Evolution in the News - December 2012
by Do-While Jones

Do Bugs Hear What I Hear?

An evolutionist was shocked to discover a similarity between insect ears and human ears.

This holiday season we are so thankful for the theory of evolution. It is the gift that keeps on giving mirthful entertainment. In particular, we really enjoyed an article titled, “Convergent Evolution of Hearing.” It gives us the excuse to remind you of our song parody, “I Heard It Through My Jaw Bones,” 1 which includes our explanation of impedance matching, of which we are immodestly proud.

Blessed if You Do, Blessed if You Don’t

The article in question gives us yet another example of how everything is evidence of evolution, in their eyes. If two creatures have a feature that is the same, it is because they both inherited it from a close common ancestor. If two creatures have a feature that is different, it is proof that evolution changed that feature. Similarity is proof of evolution—and so is difference!

“Convergent evolution” is a special case of this thinking. It is the evolutionists’ way of explaining things that are the same—but should not be. Evolutionists believe that humans and chimps should have similar hearing because they both evolved from some unknown ancestor. Humans and insects should not have similar hearing because they don’t have such a close common ancestor. Therefore, any similarity has to be explained by convergent evolution.

In intellectual speak, “The problem space confines the solution.” In plain English, if a problem only has one solution, and many people are trying to solve the problem, eventually several of them will independently come upon the same solution because it is the only solution. This applies to evolution in the sense that every living thing is trying to solve the problem of how to survive in its environment. Therefore, it is not surprising (to evolutionists) that evolution will force unrelated species to evolve the same solution to the survival problem.

You Heard it Here First!

It certainly is reasonable to say that the same solution can be found independently by different people. For example, the realization that hearing is dependant upon impedance matching is such an important scientific observation that it deserves to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The fact that we published it months earlier is not proof that the article in Science was based on our work, and that we were unjustly denied the credit. There is no doubt in our mind that the “real scientists” who published the article in Science did not read our article. (If they had plagiarized from us, they would have done a MUCH better job of explaining impedance matching! )

Insect Ears

Here’s how an editor described the article.

On page 968 of this issue, Montealegre-Z. et al. show that although the hearing organ of a rainforest insect looks very different from a human ear, it can be divided into the same three functional entities, providing evidence for convergent evolution. … In both humans and katydids, this coupling mechanism efficiently transfers and amplifies vibrational energy from air to fluid, solving the problem of impedance mismatch. … The parallelism in anatomy and function is the result of convergent evolution between the ears of humans and katydids. It is as surprising as it is remarkable and has important implications for comparative auditory research. … Given the discovery of such an unexpected hearing anatomy in an insect, it may be valuable to revisit the phylogenetic spread of sensitive hearing and frequency tonotopy not only in insects but across all invertebrates. 2

Surely I am not the only engineer rolling on the floor, laughing, because this editor is so gobsmacked [astonished] by this obvious discovery. It is like being surprised at the remarkable, unexpected discovery that both birds and insects use wings to fly!

The actual article that impressed the editor isn’t quite so silly; but it does make the unsubstantiated assertion that convergent evolution deserves the credit for arriving at the required solution.

Thus, two phylogenetically remote organisms, katydids and mammals, have evolved a series of convergent solutions to common biophysical problems, despite their reliance on very different morphological substrates. 3

(Remember, mammal ears evolved from jawbones! )

Real Science

All this nonsense aside, there is some scientific value in the article. Specifically, it describes the remarkable technology they used to study insect ears. If you thought dissecting a frog was difficult in high school, imagine trying to dissect an insect to figure out how its ears work. They deserve a lot of credit for figuring out exactly how insect ears function.

