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Sounding off on evolution

Did sound production and hearing evolve?

by

Published: 24 March 2022 (GMT+10)
pixabay-megaphone

Have you ever wondered how long the earth was quiet except for wind, rain, and waves? Neither had I, but my answer of four days1 pales in comparison to that of paleontologist and biomechanist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, Michael Habib.2

Evolutionist Habib puts it closer to four billion years, with sound for the first time coming from animals that arose during the Cambrian period, alleged to be between 541 and 485.4 million years ago. Prior to that, any life that existed—a period of more than three billion years—was not capable of making sound; it hadn’t evolved the mechanics yet. Note that Earth supposedly began 4.5 billion years ago, about 4 billion years before the Cambrian.

What is sound?

Sound can be defined as an acoustic wave that travels through a medium. A vibration causes the medium to be compressed (or stretched), and this wave loses energy over distance. When people are talking, the medium is the air between them. The farther someone is away, the more difficult it becomes to hear them. If the speaker has the wind at his back, then the sound can travel a greater distance.

People can, typically, hear frequencies between 20 Hertz and 20 kilohertz (kHz). A low frequency sound of 20 Hertz is a very bass noise and has a long wavelength, whereas 20 kHz is a really high pitch and has a much shorter wavelength.

Sound can also travel through other media, e.g. water (a much better sound conductor than air). Perhaps you have swum in a pool where music is played under water. Many will be familiar with the fact that whales sing elaborate songs. Whales communicate at a low frequency where the sound can travel further, sometimes hundreds of kilometres.

dolphin-echolocation
Dolphins use echolocation to ‘see’.

Dolphins produce higher frequency (shorter wavelength) sounds, because they use these sounds to ‘see’ nearby, by means of echolocation. In essence, echolocation is communication with self. Soundwaves are emitted and bounce back from nearby objects, providing the dolphin with information on close-by fish or obstacles. The smallest thing that can be ‘seen’ this way is equal to half the wavelength. It’s a trade-off. High frequency sounds can detect smaller objects, but have a shorter range. Bats also use echolocation to prey on small insects, so they must use very short wavelengths, or else they could not locate their prey.

When did sound production begin?

Supposedly the first creatures to be noisy were the buzzing insects; sound was a by-product of flapping flight, according to Habib. Actively produced sound on the other hand, by means of tymbals, presumably started at least 250 million years ago (mya). How do they know? Fossilised katydids have been found and investigated:

“The sound-production structures are so well preserved in some insect fossils that researchers can reconstruct the songs the creatures sang in life.”2

Astonishing! Certainly scientists can work out from fossil evidence what sounds can possibly be produced (see below), but to claim a reconstruction of their songs seems wishful thinking. How can they possibly know whether the insect woke up in the mood for blues, or felt like something more ‘allegro’?

“Vertebrates probably began experimenting with sound in some limited form around the same time that insects started buzzing and chirping.”2

To talk of ‘experimenting’ is an intriguing choice of words for an evolutionist. Perhaps it makes a more interesting read, but the process of naturalistic evolution, as is well-known, is not supposed to be directed. Rather, a population passively undergoes mutations, and those copying-errors that give rise to creatures with more surviving offspring are likely to dominate the population. However, experimentation implies an active guidance of sorts. Habib continues:

laryngeal-nerve
The larynx and laryngeal nerves.

“Today’s amphibians, reptiles and mammals all possess a larynx, or voice box, near the top of their airway. This fact suggests they inherited it from their last common ancestor, which would mean the larynx is nearly as old as land vertebrates themselves, going back 300 million years or so. It probably took millions of years for truly specialized or powerful vocalizations to evolve in these animals, however. Little is known about these early stages of vertebrate vocalization, not least because the larynx is made up of cartilage, which generally does not preserve well.”2

If it really “took millions of years for truly specialized or powerful vocalizations to evolve”, then we’d at least expect a gradual development of a larynx, ignoring the other components involved in sound-production (e.g. brain, nerves, muscles, etc.). What, precisely, would be the survival advantage of half a larynx? We haven’t found half a larynx, probably because it “generally does not preserve well”. Whereas Michael Habib believes the katydid fossils (250 mya) are hard evidence, the claim for larynx evolution (300 mya) is an argument from silence!

Honking

Copying something found in nature is called biomimicry.

“By taking into account the size and shape of the crest [on its head that connected to its airway], [David Weishampel] was able to estimate the sound repertoire of Parasaurolophus and reproduce it with a model he built. (To this day, Weishampel affectionately refers to that rig as his ‘honker.’)”2

Perhaps he had Canadian geese in mind:

“Julia Clarke of the University of Texas at Austin and her colleagues found that the sounds of predatory dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex might have been more birdlike than mammal-like”.2

According to “some journalists […] the fearsome tyrannosaurs might have ‘honked’ rather than ‘roared’.” Honking sounds are made through the nose, rather than the mouth. One less reason for the king of the tyrant lizards to show its teeth?

birds-flying-pexels
Did T. rex honk like a goose?

