Photo Album – Shenzhouraptor sinensis

Shenzhouraptor sinensis (Junior syn. Jeholornis prima, Zhou and Zhang, 2002)

Harun Yahya is a creationist. His clumsy attacks on evolution can be found on his website and through his books (which he sometimes provides freely to the innocent and unsuspecting). One of his website pages deals with Shenzhouraptor sinensis. S. sinensis was discovered in the early Cretaceous Yixian formation in Liaoning, China, and is the earliest known feathered dinosaur that was capable of flight. I took this photograph at the Hong Kong Science Museum which was then featuring “Soaring Dinosaurs”, a exhibition featuring the various feathered dinosaurs that have so far been discovered in China. I want to have a look at Yahya’s claims, and how they stand up to what we have learnt through the application of science.
His first claim about Shenzhouraptor is: “According to the evolutionary paleontologist Ji Qiang, this fossil was a missing link between dinosaurs and birds.” Qiang Ji is the senior author (Qiang Ji, Shuan Ji, Hailu You, Jianping Zhang, Chongxi Yuan, Xinxin Ji, Jinglu Li, and Yinxian Li) for the paper describing Shenzhouraptor, Discovery of an Avialae bird from China, Shenzhouraptor sinensis. Geological Bulletin of China Volume, 21, No. 7 2002 pp. 363-369. (Translated By Will Downs, Department of Geology, Northern Arizona University, November, 2002) The abstract does indeed describe the find as a …”transitional phase between Dinosaureia and Aves.“, but what does that mean? “Missing link” is commonly and inappropriately used by the lay press and creationists who see evolution as a linear change in species. To evolutionists, a transitional fossil is a fossil that shows traits that are shared between two related groups, but a clade branches- “…transitional organisms can be conceptualized as representing early examples on the different branches of a cladogram, lying between a particular branching point and the “crown-group“, i.e. the most-derived group, which is placed at the end of a lineage.” In the introduction of the 2002 paper, the discovery is considered to advance “…the diagnosis for avian taxonomy and provides considerable data for the study of avian flight origins.” No mention of a “missing link” between the dinosaurs and birds, only a fossil that exhibits traits from both groups – there are other such fossils, and there will be more, and they need not be direct linear ancestors of birds, only that they show evidence of their possible relationships.
Yahya’s next claim is that all palaeontological data is contradictory to the claims of evolutionists. Because Shenzhouraptor is older than Archaeopteryx, which Yaha considers to be “… in many respects no different from flying birds living today.” (wrong in terms of the skeleton, which is more reptilian than avian) He claims that it thus impossible for Shenzhouraptor to be a transitional species, and to support his argument he brings forward the ornithologists Alan Feduccia and Larry Martin. For the majority of researchers, birds are considered to be descendants of theropod dinosaurs, supported by the feathered fossils emerging from China. Feduccia and Martin support the minority view that birds are descendants of arboreal lizards, supported by the existence of one fossil, Longisquama. A brief review of that debate can be found here. Indeed, in the light of the recent feathered dinosaur discoveries, Feduccia has been compelled to change some of his views. For my purpose, the debate is immaterial and normal: both school’s hypotheses on bird origins are evolutionary – and may in fact prove to be complimentary – and in no way support a creationist view.
Yahya then goes on to attack the apparent differences between theropod dinosaurs and birds. His first claim is that dinosaur bones are solid rather than hollow like bird bones, but this has been disproved in this study from the University of Washington. He then mentions that reptiles are cold blooded as compared to the warm blooded birds, but this too is not an evolutionary problem as some evidence indicates that at least some dinosaurs were warm blooded. As for his critique of the differences in lungs between reptiles and birds, there is some evidence that theropods had bird like lungs. In fact, all his arguments are merely reverting to a simplistic irreducible complexity argument that ID’ers love to use, ignoring the fact that modern reptiles and modern birds have not had a common ancestor for over 200 million years, providing all the time required for evolution to take place.

All in all we can say that Harun Yahya, like all creationists and ID’ers, is guilty of deliberate ignorance, using god to fill the gaps. All their efforts on the web and in publication will soon disappear into the oblivion they deserve; while Shenzhouraptor and the fossil record will continue to delight and inform us as evidence of evolution.

(Photo by Adrian Thysse, Hong Kong Science Museum)
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2 Comments to “Photo Album – Shenzhouraptor sinensis”

  1. Here are just a few ideas on how you could contribute:1. You can correct me if I made a mistake.2. You can elaborate on something I said.3. Or you can ask me to elaborate on something I said.4. You can challenge me, if you can back it up with peer reviewed science.5. You can complement me or thank me for an interesting article,6. Or you can criticize me for dull uninspired writing.Unfortunately,faith does not give you a basis for argument.You must provide some facts or research that supports your view.

  2. What kind of an argument can be created if you do not post ID or creationist ideas? Do you think it is scientific to avoid any kid of argument?

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