Thursday, July 15, 2010

God created a crappy eye

Whoops. In my process of discussing the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism with my friends, we somehow strayed off topic and started discussing Darwinism versus Creationism instead.

And so my friend announced that “if God really wanted the most beautiful creation, He wouldn’t make such a stupid thing as a human eye”. And promptly referred me to this link.

But a little bit of Google (and that’s one of the things I like about this Internet age) came up with this.

But honestly, what’s wrong with the human eye? I think it’s beautiful. I can see a myriad of colours - far more than the latest HDTV can ever churn out. Focus on an object in the far corner of the room, and you’ll find that you can still be perfectly conscious about movements from the side. And it even renders images in higher quality and depth than any supercomputer can ever churn out – all in the blink of an eye! (No pun intended :P) I think, without going into details about comparing my eyes with a squid’s, my eyes are great as they are thankyouverymuch.

Are Creationists theories non-arguments? Perhaps. After all, as my friend so aptly put it, everything is justified by “Phenomenon A is such because God made it such - Science would be non-existent in a society which believed that”. But isn’t that why we call it a phenomenon? We’ve been trying for ages to replicate these phenomenons, and while we’ve gotten pretty darned close, our “pretty darned close” still looks like a botched paint job. It just isn’t good enough. And our tinkering always seems to churn out another set of problems anyway.

But...where were we? Ah, yes, evolution and Darwinism. Can we really believe that everything on this world came about through the evolution of a single cell? Who created this amazing cell anyway? Could we really come from monkeys? Animals are animals – they act by instinct. They adapt by instinct. But humans have a consciousness that cannot be found elsewhere. How could that have come from evolution?

Yet, at the same time, I find it difficult to trust in creationism, because it requires the one thing that I don’t have – faith.

No wonder Jesus said that “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will”. (Matthew 17:20)

Faith is like the wind – You can’t grasp it or bottle it, but it’s there.

Disclaimer: I’m a simple person. I haven’t attempted to go into the itty bitty details of how a microscopic cell can magically become a human being (aka I haven’t read Darwin’s book, even though it’s one of the things on my to-do list for some years now). But when I fling open my windows, breathe in the crisp air, and gaze at the mysterious skies dotted with a universe full of stars, I can’t help but think that someone must have painted this perfect picture.


  1. Would it help if I told you to replace 'evolution' with 'natural selection'? It's a small but important difference.

    Anyway that's probably beside the point. Faith is there, like 'I have faith that humans are capable of being good if only they realised the benefits.' But like with any judgement which has subjective and frankly doubtful sources of evidence, it can be oh so easily misplaced.

    This is why it's so important to revisit originally assumed axioms of life and logic, and to be damnably critical what we know, to reasonable and objective lengths.

    'Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.'
    -Albert Einstein

  2. I would take that second website's link with a grain of salt. The scientific findings seem legitimate enough, but it is taking these findings out of context to support a thinly veiled creationist agenda.

    At any rate, the eye being imperfect (or perfect) does not detract from a theory of evolution, since evolution does not eventually create perfect body parts. If that were so, we'd all be superheroes given sufficient time. Evolution and natural selection instead rewards traits that survive in a certain environment. Which also handily explains why birds of prey have evolved super eyesight, while primates like us who do not need super eyesight to survive, are pretty much okay with what we have.

    In fact this begs the question - if God really did make the eye (in his own image, no less) why on earth would his chosen people have worse eye sight than a bird?

    More poignant questions are things like vestigial body parts, like our appendix, tail bones, the eyes on naked mole rats, leg bones in some whales... and so on. If there really was a creator, why would he or she create a random body part that has no other use besides getting inflamed and requiring surgery (as in the case of the appendix). The more probably answer to the appendix is that it is a remnant of a process of evolution from animal ancestors that used the appendix (Darwin suggests that it used to digest leaves).

    I should say though that no one asks you to accept science simply on the faith of it. A good scientist (and much of the literature) will say that much of evolutionary science is dealing with time scales so immense that there is inevitably a margin of error. The difference between science and faith is that a scientific theory is completely open to being disproved and indeed whole careers are spent critically testing a certain theory. Faith and religion on the other hand, almost by definition cannot be disproven, simply since you cannot prove the non-existence of a God. So you just have to accept it on faith.

