Skip navigation

About IDEA Center

News & Events



IDEA Student Clubs


Contact Us



Archaeopteryx and Intelligent Design

Casey Luskin

The following is an excerpt from Casey Luskin's chapter "Finding Intelligent Design in Nature" in the book Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain the Key Issues: Perhaps the most famous example of a possible transitional form is Archaeopteryx. This bird from the late Jurassic period had various reptilian features, such as teeth, claws, and a bony tail. Evolutionists have cited this mix of features as evidence that birds are descended from the dinosaurs.92

While there is no doubt that Archaeopteryx represents a bird species with a mosaic of reptilian and avian traits, these observations are not support for a transition unless the fossil fits a larger, coherent picture of evolution. Archaeopteryx was a true bird, capable of flight, but where did it come from? The theropod dinosaurs, from which Archaeopteryx is said to have descended, lived at least 20 million years after Archaeopteryx.93 This does not bother evolutionists, who claim that the fossil record is merely imperfect; the fossils representing Archaeopteryx’s ancestors may not be accessible. This, however, leaves us with a striking situation: Archaeopteryx, a true bird, has no real candidates for fossil ancestors whatsoever. Given that Archaeopteryx really is a bird, then from what, if anything, did birds evolve?

The theropod-to-bird hypothesis has bigger problems than fossil order. An evolutionary interpretation of the fossil data requires that many key features that allow birds to fly, including feathers, evolved for a purpose other than flight.94 Feathers supposedly evolved from scales, but pennaceous feathers are so well-suited for flight that it is difficult to imagine transitional stages between scales and fully functional flight feathers.95 According to much prevailing evolutionary wisdom, natural selection is not the powerful force driving the evolution of traits necessary for flight. Rather, bird flight has become a mere accident and lucky byproduct of a morphological coincidence. This does not make for a compelling evolutionary story.

Evolutionary paleontologists sometimes claim to have found “feathered dinosaurs” that make compelling evidence that birds are descended from dinosaurs. Expert and evolutionist Alan Feduccia observes, however, that these fossils are “replete with features of secondarily flightless” birds, meaning that they are true birds that have lost their ability to fly and are not evolutionary intermediates.96 More directly, Feduccia explains that developmental biology strongly challenges the dinosaur-to-bird hypothesis. In all egg-laying vertebrates, the digits (i.e. fingers) on the hand develop out of a mass of cartilage. Bird digits develop out of digits 2, 3, and 4 from the cartilaginous array, but fossil evidence indicates that theropod dinosaurs develop their “fingers” from digits 1, 2, and 3. This strongly contradicts the cladistic methodology which evolutionists use to argue that birds must be descended from dinosaurs.97

But if birds didn’t come from theropods, this leaves a large gap, for there are no nearby fossil candidates for the ancestor of birds. Feduccia concludes, “In spite of some paleontologists’ desperate pleas for us to accept through faith the dinosaurian origin of avian flight, the details of the origin of birds remain elusive after more than a hundred and fifty years.”98 There is simply not a coherent picture of evolution through this transitional form. Perhaps a better explanation is that Archaeopteryx represents a mosaic form where an creative designer used creativity to play a variation upon a theme.
References Cited:
[92.] For example, see Pat Shipman, Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight (New York: Touchstone, 1998).

[93.] Carl C. Swisher III, Yuan-qing Wang, Xiao-lin Wang, Xing Xu, and Yuan Wang, “Cretaceous Age for the Feathered Dinosaurs of Lianoing, China,” Nature 400 (July 1, 1999): 58–61.

[94.] Zhexi Luo, “A Refugium for Relicts,” Nature 400 (July 1, 1999): 23.

[95.] Pat Shipman, Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight (New York: Touchstone, 1998), 155.

[96.] Alan Feduccia, The Origin and Evolution of Birds, 2d ed. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999), 396.

[97.] Ibid., 382–85, 405.

[98.] Ibid., 405