September 18, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Early Reptile Had Modern Ears

Modern ears are nothing new; they go back 260 million years.  That’s the gist of a paper in PLoS ONE that reported on a Russian reptile fossil.1  The research team was surprised to discover that the creature had impedance-matched ears, a novelty thought to have evolved 50 million years later.  Somehow this innovation survived one of the biggest extinction events in the evolutionary timeline.  Or, suggested the authors, it got re-invented later, four times, in four different groups.
    The paper was summarized by National Geographic News.  The authors said this about the significance of this find:

Using modern amniotes as analogues, the possession of an impedance-matching middle ear in these parareptiles suggests unique ecological adaptations potentially related to living in dim-light environments.  More importantly, our results demonstrate that already at an early stage of amniote diversification, and prior to the Permo-Triassic extinction event, the complexity of terrestrial vertebrate ecosystems had reached a level that proved advanced sensory perception to be of notable adaptive significance.

What’s odd about this story is, it claims this fossil sheds light on evolution, but where is the evolution?  A search on the word evolved in the paper reveals a strange pattern: seem to have evolved, suggesting they evolved, some indication that a tympanic ear had evolved, not thought to have evolved until the Mesozoic, an evolutionary novelty that was hitherto believed to have evolved, assumed not to have evolved until the Mesozoic, etc.  In no case did the authors explain how a complex, impedance-matched middle ear system actually did evolve, or even could.  They merely assumed it did.  More notably, they were surprised it showed up so early.
    Here are two more examples of how the authors used evolution in their analysis:

The evolution of an impedance-matching middle ear within Amniota has been interpreted to have occurred in concert with the diversification of modern insects, which reached its peak in the Mesozoic, implying that the buzzing sound of flying insects would have favoured the evolution of an advanced hearing sense….
The discovery of a highly-evolved auditory apparatus in Middle Permian parareptiles even further emphasizes that the entire groundplan for the impressive evolutionary history of amniotes was already largely in place by the end of the Paleozoic; what followed was in fact only a subsequent tinkering of earlier inventions.

The National Geographic article continued this pattern.  It quoted Robert Reisz (U of Toronto) saying, “The most interesting aspect here is that this is the earliest, clear evidence of a highly evolved hearing system.”  Are they claiming this advanced hearing system appeared without a trace of development in earlier fossils?  The National Geographic article made an even more astonishing claim: impedance-matched ears disappeared, then reappeared later multiple times in separate animal groups: “lead author M�ller believes para-reptiles went extinct and that modern ears evolved independently in mammals, birds, lizards, and frogs.”

1Muller and Tsuji, “Impedance-Matching Hearing in Paleozoic Reptiles: Evidence of Advanced Sensory Perception at an Early Stage of Amniote Evolution,” PLoS ONE, 2(9): e889. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000889.

National Geographic swallowed the Muller myth whole, without skipping a beat, without offering any critical analysis or opposing views.  “Well shazam, isn’t evolution amazin’.  It created advanced sound systems not just once, or twice, but four times!  Then Tinker Bell took over and made ’em even gooder.”
    We’ve heard these Darwinist shenanigans so many times, it sounds like a broken record.*

*For those born after 1980, a record was a flat piece of round vinyl that stored recorded music.  As the record rotated on a turntable, a diamond needle in a stylus at the end of a long arm picked up analog signals recorded as bumps in long, spiral grooves (groovy – get it?  That’s where that comes from).  Records were easily scratched, and when that happened, the stylus would often skip back to the previous groove, repeating the same words over and over, like They’re coming to take me away, away [click] coming to take me away, away [click] coming to take me away, away ad infinitum, till someone couldn’t stand it any more and would throw the record out the window like a Frisbee, making target shooters happy because even if they missed the bullet hole was always dead center.  Records would also warp in the sun and make Elvis Presley sound like a Muslim call to prayer.  The Chipmunks got their start when somebody discovered that playing a 33-1/3 revolutions per minute (RPM) record at 78 RPM raised the pitch of James Earl Jones into the Tiny Tim range.  Record stores were very popular till all the record companies silently swapped all the vinyl records out overnight for the newer CDs, making owners of extensive record collections very angry and still, 27 years later, trying to rip their vinyl records to MP3 files, while our spouses scream I’m going to take them away, away, and since the program notes could no longer fit on the back of the album, CD makers reduced the font to 5 points, forcing everyone to wear glasses.  That’s why your parents look mad all the time from squinting so much.  Now you iPod-generation youngsters know what a broken record is and how your parents suffered, trudging through the snow for miles just to buy the latest Beatles album and try to understand it through all the snaps, crackles and pops on rumbly turntables that challenged their impedance-matched ears.  They didn’t even have wireless downloads back then.  How they do the Chipmunks now is anyone’s guess.  Who reminded us of all these headaches?  It’s Darwin’s fault.

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