The Avian Lung

A recent comment on this blog, challenged me thus:

If evolution is true then how did the avian lung develop.

That’s right I went there. While you atheists can place your store in purposeless fallacies I choose to hope because hope is all that is left of our ignorant race. And maybe one day as I did, instead of closing your eyes maybe you will open them and see your lies, or even accept the truth as I did, instead of trying to bury it!

—thus spoke mattmitch.

feel free to send a rebuttal

Well, mattmitch, I’d firstly like thank you for bringing this to my attention. I was certainly not aware that the entire field of evolution, and the philosophical position of atheism, were both under threat by the structure of the humble avian lung. Frankly, beyond the knowledge that the avian lung was significantly superior to our mammalian lung, I hadn’t really done much reading on the subject. So I can certainly say that thanks to your comment, I am now more educated on the subjects of how bird lungs work, and baseless arguments made by creationists.

As to a rebuttal, there are a couple of ways we could go with this. Let’s start with the obvious one:

I assume that since your comment is both anti-evolution and anti-atheist, you are yourself a creationist. This implies that your opposing position is that God made the avian lung in all its glory. Assuming this is true, please explain why he chose to short-change his favourite creation, humans, in the lung department? Since the avian lung is considerably superior to ours, is God trying to tell us something by giving us shoddy lungs? Were we, perhaps, too busy standing in the brain line when the good lungs were handed out? I challenge you, in fact, to explain this obvious disparity in any way other than appealing to God moving in mysterious ways.

But as satisfying as that response may be, we don’t really learn anything from it. So here’s the other option, the one that requires some research (that’s when you go look stuff up instead of just making it up for yourself, you might like to try it):

Recent evidence suggests that oxygen levels were suppressed worldwide 175 million to 275 million years ago and fell to precipitously low levels compared with today’s atmosphere, low enough to make breathing the air at sea level feel like respiration at high altitude.

Now, a University of Washington paleontologist theorizes that low oxygen and repeated short but substantial temperature increases because of greenhouse warming sparked two major mass-extinction events, one of which eradicated 90 percent of all species on Earth.

In addition, Peter Ward, a UW professor of biology and Earth and space sciences, believes the conditions spurred the development of an unusual breathing system in some dinosaurs, a group called Saurischian dinosaurs that includes the gigantic brontosaurus. Rather than having a diaphragm to force air in and out of lungs, the Saurischians had lungs attached to a series of thin-walled air sacs that appear to have functioned something like bellows to move air through the body.

“The reason the birds developed these systems is that they arose from dinosaurs halfway through the Jurassic Period. They are how the dinosaurs survived,” he said.

So actually, the ‘avian’ lung came before birds, and evolved in dinosaurs because of selection pressures for survival in low oxygen environments that killed off most of their competitors. It’s the resulting enormous network of airsacs, which extend even to within their bones, that allows their avian ancestors to be so much lighter, and therefore to fly. Without the ‘bird’ lung, we probably wouldn’t have birds in the first place. Which I hadn’t known. So again, mattmitch, thanks to your bizarre, almost Tourettesian outburst, I actually did open my eyes and discover some new truth today. I hope you did likewise.

24 Responses to “The Avian Lung”

  1. Con-Tester Says:

    Well, that got me breathing hard…😉

    Those of a creationist bent, please check out Wikipedia’s entry on “ring species”, the existence of which demonstrates that continuous spectra of living (i.e. non-extinct) intermediate forms are found that connect two distinct species. If one or more of the “bands” in such a spectrum went extinct, we’d have the more common situation of distinct and apparently unconnected species.

    Then please check out how a gene for frost resistance was spliced directly and without modification into a tomato’s genome from that of a fish to produce a frost-resistant tomato strain. A tomato is only a fish in the most fervid of imaginations and this jarring oddity clamours stridently against the concept of distinct “kinds” you are so enamoured of. It’s like taking the thermostat from your freezer and fitting it to your MP3 player so that it will only play cool tunes.

    Next, please check out the presence of the defective GULO (vitamin C) gene found in simians, fruit-eating bats, guinea pigs and also in humans. The defect is identical in all non-functioning cases (indicating a common genetic bifurcation), which themselves are closely related to humans. The defect prevents vitamin C synthesis by these creatures, all of whom naturally follow a fruit-laden diet. Strangely, the gene works properly in all animals whose fruit intake is low or zero.

