Intelligent Design

The 12 Days of Evolution mangles the evolution of the eye

Spread the love

In the fourth video in the “Twelve days of evolution” series produced by PBS and “It’s okay to be smart,” Joe Hanson, Ph.D. (Biology) tells a whopper about the evolution of the eye. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Computer simulations have replayed the process in just 350,000 generations, showing simple light patches can evolve into camera-like eyes in tiny, adaptive steps, 1,829 to be precise. Nature took a little longer than that, but genes, biochemistry, fossils, and anatomy all tell the same story. Eyes are pretty easy to evolve. So easy that nature has done it independently 50 to 100 times. That kind of complexity, rather than overthrowing Darwin’s theory, is proof of its power.

Back in 2013, I debunked these claims in my post, Could the eye have evolved by natural selection in a geological blink?.

Briefly:

(i) the model of eye evolution referred to in the video, which was developed in 1994 by Dr. Dan-Eric Nilsson and Dr. Susanne Pelger of Lund University in Sweden, was not a computer simulation, as Dr. David Berlinski has previously pointed out;

(ii) I contacted Professor Nilsson back in 2013, and asked him about the 1994 paper he co-authored with Susanne Pelger, and he admitted that the model which he and Pelger had developed was actually an intelligently guided evolutionary sequence, and that the variations in the model, while gradualistic, were not random;

(iii) the figure of 350,000 generations (actually 363,992 generations, to be precise) was a “nice round number,” which appears to have been deliberately chosen in order to provide Darwin’s theory with some good publicity. Had Nilsson and Pelger been less conservative in their “pessimistic estimate,” their calculations would actually have shown that the eye could have evolved in just 3,650 years, which is roughly equivalent to the time that has elapsed since the death of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. But of course, nobody – not even the man in the street – would believe a fantastic claim like that;

(iv) Nilsson and Pelger explicitly acknowledge in the final paragraph of their paper that their 364,000-year estimate was never meant to be a realistic one, and applies to a hypothetical situation in which “selection for eye geometry and optical structures imposed the only limit”;

(v) Nilsson and Pelger’s estimate isn’t anatomically realistic: it leaves out the brain. Most lens eyes would be useless to their bearers without advanced neural processing;

(vi) Nilsson and Pelger readily admit in their paper that their 364,000-year estimate deliberately confines its attention to one organism, and ignores changes occurring in other species, and in the organism’s environment;

(vii) Nilsson and Pelger’s estimate isn’t computationally realistic: it assumes a very smooth fitness landscape, as Dov Rhodes demonstrated in a 2007 physics thesis which addressed their 1994 paper;

(viii) Nilsson and Pelger’s estimate isn’t genetically plausible: it says nothing about the genetic changes required to produce an eye;

(ix) Nilsson and Pelger’s estimate isn’t plausible at the embryological level.The authors fail to address the question of how the changes required to produce an eye would have impacted the embryonic development of organisms that were evolving this eye. Organisms’ developmental pathways are extremely fragile, especially in the early stages;

(x) Nilsson and Pelger’s model isn’t plausible at the biochemical level: it fails to address the biochemical changes that must have occurred in the eye, during its evolution from a light-sensitive spot to a vertebrate eye, citing only a brief reference to the literature on the subject. In fact, the various proteins that were involved in the evolution of the eye are not readily inter-convertible. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the alpha crystallins present in the crystalline lens of the vertebrate eye could ever have naturally evolved into beta-gamma crystallins, which belong to an entirely different family. Likewise, it is doubtful whether the three families of crystallins (J1, J2, and J3) found in the eyes of cubozoan jellyfish could have developed from a common molecule without intelligent guidance.

Summing up my findings, I wrote:

I conclude, then, that the 364,000-year estimate proposed by Nilsson and Pelger for the evolution of the eye is not a biologically realistic one: it applies only to a “toy” world where one structure can simply transform itself by imperceptible degrees into another. But without this estimate, the whole foundation for the Darwinian claim that the evolution of the vertebrate eye from a light-sensitive spot is a plausible occurrence collapses. All we are left with is theoretical possibility. And that, as we have seen, isn’t enough to make Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection a proper scientific theory.

