Just when I was wondering what to write about (actually I was wondering if I could be bothered to write anything at all), something happens. The fake Skeptico I wrote about here, and who “guest blogged” here, has now wised up to the fact that we’re making fun of him and has posted to his blog again – a post entitled “Pseudo-Skeptico Strikes Again!” - ranting at length about how his “Skeptico” name was an accident and how he was now trying to change his web name, etc etc.
I am a little skeptical that he chose the Skeptico name without knowing about this blog. He’s no skeptic (skepticism isn’t about doubting everything, it’s about applying critical thinking to evaluate claims), so why “Skeptico”? Also, his blog title was completely different. But it could be true I suppose – people make mistakes. Either way his last post and in fact the entire http://skeptico.blogspot.com/ blog has disappeared. For now his Blogger Profile is still there, but I suspect he will restart his blogging career with another handle. Just before the blog disappeared I noticed he had changed his handle to “The One Eyed Pirate”, so perhaps that will be his new name (although I hope this guy has no objections - he sounds scary!).
Anyway, I just had to comment on that last post (even though it’s gone). It’s totally inane, and at least three people commented on it on his blog, before it disappeared. At the end of the post was this piece that he obviously thought was a killer problem for evolution:
But I close this post with a simple conundrum for you all, just for fun. (After all, this is supposed to be fun, isn't it?) And you don't have to be a microbiologist to understand the conundrum.
In the animal kingdom, there are all sorts of creatures that fly, from the gnat to the bat, from the humble housefly to the eagle in the sky. But let's focus on some ordinary bird, like a sparrow. Consider his wing. Ever consider the structures and mechanisms of a bird's wing? Well, to work, it has to have the form and strength of a wing, that is, an airfoil, as well as strong and properly controlled muscles to make it beat. But it needs something else to make it work. It needs feathers. Ever take a look at the structure of a feather? Pretty remarkable. Not much like hair or fur or scales.
Question is, which evolved first, the wing or the feathers? (And don't try to tell me we first had birds flying around without feathers, because, besides being preposterous, there is just no scientific evidence for that. And don't bring up any flying reptiles; they weren't birds. And don't tell me they evolved in parallel. The mathematical probabilities against linear evolution occurring are anstronomical (sic) as it is.)
Wow – the stupidity of that statement is quite amazing on so many levels. Considering that he actually mentions two creatures (the gnat and the bat), that have wings but no feathers, but can fly, I would suggest that the answer to his question “which evolved first, the wing or the feathers?” would probably be, “it doesn’t matter”. The important thing for evolution is that feathers are clearly not necessary for flight. And birds evolved from dinosaurs, which makes “don't bring up any flying reptiles” pretty dumb too.
This guy is typical of the know-all evolution denier. He has not studied the subject and by his own admission hadn’t read anything about it until about a month or so, when he read Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box. Now he has seemingly read on some creationist web site this thing about wings and feathers and he thinks it’s a killer for evolution - something that experts in evolutionary science who have dedicated their lives to this subject have missed – and arrogantly crows about it on his blog. And yes I know I shouldn’t appeal to authority – an argument should be considered on its merits not on whether the person presenting it is a scientist or not. But wouldn’t you think someone new to the subject would spend a few minutes researching this evolution-killer question before posting it for everyone to see his ignorance? (OK, rhetorical question.)
In less than five minutes I found the answers on talkorigins.org. For the benefit of Kennesaw Williams (if he is really interested), I present thoughts on how flight, wings and feathers may have evolved (all with my bold):
As to wings: if you read the chapter on wings in the recent excellent book by Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable, you will get a better idea how flight could evolve generally, but as to bird's wings and feathers, there is recent evidence that feathers were initially varieties of scales used for insulation (recently feathers were induced in chicks to form from scales on their legs, and a dinosaur in China showed an imprint of feathers along its spine). Once there, feathers must have been co-opted for a range of reasons. One theory is that they were used to catch prey - insects and small rodents - as a kind of net. Once you have them on forelimbs, it is not a long leap, if you'll forgive the pun, to flight, as we see incipient fliers all around us in the form of tree leapers and gliders. Straight selection would account for it.
I also found more information on how feathers probably evolved:
In past times, feathers were probably first used as insulation, much like hair in mammals, and were probably hair-shaped, as some of those other types of feathers mentioned above still are. At some point, some of the proto-birds developed branching projections from the early feathers. These were better at insulating, and so natural selection favored those animals that possessed them.
The next step was probably selection for barbules which curled at the ends, hooking the barbules into the adjacent ones and thus making a better wind-shedding surface, like a windbreaker. (The underfeathers would make better insulators by staying fluffy and unhooked, so the downy type of feather would be retained.) At this point the barbules were probably still pretty much round in cross-section, with no grooves. Since the limited interlocking mechanism was an improvement over non-interlocked feathers, there would be a competitive advantage to having the hooks.
So, now we have hamuli hooked around barbule "petioles". Now go back to one of Darwin's assumptions that I've been pretty much taking for granted so far- variation. Some of these proto-birds had "petioles" slightly oval, or squarish, or crescent-shaped, as opposed to round. Please stress the "slightly" there! Now, one of these shapes was better than the others at holding the interlocking mechanism together (another idea of Darwin's). So, that proto-bird's offspring would survive better than offspring of the others, and so eventually replace them.
Fast forward a couple of hundred million years of the same variation, mutation, and selection, and you end up with modern bird feathers. Simple, no? Just time-consuming. The groove and hook did not evolve separately, as has been contended, but one in response to the other. The hooks were not useless without the grooves, they just work better with the grooves. You find this same pattern all through the living world.
And I found information on the evolution from dinosaurs to modern birds:
Many new bird fossils have been discovered in the last couple of decades, revealing several intermediates between theropod dinosaurs (such as Allosaurus) and modern birds:
* Sinosauropteryx prima. A dinosaur covered with primitive feathers, but structurally similar to unfeathered dinosaurs Ornitholestes and Compsognathus (Chen et al. 1998; Currie and Chen 2001).
(More at the link.)
Not that hard really. I imagine that Kennesaw Williams, if he bothered to read this, in his next post, would perhaps ask how the eye could possibly have evolved, perhaps asking the killer question “what use is half an eye?”. (Answer – a lot more use than no eye.) Or perhaps he would ask how we could agree that a watch (should we happen to find one lying on a beach, for example), was designed, but would suggest that life is not? The possibilities are endless. Such a pity we won’t know where to find such brilliant musings; but at least we will be spared knowing how comprehensively evolution has been debunked. (Sigh.