December 15, 2004


Birds of a feather not related to each other (Anna Gosline, New Scientist)

If it walks like a flamingo and looks like a flamingo, it is not necessarily a flamingo - or even a close relative. A controversial genetic study suggests we have completely misunderstood how the majority of birds are related, and that some species that look almost identical are not related at all.

The discovery comes from an analysis of the evolution of the bird gene beta-fibrinogen. It suggests that the Neoaves, a group that includes all modern bird species except waterfowl, landfowl and flightless birds, actually comprises two distinct lineages called the Metaves and Coronaves, and that many birds which look alike are not in the same lineage.

For instance, flamingos and roseate spoonbills - two pink, long-legged wading birds with similar-looking heads, wing shapes and plumage - are not related as previously thought. Flamingos, it turns out, belong to the Metaves, while spoonbills belong to the Coronaves.

Matthew Fain and Peter Houde at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, US, analysed the number of different nucleotides found on beta-fibrinogen across some 150 bird families. From that the researchers constructed a new avian evolutionary tree.

They found two major lineages, each of which contains many examples of convergent evolution, the process by which two species that do not share a recent evolutionary history nevertheless end up looking alike and inhabiting a similar ecological niche.

Sic transit randomness. Merely design Creation properly and the outcomes are inevitable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2004 3:50 PM

So much for morphological taxonomy. What does this say about the entire palentological classifications and presumed kinships?

Posted by: jd watson at December 15, 2004 4:30 PM

its too bad darwin never saw a platypus...

Posted by: chris markle at December 15, 2004 6:11 PM

He did.

This is the sort of breathless 'discovery' that proves my point about the almost complete ignorance of most people regarding darwinism in general and taxonomy in particular.

If anyone actually knew anything about taxonomy, the notion that gross (and sometimes even fine) morphological characters are not firmly dispositive would generate merely a ho-hum.

That's what the hot dispute about cladistics is about. You'd never know, from the numerous posts here, that cladistics even existed.

If this is supposed to disqualify darwinism, it doesn't.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 15, 2004 6:29 PM

That Darwin never saw a platypus, Chris, is too bad.

Posted by: Semolina Pilchard at December 15, 2004 9:00 PM

I concur that the principle under consideration does not "disqualify" Darwinism. Nor does it support it, being no more or less compatible with intelligent design.

What is being attempted here is the old "Inherit the Wind" gambit. Confuse and confound the Bible-thumping dummies by refuting 7-24-hour-days creation and then pretend you have refuted intelligent design.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 15, 2004 10:11 PM


Cladistics? Even nthe people who use it don't think it's science.

Posted by: oj at December 15, 2004 11:25 PM

I ain't trusted flamingoes since I learned that they maintain their pink by food additives stiffed in by the zookeepers.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at December 16, 2004 12:42 AM

Sure they do.

I happen not to be a fan of cladistics myself, because it requires a selection of characters that is just as impeachable as the selections made by the old-fashioned anatomists.

Nevertheless, both traditional taxonomy and cladistics are more accurate than Christian taxonomy.

Genetic analysis turns out to be a great deal less subject to error, which is the actual lesson of this article, though the dumbo author does not know it.

As Fred says, pinkness is not a character of these birds but comes from eating pink food.

ID can never be refuted, Lou, because it proposes nothing testable and says nothing about anything.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2004 1:08 AM

"Nevertheless, both traditional taxonomy and cladistics are more accurate than Christian taxonomy."
The question is not Christian taxonomy, whatever in the world that is (straw-man alert), but the reliability of paleontological taxonomy, which must be based solely on skeletal characteristics (unless they start doing DNA analysis, in which case you are in for even more surprises).

Posted by: jd watson at December 16, 2004 3:09 AM


The Linnean classification, based as it is on structural similarities, is prone to error because sometimes evolution, operating on different species in the same environment, can sometimes result in structural convergence.

DNA analysis is the tie-breaker. But it is noteworthy how consistent DNA analysis is with the existing taxonomy.

I think what Harry means by the Christian Taxonomy is the Biblical assertion that all species were created independently, and did not share a common ancestor. Therefore, the Christian taxonomy, if true, must be parallel lines each starting from the same instant.

Evolutionary taxonomy, on the other hand, resembles a bush emanating from a single point.

Harry's assertion is not a straw man; rather, it marks a significant distinction between the Biblical account and the phylogenetic tree.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 16, 2004 7:35 AM


Actually they don't:

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2004 7:41 AM


In Christian taxoinomy all creatures share the same Ancestor. No one would expect Him to reinvent the wheel everytime he made a new one.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2004 7:45 AM

harry, put your thesaurus away and calm down. i only mentioned the platypus as a humorous aside.
its not like i brought up the gene responsible for pedantry...(light fuse and retire a safe

Posted by: chris markle at December 16, 2004 12:15 PM


Perhaps you are reading a different Bible. This is what mine says: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Meaning every living thing comes from their own kind alone, hence the Christian taxonomy.

