Errors repeated often enough take on the appearance of truth. This is what makes fake news so effective. It can drown out informed opinion and accurate information. At the root of many fake new stories are pieces of information that are either outright false but possibly surrounded with true statements or the facts they report may be accurate within their original context but are reported out of context. Sometimes news stories are not intended by the author to be fake in any way but because the authors mistakenly rely on incorrect information, what they write propagates misinformation. This can create significant problems if the authors are trusted by their audiences. Their audiences are unlikely to question the original source of the information and so assume that the reported facts are accurate.
Examples of erroneous source information combined with constant repeating of that incorrect source information by trusted communicators in particular communities can be readily found in young-earth creationist’ (YEC) literature and presentations. I’ve provided a few examples in the past. For example: Lack of Citations: The YEC Peer-Review System Goes Awry Again, and When Peer Review Lets You Down: A YEC Quote Problem.
Recently I encountered additional examples of false claims propagated in Ken Ham’s blog though not necessarily by Ken Ham himself since the post is “written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.” The identical false claims were made the next day by three members of the Answers in Genesis’ FaceBook Live news program.
Our first example comes from Mr Ham’s blog post, “Missing Link Dinosaur” Is Just a Bird.” Here we find Ham downplaying any dinosaur-bird connection. He acknowledges that many fossil birds found in dinosaur-bearing rocks often have fairly impressive sets of teeth and claws on their wings. These are features of ancient birds that are reptile-like. But to apparently downplay the reptile-sharing features of these ancient fossil birds he states:
What they found was another fossilized Archaeopteryx specimen—a crow-sized bird with teeth and claws on its wings, as many now-extinct birds had (though penguins still have teeth and hoatzins have claws as juveniles).
Notice the phrase “though penguins still have teeth…” His lay audience will surely assume that the word “teeth” here has an equivalent meaning to the term “teeth” in reference to fossil birds. With respect to the function of the teeth, this may be true. The tooth-like projections in a penguin’s mouth–and in the mouth of geese as well–serve a similar function to fossil-bird teeth. However, these are not equivalent to the true teeth of fossil birds. This is like saying that bat wings and bird wings are the same things because they allow a bird and a bat to fly. Yes, you could call them both wings, but they are produced by very different developmental processes.
Penguin teeth are not developmentally related to teeth in fossil birds which had true enamel and dentin-coated teeth just like reptile and mammals. I just posted an article a few days ago about bird teeth (A Flock of Genomes Reveals the Toothy Ancestry of Birds) which reveals that modern birds, including penguins, do have genes, albeit broken ones, for making “true” teeth but none of the 10,000 living bird species make true teeth. Ham’s “penguins still have teeth” claim is just false because he is implying that the teeth-shaped things in a penguins mouth are the same as teeth in fossil birds. (1)
The example above is a relatively minor error which is easily corrected by taking just a few minutes to research penguin teeth. (2) What really caught my eye was a second claim from the same blog post. This is a claim I have heard many times but it is also false. The claim is made as an attempt to downplay any evidence that the fossil record supports any evolutionary development of birds over time:
But the author of the article calls these birds “bird-like dinosaurs” because of the supposed evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and birds (even though modern and now-extinct birds lived at the same time as the dinosaurs, including parrots, loons, owls, flamingos, and more).
This sounds rather impressive for anyone unaware of the extent and nature of fossil birds in dinosaur-bearing rocks. After all, how could “modern birds” be found with dinosaurs if the ancestors of modern birds were evolving during that time? But this claim is just wrong and it is wrong in multiple ways. First, for most of the birds mentioned, no such fossils exist. Second, the term “modern” is undefined but 99% of AiG’s readers will take this to mean that a “modern” parrot from the era of dinosaurs is a parrot similar to one alive today but whose bones are found mixed with dinosaur-bearing rocks.
So, are there fossils of “modern” parrots, loons, owls and flamingos found in dinosaur-era rocks? The short answer – NO! But are there fossils in dinosaur-bearing rocks of ancestral parrots and flamingos that are recognizable as belonging to those families or “kinds” as Ken Ham might want to call them or may be thinking in his “modern” term? The answer is still NO! There aren’t even any fossils that can be definitely identified as belonging to these families that are found with dinosaurs.
This same claim of “modern birds” living with the dinosaurs was made by three hosts (Georgia Purdom, Avery Foley and Bodies Hodge) of the AIG FB live news team who also commented on the same story about fossil birds. They stated that there are “modern bird” fossils found with dinosaurs including parrots, loon, and flamingos. They also remarked that penguins have teeth implying that finding fossil birds with teeth were therefore no big surprise.(3)
So what is going on here? These claims are not supported by the current paleontological literature. Without even diving deep into the primary literature a quick check of Wikipedia or other general resources would quickly reveal that each of these modern bird claims are in error.
