Oldest Bat Fossil: Was It Evolving?
A bat fossil surpassing the previous record holder for the oldest by 2 million years made the cover of Nature this week.1 The news media immediately began saying that it provided insight into evolution. The BBC News announced “Bat fossil solves evolution poser.” National Geographic called it the icing on the cake, and said that “the fossils represent a breakthrough in the understanding of bat evolution.” PhysOrg called it a missing link that “demonstrates that the animals evolved the ability to fly before they could echolocate.”
That last statement gets to the crux of the evolution angle. It’s not that this specimen was part bat and part something else. It was fully capable of flight and was easily identified as a bat. What it appeared to lack (though this point is somewhat questionable) is the ability for echolocation – the bat’s famous sonar navigation system. Some living bats have echolocation; others do not. The ones without it typically have a smaller cochlea (the inner ear organ that converts sound waves into nerve impulses). Since the fossil appeared to have a small cochlea, the researchers inferred that it lacked echolocation; however, size may not be the only valid diagnostic. We know that miniaturization can be a measure of advanced technology (e.g., iPod over cassette player). Without the ability to observe this species in action, it would be impossible to prove that it could not echolocate with its compact cochleae.
The evolutionary question before these scientists and reporters was not whether bats evolved – their minds were already made up on that point. “There has been a longstanding debate,” though, “about how bats evolved, centering around the development of flight and the development of the sonar system they use to navigate and hunt for prey,” PhysOrg explained. The majority opinion among evolutionists seems to have been that echolocation came first, then flight. This fossil seemed to suggest the reverse.
Echolocation or not, there was never any doubt this was a bat. It was classified in the bat order Chiroptera, and given the name Onychonycteris. Even though this bat is similar to modern bats that lack echolocation, it “may have been otherwise equipped for flying at night,” wrote John Speakman (U of Aberdeen) in the same issue of Nature.2 Why, then, did the discoverers call it “primitive”? Nothing in the paper provided definitive evidence the bat was lacking in “derived” (i.e., advanced, or “highly evolved”) features. There were only suggestions couched in tentative wording:
The shape of the wings suggests that an undulating gliding-fluttering flight style may be primitive for bats, and the presence of a long calcar indicates that a broad tail membrane evolved early in Chiroptera, probably functioning as an additional airfoil rather than as a prey-capture device. Limb proportions and retention of claws on all digits indicate that the new bat may have been an agile climber that employed quadrupedal locomotion and under-branch hanging behaviour.
Obviously, the researchers cannot watch a fossil bat fly in a fossilized sky. A creature capable of being called an “agile climber” as well as a flyer should not be judged primitive on that basis; are not two skills better than one? Possession of claws seems also a questionable measure of primitiveness. It would seem more primitive to lack a structure than to have it.
As for that echolocation question, the discoverers were more hedged in their wording than the science reporters. After weighing the evidence, they said, “there is no unambiguous evidence that Onychonycteris was capable of laryngeal echolocation.” Their graph shows that the cochlea of this species is right on the borderline between echolocating and non-echolocating species. On the other wing, it “was clearly capable of powered flight,” they said. Speakman concurred: “The bat’s wing morphology is very similar to that of extant species, except that it has claws on its digits,” he said. “But in all other respects this is clearly a bat capable of powered flight.” In addition, the authors inferred that it most likely ate insects, as do modern echolocating bats.
The only basis for claiming this bat was primitive, then, seems to be that it was found in strata assumed to be 52 million years old rather than 50 million years old, and according to evolutionary theory, “Bats are thought to have evolved from terrestrial mammals, and scientists have long pondered whether they took to the air before or after they could echolocate.” So said National Geographic. It looked like a bat, and it flew like a bat. It was labeled primitive simply because evolutionary theory assumes that older means more primitive.
One other evolutionary question was considered. Why hasn’t echolocation evolved among ground-dwelling mammals? An evolutionary answer was at the ready. Speakman spoke to that, but his answer raised other questions:
However, around the end of the 1980s, evidence accumulated, including work from my own group, that favoured the ‘flight-first’ hypothesis. One paper showed that, for a bat hanging at rest, echolocation is extremely energetically costly. This high cost probably explains why no terrestrial mammals have evolved full-blown echolocation systems such as those used by bats. However, a second paper showed that when a bat takes flight these costs disappear. This is because of a remarkable coupling of the beating of the wings with the ventilation of the lungs and production of the echolocation pulses. When a bat hangs stationary and echolocates, it must contract its muscles specifically to generate a forceful expiratory burst, and this is where the large costs come from. When a bat is flying, it is already contracting these muscles, so in effect echolocation when flying is free (or at least substantially cheaper).
