The impact of the discovery of living pterosaurs on standard-model evolution
  by Jonathan D. Whitcomb, author of Searching for Ropens

With the acceleration of living-pterosaur investigations in recent years, including ropen expeditions in Papua New Guinea, what would the discovery of a live pterosaur do to the General Theory of Evolution? What sounds like a simple question is actually complex. After years of studying the reports of live pterosaur-like creatures, and after years of pondering what extant pterosaurs would mean to science, I have discovered a complex answer. Never mind that I failed to discover a ropen while exploring the tropical rain forest of Umboi Island; I did interview many natives whose testimonies convinced me of the reality of the ropen. Never mind that a few proponents of Darwin's General Theory of Evolution loudly proclaim that such a discovery would fail to disprove "evolution;" that word is vague and those loud proclaimers are few. The impact, on the General Theory of Evolution, of the discovery of a living pterosaur is not so simple as whether or not it "disproves evolution." The real controversy is between competing philosophies that are used to interpret the meaning of scientific evidence.

While writing my nonfiction book (Searching for Ropens), I delved into Western philosophies that cause us to think so differently about the same reports. Diverse philosophies rather than "science" cause diverse interpretations of reports of apparent living pterosaurs; and conflicting philosophies, conflicting reactions.

Choose one of four* basic philosophical approaches, although you have probably already chosen one of the first three; Westerners often use one of these, or a variation, to interpret scientific or religious concepts: Naturalistic philosophy, Intelligent Design, or Creationism. The fourth? It may be less dynamic, but an open-minded evaluation is a rarely-used approach for those few who have straddled fences between the three most popular philosophical persuasions: Ponder how living pterosaurs are explained by Naturalism, I.D., and Creationism; then decide which of the three approaches explains live pterosaurs most reasonably--that is the fourth approach: objective evaluation of the first three.

*(There are non-Biblical versions of creation science, such as the Muslim view, but they use refutations of the General Theory of Evolution similar to refutations given by supporters of Biblical Creation.)

Naturalism and the General Theory of Evolution

Naturalism (not to be confused with Natural Science) is the doctrine that everything can be properly understood in scientific terms without spiritual explanations and without reference to any creative powers of any diety. This philosophy was adopted by Darwin but its roots go back to ancient Greek philosophies. The standard-model or "textbook" approach to science, in modern Western society, is mostly based on this axiom. Interpretations of scientific evidence are often based on Naturalism, although many people are unconscious of the nature of this philosophical foundation.

As of June 19, 2008, the "Ropen" page of Wikipedia included:

"As an attempt to discredit mainstream scientific views . . . several expeditions . . . by American creation scientists, including Carl Baugh, Paul Nation, Jonathan Whitcomb, David Woetzel, and Garth Guessman. They hope that the discovery of a pterosaur in contemporary times will cast doubt on scientific views on . . . the Theory of Evolution. Ironically, the existence of surviving pterosaurs would have no bearing on evolutionary theory; there are many species of life which have remained unchanged by natural selection for millions of years . . ."

For those who defend the General Theory of Evolution, with its foundation of Naturalism ("mainstream scientific views"), that explanation might resemble what many evolutionists would suggest. Discoveries of "living fossils" are nothing new; a living pterosaur would simply be another exception: a species that remained unchanged "for millions of years." That is one explanation. Is it reasonable?

Intelligent Design (I.D.)

If I were using Intelligent Design to interpret living pterosaurs (I am a creationist, but I know a little about Intelligent Design), I would suggest that the excellent design given to pterosaurs may account for their present existence, regardless of how long they have lived on earth. (I don't recall any I.D. proponent who has commented on the living pterosaur investigations.) But I would also note that there is no fossil evidence that pterosaurs ever evolved from non-pterosaurs.

Biblical Creation

Creationists who have followed the ropen investigations generally believe that the discovery of even just one species of living pterosaur would greatly discredit the General Theory of Evolution. With a stipulation, I agree. But I suspect that some die-hard evolutionists will defend G.T.E. regardless of the evidence or evidences. Any evidence can be explained away by staunch supporters of a philosophy that may be discredited by that evidence, but creationists are not likely to let this discovery be cast off as if meaningless.

Open-minded Evaluation

For those not defending any philosophy, what is the significance of living pterosaurs to science? Consider first the standard models, including the General Theory of Evolution. For how many generations have we been trained that all dinosaurs and pterosaurs became extinct millions of years ago? For how many years have countless textbooks, newspapers, and magazines told us that the last pterosaur died "65 million years ago?" It has been declared as if fact; it has been used to support standard evolution, in particular the General Theory of Evolution. If the discovery of a living pterosaur, in the 21st Century, does not cause some loss of credibility in standard models, where is reason? What does it take to help us see how much we have been influenced by that propaganda?

Consider the Intelligent Design perspective. Do living pterosaurs damage the credibility of I.D.? Not at all. What about Biblical Creation? The Flood of Noah, in Genesis, involved much death but not necessarily any extinction, for the account mentions the preservation of species on the Ark. But the credibility of the General Theory of Evolution does suffer at the discovery of each "living fossil." Darwin recognized that fact.