Monday, September 21, 2009

Refuting Comfort's Eye evolution claims

As I mentioned in my last post, Comfort and Cameron will be distributing co-opted copies of Darwin's ...Origin... I've looked at the introduction Comfort wrote. Of course it contains the same old tired anti-evolutionist arguments that have not changed in hundreds of years, despite the fact the field of evolutionary biology has matured into a rich, detailed, predictive science that forms the core of modern understanding of all biology.

[If you don't read the entire rather long post, please read the last 2 paragraphs]

A prime reason evolutionists don't often debate these simplistic claims is that it's been done before, for hundreds of years, and anti-evolutionists keep re-using the same tired arguments, ignoring advances in science. Scientists really like to argue, but not about things that have been resolved for hundreds of years, over and over again, in increasing detail.

Comfort's simplistic, tired arguments are no exception. I'll focus on his section on eye evolution. The arguments boil down to:

  1. It looks soooo complex. It had to be designed.
  2. Comfort can't imagine how "random" processes could drive evolution.
  3. There are a bunch of parts working together, and each couldn't originate without the other.
Of course there is nothing new here. For #1, Hume famously critiqued the design argument in the 1700's. It part, this is a false analogy: Watch is to human designer as Complex biological feature is to God.

#2 Natural selection is not a random process, e.g. Blind Watchmaker.
#3 There is no evidence that "separate" parts of the visual system cannot work separately, and in fact it is known that parts DO function separately. As one of many possible examples, the cnidarian polyp Hydra magnipappillata uses photosensitivity without eyes or brain (ref).

Below, I will paste Comfort's text, and a few comments on his text.
Or, consider the human eye. Man has never developed a
camera lens anywhere near the inconceivable intricacy of the
human eye. The human eye is an amazing interrelated system of
about forty individual subsystems, including the retina, pupil,
iris, cornea, lens, and optic nerve. It has more to it than just
the 137 million light-sensitive special cells that send messages
to the unbelievably complex brain. About 130 million of these
cells look like tiny rods, and they handle the black and white
vision. The other seven million are cone shaped and allow us
to see in color. The retina cells receive light impressions, which
are then translated into electric pulses and sent directly to the
brain through the optic nerve.

A special section of the brain called the visual cortex
interprets the pulses as color, contrast, depth, etc., which then
allows us to see “pictures” of our world. Incredibly, the eye,
optic nerve, and visual cortex are totally separate and distinct
subsystems. Yet together they capture, deliver, and interpret
up to 1.5 million pulse messages per millisecond! Think
about that for a moment. It would take dozens of computers
programmed perfectly and operating together flawlessly to
even get close to performing this task.
Yes, eyes are pretty complicated - that is one reason they are fun to study and understand from a scientific perspective.

The eye is an example of what is referred to as “irreducible

There is no evidence that eyes or any other biological structure are 'irreducibly complex'. Here is a paper describing processes that have led to the evolutionary origins of "phototransduction", the cascade of protein signaling events that results in animals' ability to detect light.

It would be absolutely impossible for random

It would indeed be difficult for purely random processes to evolve complex systems, but natural selection is not a random process.

...operating through gradual mechanisms of genetic
mutation and natural selection, to be able to create forty
separate subsystems when they provide no advantage to the
whole until the very last state of development.
This is factually wrong. For example, one of these eye "subsystems" provides an advantage to Hydra even though the animal does not possess other of the "subsystems". As mentioned above, Hydra utilizes phototransduction without lens, retina, brain, or even pigment cells. One response to light is for the animal to scrunch into a ball, hypothesized to purge its one-way gut at first morning light. [If there is a designer, at least She had a sense of humor when She made one-way guts - what a great design that is!]. So as evidenced by mouse trap tie clips in the Dover trial; claims of irreducible complexity usually represent a lack of imagination about what sub-systems can do.

Ask yourself
how the lens, the retina, the optic nerve, and all the other parts
in vertebrates that play a role in seeing not only appeared
from nothing, but evolved into interrelated and working parts.

This sounds like an argument against divine design, which claims that eye parts came from dust. In fact evolutionary biology teaches us that proteins of the lens came from other proteins.

Evolutionist Robert Jastrow acknowledges that highly trained
scientists could not have improved upon “blind chance”:

To paraphrase Orgel - evolution is cleverer than you are; that doesn't mean that goddidit.
Again, natural selection is not "blind chance".

The eye appears to have been designed; no designer
of telescopes could have done better. How could
this marvelous instrument have evolved by chance,
through a succession of random events? Many people
in Darwin’s day agreed with theologian William
Pauley, who commented, “There cannot be a design
without a designer.”

William Paley, not Pauley. Yes it is truely amazing that evolution produced eyes, and other complex things like livers or brains. Nevertheless, it is a well established scientific fact that evolution did produce these traits.

And this marvelous design occurs not just in humans, but
in all the different creatures: horses, ants, dogs, whales, lions,
flies, ducks, fish, etc. Think about what the theory of evolution
claims: the eyes, in working pairs, of all these creatures slowly
developed over millions of years. Each of them was blind until
all the parts miraculously came together and interrelated with
the others, because all parts are needed for the eye to function.
Then each creature had its two eyes work in harmony with
the brain to interpret those images. Fortunately, each of these
creatures simultaneously evolved whatever matching parts
each would need: sockets, skin, eyelids, eyelashes, tear ducts,
muscles to blink, etc.

