The Dangers of Poor Scholarship: A Creationist’ Take on Feathered Dinosaurs

Every month seems to bring a report of a new fossil from the Jurassic or Cretaceous period rocks that display some form of feathers.  This deluge of new fossil finds will not end because there are as many fossils under preparation for publication as there are already published.  Just taking into account the fossils already revealed to the world it has become increasing evident that many types of dinosaurs had some form of feathers even if they were not covered by feathery plumage. Young earth creationists have reacted instinctively to each new fossil by attempting to neatly categorize them as either dinosaurs or birds but have found themselves at odds with each other about how to sort these fossils into separate “kinds.”

A dinosaur fossil with preservation of feathers.  By Kabacchi (Caudipteryx - 01Uploaded by FunkMonk) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A dinosaur fossil with preservation of feathers. By Kabacchi (Caudipteryx – 01Uploaded by FunkMonk) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The YEC mixed message over feathery dinosaurs can be seen with a confusing article published on the Answers in Genesis website on May 30, 2015, entitled “Is Jurassic World Wrong for Portraying Dinosaurs without Feathers?” by Avery Foley. What caught my attention in this short article was the following question and statement:

Did dinosaurs have feathers? In a biblical worldview, we do not expect to find feathered dinosaurs. Currently the evidence does not support the idea that dinosaurs were covered in feathers. Now while we may not know for sure what dinosaurs looked like, what we do know is that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs.

I had to ask myself upon reading this “how does a biblical worldview inform us that dinosaurs didn’t have feathers?”  Why couldn’t they have feathers?  Foley seems to just assume that the exclusive defining characteristic of a bird is having feathers and thus it would be impossible for a dinosaur to have them. Why?  My bible does not define birds as synonymous with feathers.  In fact my bible does not even define the flying things as synonymous with what scientists call birds since bats and pterodactyls also fly and they lack feathers.  Why couldn’t God have made some dinosaurs with feathers?  Even if most dinosaurs did not have feathers that would not preclude some dinosaurs from having them.  Foley follows here definitive statement about feathered dinosaurs with “we may not know for sure what dinosaurs looked like” and yet her biblical worldview is somehow informing her that dinosaurs would not have had feathers?  I’m very confused.

You might think that Foley wasn’t clear and I was taking her words the wrong way but the prior paragraph makes it clear that Foley is just plain confused and unprepared to write science articles. She evidently is just copying and pasting words from other YEC literature without having done her own research.  She provides a perfect illustration of this behavior a few paragraphs later:

Adding to the problems with evolutionary ideas about bird evolution is the fact that modern birds like parrots, loons, and owls are found in the fossil record in some of the very same layers as dinosaurs. How could modern birds have evolved from dinosaurs when modern, fully formed birds are found alongside dinosaurs in the very same layers?

Leaving aside the fact she has her  facts wrong in this paragraph, the paragraph above contains a common argument found in the YEC literature which repeats a classic misconception of evolutionary biology.  This argument is akin to claiming that evolutionists believe that because domestic dog bones are found in the same cave with those of wolves this is proof that domestic dogs could not have evolved from wolves.  Or the more common manifestation of this argument can be found every day on Facebook with the statement – if man came from apes, why are there still apes around today?

Creationist organizations have, to their credit, warned their readers that this particular man/ape argument is fallacious and is a misconceptions of what evolutionary theory says or predicts.

Foley’s use of this misconception, though, is especially egregious, and somewhat humorous, for two reasons.  The first is that Answers in Genesis published her article apparently without realizing that she was propagating the same misconception that they claim they are aware is a fallacious argument. This suggests a lack of editorial oversight by someone in their organization.

The second is that the Foley had written an article just five weeks earlier entitled “Creationists Misconceptions about Evolution” in which she specifically addressed the creationists’ misconception “if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes today?”  So, five weeks later she pens an article for AiG in which she directly applies the very same fallacious argument she just warned creationists about using.

Foley’s contradictions are ironic but not surprising.  It is obvious that Foley did not actually understand the biological concept behind the misconception. She was simply reiterating statements that she had read in creationists literature.  She only knew that this particular example was not true but didn’t understand why. So when she wrote about birds and dinosaurs she did not recognize that she was falling victim to the very same error.

The creationists’ literature is replete with similar examples of contradictory statements.  Why? Because most of these writers have very little scientific training, have never been involved in research and grew up reading inaccurate creationists literature and rarely been exposed to the original scientific literature.  As a result, they frequently don’t understand biological concepts but have just memorized some facts some of which may not even be true or are outdated. Avery Foley describes herself as having a “Bachelor of Science in Religion from Liberty University and am working towards my Masters of Theological Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.”   Her lack of background knowledge and research of the subject she is writing about is very evident in her articles.  It is unfortunate for the Christian community that this is what passes as creationists’ scholarship.