    Finally, please try to explain these curious facts by invoking “gawd, the perfect engineer” without doing grievous bodily harm to logic, reason and fact by lapsing into unsustainable twaddle about “templates”. After all, any engineer will tell you that different problems require different solutions. In other words, whatever “design” there may be in nature, it certainly cannot be described as “intelligent”.

    You people want “equal time” in schools for evolution and that untenable collection of insulting inanities known as “creationism”, yet your very own churches would never even begin to contemplate giving evolution equal time alongside their particular dogmas.

    Stoopid hypocrites.

    Rant over.

  2. Nice little explanation, and more than the original comment was worth. I know this is tangential, but what is it with Creationists and throw away comments like “If evolution is true then how did the avian lung develop.(?)”?

    It’s little more than a bald statement, no real explanation of why the avian lung (sic) should pose a problem to evolutionary theory or any sense of a structured argument. Indeed the lack of explanation is so bad it verges on being a conversational non sequitur. I hate seeing people using throw away comments like the above, it is as if to say “I’m too intellectually lazy to make an argument of my own, why don’t you fill in the gaps?”. What’s next I wonder? Avoiding any mention of biology at all?

    “Evolution… well duh!”

    Gift.

  3. Chris Noble Says:

    Yeah but, If evolution is true then how did the brontosaurus lung develop! But yeah!

  4. Meta_meme Says:

    Moonflake: as apt and accurate as your data may be, I am sad to say that it will not change the mindset of most creationists one iota…

    In my experience, the faithful cling to the hope that gawd exists in the “gaps” of our scientific knowledge and as these gaps get smaller and smaller they either cling, vehemently, to outdated ideas or theories that justify their view of divine intervention or, even worse, pretend that valid, proven scientific data is simply incorrect!

    As an example – I am sure that I will do grievous bodily harm to the next creationist who cites “THE HUMAN EYE” to me as an example of an irreducably complex organ which proves the existence of gawd…this depsite numerous articles; papers and eloquent arguments to the the contrary (the most notable of which was published almost 2 decades ago by Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker)

    Yet, despite all of the overwhelming supporting data, I still get presented with the eye as proof of gawd’s existence….as I’m sure most sceptics do at one point or another…

    I have actually reached the point where I do not debate the issue any more… as soon as my jaydar (jesus radar) goes off in the vicinity of a prospective woo-woo I merely back off slowly, clutching my copy of The God Delusion tightly and reciting passages from the Principia Mathematica in Latin under my breath…

    After all…we have to remember that these are people that, for the most part, believe the world is but 6000 years old…a calculation that was made by some priest in the middle ages, probably driven mad by a mixture of celibacy and scurvy long before he put pen to paper…

    They effectively ignore an entire BRANCH of scienctific study…not just one argument or scientific theory…but an entire field of study which encompasses hundreds of years of data; experiments; books; papers and scietific evidence gathered and scrutinized by some of the smartest people in the world….but hey, it goes against some arcane calculation made by some holy men thousands of years ago with no basis in rational logic or proof, so F*%$@ it, we’ll just assume that everyone else is wrong and we are right….

    With that in mind….how much attention do you think they will pay to one tiny argument about lungs…eyes etc…

    These guys have become experts at denial and ignorance…

  5. “…Were we, perhaps, too busy standing in the brain line when the good lungs were handed out?…”
    Well, some of us were. This might explain why televangelists are so full of hot air.

  6. i’ve finally gotten around to reading darwin’s watch, and the trio have come up with an excellent summary as usual. the problem is not the lack of information, moonflake, for even a vaguely intelligent person can find everything he needs to educate himself if he’s willing to search.

    (that’s when you go look stuff up instead of just making it up for yourself, you might like to try it) – nope, he wouldn’t. he’s gotten used to being told bedtime stories and encouraged to take them at face value. we’re dealing with people who aren’t sharp enough to handle to concept of a metaphor… are they really worth saving from themselves?

    i say let the bible belt parents screw up their children. it’s simply evolution in action, and they really are prime candidates for deselection, the algae greening up the gene pool. all we need to do is mentally quarantine these diseased minds, and carry on as we were.

  7. Con-Tester: not to mention the fact that the human retina is backwards, and has a big hole in the middle where the pipes go, neither problem being present in the humble squid eye. God got it right with the squid, then duffed it up with man later? sure…

    Gift: I think it’s because the kind of person who falls for this stuff can only hold so many words in their head at once before the rest start to fall out. Catchy sound bites and snippets seem to attract their attention, while long explanations only prove sedatory.

