Evolution Can Even Explain How the Human Eye EvolvedBenjamin Radford writes for the Discovery News and is interested in why people believe things for which there is little or no evidence. He applies critical thinking and scientific methodologies to unusual claims. One of those things that interests Radford is skepticism of evolution. After all, as Radford notes, there is “overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution,” and it is “confirmed by nearly every scientific discipline.” Evolution is all around us, all the time. Evolution is why we need to get a new flu shot every year and, notes Radford, evolution can even explain how the human eye evolved. It is strange that such claims come from a critical thinker such as Radford because, in fact, they are all false.
Consider the evolution of the human eye. Charles Darwin considered the eye to be an “organ of extreme perfection.” Even after writing Origins he confessed it gave him a cold shudder. He needed to focus on his theory’s fine gradations to give himself comfort. But one hundred and thirty four years later, in 1994, evolutionists claimed they had solved the problem. The evolution of the eye was finally understood. It turned out such evolution was no big deal after all. In fact the eye could rather easily evolve.
The only catch to the conclusion was that it was circular. The evolutionists, who believe evolution is a fact, first assumed the evolution of the eye in order to solve the problem of the evolution of the eye.
With evolution taken as a given, whether or not vision systems evolved was no longer in question—they did. The only question was how they have evolved. The 1994 paper explained that although Darwin “anticipated that the eye would become a favorite target for criticism,” the problem “has now almost become a historical curiosity” and “the question is now one of process rate rather than one of principle.” The evolutionists estimated this rate by first assuming that the eye indeed evolved. They wrote:
The evolution of complex structures, however, involves modifications of a large number of separate quantitative characters, and in addition there may be discrete innovations and an unknown number of hidden but necessary phenotypic changes. These complications seem effectively to prevent evolution rate estimates for entire organs and other complex structures. An eye is unique in this respect because the structures necessary for image formation, although there may be several, are all typically quantitative in their nature, and can be treated as local modifications of pre-existing tissues. Taking a patch of pigmented light-sensitive epithelium as the starting point, we avoid the more inaccessible problem of photoreceptor cell evolution. Thus, if the objective is limited to finding the number of generations required for the evolution of an eye’s optical geometry, then the problem becomes solvable.
The problem becomes solvable? The evolutionists skipped the entire evolution of cellular signal transduction and the vision cascade. That would be like saying you have showed how motorcycles evolved although you took the engine, drive train and wheels as your starting point.
The evolutionists then skipped all of the major problems that arise after you have a signal transduction system in place, such as the incredible post processing system and the creation of the machinery to construct the vision system. The problem they ended up solving is sometimes affectionately referred to as a “cartoon” version of the real world problem.
The research, if you can call it that, did not demonstrate that the eye evolved or could have evolved. Yet the paper became a favorite reference for evolutionists wanting to promote evolution. Eye evolution, they insisted, was now known to be straightforward. Here, for instance, is how our tax dollars are used by PBS to promote this abuse of science:
Zoologist Dan-Erik Nilsson demonstrates how the complex human eye could have evolved through natural selection acting on small variations. Starting with a simple patch of light sensitive cells, Nilsson’s model “evolves” until a clear image is produced.
This spreading of false information is not limited to popular presentations. A paper reporting on “highly advanced compound eyes” which are “as advanced as those of many living forms” in early arthropods begins by informing the reader that “theory (i.e., the Nilsson paper) suggests that complex eyes can evolve very rapidly.” This helps them to conclude that those incredible arthropod eyes are “further evidence that the Cambrian explosion involved rapid innovation.”
With the mythological framework in place, the findings could then safely be presented as confirmations of evolution. As the journal’s editor added:
Charles Darwin thought that the eye, which he called an “organ of extreme perfection,” was a serious challenge to evolutionary theory — but he was mistaken. Theory predicts that eyes can evolve with great speed, and now there is support for this prediction from the fossil record.