Again, Comfort is arguing more against his own claims that against evolution. Eyes appearing separately in every tetrapod is VERY unlikely, but this is what the creationist fable of eye origins would entail. In fact, evolutionary biology teaches us that all living things share a common ancestry, and that shared features usually evolved once, prior to the common ancestor of creatures sharing a trait. This is backed up by mounds of genetic evidence showing shared use of many genes in most animal eyes, including opsin, Pax-6, and many more.

You’ve probably been led to believe that the first simple
creatures had rudimentary eyes, and that as creatures slowly
evolved their eyes evolved along with them. However, that’s
not what scientists have found. Not only is there no evidence

Robert Jastrow, “Evolution: Selection for perfection,” Science
Digest, December 1981, p. 86.
It is simply false that scientists have found the first simple creatures to have had complex eyes. "The first simple creatures" Comfort seems to be referring to are trilobites. There are highly complex arthropods, far far far removed from the first simple creatures. Trilobites are not even the first animals, not even the first arthropods.

of this occurring, but some of the most complex eyes have
been discovered in the “simplest” creatures.
Riccardo Levi-Setti, professor emeritus of Physics at the
University of Chicago, writes of the trilobite’s eye:

"This optical doublet is a device so typically
associated with human invention that its discovery in
trilobites comes as something of a shock. The realization
that trilobites developed and used such devices half a
billion years ago makes the shock even greater. And a
final discovery—that the refracting interface between
the two lens elements in a trilobite’s eye was designed
in accordance with optical constructions worked out
by Descartes and Huygens in the mid-seventeenth
century—borders on sheer science fiction...The design
of the trilobite’s eye lens could well qualify for a patent
disclosure. "

--Riccardo Levi-Setti, Trilobites (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1993), pp. 57–58.

How could the amazing, seeing eye have come about
purely by blind chance? Based on the evidence, wouldn’t a
reasonable person conclude that the eye is astonishingly
complex and could not have evolved gradually, and that each
creature’s eyes are uniquely designed?

Even Charles Darwin admitted the incredible complexity
of the eye in The Origin of Species:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable
contrivances for adjusting the focus to different
distances, for admitting different amounts of light,
and for the correction of spherical and chromatic

aberration, could have formed by natural selection,
seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

Even more incredible, though, is that Darwin went on
to say that he believed the eye could nonetheless have been
formed by natural selection. He was right on one point. If a
Designer is left out of the equation, such a thought is absurd
in the highest degree.

Yes, it is still amazing - and still true - that eyes evolved. No natural selection still cannot be equated with blind chance.

At least he included the end of this famous quote, where Darwin writes that anyone with any bit of logical reasoning ability can see that evolution can produce even complicated things.

I didn't spend a lot of time on this because these arguments of Comfort are not worth a lot of my time. They are tired, recycled, un-creative jabs at evolution that have been known to be false for hundreds of years.

In the end, I'll use Comfort's own words to describe what he is doing to evolution. He was writing about Buddhism, but his words apply nicely to his ignorance of evolutionary biology:

Amazingly, the religion of Buddhism [substitute 'Ray Comfort' for 'Buddhism'] denies that God [substitute 'Evolution' for 'God'] even exists. It teaches that life and death are sort of an illusion. That’s like standing at the door of the plane and saying, “I’m not really here, and there’s no such thing as the law of gravity, and no ground that I’m going to hit.” That may temporarily help you deal with your fears, but it doesn’t square with reality.
A few word changes lead to:

Amazingly, the religion of Cameron and Comfort denies that evolution even exists. It teaches that two hundred years of hard work by countless scientists across the globe to elucidate the details of evolution are sort of an illusion. That’s like standing at the door of the plane and saying, “I’m not really here, and there’s no such thing as the law of gravity, and no ground that I’m going to hit.” That may temporarily help Comfort and Cameron deal with their fears, but it doesn’t square with reality.


Frank Anderson said...

And he even gets Buddhism wrong. What a jackass.

Anonymous said...

I am stuck and stupefied at Comfort's example of the eyes of dogs, horses, whales, and lions. No one in the history of science has ever proposed the absurd idea that these animals independently and simultaneously grew eyes from nothing (although, as Todd points out, this is exactly what the bible states). They are all mammals, man! Come on! If you don't understand evolutionary theory (which this, amongst several hundred other things, demonstrates absolutely), you CAN'T refute it.

Conor O'Brien said...

Nicely done. Some formatting issues but you nail them to the wall. TBH could be maybe 1-2 point IS a long post....

David said...

Both you and Comfort quote Robert Jastrow, and neither of you seem to catch what he was saying. He ends his book "God and the Astronomers" with the following quote,

"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting here for centuries."

You talk about how people like Comfort are regarding "scientific facts" as illusion. Robert Jastrow, although not a believer, cautions the scientist not to lock themselves into some preconceived ideas. He also states that the "moment of creation" eliminated everything that could prove any cause and effect reasoning for the existence of our Universe.

I believe in God, in a Creator and the miraculous creation. I have seen no proof, sustainable facts, or whatever, to sway my thinking. Instead I find scientists putting a "gag order" on any in their community who might wish to even mention Intelligent Design. This is not logical reasoning or even common sense, but rather it is foolishness.

For instance, suppose the Theory of Evolution is incorrect. If we were to base all our research upon this theory and not leave ourselves open to other possibilities, would that not have a negative impact upon research overall? How could we cure cancer if we had to think outside of the "evolutionary box"?

Rather than argue one way or the other I think true scientists need to be a little more open-minded or the great deeds done in recent years will indeed become the illusion you claim Comfort sees.