Sounds must be heard!

Suppose the premise of the evolutionary story is true and the earth was mostly quiet for billions of years. And suppose that sound then developed gradually over long periods of time. Now think of the philosophical question that you may have heard:

If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

In the above definition of sound as an acoustic wave, the answer is yes. But sound can also be defined as the sensation in the ear excited by the acoustic wave and perceived by a nerve centre or brain. In this case, the answer is no.

This leads to the question: What is the use of sound producing animals if their predators, prey, potential partners, or even they themselves cannot hear it? Communication, of any sort, really only happens when there is a sender and a receiver (even if they are the same creature, in case of echolocation mentioned above).

Focusing on the evolution of a hearing mechanism within the same kind (leaving predators and prey aside), this would need to happen simultaneously with sound production, wouldn’t it? What is the selective advantage of being able to produce sound if nothing can hear it?

Often evolutionists cannot see the forest for the trees. They can spin a nice story how, over deep time, something came about by chance processes. But they readily overlook details and questions why something would add a survival advantage, and fail to consider—or mention—other relevant aspects. Instead, they focus on one tree (be it evolution of sound making) without seeing or discussing any other trees (such as the evolution of hearing organs, nervous systems to pass any information on, and the necessary brain power to interpret sounds).

This time it is different. The author confesses that “[a]lthough we do not have much direct evidence of the sound-production apparatus in early mammals, we do have an exciting fossil record of their ears.” So the main premise of his article, which is the evolution of sound production, has little direct evidence. However its corollary (evolution of hearing in mammals) is allegedly supported by the fossil record: “The mammalian ear is unique, with three tiny bones in the middle ear, two of which are derived from bones that make up the jaw in most other vertebrates.” Perhaps the evolution of sound production provided an easier angle for an article than the evolution of hearing?

Conveniently, “[t]hese mammals might also have been capable of producing high-frequency sounds, allowing individuals to communicate with one another in a frequency range that few other animals could detect.”

So, what came first, sound production or detection? Apparently they fortuitously evolved in parallel with all other necessary components mentioned above also occurring at the same time. This is the way evolutionary theorists have to argue. They know the picture of the finished puzzle (as do we all: the complexity of sound-production and hearing systems) and come up with an explanation as to how evolution orchestrated it all. Any discordant sounds (creationist disagreements) are silenced! People are told to just listen to the evolutionary story, and to accept it as good science. It is nothing of the sort. Evolutionary storytelling is a one-way system; there is no two-way communication allowed (unless it is to affirm the narrative). You see, most evolutionists cannot allow a Divine foot in the door, and if they do believe God somehow used evolution, they normally distance themselves from any notion that He directed the process—for that would sound like intelligent design!

Created for communication

People are created in the image of God and made with the ability to have two-way (vocalised) communication. People and chimps did not evolve from an ape-like common ancestor.

“Although researchers have successfully taught some other primates to use sign language, none of these educated apes has ever taught this language to others of its species, even when given the opportunity. In one case, a chimpanzee at the Duke University primate facility who had been taught sign language was reunited with his troupe. He tried to use his new skill set to communicate with his fellow chimps. After a week of attempts, his keepers found him in a corner of the paddock, where he had isolated himself. When they asked him in sign language why he was not with the other chimps, he signed back, ‘Because they are insects.’”2

When learning sign language from human beings, did this monkey also learn the sin that people all too often display, to look down on others? Should a mirror be provided?

We are not only endowed with our voice-boxes to communicate with each other. We are also called to sing praises to the Lord (e.g. 1 Chronicles 16:9 and many of the Psalms). If we remain silent, the stones will—miraculously—cry out (Luke 19:37–40).

God instructed Adam (Genesis 2:16–17) and a little later communed with both Adam and Eve after they heard the sound of God walking in the garden (Genesis 3:8–13). It didn’t take long periods for humans to evolve sound generating organs, or being able to hear; they had this ability right from the start! And since all the animals were created on the same day (or before) as Adam and Eve, the world was filled with sounds from the beginning.

References and notes

  1. It may be shorter, if the creation of the angels—who shouted for joy (Job 38:7)—happened beforehand; arguably they did not inhabit the earth and therefore are discounted. Return to text.
  2. Habib, M. B., Fossils reveal when animals started making noise, scientificamerican.com, 1 January 2022. Return to text.

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