The problem lies in having too much faith in an original YEC source. No one has vetted that original source and so YEC authors and speakers have copied it into their literature so many times that each of these AiG employees just assume these are observable facts that evolutionary biologists are ignoring.
You can trace the claim back to a Creation Ministries International (CMI) article from 2011 which included the following sentence: “Contrary to popular belief, modern types of birds have been found, including: parrots, owls, penguins, ducks, loons, albatross, cormorants, sandpipers, avocets, etc.” The person quoted here is a Dr. Carl Werner, a young-earth creationist’ family physician who had spent years visiting museums looking at fossils and interviewing paleontologists and museum employees. He published a book in 2009 called Evolution: The Grand Experiment Part II Living Fossils in which he claims to show that many “modern” organisms have fossil counterparts much deeper in the fossil record than evolutionary theory would predict. Most of his data consists of looking at a fossil and finding a living organism that looks like the fossil and then claiming they are related to each other. None of these claims holds up under even a moderate amount of scrutiny.
Dr. Werner has no obvious training in paleontology other than museum visits but had he read more of the primary paleontological literature he would have realized that his example of a dinosaur age flamingo is nothing more than a common name given to a fossil that has some characteristics of a modern flamingo. But I can’t find any place where it has been argued that this bird really was a flamingo rather than an ancient bird with some similarities to one. This is similar to naming a koala a “bear” because it looks a bit like a bear. But koalas are mostly definitely not bears. The story is similar for loons, for parrots, and for owls. Are any modern birds found? No! Are any fossils that are thought to be in the same family of birds mentioned here found with dinosaurs? No. There are fossils that have distinctly parrot-like features that are as old as 50 million years but interestingly, all possible older parrot-like fossils don’t have the distinctive parrot-style crushing beak. I wouldn’t say that “modern” parrot fossils are found in 50 million year old rocks. It would be more accurate to state that the fossil record contains ancestors of modern parrots but not “modern” parrots.
Many fossils for which one bone or a few fragments are found are linked to things they have similarity to, but that does not mean they are really related to them and often future bone discoveries reveal that the bird is very different from the modern group that the first bone was likened to. These rare bones are a far cry from definitive discoveries of “modern” birds in ancient rocks. Maybe some definitive fossils from one of these types of birds will be found someday in rocks of dinosaur-era age, but, as it stands today, it is deceptive to suggest that fossils of birds that are the same as birds we have today are found in dinosaur-bearing rocks.
What is most frustrating is that these claims can be so easily checked and corrected. This is another example of a peer-review problem within the YEC community. YECs have been citing and repeating Dr. Werner’s fossil claims for years despite the fact they are so easily refuted. If YECs truly believe that the evidence supports their interpretation of Scripture, it would behoove them to avoid using demonstrably false evidence to make their case.
1. The hoatzin claim is also dubious. Yes they have claws on their wings as juveniles but it is not clear that these “claws” share homology with claws of fossil birds. It is possible that hoatzin develop these claws differently than do fossil birds though it doesn’t appear that much work has been done to understand claw development in these birds. In a way they could be like penguin teeth. They perform a similar function but they develop from a different genetic pathway than do reptile claws.
2. This claim that penguin teeth are “still teeth” as if they are like fossil teeth seems to be rather novel, as noted in the comments below, to Ken Ham or whichever employee fed him the idea. I don’t see this claim repeated on other YEC websites.
3. Teeth in fossil birds are a bit tricky to incorporate into the young-earth paradigm. All true-toothed birds are found in rocks of dinosaur age. YECs consider all these fossils the product of a global flood. The question then becomes, if there were dozens of “kinds” of birds that lived in the pre-flood world that had teeth, and if Noah preserved each of those lineages on the ark, what happened to them after the Flood? Why are they all extinct today and why have they left no fossil record after departing from the ark? Why would dozens or more of toothed kinds go extinct and only non-toothed survive? Furthermore, as my previous article discussed, why do non-toothed birds all have genes for making teeth and yet all of those “kinds” of birds don’t make teeth nor is there any fossil record of any of them having had teeth in the past? I believe the tooth problem is in the mind of Ken Ham and other members of AiG when they insert into their discussion “and penguins still have teeth” as if to imply that teeth in birds are no big deal.