The complex evolutionary relationships between birds and dinosaurs has only really started to become clear in the last 15 years. But one brave thinker in 1897 knew the real truth: it was all down to birds and reptiles doing it.
Dinosaur Tracking has the story of W.T. Freeman, a 19th century naturalist who believed in a particular form of creationism. This model of the world completely rejected evolution in favor of a theory of multiple creations, in which all the world's organisms were in one fell swoop removed and replaced with their successors, who looked rather different. This, he felt, accounted for the evidence of transitional fossils and the fact that Earth would once have been most inhospitable to life as we now know it.
A big problem for his idea was the archaeopteryx, an early bird with clear reptilian features in its teeth and long, bony tail. A species that existed in such clear transition between birds and reptiles seemed to be very strong evidence of evolution and an apparent rejection of the idea of separate creations. Freeman himself acknowledged much in a gloriously passive-agressive way:
"It is a very pretty tale - that of the descent of birds through reptiles. I suppose one of the strongest proofs of this tale is the line of succession in the strata, and the bird-reptile fossil [archaeopteryx] is simply the most entrancing, and the most happily contrived creature. Everything has, or has had, a definite purpose in life, and the archaeopteryx lived its life in order to bring bliss to the soul of the evolutionist."
But Freeman had a most creative way out of his problem. The archaeopteryx was not proof of evolution between birds and reptiles, but instead some terrifically freaky sex between birds and reptiles: "I suggest that in the earlier days there were ill-developed, low-typed, wallowing birds, also some highly developed reptiles. Perverted sexual instinct exists now, why not then, and as a result of this, why has not the archaeopteryx been an anomalous false hybrid that has been incapable, like other mongrels, of reproducing its kind?"
Obviously, Freeman's notions did not enter the scientific mainstream, and archaeopteryx is now recognized as the first feathered dinosaur ever found. But his off-kilter ideas, as presented by Dinosaur Tracking, offer an amusing and awesome look back at a time when the idea of perverted birds and reptiles creating all the missing links was almost as scientifically viable as the theory evolution. You can check out Freeman's entire 1897 paper here.
Top image via DeviantArt.