    Meta_meme: i’m sad to say, i agree with you. Given that 86% of south africans (according to a recent survey presented by George Claassen) believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created by a supreme being, we are fighting a losing battle against craptastic science education. Also, as I said above, the human eye is one of the worst examples creationists could cite: not only is its evolution easily explained, it’s actually a terrible example of design, since there are much better eyes in the rest of the animal kingdom. Eagle, anyone?

    totalwaste: if only…

  8. @Gift: So very true. Unfortunately I have started to discover that it’s a pattern of the fundamentalist believers that getting the opponent to (1) research their argument on their behalf and (2) attack that argument. This wastes a lot of his/her (the opponent’s) time. Once a refutation comes back the fundamentalist can claim “that’s not what I meant” or “you’re not understanding my point”.

    Ultimately all this running-around means that the fundamentalist is sitting pretty, doing the mental equivalent of armchair coaching, while the opponent works earnestly to change their (the fundamentalist’s) mind in vain. Need I mention who will tire first? I don’t know if we will see mattmitch again but remember that a fundamentalists have a boundless source of energy defending their faith, after-all their legends contain stories of heroes who “battled satan” for many days (or an equivalent tale). Dragging it out (even if they ignore that they are losing) earns “believer points” which they probably think they will be rewarded for.

    @totalwaste: That was a good book. I never thought there were stupid people in the world who might argue “Well if Darwin was so great howcomes he never gots the Nobel prize?” (from the opening chapter of the book). To my (genuine) surprise … http://forum.skeptic.za.org/science-and-technology/natural-selection-like-triangular-circles-can't-exist/msg1314/#msg1314

  9. @AAH: Your URL doesn’t work!!

    Ooops, URL in my previous post got trimmed. You can find it in the topic “Natural selection like triangular circles can’t exist” on page 6.

  10. i’m left speechless.

  11. If one were to accept the inference of some kind “designer” of our world, one would also need to accept the pathetic idiocy of said designer. By human standards the “designer” would’ve failed the first week of college.

    Look simply at human beings: Our jaws are typically too small for all our teeth (wisdom teeth removal), our teeth wear and grind and become unusable as we reach senior age… Our knees and other joints wear out over time… Many people are born with vision problems and difficulties which need to be corrected with lenses or surgery… These are just a few simple examples of design failure in human beings alone.

    Clearly our great and noble designer was a fucking moron.

  12. Thanks for the enjoyable writing moonflake. You’ve earned yourself another repeat reader.

  13. no – i think you’re mistaking the effects of inbreeding and a lack of adherence to the universal rules of the game (defined by darwin as survival of the fittest)…

    just being smarmy… having death built-in is an important feature. having an ethical code that goes against nature? we could probably do without that.

  14. hmmm – smarmy wasn’t the word i was looking for.

  15. moonflake: Yes, of course, the eye in its various forms! What Daniel Dennett (IIRC) calls a “good trick”. The telling point is that errors are on the whole faithfully propagated when they aren’t too deleterious. On top of more apposite designs, a crafty engineer would have ensured an error-free copying mechanism and/or implemented error-correcting codes to protect the designs’ integrity. The ability to realise the latter presupposes that the eyes are properly connected to an error-free brain that is capable of a certain minimum amount of error-correcting cogitation…

  16. “gawd”, Stoopid”, “Diseased minds”, “our great and noble designer was a fucking moron”, “inbreeding”

    How does this help to convince anyone of the truth?

  17. Con-Tester Says:

    Deacon wrote:

    How does this help to convince anyone of the truth?

    It doesn’t. But you’re assuming quite wrongly that the objective is to convince others of the truth, rather than simply pointing out the flaws in the arguments on offer and letting those others decide as they will.

  18. Deacon: it is not our job to convince creationists of the truth, any more than it is our job to convince crazy people that the table is not trying to eat them and that J. Edgar Hoover does not live in their basement. They have already made up their minds, and we just need to get out of the way of the flying jello.

  19. Well, if you do not care about convincing anyone of the truth, I guess all this venom is just because you enjoy seeing your own opinions in print.

    Con-Tester says:
    “It doesn’t. But you’re assuming quite wrongly that the objective is to convince others of the truth, rather than simply pointing out the flaws in the arguments on offer and letting those others decide as they will.”

    But you are not “simply” pointing anything out. You are heaping sarcastic abuse on others people, just because they disagree with you. This assures that they will pay you no mind. Your actions allow no chance of any decision by another.