  3. As to conciousness and self awareness, perhaps it is easier to see how these things came about by looking at today's internet. The internet is basically a market place for ideas. So like natural selection in biological evolution, ideas on the internet evolve - some that do not survive the market place get eliminated (like the HD-DVD format that was overtaken by Blu-Ray).

    Now take this evolution of ideas and dump it back in the times of our prehistoric ancestors. Ideas that help the species survive will be retained, while ideas that do not get dropped out. So at this early stage, we can explain how some very "human" behaviour started out. First - you need to get along with the rest of your little tribal group. So ideas such as basic ethics would have come about (do not steal, do not kill and so on). If you did behave in an anti-social way, the tribe falls apart and individuals have a less likely chance to survive. In a successful tribe that does have these kind of basic ethics, parents teach it to their kids, and so the ideas are carried on to the next generation.

    I know this does not exactly explain conciousness. Personally I am uncertain about where conciousness came about, but I do believe it can be explained in roughly the same way as I did with ethics/morals. The problem is in defining conciousness. Early man was probably not much better than an animal, the only difference being that early man possibly had a slightly more complex social ethic system. My guess would be that it was much later on we had moved from a hunter gather sort of life style to a more settled existence that self-awareness really started to take root. Simply since our brains would have gotten bigger, and more importantly, we'd be less focused on survival and may have had time to ponder about existence. Fast forward a bit the discovery of language cements this idea of conciousness with the pronoun of "I."

    Finally on a perfect picture of the universe, I don't think this necessarily means that there needs to be a creator. As a non-religious, I do find myself deeply in awe about the night sky, even spiritually so. Yet the awe stems not from the idea that all of that is god's work, but rather from the scale of the cosmos, and how mankind is but a spec in the night sky from any one of those stars out there. It is an awe of the vastness of existence. At risk of self promotion, I would suggest reading this blog excerpt, because it summarises my thoughts on the matter.

  4. Oh no! I’ve managed to attract the lawyer to my blog! :P I knew that by posting this that it’d probably lead to a whole discussion on terminology, and that I would likely step into a minefield of Evolutionists vs Creationists. This isn’t my forte, but let me give it my best shot.

    @cetron: Hmm, dare I equate natural selection with adaptation? Okay, maybe not. Correct me if I’m wrong, but natural selection seems more like what takes place in order to cause adaptation.

    Now, adaptation I can accept. Our bodies are created to change and survive according to the environment we’re in. However, evolution creates a whole new different species. That, I cannot accept.

    I cannot believe that an organism, for no reason at all, would suddenly decide to grow wings and take to the skies. (I’m sure many chickens would like to do that to escape from us eating them, but they haven’t really succeeded yet.) Besides, there’s the whole food chain to consider, unless these organisms didn’t need to eat, or fed on themselves.

    I don’t deny that adaptation has taken place, and might have given rise to ‘new’ species (or modified species) of animals. But saying that plants, birds, lizards and humans came from a single organism? No, I find that impossible.
    Which brings us back to creation. Even if evolution took place, how did this superb organism, that’s later able to fill an entire earth full of beauty as it is today, come about?

  5. @L: Nice blogpost, btw, albeit the shameless self promotion ;) But still the same point as above: How could such beauty just – be – there?

    I honestly wouldn’t just take the second website with a grain of salt. After all, the first website arose from an evolutionist’s agenda, and the second simply went on the disprove it, using scientific means instead of a ‘non-argument-it’s-by-faith’ means.

    Now, honestly, I think it’d be really cool to have an eagle’s eyes. But do we really need it? Our eyes have the flexibility to see both near and (relatively) far objects. We can move our eyes to focus on at least 120 degree’s field of vision without turning our head. An eagle’s eyes, on the other hand, are fixed in their head, and are so huge that they take up more room than the brain itself! In fact, they’re an eagle’s primary sensory input – if you cover an eagle’s eyes with a hood, the eagle will instantly go unconscious! (Not good for us – can you imagine how easy it’d be to kidnap a person if that was the case? :P) On the other hand, we’re equipped with intelligence (not purely instinct – there’s a huge difference between the two), and five senses to balance out this ‘lack’ of vision. Isn’t that balance perfection in itself?