Support for this prediction? You’ve got to be kidding. A cartoon version of reality, taking the myth of evolution as true, is considered a “prediction” and amazing early complexity in the fossils then becomes a “support for this prediction”?
What the arthropod fossils revealed is an early Cambrian, highly advanced vision system more elaborate than any so far discovered. Its compound eyes have more then 3,000 lenses optimally arranged in the densest and most efficient packing pattern. As the paper explains:
The extremely regular arrangement of lenses seen here exceeds even that in certain modern taxa, such as the horseshoe crab Limulus, in which up to one-third of lenses deviate from hexagonal packing.
All of this is presented to the reader as merely another demonstration of how fantastic designs just happen spontaneously to arise:
The new fossils reveal that some of the earliest arthropods had already acquired visual systems similar to those of living forms, underscoring the speed and magnitude of the evolutionary innovation that occurred during the Cambrian explosion.
Ho-hum, yet more evolutionary innovation. For evolutionists it was just another day in the office. As PZ Myers explained, we already knew that complex animals appear rapidly. After all, that is why they call it the “Cambrian explosion.” Evolutionists have written “whole books on the subject.”
Myers follows this circular reasoning with yet more question begging:
The sudden appearance of complexity is no surprise, either. We know that the fundamental mechanisms of eye function evolved long before the Cambrian, from the molecular evidence;
Of course there is no “molecular evidence” that gives us such knowledge (see here for example). But if you assume evolution is true to begin with, as do evolutionists who analyze the molecular patterns, then Myers’ fictional, question begging, world makes sense.
Myers follows these circular arguments with a more subtle type of fallacy. He explains that these particular findings are no big deal because both this finding and the similar trilobite vision systems require cellular signal transduction, development machines and so forth:
It is also the case that the measure of complexity here is determined by a simple meristic trait, the number of ommatidia. This is not radical. The hard part in the evolution of the compound eye was the development of the signal transduction mechanism, followed by the developmental rules that governed the formation of a regular, repeating structure of the eye. The number of ommatidia is a reflection of the degree of commitment of tissues in the head to eye formation, and is a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one.
Setting aside the usual evolutionary speculation about how easily designs evolve, the problem here is that the cellular signal transduction, development machines and so forth are themselves problems for evolution. Indeed, even the simplest of light detection systems sport such incredible designs for which evolution has no explanation beyond vague speculation.
Next Myers is back to question-begging. In typical fashion he attempts to shore up the evolution position with the usual reference to, yes, the mythical 1994 Nilsson paper:
And finally, there’s nothing in the data from this paper that implies sudden origins; there can’t be. If it takes a few hundred thousand years for a complex eye to evolve from a simple light sensing organ, there is no way to determine that one sample of a set of fossils was the product of millions of years of evolution, or one day of magical creation.
Next is the fallacy of credulity. If you present an evolutionist with the scientific failures of his theory, he will accuse you of basing your skepticism on your own failure to imagine a solution. As Myers puts it:
It’s a logical error and a failure of the imagination to assume that these descriptions are of a population that spontaneously emerged nearly-instantaneously.
Failure of the imagination? Indeed, we just need to do more imagining, that’s the problem.
Finally Myers reiterates the flawed Darwinian argument that whatever abruptness you see in the fossil record is, after all, merely a consequence of all those gaps in the fossils:
Darwin himself explained in great detail how one should not expect fine-grained fossil series, due to the imperfection of the geological record.
When in doubt, doubt the data. Paleontologists agree that the fossil record reveals abrupt appearances, but when convenient evolutionists can always protect their theory with those gaps in the fossil record.
Evolutionary thinking is remarkable. I am reminded of John Earman’s remarks about Hume’s arguments. For it is astonishing how well evolution is treated, given how completely the confection collapses under a little probing. So if Benjamin Radford really is interested in why people believe things for which there is little or no evidence, we have just the topic for him.