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Creation 41(1):39, January 2019

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Walk like a skate?


©Andy Murch/OceanwideImages.comwalk-like-a-skate

We humans can skate but some scientists think skates can walk—and that we and they are more closely related than previously thought. Skates are a group within what are known as rays (though sometimes ‘rays’ is meant to refer to only those which are not skates). Rays are the largest group of fish with skeletons made from cartilage, not bone. They are known for both their flat body shape and their bottom-dwelling habit.

Skates are distinguished by their producing egg cases called ‘mermaid purses’ (whereas other rays give birth to live young) and by the fact that their pelvic fins divide into two lobes (versus the single lobe of rays).1

Since skates have often been observed shuffling around on the sea floor, there has been evolutionary speculation that they might provide clues about how land vertebrates first conquered the land. Scientists studying a small skate species, Leucoraja erinacea, now think they have found support for this idea, and they published their findings and ideas in the prestigious journal Cell.2

Skates’ shuffling locomotion is controlled by certain so-called Hox genes3 and a network of nerve cells. What particularly intrigues the researchers is that these genes appear to be like those that control limb movements in mammals, ourselves included, although they seem to be different from those in most other fish. Interpreted within their evolutionary framework, some researchers think this supports the idea of a common ancestor of skates and mammals, around 420 million years ago.

Not so fast

Others, however, have been more cautious in their response to this published work. One University of Chicago biologist, Michael Coates, warned, “We must be very careful about looking at any living group and thinking it represents ancestral conditions.”4 We agree. For one thing, even from an evolutionary perspective, it is rather premature for the researchers to make their claims before sampling a much larger group of vertebrate animals. But the bigger problem is that the researchers have already ruled out another possibility regarding the origin of these skates and other animals too, and not for any scientific reasons.

Skate by design

Similar designs are precisely what we would expect if a Common Designer (God) was responsible for creating separate, unrelated groups of creatures. He was quite at liberty to employ similar genes and nerve networks in very different creatures. A great example is the bizarre oilbird. The retina in the eyes of this cave-dwelling, fruit-eating, echo-locating denizen of the night has a unique design for a bird—nothing like it is known in any other bird species in the world. Yet, a similar design is known in, of all creatures, a deep sea fish!5

Finally, don’t be fooled by the exaggerated claims in the news stories of skates walking—watch them for yourself at your sea-life aquarium or view some online videos of skates moving around on the sea bottom.6

Parade of fantasy ‘walking fish’

Photo by Gary Bell, oceanwideimages.comspooted-handfish
The spotted handfish

Over the years, we’ve featured articles on a whole variety of other creatures that have similarly been promoted as supposedly showcasing in some way the alleged evolution of walking from a fish ancestor. Not surprisingly, the reality in each case is anything but exciting for this evolutionist belief. See:

References and notes

  1. Weston, P., Sharks and rays: Sure, there are some similarities—but do they really share an ancient aunt?, Creation 24(4):28–32, 2002, creation.com/sharks-and-rays. Return to text.
  2. Jung, H. et al, The ancient origins of neural substrates for land walking, Cell 172(4):667–682.e15, 8 February 2018. Return to text.
  3. Hox is short for homeobox genes. Acting rather like switches, they are involved in complex ways in regulating development in creatures as diverse as flies, fish, frogs and foxes. Mutations in these gene switches are sometimes claimed to show evolution but see: Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution 2, Creation Book Publishers, 99–102, 2011. Return to text.
  4. Guglielmi, G., Primitive fish’s sea-floor shuffle illuminates the origins of walking, Nature news, nature.com, 8 February 2018. Return to text.
  5. Pilcher, H.R., Bird’s-eye view, Nature 427(6977):800, 26 February, 2004; Bell, P., The super-senses of oilbirds: Bizarre birds elude an evolutionary explanation, Creation 28(1):38–41, December 2005; creation.com/oilbird. Return to text.
  6. A good example is: ‘This Fish “Walks” Like Our Prehistoric Ancestors’, YouTube. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Evolution's Achilles' Heels
by Nine Ph.D. scientists
US $17.00
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The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $16.00
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Evolution: Good Science?
by Dominic Statham
US $13.00
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Readers’ comments