    The Bible does say that God created man in His own image. But note the word image. Take a photograph. That’s an image. Is it as good as the real thing? Even if it’s 3D, it cannot compare to the real thing.

    The appendix isn’t completely useless. Research ( has shown that it’s like an emergency ‘reboot’ button in your digestive system, protecting good germs when bad ones are being purged. You can live without a fire alarm in your house, but it does mean that the fire brigade is going to take a longer time to come if a fire happens.

    Likewise, what we term as ‘vestigial’ body parts might not be ‘useless’ at all! It could just be that we haven’t managed to discover their real purpose, because science has not developed to that stage yet. Little by little, we’re acquiring (and losing) more knowledge about ourselves – something you don’t see animals do, yes?

    Which leads us to consciousness. Animals don’t have ideas. Animals have limited intelligence (if you can even call it that), and are mostly ruled by instinct. For example, an intelligent dolphin is able to learn tricks through incentivization, but they do not have creativity. I have never seen a shark pause in front of a fish and ask ‘is it right for me to eat fish? Perhaps I should become vegetarian.” That’s because animals don’t think – they don’t need to think. In fact, we could live without thinking as well. Life would probably be a lot easier (it’ll just be a man eat man world, literally) and we could do without all the politics (and lawyers :P) in life. It’d be a pity, though. We wouldn’t have that fancy iPhone or iPad that’s all the rage now, because that would require creativity in itself.

    In fact, this makes me think – perhaps the proof of God’s creation really lies in ourselves. “God created man in his own image (Gen 1:27)”. In that, we were given this additional spirit of creativity – an intelligence that all other creatures were not given.

    You think?

  6. I do not take either website particularly seriously, since in my mind whether the eye is good or not does not really matter either way. Instead I enjoy the comparison to an Eagle's eye much better since in your own question of "is it necessary?" you are describing a principle of natural selection - that organisms evolve traits that aid and are necessary to their survival, an eye at the back of our head is cool, but we don't need that.

    The main failing of the eye argument it is an argument from ignorance. Because we might not know for certain how eyes were made, a Divine being must have done it. But you can appreciate that that is not an argument at all. If fact a Divine Creation answer to the eye question brings up more questions - why 2 eyes? Why not eagle eyes? Why does our eyesight fail? And I would suppose that in the end, these questions can only be answer on faith - that God works in mysterious ways.

    It is certainly up to everyone to choose whether they believe in this or not - but you have to at least concede that it is in no way a logical argument in the way evolution tries to be. Creationism as an argument eventually runs into more questions than it can answer to which we can only say "have faith." There's no logic to that.

    Regarding the appendix, the website readily concedes that if the appendix does have a use, there is no conclusive evidence that this use is necessary since people who have removed their appendix go on to lead healthy lives. It would seem that this kind of germ rebooting function happens rarely (if all the germs in your intestine die out). And in the mean time, the appendix is more likely to get inflamed and kill a person. From a design point of view, this seems to be not a very efficient body part since the likelihood of it being useful is a whole lot less than the likelihood of it being dangerous.

    Although if you are not satisfied with the example of the appendix, how about the tail bone? Or how our body makes our hair stand to trap warmth even though we no longer have the long hairs of our primate ancestors? (wikipedia has a decent and well cited entry regarding vestigial body parts). Of course in the future, science might yet discover why we have tail bones, and when that day comes I shall be happily proven wrong. I only point out that the scientific method of being proven wrong is something that creationists are unlikely to concede at all.

  7. You'll have to forgive some intellectual greed here because I'm going on to tackle a reply meant from Cetron. I will try to be as brief as possible.

    First, evolution does not create new species. Chickens do not become eagles. More accurately though, Chickens share a common ancestor with eagles (in this case early reptiles). The chicken is however a poor example because the reason why chickens cannot fly is because it has evolved over thousands of years as a domesticated bird. It does not need to fly because man walks right up to the chicken house and gives it food to eat.

    Let's take mammals instead. It is thought that most mammals share a common ancestor in small rodents, basically prehistoric versions of today's rats and mice. So you might ask how does evolution account for a lion becoming a tiger? That is of course the wrong question - lions don't become tigers. What happens instead is that early mammals adapted and evolved traits that helped them survive the environments they live in.

