While making bread this morning and between answering the door and phone calls, I listened on steam radio to the programme In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. His panel of experts explained how the discovery of thousands of bird fossils has revolutionised our perception of avian evolution.
I recall Watchtower literature smugly presenting Darwin’s admissions in his Origin of the Species that the geological evidence for bird evolution is “imperfect” in fact missing. I dimly recall reading the expression “it has all the evidence of absolute creation”. (My copy of Origins is not in my office at the moment to check the wording).
Darwin finally published his first edition of Origin of the Species in 1859 and the very next year the first fossil feathers were discovered in Bavaria which were soon to be identified with the now famous Archaeopterex the first complete ‘bird’ fossil found a year later in 1861 . (Europe at the time of Archaeopteryx in the late Jurassic was an archipelago in sub-tropical waters) Although feathered, it had the body of a reptile but since it was the only obvious airworthy animal with wings and feathers it stood for a long time as the prime and original bird fossil. More bird fossils were discovered from the rocks of the Cretaceous period in the 1880s in USA.
However the fuller scientific picture of bird evolution has now been brought into focus with marvellous discoveries within the last twenty years in North Eastern China. Vast sheets of stone slab like deposits spread over six hundred miles, have yielded the fossilised evidence for many species of Late Jurassic birds. Not just a handful but thousands of them! These show that Archaeopteryx was indeed part of the evolutionary story relating dinosaurs to birds, linked indeed by both parties possessing a wish bone, but no longer can it be seen as a "missing link" between them.
Archaeopteryx was a poor flyer and now palaeontologists have discovered ‘proper’ birds from before the time of the iconic fossil and more particularly they have a detailed description of many genera of ancient avian species, enough to create a large schema or plan of bird families demonstrating their evolutionary relatedness to each other and how they are ancestral to modern birds.
So now in the early twenty first century we have incontrovertible proof that birds are descended from small carnivorous dinosaurs called Theropods. Of course creationists will try to weasel their religious tongues around the bald evidence and attempt to deny the scientific evaluation.
Darwin’s honest admission was that the geology of his day could not demonstrate his theory of the origin of species in respect of evidence for fossil forebears of modern birds. If you have read the Origin of the Species you will remember that he used by way of example the deliberate or artificial selection by pigeon fanciers to create distinct breeds or characteristics and then made a telling comparison with the natural selection seen in the various species of Galapagos finches.
Variety in birds then was at the foundation of his argument yet he had no avian fossils to show. Wouldn’t he have loved to know how palaeontolgy has vindicated his expectations one and a half centuries later?
But what a smack in the eye for those creationists who can no longer abuse Darwin’s modesty in admitting lack of information. Darwin was ignorant of avian evolution, science has now furnished us with the evidence.
How long will it be before the JW organisation become honest with information and publicly admit that they have been wrong in so many things including evolution?