Impedance conversion is crucial to hearing in terrestrial mammals, yet it is unknown in insects. Here, we identify and characterize auditory mechanisms in an insect that are markedly convergent with those of mammalian ears. We studied the South American rainforest katydid Copiphora gorgonensis (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae: Copiphorini) and show that impedance transformation arises from unconventional tympanal mechanics, relying on a lever and fulcrum system and a favorable surface-area ratio to amplify and drive vibrations into the auditory sensory organ. Next, we show that frequency analysis is enabled by the action of a newly identified organ, a fluid-filled vesicle, joining with the mechanosensory organ to support dispersive wave propagation and tonotopy. Our results reveal a notable case of convergence, whereby organisms with the most remote phylogenetic histories (such as mammals and katydids), have evolved to hear in a markedly analogous way. 4

Most of the article brags about the state-of-the-art equipment they used, and the frequencies bugs can hear. It was all very interesting to me; but probably not to you, so let’s cut to the chase.

Sophisticated hearing is possible at the microscale; katydid ears provide valuable inspiration for the construction of miniaturized smart acoustic sensors, contributing to the expanding panoply of insect-inspired technology. 5

Of course, they are right. Engineers have long been inspired by nature, and created products based on designs taken from nature. No doubt subminiature microphone design will benefit from their work.

Design Requirements

As far as proving evolution goes, this work fails miserably. In fact, it argues much more strongly for design than chance.

Hearing depends upon the detection of sound waves traveling through air. Air is a much less dense medium than the material in the sensing organs. Therefore, there has to be some sort of impedance transformation. Furthermore, any communication more complex than Morse Code depends upon frequency discrimination. Therefore, engineers do not find impedance matching and frequency discrimination in insects surprising, unexpected, or remarkable. Those are two design requirements for audio detection.

Since insects obviously communicate with each other through chirping, they must have some impedance matching device and a frequency discriminator (not to mention the mental software required to encode and decode the information). Until now, we have never had the technology to inspect tiny insects to the required accuracy and precision to expose the hardware portion of the design. Knowing how this can be done at such a small scale might enable engineers to build even smaller cell phones.

The evolutionary assumption stood in the way of scientific advancement in this case. If one assumes insects evolved by chance, there is no reason to believe that they would have a sophisticated auditory system.

If a scientist starts from the assumption that insects are the product of a conscious decision, and have some reason for existence, then that scientist is likely to look for purpose and functionality. Looking is the beginning of discovery. Someone who knows he must have left his car keys somewhere, and is actively looking for them, is more likely to find them than someone who isn’t looking for them.

Just For Fun

I usually save my song parodies for the April Fool issue, but since I happened to be in a festive, holiday spirit, I recorded a song parody based on this article and a familiar Christmas song. Even katydids can hear me sing and play it at http://scienceagainstevolution.info/music/bugs.mp3.

Do Bugs Hear What I Hear?

(Listen to the MP3 file.)

Said the scientist to the katydid,
Do Bugs Hear What I Hear?
Sitting on a leaf, katydid,
Do Bugs Hear What I Hear?
A band, a band, playing in the night
With guitars so distorted and bright
With guitars so distorted and bright

Said the katydid to the mocking bird,
Do you hear what I hear?
Flying through the sky, mocking bird,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a drum as big as the sea
With a drum as big as the sea

Said the mocking bird to the mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
All life on Earth, did not evolve by chance
No, we didn’t get here by chance
No, we didn’t get here by chance

Said the king to the people everywhere,
Listen to what I say
Listen up, people everywhere,
Listen to what I say.
“The truth, the truth at last has come to light.
Charlie Darwin just wasn’t right.”
Charlie Darwin just wasn’t right.

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Footnotes:

1 Disclosure, April 2012, “I Heard it Through My Jaw Bones”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v16i7f.htm
2 Ronald R. Hoy, Science, 16 November 2012, “Convergent Evolution of Hearing”, pp. 894-895, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6109/894.full?sid=fb786559-978d-414f-ab5d-8bc364418863
3 Fernando Montealegre-Z, Science, 16 November 2012, “Convergent Evolution Between Insect and Mammalian Audition”, pp. 968-971, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6109/968.full
4 ibid.
5 ibid.