Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins #8

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins, Beliefnet, 15 December 2005 The renowned biologist talks about intelligent design, dishonest Christians, and why God is no better than an imaginary friend. Interview by Laura Sheahen. ...

Continued from part #7 with my comments bold and in square brackets and the interviewer's questions bold and in italics.

Are there one or two phrases you've heard repeatedly quoted out of context that you'd like to set the record straight about?

Well, that's one of them, about the Cambrian Explosion. [See part #7 where Dawkins was not quoted out of context.]

Another one is Darwin's famous phrase, to suppose that "the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances"-he goes on about the complications of the eye-"could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." [Again, Darwin did say it:

"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 been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." (Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," [1872], Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 6th Edition, 1928, reprint, p.167)]

He then goes on to explain it, and they never quote that. They just stop there. [This is false on two counts: 1) Darwin does not go on to explain it (how "the eye with all its inimitable contrivances ... could have been formed by natural selection" (my emphasis); and 2) I for one have quoted the fuller quote, continuing from the above:

"When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of `Vox populi, vox Dei.' as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if, further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory." (Darwin," 1872, p.167)

For example, see in my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE "Eye ... Gradations due to limitations of natural selection." I also quoted it in full on my now terminated list CED at least twice, e.g. Mar 20, 2005; Mar 19, 2005. I had also critiqued Darwin's entire argument on the eye, first on an evolution-run list Jan 8, 2001 #1 and #2 and then on my list CED, Mar 27, 2001 1/2 and 2/2.]

Dishonest. [Actually, if anyone is "dishonest" it is Dawkins (or else deluded), for giving the impression that Darwin, in his Origin of Species, "goes on to explain it," i.e. how "the eye with all its inimitable contrivances ... could have been formed by natural selection" (my emphasis), when he does not. Darwin (and presumably his devoted disciple Dawkins) must know that privately Darwin himself was not convinced by his own argument, and nor were his scientific colleagues. For example, Harvard's Asa Gray, responding to a complimentary copy of the Origin of Species that Darwin sent him, considered that Darwin's "attempt to account for the formation of ... eyes ... by natural selection" to be "the weakest point in the book" and Darwin agreed:

"Well, what seems to me the weakest point in the book is the attempt to account for the formation of organs, the making of eyes, &c., by natural selection." [Gray A., letter to Darwin C.R., January 23rd, 1860] "...About the weak points I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder." [Darwin C.R., letter to Asa Gray, February, 1860] (Darwin F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," [1898], Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II., 1959, reprint, pp.66,67)

I will update my critique of Darwin's explanation (so-called) of the eye in a future post. In the meantime, here are some quotes on the problem of the eye for Darwinism, which I don't think I have posted anywhere previously:

"... the theory of evolution assumes that the most complicated eye, for example, that of an eagle or a man, started as a freckle or light-sensitive spot which was gradually transformed by chance in upward stages, eventually becoming a working, purposeful, complex mechanism with millions of parts. It is assumed that the light-sensitive cells were slowly folded inward to form, progressively, a retina. The skin on the surface then became transparent and turned into a lens to focus light on to the retina. Consider the eye 'with all its inimitable contrivances', as Darwin called them, which can admit different amounts of light, focus at different distances, and correct spherical and chromatic aberration. Consider the retina, consisting of 150 million correctly made and positioned specialized cells. These are the rods and cones. Consider the nature of light-sensitive retinal. Combined with a protein (opsin) retinal becomes a chemical switch. Triggered by light, this switch can generate a nerve impulse. Retinal is an archetypal molecule, a foundation for visual sense. Each switch-containing rod and cone is correctly wired to the brain so that the electrical storm (an estimated 1000 million impulses per second) is continuously monitored and translated, by a step which is a total mystery, into a mental picture. Who, we ask, is the ghost in the machine experiencing this phenomenal image? Who are you, the seer behind the rearrangement of light?" (Pitman M., "Adam and Evolution," Rider & Co: London, 1984, p.215 )
"Evolutionists employ the veil of time to blur their vision. The story starts with a light-sensitive spot, such as is found in Euglena; a series of broad but superficial strokes culminate in the complex eye of an octopus, or the even more complex vertebrate eye which is yours. But a list of eyes from various animals, not necessarily related, no more demonstrates evolution than a carefully ordered range of lamps. " (Pitman, 1984, pp.215-216 )
"Darwin said: 'If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.' The eye is a good contender. Suppose that a light-spot remained at the bottom of a cup-shaped organ and a lens formed at the top. A nerve fibre then connected the light-spot with the brain and the cup became elongated so that it could only respond to light coming from a particular direction, as if someone were looking down a tube. The compound eyes of insects consist of a very large number of these organs, called ommatidia, grouped together. The optical images are assembled from dots, each dot from an ommatidium, somewhat as a TV picture is assembled from many light and dark dots. The picture is composite. There is the problem of how a group of ommatidia get together to make an eye." (Pitman, 1984, p.216 )
"But what about colour vision? It is found in several bony fishes, reptiles, birds, bees and primates. Among mammals only primates see in colour. Dogs, cats, horses and bulls do not. Fish supposedly evolved the necessary retinal cones to give them colour vision, but then lost them. 'Re-evolved' by certain unrelated birds and reptiles, they were lost by mammals, but by luck 're-surfaced' in primates. An odd story indeed. Given such a diverse 'mosaic' spread, it is reasonable to assume the subtheme (colour vision) is coded, something like an 'optional extra', onto the main visual theme. Such permutations as we find could arise by this adaptation. A more likely story? Creationists think so; at least it is plausible." (Pitman, 1984, p.216 )
"An eye, like a television or camera, exists to attain an end - sight. It is teleological. All types of eye, based on the light-sensitive cell, are simply variations on the coupled theme of optical-image perception and interpretation. Both faculties are required; each is useless without the other. Eye, sight and meaning are inextricably entwined. It is reasonable to argue that, just as a film camera is unthinkable without purpose and intelligent information embodied in it, so an eye is the product of concept, not chance. That such an instrument should undergo a succession of blind but lucky accidents which by necessity led to perfect sight is as credible as if all the letters of The Origin of Species, being placed in a box, shaken and poured out, should at last come together in the order in which they occur in that diverting work." (Pitman, 1984, p.216 )
"The vertebrate eye is, in principle, quite different from the compound eye. The image is 'simple', uniform and inverted like that of a camera. How could this type of eye have developed from the normal invertebrate type? It is no use invoking cephalopod molluscs, like the octopus and squid, whose eyes bear striking similarities to our own. They are genetically unrelated and no series, leading up to their extraordinary optical apparatus (in some ways excelling our own), exists. A squid can distinguish polarized light, which we cannot, and their retinas have a finer structure which almost certainly means they can distinguish finer detail than us." (Pitman, 1984, pp.216-217 )
"Two sorts of eye are required. A very small eye, suitable for an insect but built in a manner similar to that of a man's eye would not work because it would not be able to diffract the light enough. Its possessor would scarcely be able to make out the shape of objects at all. Conversely, it seems that a much magnified compound eye would prove vastly inferior to an eye having lens and retina. There is teleological necessity for the two designs. But how did an eye or two arise? There is no evidence for any transitional form, even if one were feasible. We are not treated to a detailed account of the evolution of retina, cornea, rods and cones, visual photochemistry, tears ducts, lids, muscles etc. Can such an irrational and hollow hypothesis be called scientific? What advantage, as far as natural selection is concerned, could accrue from the starting of an eye when the materials forming it were not yet transparent. In the human, coding generates biconvex lenses, purposely free from blood vessels, and focusing apparatus which is exquisitely refined." (Pitman, 1984, p.217 )
"Of what survival value is a lens, forming an image, if not intimately linked to a nervous system which will translate that image into electrical form? Or a nerve without a brain to interpret the data? How could a visual nervous system have evolved before there was an eye to give it information? So questions continue until all parts of the body are woven into a single whole, a web of mutual necessity." (Pitman, 1984, p.217 )
"Darwinism does not look you squarely in the eye. It insists on faith in the unseen conversion of one type of eye into another. Upon this faith a humble shrimp imposes considerable strain. Moths, fireflies and Euphausiid shrimps, creatures all active in the dark, have special compound eyes which include a retina on which the multiple lenses focus at a common point to form an upright image. These shrimps, which seem to be, and are, classified as close 'cousins' to true shrimps, employ lens cylinders which smoothly bend the incoming light so that it all focuses at a common point, rather than forming multiple images as most compound eyes do. This feat of optical engineering has only been duplicated by humans in the last decade." (Pitman, 1984, p.217 )
"If this were not enough, Michael Land, a biologist from Sussex University, has observed that other shrimps have eyes which employ a different principle of physics, reflection from mirrors. The eyes have squared facets employed as radially arranged mirrors. It requires precise geometry to align such mirrors so that incoming rays are all reflected to focus at a common point, forming an image there. In an article entitled 'Nature as an Optical Engineer' Dr Land wrote: `I would guess that a refracting optical system, with refractive index crystalline cones, could not evolve into a reflecting system with squared multilayer-coated surfaces, nor vice versa. Both are successful and very sophisticated image-forming devices, but I cannot imagine an intermediate form that would work at all.' [Land, M., "Nature as an Optical Engineer," New Scientist, Vol. 84, No. 1175, October 1979, p.13] No common ancestors or series, leading up to these two very different sorts of eyes in the same shrimp-like body, are known. Confronted with the evidence, I believe a reasonable Mr. Darwin would have opted for a theory of design. Over one hundred years ago he wrote: `To suppose that the eye ... could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.'" (Pitman, 1984, p.218)]

[End! See parts #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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