Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Carson Weitnauer reviews the new DVD on hummingbird flight

Here is a review of a new DVD from Illustra Media about birds and flight. (H/T Apologetics 315)

Excerpt:

First, the film features interviews with a variety of scientists, a philosopher, and a wildlife photographer. The full list includes Carsten Egevang, Thomas Emmel, Ann Gauger, Paul Nelson, Timothy Standish, and Dylan Winter. While some of the interviews felt a bit repetitive, they were generally woven together with skill, suggestively making the case for intelligent design. (One of the weakest moments is when one of them admits he wants to “make a shrine” to honor the birds).

I don’t see why anything is wrong with that! These are birds we are talking about – not cats.

He continues:

That’s the power of the ‘argument’ in the film: they don’t quote any holy books, they don’t make up any “Christian” facts, they just explain, in some detail, how the different component parts of a bird makes avian flight possible. From the development of the egg, to the first flight of a new bird, to a microscopic view of the feathers, to the unique functionality of the hummingbird’s tongue and the distinct nature of its flight, to the extraordinary coordination of the massive starling murmuration, and the unbelievable migration pattern of the artic tern, the question is raised: how could this have come about by an unguided process of survival of the fittest, random mutation, and lots of time?

Flight is an “all or nothing proposition.” Either you can fly or you can’t. But to fly, birds require numerous, highly sophisticated systems to work in coordination: the rapid beating of the heart, the huge breast muscles to power the wings, an efficient respiratory system, a lightweight digestive system, navigational systems for migration, an internal gyroscope for stable flight, acute vision to identify food, and more. How could all of these interconnected systems have emerged, without any foresight or plan, to create the new ability to fly?

Furthermore, it is clear that hummingbirds are a very unique kind of bird, with, for example, wings that can beat more than a hundred times a second and a heart that can beat more than 1,250 times a minute. Hummingbirds eat so much, the equivalent amount of daily food for an adult human would be 150 pounds a day! To accomplish this feeding frenzy, the tongue extends and withdraws a unique mechanism in less than one-twentieth of a second, thousands of times a day.

The second line of argument is the comparison of birds with award-winning, groundbreaking examples of intelligently designed flying machines. That is, when you compare a Boeing 747 or the “Nano Air Vehicle” (an experimental surveillance drone), it is evident that the flying systems of birds are more advanced. Why, the film asks, if we so readily accept ‘intelligent design’ for 747s, are we averse to using this same explanation for birds?

[...]The third feature is a wide range of computer animations that provide detail and insight into various biological components. I was worried these might be cheesy or overwrought, but they are instead illuminating and interesting. Nor are they stuffed into the film to show off some fancy computer graphics, but inserted with purpose, to more emphatically make distinct points. The professional standards make these animations a strong addition to the overall effect of the film.

I already have this DVD, and I am going to watch it this weekend, and this review makes me even more interested in doing that. Sometimes I quote something from a review here and think “now the readers don’t need to read it” but I really do recommend clicking through and reading this review of the Flight DVD. He’s not just reviewing the DVD, there are a lot of opinions and ideas in there!

I noticed that Carson had some words of caution about Paul Nelson and Tim Standish because they are young Earth creationists, but I don’t think that is a problem because there is a huge difference between a Ken Ham or a Ken Hovind and a Paul Nelson or a Tim Standish. Paul Nelson has a PhD in philosophy of science from the University of Chicago and Tim Standish has a PhD in biology from George Mason University. They are also both involved with the intelligent design movement. These are not outsiders.

By the way, I posted previously about how scientists are trying to reverse engineer the design of the flight feature in the hummingbird system, for use in nanorobotics.

UPDATE: Eric Chabot of Ratio Christi has another review of it here.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Scientists trying to mimic the design of hummingbirds with nanorobots

From Evolution News.

Excerpt:

In the Illustra documentary Flight, Dr. Thomas Emell of the University of Florida asks us to consider the speed of the synapses firing during the birds’ wingbeats (more than 100 times a second) and heartbeats (1,250 times a minute). Now, we see that each wingbeat, taking place in less than 10 milliseconds, involves even more control: tuning the wing shape at each position to optimize lift.

Masateru Maeda, a PhD student at Chiba University in Japan, captured the footage.

The ultimate aim of his measurements of the movements of the wings is to copy their function in the design of flying robots.

If something works, it’s “not happening by accident,” Discovery Institute Fellow Paul Nelson reminds us in the Illustra film. He describes how the unique shape of the shoulder bone allows the wing to invert on the reverse stroke, creating lift on both strokes. Now, Maeda has found that hovering also requires the hummingbirds to be able to sense their wings’ shapes and respond accordingly.

Mr Maeda said that the birds must have a very acute sense of their wings’ shape in order to remain so still in the air.

“If the wing shape isn’t optimised,” he explained, “it will fail to produce lift and the bird will start to sink.

“So it must be able to sense this and correct the shape of its wings.”

What this implies is that the wing shape (involving control of the flight feathers’ ability to slide as they flap), is under instantaneous control of the hummingbirds’ central nervous system. The speed of signals from brain to flight muscles now becomes even more astonishing.

In the documentary, viewers see a robotic hummingbird called the Nano Air Vehicle able to hover in mid-air. Its wings, however, perform simple back-and-forth movements while its stiff body floats upright in a fixed position. It has no internal guidance system, no heart or brain, and no fine control of wing shape. Without the human operator and his joystick, it would crash into the nearest wall. No wonder Nelson says that, despite its being a “sensational piece of engineering,” it is still “light years behind the bird that inspired its creation.”

What the Evolution News article didn’t mention is that even if the scientists and engineers can mimic the flying capability of hummingbirds by intelligently designing robots, they are missing out on a valuable aspect of what makes a humminbird a hummingbird. Can you guess what it is?