Professor Jerry Coyne has some further critical comments in his post on the “12 Days of Evolution” video:

The video’s claim that eyes have evolved independently 50-100 times is dubious. It depends on what you mean by “eyes,” for eyes from insects to humans have co-opted on the same controlling gene (Pax6), so at least that bit isn’t independent. If you mean “the structure of the eye”, then yes, those structures have evolved independently several times, but I don’t think it’s 50-100.

What do readers think? Comments are welcome.

17 Replies to “The 12 Days of Evolution mangles the evolution of the eye

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    Sometimes modern science passes people by and they prefer to remain ensconced in the comfortable myths of the past.

    Eventually, though, they are seen for what they are. The facts are the facts and truth will prevail.

  2. 2
    Mapou says:

    Joe Hanson, Ph.D. (Biology):

    That kind of complexity, rather than overthrowing Darwin’s theory, is proof of its power.

    Only Darwinists can take total failure and package it as success. This is a sign of a festering pathology, a sign of serious and widespread intellectual incest. This is what happens when you severely limit the meme pool. Monstrous offsprings are born unto us while the proud parents pretend that the extra eyes and fish-like skin are normal.

  3. 3
    News says:

    The world is dividing between those for whom evidence and fact matter and those for whom narrative and spin matter.

    PBS evidently believes that its audience are the latter.

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    This is what happens when you severely limit the meme pool. Monstrous offsprings are born unto us while the proud parents pretend that the extra eyes and fish-like skin are normal.

    Inbreeding, not Random Genetic Drift.

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    Did the fossils, genes, anatomy say eyes evolved and 50 times??
    I bet they didn’t say one word.
    Why invoke these witnesses if tiny steps easily should persuade one of making eyes.
    I bet the computer simulation was created by someone with eyes and a eye to design.

    PBS is desperate to persuade people about evolution because of the modern iD/YEC revolution in taking on evolutionism and having great numbers who don’t believe in evolution even after a monopoly on reaching audiences and with big budgets.
    Equal time would cripple evolution support in North america(outside quebec)
    I think they know this too.
    Equal time on PBS or no money from creationists and fair play viewers.

  6. 6
    RexTugwell says:

    Evolution in silico, for the most part, is useless and meant only to continue to fool the gullible. Behe has already shown the limits of Darwinian evolution. Hindsight is 20/20; is it not? “Look what we did! We evolved an eye in 1829 easy steps!” Yawn

    What I’d like to see these wizards do is continue running their little computer simulation and show us what the camera eye will look like in the next 350,000 generations. Let’s add some selective pressure, say the light from the sun shifts to the infrared part of the spectrum. Surely if nature can evolve a light-sensitive spot to a camera eye in less than 2,000 steps, it will have corrected the inverted retina and eliminated the blind spot in the next phase of our evolution.

    Please show us how this might be done in your computer simulation via genetic, biochemical and anatomical evolution by slight, successive variations.

    Perpetuating the Darwinian myth with a vivid imagination on the taxpayer’s dime: It’s good work if you can get it.

  7. 7
    Zachriel says:

    vjtoryley: (i) the model of eye evolution referred to in the video, which was developed in 1994 by Dr. Dan-Eric Nilsson and Dr. Susanne Pelger of Lund University in Sweden, was not a computer simulation

    It’s more properly considered a model, not a simulation.

    vjtoryley: (ii) I contacted Professor Nilsson back in 2013, and asked him about the 1994 paper he co-authored with Susanne Pelger, and he admitted that the model which he and Pelger had developed was actually an intelligently guided evolutionary sequence, and that the variations in the model, while gradualistic, were not random;

    The non-randomness is clear from the paper. They looked for selectable steps.

    vjtoryley: (iv) Nilsson and Pelger explicitly acknowledge in the final paragraph of their paper that their 364,000-year estimate was never meant to be a realistic one, and applies to a hypothetical situation in which “selection for eye geometry and optical structures imposed the only limit”;

    That’s correct. The assumption is that if a selectable pathway exists, it will be followed.

    vjtoryley: (vii) Nilsson and Pelger’s estimate isn’t computationally realistic: it assumes a very smooth fitness landscape, as Dov Rhodes demonstrated in a 2007 physics thesis which addressed their 1994 paper;

    That’s not quite the objection. The pathway in Nilsson & Pelger is smooth, but Rhodes points out that some alternative pathways may lead to local peaks that act as dead ends. Rhodes uses small populations, so the simulation is much more likely to dead end, but includes recombination, which limits this problem somewhat.

