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14th June, 2010

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The eyes have it

They sure do - they have it over evolutionists.

I chanced upon a You Tube snippet on the evolution of the eye presented by none other than. drumroll. [a very youthful] Richard Dawkins. I was shocked. After supposedly toppling the creationist stance that the mammalian eye (like any organ or organism you can name) simply cannot be explained by evolution theory, he hailed the power of evolution by declaring that, "An eye can evolve at the drop of a hat". I jest not. Watch the movie for yourself. (In fact, this mini-essay will be a lot more meaningful if you do just that. You can get the gist of it all in the first five minutes.)

Paradoxically, Prof. Dawkins's site brands itself as a "Clear-thinking Oasis"; his take on the evolution of the eye is thickly larded with fuzzy thinking. Here is a transcript of the opening argument:

Well, suppose we start with an ancestor who didn't really have an eye at all but just a sheet of light-sensitive cells. This animal, with hardly any eye at all, will at least be able to tell the difference between light and dark. Now, the next stage in evolution would be to have a shallow cup. This animal would be able to tell the direction that light is coming from because a shadow would appear.

As he says these things, his assistant successively places prefabricated sections in front of the "primitive" cup and then places his hand between the evolving eye and a light source to see what sort of shadow would be cast on a screen behind the eye. Needless to say, the shadow becomes clearer as the eye is built up from the first shallow cup to an enclosed eyeball with a pinhole opening. The nautilus, he tells us, is an animal with a pinhole opening in its eye (top right). Poor nautilus; its evolutionary cousins, the squid and octopus have a magnificent eye with not just a pinhole opening but also… tralaa… a lens system, what Dawkins describes as "the next step".

What a miracle! Richard Dawkins has parlayed a crude lesson in basic optics into a puerile argument to support his conviction that we have evolved from blue-green algae.

All of this, he assures us, makes a mockery of the creationist stance that "half an eye" would be useless, and therefore the mammalian eye had to be created "with every little detail in place". He expects us to believe that he has shown us an eighth of an eye, a quarter of an eye, a half of an eye, and so

on. Nonsense. All he showed was that various "eyeball"shapes produce varying degrees of image crispness.

Though he did not state it, I presume he was trying to imply that creatures can be found that have one or other of the "intermediate" eyeball designs (oops, sorry, I trust Dawkins would not appreciate my using that word). Well, I don't know whether or not any creature can be found that has "just a sheet of light-sensitive cells" or "a shallow cup". But that is not my point. My point is this: should a creature be found that has merely a sheet of light-sensitive cells for filtering light, that alone does not make an eye! Such a sheet would require auxiliary components to be of any use. The sheet of cells on its own would only make up "half an eye". To be of any use at all, at the very least the fuzzy shadow that would be formed would have to fall on some "screen" to be readable (which in turn would have to have some kind of connection with the musculature to be of any use to the alleged creature).

Please understand; every kind of eye that exists in nature consists of a complex array of parts. The nautilus eye does not consist of merely a hard cup with a hole in it. The cup is a living material, with blood vessels and I'm not sure what other amazing features. Do your own study and you will find that the nautilus "half an eye" is a [perfectly-designed] complex structure - a complete eye. The creationist position stands intact and unsullied. It applies to jellyfish eyes, snail eyes, planarian eyes, and every other eye that exists. Remove a single component from any of the organs of vision "out there" and its carrier would be signing up for disability benefits.

As a postscript, I cannot help but add that all of Dawkins's hard work was labor in vain. Experts in [alleged] eye evolution tell us that the eye did not have to go through all these transitional stages at all; a near-complete "eye" can be found in a single-celled creature. Let Walter Gehring explain:

The finding of highly developed eyes with a lens, vitreous body, stacked membranes like a retina and shielding pigment in unicellular dinoflagellates, raises the possibility that the prototypic eyes might have been acquired from symbionts. 1

According to this author, more "advanced" creatures somehow "sucked in" this dinoflagellate and co-opted its eyes as their own. Actually, come to think of it, if I had to vote between Dawkins's view and Gehring's, in this case I'd have to take Dawkins's side. Ugh. I can't believe I just said that.

1The genetic control of eye development and its implications for the evolution of the various eye-types, Int. J. Dev. Biol . 46: 65-73 (2002)

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