I wasn't aware God was confined to our expectations of God.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 16, 2004 12:18 PM

"God made" That's one ancestor--which seems an awful lot more coherent than the idea that all life arose naturally from one single celled orrganism.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2004 12:37 PM

WTF? "Christian taxonomy" from the way the Book of Genesis is translated? I thought we were beyond the silliness of the "Inherit the Wind" gambit. Of course you can find believers who hold that creation took 84 hours, just as you can find Darwinists who imagine that the monkeys typed Shakespeare.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 16, 2004 12:47 PM

Orrin's attempt to find significance in Anna Gosline's writeup, is so pedestrian. The fact that genetic patterns will cause us to revise the pattern that's based upon anatomy - - this process will ultimately STRENGTHEN the case for common-descent-with-modification.

Jeff Guinn is right: "But it is noteworthy how consistent DNA analysis is with the existing taxonomy."

Let's consider the assumption that similar anatomy and physiology indicates taxonomic relatedness - - that is a first approximation which will always be relied upon - - what else would we pick as the starting point, especially when working in the field? In less than about six decades we've gone from suspicions about the nature of DNA to use of DNA as an indicator within many areas of biology. Corrections to taxonomy are long overdue; it's certainly not a big deal, except perhaps to folks like Orrin who desperately grind on the proverbial axe.

Also, you can bet that when variations in the gene for beta-fibrinogen manage to CONFIRM the presently assumed avian taxonomy, that will not be discussed as a great revelation. Yet, the VAST MAJORITY of variation has to correspond to the (presently developed) taxonomy - - otherwise, the gene for beta-fibrinogen would NOT be used as a criterion for picking out significant modifications to "the tree."(some other gene would be picked as a 'reliable' proxy for the pattern of speciation.)

Orrin, I trust that you are fully aware of this situation: that variations in the gene for beta-fibrinogen had to reliability correspond to variations within the vertebrate class Aves. Otherwise, when the researchers Fain and Houde submitted a paper, albeit based upon a pattern "…across some 150 bird families" they would be asked how they could DEPEND upon such a pattern. There surely are creationists or folks who reject the idea of any significance to "gene difference relates to genealogical distance." Then the work to check gene variation could seem futile; finding a gene that reflects relatedness would then be a circular argument.

As I said in the first paragraph, I appreciate such papers because they tend to ultimately STRENGTHEN the case for common-descent-with-modification. The counterintuitive is sometimes a strong element in the web of knowledge. Naturally, Fain and Houde(and probably others) will seek corroboration from other genes.

Let's consider a relationship in (American) football. Occasionally we witness that a running back receives the football from the quarterback, stays on his side of the line of scrimmage, then throws a pass to a downfield receiver. This rare but legal maneuver should not cause the fans to leap up and apoplectically proclaim, "Our understanding of football has been TOTALLY torn asunder !! It's been a sham!"

"Cladistics? Even nthe(sic) people who use it don't think it's science." Posted by: oj at December 15, 2004 11:25 PM

Orrin, your conduct over time, and within several submissions concerning Darwinism, demonstrate a pattern of deceit. I suppose this could arise out of desperation, or maybe an attempt to be cute.

Posted by: LarryH at December 16, 2004 2:04 PM


Though amused by your assertion that co-believers would insist on proof from Fain and Houde that is required of no one else in the field I'm unconvinced.

Feel free to find anything scientific in cladistics as described here:

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2004 2:20 PM

It's a tool.

Every darwinist understands that taxonomy is a difficult science. That's why taxonomies are routinely revisited. They get better and better with more careful study and better data, the way violinists get better by playing the same measures over and over.

By Christian taxonomy I was thinking of the barnacle goose. If that's as accurate as Christians can get -- and it is -- I'll take the darwinist kind.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 17, 2004 12:34 AM

"difficult science" Good one!

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2004 8:31 AM

"God made" That's one ancestor.

Only if you completely ignore all the rest of the words, which clearly state every species is the result of an independent making.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 17, 2004 12:00 PM

By God.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2004 1:00 PM


Even if your torturing of the text is taken as true, then Christian taxonomy would look precisely like spokes radiating from the hub of a bicycle wheel.

Which bears precisely zero resemblance to what Nature's God actually instigated.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 19, 2004 7:19 AM

Nope, a tree (of Life).

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2004 8:18 AM

... after his kind ...

Doesn't leave much room for a kind that is also before another kind as well.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 19, 2004 3:11 PM