The Divine Design of Bird Feathers

This one from the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog is a bit of a classic. It’s titled Feather Design Is Better than Thought, and it has no author’s by-line. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Man-made designs often get simpler the deeper you look. Once you get inside a steel girder or wallboard, for instance, the material looks basically homogeneous. Biological materials, by contrast, “are complex composites that are hierarchically structured and multifunctional,” notes Theagarten Lingham-Soliar in a paper on Nature Scientific Reports.

Jeepers — there’s a difference between biology and man-made designs. Here’s the paper to which they refer: Microstructural tissue-engineering in the rachis and barbs of bird feathers. You can read it online without a subscription, but it’s very technical. Let’s see what the Discoveroids can do with it. They say:

We all know that feathers have an elegant shape for flight and insulation: they are self-healing, aerodynamic, and lightweight yet strong. But when this materials scientist from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa inspected bird feathers with a scanning electron microscope (SEM), he found wonderful things — all the way down to the molecular level.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — wonderful things! [*End Drool Mode*] They tell us:

The cortical fibers of keratin along the rachis are called syncytial barbule fibers, or SBFs for short. “SBFs form long, continuous filaments of β-keratin, the majority of which are tightly assembled parallel to the longitudinal axis of the rachis,” Lingham-Soliar says —but not all of them. Therein lays a tale. What he found about those SBFs solves two design problems for the bird, and may inspire a new generation of structural engineers.

Wow — those SBFs solve two design problems! Isn’t that incredible? The Discoveroids continue:

Lingham-Soliar could not understand how these SBFs could prevent catastrophic fractures in the feather. If the fibers were all parallel to the long axis, they would have to continuously terminate as the rachis tapers down toward the tip. This would open up thousands of fracture zones where small stresses could exacerbate the fractures, “analogous to the scissor-snip a tailor makes before tearing a piece of fabric,” leading to catastrophic failure of the feather.

Egad! How do feathers avoid catastrophic failure? Let’s read on:

For the first time, Lingham-Soliar could see the answer. He had to look at the detailed microstructure of the SBFs on the order of millionths of a meter (micrometers) with SEM [scanning electron microscope]. What came to light was “a biomechanically ‘ingenious’ and novel architecture of the fibre organization” that solves the fracture problem and does something else, too: it distributes the stress load throughout the feather. This multi-functional “distinctive architecture of the SBFs” is bound to inspire engineers faced with the demands of designing lightweight yet strong materials that can absorb stress without failing.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — ingenious and novel architecture! [*End Drool Mode*] The Discoveroids become ecstatic:

Think about the design problem as the feather emerges from the follicle during development. How do some of the SBFs know to bend out into a barb? What teaches these growing fibers to cross over the longitudinal access in successive waves and branch out left and right into the barbs, leaving enough material behind to continue building the cortex all the way to the tip? What concentrates the glue where it is needed, in the right amount? What tells the barbs to grow barbules with hooks and channels that fit just right? Building a machine that could do this by extrusion would seem like an engineer’s nightmare.

Then they tell us how the author of the published paper completely fails to see the supernatural implications of his discovery:

Lingham-Soliar examined the feathers of different birds — chickens, falcons, eagles, swans, geese, ibises, pheasants, macaws, and toucans — and found that all their feathers use this design principle. As an evolutionist, he assumes they all got it from a common ancestor. … Unfortunately, he sticks to the Darwin story:

[Discoveroid quote from the published paper:] It is clear that this extraordinary cortical microstructure of the feather has evolved and been perfected over the millions of years of bird evolution.

The man is obviously a fool! Skipping a bit, here’s another excerpt:

Wouldn’t it be nice if someday soon the shackles of methodological naturalism were taken off, so that authors could freely talk about design in nature? Darwinian evolution and eons of time don’t contribute anything of value to this investigation.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Then they do a bit of quote-mining, and here the bold font is in the Discoveroids’ essay:

He came close. “Their unique morphology, which includes nodes with hooks and rings, plays a major part in the design strategy of keeping the filaments locked together,” he said earlier.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — he said design! [*End Drool Mode*]

And now we come to the end:

We say, toss the evolutionary talk and leave it at that. This is a design paper that inspires design. It can inspire us all to appreciate even more “the genius of birds.” After learning about those SBFs, we will never look at a crow the same way again.

