Review - October 2013
by Do-While Jones

Flight – the Genius of Birds

Teaching science without religion

We were given a copy of a 63-minute video by Illustra Media titled, Flight—the Genius of Birds. It is an excellent example of how to teach science.

What makes the video so good is that it just presents facts without mixing in speculation. For example, near the beginning of the video they say,

More than 9,000 species of birds have been identified in the world, and nearly all of them can fly. They thrive in every environment—each equipped to endure specific challenges of climate and geography. And each, the result of a biological process executed to perfection within an amazing vessel.

The “amazing vessel” is an egg. Then, using excellent photography, they illustrate that biological process by showing the step-by-step development of a chicken embryo. They don’t use artists’ conceptions about what they think happens on each of the 21 days of incubation. They use actual observations!

They just stick to facts. The number of species is a fact. It is a fact that most species (but not all) fly. It is a fact that they live in diverse environments from wet cold ones (think penguins) to hot dry ones (think roadrunners), and they thrive there. They all develop from eggs. These are all indisputable, scientific facts that should be taught to biology students (and on their tests).

Evolutionists are prone to mixing the facts with speculation by saying that birds have evolved to live in every environment. Creationists are prone to mixing the facts with dogma by saying that birds were designed by God to live in every environment. This video does neither. It sticks to the facts (as public schools should).

When faced with gaps in knowledge, they acknowledge those gaps. For example, they say,

They [birds] have to have the instincts necessary to be able to do this [fly]. And, presumably, instinct is rooted somewhere in the genetics of the organism.

They wisely don’t assert that instincts evolved through some unknown natural process, nor do they state it is a God-given ability. They just say that it seems plausible that genetics are involved somehow. To say more would be irresponsible.

They then say the flight requires that the bird’s bones, feathers, and muscles all must have certain attributes. They use actual photographs and excellent computer graphics to show the hollow structure of bird bones, and animate the way in which the muscles move bird wings. It is all completely accurate and factual. They document the unusual features of feathers, and explain how they make flight possible.

They use excellent high-speed photography to show exactly how a hummingbird can fly forwards, backwards, or hover in place. The raw photography is augmented by computer graphics to show precisely how the motion of the wings differs for each type of motion. They examine the way a hummingbird’s wings move compared to a hawk’s wings.

The video is laden with many more facts about hummingbirds, including the unusual structure and motion of its tongue.

Then, there is some impressive photography of roughly 500,000 starlings returning to their roost, with analysis of how they can fly so closely without collisions.

Perhaps the best part of the video is the part about arctic tern migration because it illustrates how real science works. Danish scientists caught 50 arctic terns and attached miniature data loggers to their legs. Then, a year later, after the birds had migrated to Antarctica and back, they (incredibly) managed to catch ten of the birds and retrieve the data loggers. Nine of the ten data loggers had usable data, telling the scientists exactly where the birds were at particular dates and times. Then they published the results.

I can imagine a high school student watching that segment and saying, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!” It really was that inspiring.

It was such a contrast to the ivory tower philosophy that passes itself off for science today. They actually dissected bird bones to determine exactly what their internal structure is, and presented photographic proof of what they had observed. A bunch of scientists didn’t just sit around and throw out speculation for why birds are so light, and come to the consensus that their bones must be hollow—until another group of scientists came to the consensus that birds must be light because they are filled with helium—which was accepted as fact until another group of scientists came to the consensus that birds must be light because they are filled with hydrogen.

I know that sounds silly, but it is no sillier than the changing consensus that eating vegetables (no, no, eating meat!) caused apelike creatures to become human, as we saw in this month’s feature article.

Real science depends upon experimentation and observation. That’s what this video consists of.

The video ends by making the point that the existence of flight inspires a search for an explanation of how it originated. They encourage the viewer to consider the possibilities.

They mention the three most popular evolutionary explanations. (1. Birds learned to fly from the ground up by running and jumping. 2. Birds learned to fly by jumping out of trees and gliding down. 3. Birds learned to fly when they used their winged arms to catch insects, and accidentally flew as a result.) They suggest that it is “challenging to explain” how any of these three theories could be correct. Admittedly, they don’t give equal time to these explanations; they simply acknowledge that they exist. But really, do these three silly stories merit any more discussion than that?

They end by simply noting that all other instances of flying (hot air balloons, dirigibles, fixed wing aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, and rockets) are the result of conscious design. Is it not reasonable to assume that biological flight is also the result of conscious design?

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