But what about the problem of bats flying in darkness before they could orient themselves? A hypothesis I favour is that the earliest ancestors of bats may have been diurnal, and had visual means of orientation – but were perhaps forced to become nocturnal by the appearance of avian predators, shortly after the dinosaurs became extinct around 65 million years ago. Some then evolved echolocation, whereas others became nocturnal vision specialists.
He did not discuss why flying hawks would represent more a threat than flying reptiles. He also did not discuss why any other complex organ that involves high cost (i.e., most organs in the body) would have evolved, if cost is such a hurdle to natural selection.
For decades in his famous debates with evolutionists, Dr. Duane Gish of ICR pointed to fossil bats as an ideal test case for creation vs evolution. He pointed out the many modifications it would take to make a flying mammal out of a shrew or mouse, and how all these changes should be preserved in the fossil record as transitional forms. Then he would hold up a picture of the oldest known fossil bat, and say it was “100% bat.” At the time, he knew about Icaronycteris, the alleged 50-million-year-old species exhibited in the American Museum of Natural History. He would quote Glenn Jepson from an issue of Science in 1966 saying that nothing related to a bat has ever been found in the fossil record that is any older than Icaronycteris, and it is essentially identical to a modern bat.3
It is unlikely this new discovery would cause Dr. Gish to change the core of his argument. In fact, he might claim it makes it stronger: Onychonycteris, found in the same Wyoming Eocene strata but lower than Icarnoycteris, was allegedly two million years earlier – but it, too, was a 100% flight-capable bat. This only pushes the problem farther back for evolution. Now, all those specialized adaptations would have had to evolve in less time. There are still no transitional forms. Knowing Gish, he might have teased his debate partner by quipping that the evolutionist batting average is zero.
1. Simmons, Seymor, Habersetzer and Gunnell, “Primitive Early Eocene bat from Wyoming and the evolution of flight and echolocation,” Nature 451, 818-821 (14 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06549.
2. John Speakman, “Evolutionary biology: A first for bats,” Nature 451, 774-775 (14 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/451774a.
3. Duane Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No, ICR 1995 revision, pp. 185-187.
You see what the evolutionists do, don’t you? You understand the modus operandi of their crimes. Their M.O. is, simply: “assume evolution.” Evolution is their miracle worker, that appears on cue, like Tinker Bell with her miracle-mutation wand, to produce anything they need. Since the Darwinian storytellers have usurped the institutions of science, they have no need for proof, demonstration and evidence. Fossils and other observable things are mere props for their stories. The basic plot is fixed in stone. Like a counterfeit tree of life, the Darwinian story of common ancestry via unguided processes over millions of years is guarded against critical analysis by angles with flaming words (puns intended).
You also just saw (again) the Darwin-drunk news media not only parroting the evolution angle verbatim, but even embellishing it. The original paper worded its claims with a modicum of doubt, but the BBC News trumpeted, “Bat fossil solves evolution poser.” But look at the fossil evidence! The Darwinists should be ashamed. The oldest known bat in the fossil record is 100% bat and no less advanced than living bats! How on earth can any sensible scientist claim that this supports Darwinism? Did any of them tell us how complex capabilities like echolocation or flight could have arisen by chance? Did they elaborate the dozens, if not thousands, of lucky mutations that would have had to come together blindly to produce a flying mammal from a mouse? No! If anything, they uncovered a more astonishing thing – that the flight capabilities of bats are dynamically integrated with their sonar systems. Did they watch 52 million years go by? Did they watch the so-called primitive bat change into a more advanced creature? Did they seriously entertain any of the many, many scientific criticisms that could be leveled against their tale? No, no, no.
If this non-stop parade of dogmatism masquerading as science makes you mad, join the campaign to expose the Darwinists. Don’t let them get away with using this discovery as a prop for their fable. Don’t let some evolution advocate stack papers like this on the witness stand to claim evolution is scientific. Understand what is really going on in biology these days. Keith Wanser stated it succinctly: “There is not one theory of evolution, but a body of opinions, speculations and methods for interpretation of observational facts so that they fit into the philosophy of naturalism.” That, friends, is not science, and does not deserve the honor of being taught in our schools.