Stripped of all the technical jargon, this is the familiar “Look out the window!” argument creationists always offer as evidence for the supernatural. It shows up all the time in letters-to-the-editor — for example, see #408: Logical Preacher. It’s not surprising that the Discoveroids use it.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

15 responses to “The Divine Design of Bird Feathers

  1. Michael Fugate

    Design by whom? oh, yeah, natural selection. The DI also seems to forget natural selection in their darwinist evolutionist name-calling.

  2. Derek Freyberg

    And let’s hear it also for the divine design of the prostate – what was the Robin Williams quote “putting a sewer in the middle of a playing field”?, the recurrent laryngeal nerve that goes around the aorta, the appendix, and so on.

  3. There is something about the concept of argument from analogy as practiced by creationist. The less something is like design, the more it is seen as designed.

  4. How does he then explain the wings of the penguins?

  5. Wouldn’t it be nice if someday soon the shackles of methodological naturalism were taken off, so that authors could freely talk about the god given meaning of the planetary motions?

    But hey – compliment for this IDiot for being honest. He/she specifically mentions methodological naturalism, ie the scientific method and hence admits he/she’s antiscience. Usually they dishonestly try it to hide with creaspeak and use materialism, like in the Wedge Document.

    @DavidK: goddiddid covers everything and anything, don’t worry.

  6. @DavidK
    How does design explain the wings of the peregrine falcon, the arctic tern, or the hummingbird? Let alone the chicken, the ostrich, or the buffalo?

  7. What teaches these growing fibers to cross over the longitudinal access in successive waves and branch out left and right into the barbs, leaving enough material behind to continue building the cortex all the way to the tip? What concentrates the glue where it is needed, in the right amount? What tells the barbs to grow barbules with hooks and channels that fit just right?

    Shades of Christian Scientists asking “How can the aspirin know where it hurts?”

  8. @Ted Lawry
    How can a photon know how to take the fastest path, including knowing the speed of light of the various media it will travel through?
    How can a Thermos bottle know to keep lemonade cool and coffee hot?

  9. The intelligent designer is a true featherbrain!

  10. It always amazes how ID proponents distort findings for their own ends. To the uninformed, their arguments appear well crafted. And how smart they are! Smarter than the scientists. In this case, they forget that SEM (scanning electron microscopy) doesn’t resolve at the molecular level. Such fools.

  11. Ross Cameron

    Flipping the argument over–why did god create 33,000 diseases to beset mankind?

  12. @Ross Camberon
    answers
    1. Consequences of the Fall of Adam
    2. We do not know the ways of the Lord
    3. Disease is the work of the Devil
    4. It is all explained in the Book of Job

  13. Mark Germano

    “As an evolutionist, he assumes they all got it from a common ancestor. … Unfortunately, he sticks to the Darwin story….”

    There seems to be some disagreement about common descent among ID proponents. They should teach that controversy.

    “Think about the design problem as the feather emerges from the follicle during development.”

    It is not a design problem. It is only a cdesign problem.

  14. Wouldn’t it be nice if someday soon the shackles of methodological naturalism were taken off, so that authors could freely talk about design in nature? Darwinian evolution and eons of time don’t contribute anything of value to this investigation.

    The what of what?

    As for bird feathers, scientists have found evidence of feather precursors in fossils.

  15. There seem to be many places where people are free to say whatever they want about anything at all. What shackles are there that prevent talk about design in nature? Why is all the talk about (supposed) failures of evolutionary biology? Never about how something else works.
    It gives the impression that no one has any ideas about the workings of design in nature.