lived in trees and developed flight as they jumped (the arboreal hypothesis).

Critics of Darwinism will, therefore, find Feduccia’s own evolutionary view to be just as implausible as the consensus view.  What he says in his essay, however, is illuminating about the habits of a scientific consensus.  Here are some salient points:

  • Sinosauropteryx, a fossil with alleged proto-feathers, caused a sensation when it was announced in Nature in 1998.  But “no evidence then or now has emerged showing that these structures are anything other than collagen fibres supporting a typical reptilian frill,” Feduccia said.  “The fact that the filaments are located within a clearly demarcated body outline — indicating the fibres were not external, as they would be if they were feather-like structures — was completely ignored.”….

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