A recent Nature paper describes the finding of the flightless, feathered dinosaur Epidexipteryx hui. The paper describes a well-preserved fossil of Epidexipteryx found in northern China that dates to about 152 to 168 million years ago. It was a pigeon-sized creature with small feathers unsuitable for flight and four long tail feathers that are thought to be ornamental.
This finding is particularly interesting because it helps fill in the gaps of the change from feathered dinosaurs to true birds. The creature had some interesting characteristics. For one, its feathers are not like the typical feathers of today’s birds or even other feathered dinosaurs of the time. They don’t contain the typical central shaft of extant birds. Also, it appears to be the first animal to have large display feathers. For a little more information, checkout this MSNBC article.
Predictably, Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute wrote a blog post criticizing these findings and how they were perceived by the media. His main contention is that this fossil looks like it could have been a “secondarily flightless bird.” In other words, he believes that this evidence shows that there used to be flying birds during the middle Jurassic era and some evolved into flightless birds. There are at least a couple things wrong with his reasoning as an anti-evolution, pro-intelligent design proponent.
Luskin seems to be proving aspects of evolution while saying that the given hypothesis is wrong. He states:
Epidexipteryx hui may not be a “feathered dinosaur” at all, but instead was a bird that lost its ability to fly while retaining feathers”
Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like evolution? The change of a bird going from a flying animal to a flightless one would be considered a strong candidate of speciation. That’s funny, since one of the most often used talking point for intelligent design is that evolution could not lead to speciation. Sounds to me like Luskin believes in evolution and speciation only when he can use it to argue against new research findings.
Luskin also assumes one important thing with his argument that this creature is just a secondarily-flightless bird. He assumes that there were already birds living at the time. There weren’t as far as we know. Therefore, his whole argument is vacuous. The first real bird is believed to be Archaeopteryx, which lived at least 2 million years after Epidexipteryx hui.
After reading Luskin’s post, it seems to me that really only have two options. You can believe the well-thought out and evidence-supported timeline of dinosaurs evolving into birds. The other option is to believe the ID-proponent’s unsupported view that Epidexipteryx evolved from preexisting birds that we cannot find. Either way, you have to believe in evolutionary change, but only one is reasonable.