    Moonflake says:
    Deacon: it is not our job to convince creationists of the truth, any more than it is our job to convince crazy people that the table is not trying to eat them and that J. Edgar Hoover does not live in their basement. They have already made up their minds, and we just need to get out of the way of the flying jello.

    Yet another example of childish name calling. If any of you really cared about this topic at all, you would care about convincing others. I get the feeling this is all about making yourselves feel cool and smart.

  20. Con-Tester Says:

    Deacon wrote:

    Well, if you do not care about convincing anyone of the truth, I guess all this venom is just because you enjoy seeing your own opinions in print.

    It’s entirely up to you what to make of it. If it offends you, don’t read it. Your choice.

    Deacon wrote:

    But you are not “simply” pointing anything out. You are heaping sarcastic abuse on others people, just because they disagree with you. This assures that they will pay you no mind. Your actions allow no chance of any decision by another.

    You obviously haven’t thought about this very hard. In the immortal (approximate) words of H.L. Mencken, “Sometimes a good horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms”. Plus, ridicule and derision are perfectly apt responses for the ridiculous and the asinine, especially in view of the way that religious fundamentalists think it’s apt that atheists, heretics, apostates, blasphemers, and anyone else who doesn’t agree with them should be told that they will suffer eternal torment in whatever flavour passes for this year’s hell. If you like, you can consider it a little comeuppance for the shit-eating condescension and affected superiority traditionally poured on non-believers by many believers, the only purpose of which is to make non-believers feel like social lepers and generally inferior specimens. And the sarcasm isn’t due to my disagreeing with them; it’s due to the juvenile stupidity of their arguments.

    Deacon wrote:

    Yet another example of childish name calling. If any of you really cared about this topic at all, you would care about convincing others. I get the feeling this is all about making yourselves feel cool and smart.

    Once again, it’s entirely up to you what to make of it. If it offends you, don’t read it. Your choice.

  21. Con-Tester: Well said!

    Deacon: …did you even bother to read the way the original question was phrased from mattmich?

    It certainly did not lend itself to an open, intellectual debate – he stated the question as if the author of the blog was an obtuse radical who willfully ignored the truth in favour of evolutionary “lies” – while praising himself for his enlightened “acceptance of the truth”…yet I do not notice any critique from your side of his “writing style”

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander – had he asked the question in a manner which lent itself to an open discussion about the avian lung, I am sure moonflake’s response would have been completely different

    I think it was pretty evident that he was less interested in “the truth” as you call it, than just posting an ignorant taunt on a blog he has NO intention of reading again…

    In short…get over yourself.

  22. Con-Tester Says:

    Meta_meme:😉

    I actually meant to add – but publishing haste forbade it – that the part friend Deacon appears to miss is that anyone who presents a cogent argument in these pages will certainly be listened to and earnestly considered. Appeals to ignorance, however, don’t quite cut it because they are the usual creationist/fundie stock-in-trade calculated solely to put the proverbial feline amongst the avians. Certainly, such loaded gambits are not serious questions asked in a sincere spirit of inquisitiveness.

  23. Meta_meme Says:

    For those who may still have a passing interest in this string, I see that mattmich has replied (with all of his customary righteous indignation) to a comment of mine on the original page containing his question to moonflake.

    I see he has yet to comment on moonflake’s response on this page, though….

    Kinda highlights what I said before… was he really that interested in a valid response to his original challenge?

  24. Wow, so many people piled on to me over this that I do not want to spend the time neccesary to answer all the criticism point by point.

    I will say that I read the entire text of this blog entry and considered what was being said carefully. Just because I do not agree with other’s reactions does not mean I am missing anything. I just do not think that antagonistic language helps any situation. It just makes the person using it get to feel better. Even if you do not care about convincing others of your viewpoint, I think that anyone, no matter what side of the debate they are on, would reconsider using name calling and insulting/offensive lanquage.

    I think that it is even more important to do this when the other side does not. Otherwise any chance at a real dialogue is lost. Plus, there is the old thing about sinking down to thier level.

    Of course, as pointed out I do not have to read or comment on this. It is just that I enjoy talking and reading on this subject and I imagine we are all alike in that way. I was merely trying to put in a point that I thought was being missed. Since the input is so unwelcome I will not bother to post on the subject after today. I have no desire to make anyone angry or to have this kind of talk aimed at me.

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