In another article written by Foley a few months earlier she began by stating “Those who don’t buy into evolutionary dogma are often laughed out of scholarly circles or accused of being anti-science or even anti-intellectual.”  I won’t go that far but I will say that when one’s writing demonstrates a high level of scientific illiteracy it is not unexpected that a certain amount of justified criticism should come your way.

Comments

  1. Good blog. The reason creationists struggle so much with science is made apparent with the first of your quotes: “In a biblical worldview, we do not expect to find feathered dinosaurs”. They have mistaken a book of Bronze Age origin myths for a science text book.

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    • Thanks, though I prefer to say that the Bible simply wasn’t meant to answer the question of what a dinosaur would have looked like.

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    • E.M. Coulterman says:

      The assumption that the article quoted above represents what creationists in general consider to be “a biblical worldview” is highly mistaken, as is the assumption that creationists in general struggle with science. There are as many biblical worldviews as there are creationists, and science is as much a matter of interpretation as is literature.

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  2. Do you want to know how to throw yet another wrench in the creationist ideas? The Bible says that the bat is a kind of bird (Lev. 11:19) and all biologists agree that bats aren’t birds.

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  3. rafaelgalvaodealmeida says:

    And yet there is more: the Bible says that the bat is a kind of bird (Lev. 11:19) and yet all biologists agree that bats aren’t birds. How to explain that using the young-Earth creationist theory? (I’m not sure if my first question went on due to a bug here, but if yes, ignore this)

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    • That’s not entirely fair. What does it mean to categorize something as a “bird”? In modern English, our categories of animals mostly align with what biologists tell us about common descent (though not always – fish, bug, monkey, reptile, etc.). When I call something a bird, there’s an implication that it shares an ancestor with other birds. But this is after 150 years or so of science subtly reshaping our categories.

      Ancient Hebrew had a term that’s usually translated as “bird” that was applied to bats as well as birds. The speakers knew nothing of evolutionary science, so including something in that category wasn’t making a false claim about genetic relationships. Pre-scientific peoples classified animals based on general appearance and functional roles, not common descent. There’s nothing objectively wrong about having a word for winged vertebrates. The worst that can be said is that the word in Hebrew at that time was a polyphyletic term.

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  4. Ashley Haworth-Roberts says:

    I commented here (at 0.17 am BST on 31 May):
    http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=2967&start=1635

    Now I will read what AiG have to say today about ‘Jurassic World’. (According to them, dinos and Man actually co-existed and ‘recently’ – but they AVOIDED each other or lived in DIFFERENT places. Well – they MUST have done since their fossils are not ever found together …)

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  5. I am glad they admit that feathered dinosaurs falsify the Bible. Now they will have to give it up.

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  6. is it fair to think that dinosaurs are birds, and the birds we know today are a poor representation of what a bird is? Like if mammals, (as we know come in all shapes and sizes), faced a major extinction and only the bats had the privilege for survival?

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  7. This is a very poor AiG article but saying “in a biblical worldview, we do not expect to find feathered dinosaurs” is not quite saying that “feathered dinosaurs falsify the Bible”. No YEC wants to say that if X is ever proven then Y (ie the historical ‘accuracy’ of the Bible) will be disproven (YECs and other Christians have in the past denied certain things that science – and not scripture – has established as real eg heliocentrism only for them to have to accept that they are in fact true after all, even if eg certain scriptures appear to give the impression that the Sun revolves around the Earth). But of course these fundamentalist Christians still say that the Bible is infallible and totally correct scientifically. See also: https://answersingenesis.org/dinosaurs/feathers/

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  8. George Brooks says:

    Wait a sec… Someone from AiG using the fossil record as proof of anything? I thought AiG’s – or at least AiG boss Ken Ham’s – stance on the fossil record was that it got all jumbled up in the Flood so it can’t prove anything? Why aren’t they falling back on the “historical science can’t prove anything” canard?

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  9. The pattern of fossil record isn’t jumbled up – so YECs have difficulty showing scientifically that all or most of it can be accounted for by ‘Noah’s Flood’ rather than evolutionary change across deep time (though that does not stop them from trying).

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  10. (I note that 48 hours on my comment awaits moderation.)

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Trackbacks

  1. […] The Dangers of Poor Scholarship: A Creationist’s Take on Feathered Dinosaurs– How do Young Earth Creationists often interact with science stories? Is there method consistent? Here, there is an analysis of creationist methodology when it comes not only to feathered dinosaurs but also to how the evaluate faulty arguments and lack consistency. […]

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