    Rhodes determines that it should take 1.8 million generations, which he arbitrarily increases to 18 million generations. Is this your final answer?

    vjtoryley: (viii) Nilsson and Pelger’s estimate isn’t genetically plausible: it says nothing about the genetic changes required to produce an eye; (ix) Nilsson and Pelger’s estimate isn’t plausible at the embryological level.

    Nilsson & Pelger assume small physical changes well within the norms of natural variation.

    vjtoryley: (x) Nilsson and Pelger’s model isn’t plausible at the biochemical level:

    Nilsson & Pelger’s model doesn’t require any biochemical changes.

    vjtoryley: It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the alpha crystallins present in the crystalline lens of the vertebrate eye could ever have naturally evolved into beta-gamma crystallins, which belong to an entirely different family.

    While beta and gamma crystallins are in the same superfamily, alpha crystallins are not. The intermediate between beta and gamma crystallins has been found. See Wistow, gammaN-crystallin and the evolution of the betagamma-crystallin superfamily in vertebrates, FEBS Journal 2005. Alpha crystallins evolved from primitive heat shock proteins.

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    vjtorley: (i) the model … was not a computer simulation

    Zachriel: It’s more properly considered a model, not a simulation.

    Zachriel at his finest.

    Merry Christmas Zachriel.

  9. 9
    Zachriel says:

    Mung: Zachriel: It’s more properly considered a model, not a simulation.

    vjtorley: (i) the model of eye evolution referred to in the video, which was developed in 1994 by Dr. Dan-Eric Nilsson and Dr. Susanne Pelger of Lund University in Sweden, was not a computer simulation, as Dr. David Berlinski has previously pointed out

    Zachriel pointed out that vjtorley pointed out that Berlinski pointed out that’s it was a model — even though it says right in the paper that it’s a model. Glad everyone is on the same page with that.

    Have a safe and happy Christmas holiday, Mung.
    http://crooksandliars.com/2015.....mas-carols

  10. 10
    RexTugwell says:

    Zachriel, simulation is the proper term for what the computer did

  11. 11
    Virgil Cain says:

    Zachriel:

    It’s more properly considered a model, not a simulation.

    Except it isn’t even a model.

    The assumption is that if a selectable pathway exists, it will be followed.

    No one can show any pathway, selectable or not, exists.

    Nilsson & Pelger’s model doesn’t require any biochemical changes.

    Which is why it isn’t a model- meaning it doesn’t model biology. Only someone very ignorant of biology would think the evolution of a vision system didn’t require biochemical changes.

    As I said- it is amazing at the low level of “evidence” evos will accept as long as they think it somehow supports their position.

  12. 12
    Zachriel says:

    RexTugwell: Zachriel, simulation is the proper term for what the computer did

    Nilsson has explicitly stated it is not a simulation. It’s a mathematical model.

    Prof. Dan-E. Nilsson: “my paper with Pelger has been incorrectly quoted as containing a computer simulation of eye evolution.”
    http://www.talkreason.org/arti.....d.cfm#lund

  13. 13
    RexTugwell says:

    Yes I know what Prof. Dan-E. Nilsson explicitly stated. However, neither of you knows the difference between a model and a simulation.

    Merry Christmas

  14. 14
    Mung says:

    It’s a simulation of a model that is a model of a simulation.

  15. 15
    Virgil Cain says:

    It’s a mathematical model.

    A mathematical model of something that cannot be modeled by math. Got it.

  16. 16
    OldArmy94 says:

    “The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder.”

  17. 17
    Mung says:

    Which eye gives you cold shudders?

    The eye has evolved billions of times. Proof of God’s intent to give sight to the blind, whoever they may be.

Leave a Reply