Bird Brains and Intelligent Design

There’s a strangely-titled new post at the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog: “Bird Brain” Is a Compliment, which has no author’s byline. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Next time someone calls you a birdbrain, smile and say “thank you.”

The Discoveroids can expect a number of such compliments to be sent their way, except from those who don’t want to insult birds. Anyway, what’s their new post all about? They say:

Our feathered friends come well equipped with hardware and software for complex behaviors. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences puts birds on par with macaques and other mammals, and even suggests they can think.

This is the paper they’re talking about: Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the forebrain. You can read it online without a subscription. The “Significance” section is interesting:

Birds are remarkably intelligent, although their brains are small. Corvids and some parrots are capable of cognitive feats comparable to those of great apes. How do birds achieve impressive cognitive prowess with walnut-sized brains? We investigated the cellular composition of the brains of 28 avian species, uncovering a straightforward solution to the puzzle: brains of songbirds and parrots contain very large numbers of neurons, at neuronal densities considerably exceeding those found in mammals. Because these “extra” neurons are predominantly located in the forebrain, large parrots and corvids have the same or greater forebrain neuron counts as monkeys with much larger brains. Avian brains thus have the potential to provide much higher “cognitive power” per unit mass than do mammalian brains.

What does that mean to the Discoveroids? They don’t even consider the implication that human brains are poorly designed in comparison to the brains of birds. A thought like that would never occur to them. Instead, they tell us:

Finding such detail and complexity in the brains of birds poses a serious evolutionary problem. The old progressive gradualism of Darwin saw humans at the pinnacle of evolution, with everything that came before less advanced. To find that birds, so completely distant from mammals on the Tree of Life, having comparable brains to primates is unexpected from a Darwinian view.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh! [*End Drool Mode*] An unexpected challenge to the Darwinian view! We’re in big trouble now, dear reader. Then we’re told:

As Denyse O’Leary [Hee hee!] has explored here at Evolution News [the Discoveroids’ creationist blog], intelligence does not require a specific type of brain. What better way to dismiss evolutionary pathways than to show independent brain types with similar capabilities for cognition and intelligence?

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Indeed — what better way to dismiss evolution? Then they haul out their “theory” of intelligent design, and offer that as the obvious solution:

One cause we know that can optimize multiple, competing constraints is intelligence. When a cause is known to be necessary and sufficient to explain a phenomenon, that cause should be preferred as the vera causa (true cause).

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! The intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is the vera causa.

Skipping to the end, we are presented with a challenge:

Go ahead. With all this in mind, you can judge the credibility of the evolutionary explanation for yourself.

Well, dear reader. Do you have the courage to accept the Discoveroids’ challenge? Of course you don’t! It’s time you admitted that Darwin and mindless followers are fools, and accept that the Discoveroids’ designer is now revealed as the vera causa.

Addendum: The creation scientists at the Institute for Creation Research talk about the same research and — no surprise — reach the came conclusion as the Discoveroids. Their title says it all: Neuron-Packed Bird Brains Point to Creation.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “Bird Brains and Intelligent Design

  1. Ken Phelps

    “The old progressive gradualism of Darwin saw humans at the pinnacle of evolution…”

    AKA the entirely made-up strawman of evolution pulled out of the author’s hind-quarters. Gives an insight into their estimation of their readership’s collective level of sophistication though, doesn’t it.

    Att’n KevinC: The quote above is an example of why TSC has developed useful shorthand such as “drool mode”. It saves words when reminding his audience about the level of intellect at which the IDC stuff is targeted. The pseudo-scientific harrumphing and gas-bagging of DI regulars notwithstanding, this sh*t is aimed at the profoundly ignorant.

  2. AKA the entirely made-up strawman of evolution pulled out of the author’s hind-quarters.

    You beat me to it, Ken Phelps.

  3. I just added an addendum to the post to mention that ICR has come to the same conclusion as the Discoveroids.

  4. Charles Deetz ;)

    My brain keeps on filling in the other possible choices in this essay without the writer or me being a scientist: What is more likely, the power of evolution has caused similar structures to evolve twice … or that the intelligent designer created different brains but with one part similarly structured. As in why not just copy the whole brain structure?

  5. michaelfugate

    One cause we know that can optimize multiple, competing constraints is… selection whether through intelligent or non-intelligent trial and error.

  6. Derek Freyberg

    Bending over backwards to be kind to the Discoverrhoids’ author, there was a time when man was seen as the pinnacle of evolution – but that was a century or more back, and as Ken Phelps has pointed out above, it’s not the way evolutionary scientists think now. Why should we be surprised that birds are good at what they do? (and have the requisite number of neurons to make it happen) – they’ve evolved to survive in their form, and they’ve had a long, long time to do it. Next we’ll see the ‘Tuters cuing up the “how many pigeons would it take to write Shakespeare?” motif.

  7. Why give an ability to both (and only) primates and birds? Why not crabs? Why not turtles? Why not wasps?

    Why didn’t the intelligent designer give wings to lemurs or gorillas? Or to people?

  8. i ain’t kin to no corvidae…

  9. Christine Janis

    “i ain’t kin to no corvidae…”

    Aah, quit your raven.

  10. “and even suggests they can think.”

    Was this ever really in question? I mean, I get that these articles go through basically no editing process, but did they at no point consider that everyone the world over is aware that birds are capable of thought? I mean, sentient or sapient though? There’s some question there, although Caledonian ravens and some others have made them very . . . interesting questions, to say the least, but there’s no real question about whether birds can think.

  11. michaelfugate

    And why weren’t corvids given dominion over the earth?

  12. You’d have thought that, once the CreDesignerator had learned how to make what’s gram-for-gram a better brain than the primate one, he’d have given it to us when we came along, us being the pinnacle of his creation an’ all..

  13. The old progressive gradualism of Darwin saw humans at the pinnacle of evolution, with everything that came before less advanced.

    The way I read this, the writer believes that birds are creatures that came before, and are thus less advanced, than we are. Or, he believes that evolutionary theory holds that to be true.

    According to the writer’s understanding of science, evolutionary theory does not regard everything alive today as having evolved just as long as we have. Even though a basic premise of evolution is that life descended from a common ancestor, he somehow believes that science puts birds somewhere “before” humans.

    I used to think that this sort of thing was just propaganda, but I’m beginning to think that these guys really believe this stuff.

    At any rate, it’s another god-of-the-gap. Start with the false assertion that evolution can’t explain something, and the answer is design. Actually, it’s worse than god-of-the-gaps, since ID basically holds that everything is designed, whether explained or not. At least god-of-the-gaps was subject to disproof each time a gap was closed.

    What is interesting to me is whether or not this density of neurons existed in the common ancestor to birds, i.e. a dinosaur. What sort of cognitive ability did dinosaurs posses? They are famous (most of them) for having small brains relative to huge bodies, but if those brains had “higher cognitive power per unit mass than do mammalian brains,” it could revise much of what we think about dinosaur behavior. It’s an intriguing thought.

  14. Ed, I live with and work with creationists of this ilk, and I can say that most of them simultaneously believe that evolutionists consider humans to be “just another animal,” and thus only as moral as a hamster, and also that evolutionists consider humans to be the peak of evolution, and that they view evolution as a sort of competition to produce “the best” lifeform.

  15. Eric Lipps

    The idea of humans as the “pinnacle of life” goes back well before Darwin; it was a feature of the so-called “ladder of life” embraced by educated Christians because it derived from Aristotle’s “great chain of being” and everyone knew that Aristotle knew it all, pagan though he was.