Take a look at this video:

Isn’t that amazing? Now, everyone knows that I am huge admirer of birds, and I have had birds as pets for most of my life. I know what these amazing little creatures can do firsthand. Not only can they fly, but they can build relationships with human beings – trusting them not to hurt them. No robot hummingbird can do that. Hummingbirds are exquisitely designed, and their design cries out for an explanation.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jonathan M. reviews Jerry Coyne’s pro-evolution book

Jonathan M. is breaking it down chapter by chapter at Evolution News. Chapter 2 is on fossils. In his response to chapter 2, he covers fish/amphibian evolution, bird/dinosaur evolution and whale evolution.

Here’s a snippet about the whale series:

The next transitional series alluded to by Coyne is the whale series. One of the most notable problems with the evolution of the whale is the extremely abrupt timescale over which it is supposed to have occurred. The sheer force of this conundrum is only properly appreciated when one considers the multiple feats of anatomical novelty, innovative engineering and genetic rewiring necessary to change a terrestrial mammal like Pakicetus into a fully aquatic whale. Indeed, evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg has argued that even many of the relatively minor changes are extremely unlikely to have occurred in the time-frame allowed. Consider the following small sample of necessary modifications:

  • Counter-current heat exchanger for intra-abdominal testes
  • Ball vertebra
  • Tail flukes and musculature
  • Blubber for temperature insulation
  • Ability to drink sea water (reorganization of kidney tissues)
  • Fetus in breech position (for labor underwater)
  • Nurse young underwater (modified mammae)
  • Forelimbs transformed into flippers
  • Reduction of hindlimbs
  • Reduction/loss of pelvis and sacral vertebrae
  • Reorganization of the musculature for the reproductive organs
  • Hydrodynamic properties of the skin
  • Special lung surfactants
  • Novel muscle systems for the blowhole
  • Modification of the teeth
  • Modification of the eye for underwater vision
  • Emergence and expansion of the mandibular fat pad with complex lipid distribution
  • Reorganization of skull bones and musculature
  • Modification of the ear bones
  • Decoupling of esophagus and trachea
  • Synthesis and metabolism of isovaleric acid (toxic to terrestrial mammals)
  • Emergence of blowhole musculature and their neurological control

According to Richard Sternberg’s calculations, and based on the equations of population genetics applied in a 2008 paper by Durrett and Schmidt in the Journal of Genetics, one may reasonably expect to see two coordinated mutations achieve fixation in the timeframe of around 43.3 million years. When one considers the magnitude of the engineering feat, such a scenario can only be ruled incredible. The problem is accentuated further when one considers that the majority of anatomical novelties unique to aquatic cetaceans (Pelagiceti) appeared during just a few million years — probably within 1-3 million years.

[...]More recently, however, a jawbone was discovered that belonged to a fully aquatic whale dating to 49 million years ago, only four million years afterPakicetus! This means that the first fully aquatic whales now date to around the time when walking whales (Ambulocetus) first appear. This substantially reduces the time window — to 4 or 5 million years, perhaps even less — that may be allotted to the Darwinian mechanism to accomplish truly radical engineering innovations and genetic rewiring. It also suggests that this fully aquatic whale existed before its previously presumed semi-aquatic archaeocetid ancestors.

If you missed chapter 1, it’s here. And chapter 3 is out soon.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Child faces $535 fine and jail time for rescuing baby bird

Baby Woodpecker

Baby Woodpecker

I am a bird lover, and this story just makes me sick.

Excerpt:

Eleven-year-old aspiring veterinarian, Skylar Capo, sprang into action the second she learned that a baby woodpecker in her Dad’s backyard was about to be eaten by the family cat.

“I’ve just always loved animals,” said Skylar Capo. “I couldn’t stand to watch it be eaten.”

Skylar couldn’t find the woodpecker’s mother, so she brought it to her own mother, Alison Capo, who agreed to take it home.

“She was just going to take care of it for a day or two, make sure it was safe and uninjured, and then she was going to let it go,” said Capo.

But on the drive home, the Capo family stopped at a Lowes in Fredericksburg and they brought the bird inside because of the heat. That’s when they were confronted by a fellow shopper who said she worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“She was really nervous. She was shaking. Then she pulled out a badge,” said Capo.

The problem was that the woodpecker is a protected species under the Federal Migratory Bird Act.  Therefore, it is illegal to take or transport a baby woodpecker.  The Capo family says they had no idea.

“I was a little bit upset because I didn’t want my mom to get in trouble,” said Skylar.

So as soon as the Capo family returned home, they say they opened the cage, the bird flew away, and they reported it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They said that’s great, that’s exactly what we want to see,” said Capo. “We thought that we had done everything that we could possibly do.”

But roughly two weeks later, that same woman from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed up at Capo’s front door. This time, Capo says the woman was accompanied by a state trooper.  Capo refused to accept a citation, but was later mailed a notice to appear in U.S. District Court for unlawfully taking a migratory bird.  She’s also been slapped with a $535 fine.

Why are we paying the government to take away our liberty? Liberty is the power to do what you ought to do. The government subsidizes abortion providers, and then they turn around and fine and maybe even jail 11-year old children who rescue baby birds.

My previous post on bird rescues is here.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday night funny: cute parrot videos

Indian ring-necked parrot wants to preen his friend. (30 seconds)

Getting a head scratch: (2 minutes)

More head scratching: (1 minute)

Here’s the parrot bathing: (30 seconds)

He’s spreading wings: (1 minute)

You can see he has all his flying feathers there… that little monster could totally take off and fly around.

Happy Friday!

Filed under: Humor, , , , , , , ,

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