    So you have generation zero, the common rodent ancestor. Some of these ancestors are however in an environment like Africa, whereas some of these ancestors live in an tropical rainforest. Generation zero gives birth. Natural selection rewards traits that help these young survive. So if you're in a savannah, running fast and travelling long distances to water are a good idea. The young that are able to do so survive, and have young of their own passing down the genetic trait. Those that cannot run fast die out and their genes are removed from the gene pool.

    This does not mean that the children of generation zero are several times faster than their parents. They are just marginally better, enough to survive to the next generation. Each generation in fact looks a lot like each other, and there are no drastic changes from gen 0 to gen 1. There are however small changes, so as being able to run that much faster that are rewarded by natural selection as future generations compete to survive. Small changes occur with each generation, such that if you compare generation 2000 with generation 0, these small changes may have cumulated to a point where gen 2000 looks nothing like gen 0. But this changed happens over thousands or millions of years.

    When you see how natural selection works, you can see how lions don't become tigers. They both come from small rodents, but in the case of lions these rodents had to adapt to a semi arid landscape where water is scarce and there are long wide open spaces. Therefore you have a pride of lions to help you hunt, and stamina to cover the plains. Tigers don't need that, but in a rainforest it is useful to be able to climb trees and swim. Neither becomes each other, but they share common origins.

  8. Secondly, you are mixing up evolutionary science with an explanation of the origins of life. Evolution does not try and explain that, it focuses only on what happens later once life has been created. The school of science that deals with the origin of life is called Abiogenesis, and I think the honest answer to the question by a Abiogensis scientist is that they don't really have a clear idea. In short we do not know.

    Ignorance however is not a good reason to believe in something else that is equally improbable. Man kind use to be ignorant of how thunder and lightning works, and attribute it to the work of the Gods. We now know that to be false. So in the same way just because we don't know how life began, it does not mean that a God theory is true. It is (I have to concede, simply since it cannot be disproved) possible, but it is not fact.

    Third and finally, I think you answer your own question about conciousness. Animals do not have it because they don't need it. And when they do need it, a relatively simple version (like a pride of lions or a hive of ants) suffices. Humans on the other need higher order thinking because once we started living in societies, intelligence becomes more important. The smart tribe will live, while the stupid one will die. Natural selection favours the smart, and punishes the stupid (today this holds true as well!).

  9. Sorry for the length, but hey I fully admit to being hopelessly academic on this. Coffee when you finally get back if you ever want to bounce ideas, but till then take care

  10. See, I knew I was stepping into a minefield when I decided to speak about creationism vs evolution. When lawyers get involved, there’s no stopping the argument :P

    But, in any case, as L said, evolution doesn’t replace or explain creationism. I don’t agree with animals not developing intelligence because they ‘do not need it’, because we, too, can function purely by instinct.

    I think creationists have the shorter end of the stick when it comes to proving itself, because it has to work on the basis of disproving everything else (such as why humans have tailbones) - much of which cannot be proved due to our lack of knowledge in science and technology. Evolution, on the other hand, just has to come up with a theory that can’t be seen over a human’s lifespan (and thus ‘cannot’ be disproven). I still don’t buy into the theory of different species evolving from generation zero (adaptation I can buy into, but not the formation of a completely different species). But then this becomes personal belief, no?

  11. Actually, the human eye is more in favor of proving Intelligent Design than not. There is no part of the eye that could work without another, therefore natural selection is pretty much exempt. Not saying that natural selection does not happen at a micro level for certain traits, but let's face eye has to be intact for any of it to work correctly.

    I like your honest questions, Chris. May you keep searching for is an awesome journey! If you haven't seen it, check out this blog post:

  12. Hi Julie!

    I'm honoured to see you on my humble blog. I know I've posed a lot of questions very critically, and one of the reasons is because I want to provoke my readers to think deeper as well. But yes, I do agree with you that the eye (and many things in creation) has been made so intrinsically, that it's hard to believe that it just came about through evolution, or extensive adaptation.

    Read your blog post, and yes! I will continue to search. I think I've taken a 'rest stop' for way too long now, and it's time to pack my bags and get on the road again :)


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