Paul R.
Our God has an amazing sense of humour ; I mean who could possibly put similar features in such a variety of unrelated organisms(even by evolutionist standards ..!!!) and then sit back and watch "learned people" make absolute fools of themselves trying to make links that have never,and will never exist ..??? And the celebratory day for evolutionists is April 1st - " a fool says in his heart there is no God .."
Courtney K.
For the bizarre oilbird, if it came from an original kind, then that kind must have originally had that information in a form that would only activate if certain environments were around them, right? So the oilbird's relatives that also came from that kind should have inactivated or mutated forms of the genes that make up the oilbird's uniqueness, right? Or maybe it's that the DNA sequence was made in such a complex way that in the event of a lost-information event required by survival, an adaptation could be made, and were made in such a complex way that millions of latent paths were designed for these events?
Philip Bell
These are fair questions and surmises. What is for sure, however, as stated in this article on oilbirds is that this unique species, Steatornis caripensis, "is placed in a family all of its own, Steatornithidae. That is, it has no known living relatives, and neither is there any fossil record that includes other members of Steatornithidae; see:
Mayr, G., On the phylogenetic relationships of trogons (Aves, Trogonidae), Journal of Avian Biology 34(1):81–88, 2003.
Although it may be considered within the same order as the nightjars (a higher taxonomic rank than family), some biologists have recently argued for its placement in a separate order altogether, underlining just how unusual it really is:
Van Remsen, J., Elevate Steatornithidae and Nyctibiidae to rank of Order, South American Classification Committee, 2016.
I agree. It is like saying a motorizes scateboard, a dunebuggy, and a motorized wheel chair share a common ancestor, when we know they only shared design in a common (ordinary) human brain. If skates shared a ancestor with walking land animals, then calcified skeletons had to arise twice, in bony fish and bony land animals. The poor evolutionists not only have to "pick" the ancestor they want, but in doing so they have to "pick" the information they will be willfully ignorant of.
Dan M.
The difference between us (creationists) and the naturalists (evolutionists) is, we have different religious starting points. Theirs is a naturalistic-only explanation for beginnings, (nature worship) which cannot adequately explain the beginning of life and its complexity on our planet. Mine is an omniscient creator God, (thinking being) who designed life to fill the earth and represent His glory. All living things with the exception of "very good" DNA-destroying mutations [which would only have begun post-Fall; Ed) works superbly according to its intended function, which validates my belief. The real tragedy of the naturalistic movement is: we have allowed them to take control over our schools, our government, and our media, thereby allowing them to force their religious beliefs on all regardless of personal faith. A national religion is strictly forbidden by the constitution of these United States! This is what the first amendment states and the majority of academia and politicians are in violation of this law. Believe what you want? Just don't force it on others, is truly what the first amendment allows. They can come up with all sorts of fanciful naturalistic explanations for what we observe but they will never convince me of the impossible (spontaneous generation of life by natural processes). It just can't happen! Real science has already proven it, (life only from life). Jim M's statement only reinforces my conclusion that evolution is religious in its basic tenets. Because no matter the absurdity and lack of truth in its basic claims, they cling to it, like a religion!
Chris M.
I echo the same thoughts as Jim M above! Everything around us made by intelligent humans shares common design, yet no one believes my Whirlpool refrigerator and Jim's GE microwave evolved from one another because they share similar features: both are black, have a door on hinges, handles to open, similar wiring, writing on the front, etc, etc. It's really just mind boggling to make such assumptions!
Jim M.
You have to feel bad for evolutionary biologists. They literally have an impossible job. It's got to be tough to try to use only natural processes to explain something that natural processes can never adequately explain, yet they have to keep at it and try and come up with as plausible an explanation as possible. So, take this article for example. In seeking to figure out how aquatic organisms came to dwell on land and begin to walk, they look for any little thing possible that they might be able to use to spin a story with. In doing so, they turn a blind eye to all the other aspects of that organism that do not give any evidence of common ancestry, but that dirty little secret is just shoved under the rug while they focus on their one little characteristic. Does anyone really believe that a common ancestor of skates/mammals are the origin of legs/walking on land? How can we test this hypothesis? Can it be shown to be false/accurate or is this just another case of evolutionary storytelling that is unfalsifiable yet masquerading as science?

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