New study: scientists discover that inverted retina / blind spot is not a “bad design”

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

Here’s what atheist Richard Dawkins says about the inverted retina:

Any engineer would naturally assume that the photocells would point towards the light, with their wires leading backwards towards the brain. He would laugh at any suggestion that the photocells might point away from the light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate eyes. Each photocell is, in effect, wired in backwards, with its wires sticking out on the side nearest to the light. This means that the light, instead of being granted an unrestricted passage to the photocells, has to pass through a forest of connecting wires, presumably suffering at least some attenuation and distortion (actually probably not much but, still, it is the principle of the thing that would offend any tidy-minded engineer!)

Source: Dawkins, Richard (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. London: Penguin Books; pp. 93-94.

Now let’s look at a new study reported in Science Daily.

They write:

From a practical standpoint, the wiring of the human eye — a product of our evolutionary baggage — doesn’t make a lot of sense. In vertebrates, photoreceptors are located behind the neurons in the back of the eye — resulting in light scattering by the nervous fibers and blurring of our vision. Recently, researchers at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology have confirmed the biological purpose for this seemingly counterintuitive setup.

“The retina is not just the simple detector and neural image processor, as believed until today,” said Erez Ribak, a professor at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. “Its optical structure is optimized for our vision purposes.” Ribak and his co-authors will describe their work during the 2015 American Physical Society March Meeting, on Thursday, March 5 in San Antonio, Texas.

Ribak’s interest in the optical structure of the retina stems from his previous work applying astrophysics and astronomy techniques to improve the ability of scientists and ophthalmologists to view the retina at high detail.

Previous experiments with mice had suggested that Müller glia cells, a type of metabolic cell that crosses the retina, play an essential role in guiding and focusing light scattered throughout the retina. To test this, Ribak and his colleagues ran computer simulations and in-vitro experiments in a mouse model to determine whether colors would be concentrated in these metabolic cells. They then used confocal microscopy to produce three-dimensional views of the retinal tissue, and found that the cells were indeed concentrating light into the photoreceptors.

“For the first time, we’ve explained why the retina is built backwards, with the neurons in front of the photoreceptors, rather than behind them,” Ribak said.

You can read more on some other reasons why the inverted retina is not a bad design in this article by agnostic scientist Michael Denton. But this study is a good reminder of why Christians need to keep up with science and how we need to talk about science.

The importance of having a narrative

All Christians should be familiar with the following basic pieces of evidence which fit the war between science and naturalism narrative:

  1. The origin of the universe
  2. The cosmic fine-tuning
  3. The origin of life (biological information)
  4. The sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla
  5. The habitability/observability correlation

It’s very important to present these five basic evidences to non-Christians in the historical context. And here is the story you must tell: “In the beginning, there was the naturalism, and the naturalism tried to argue from ignorance that God was not Creator and God was not Designer. And then came the science, and now people have to give up their naturalism in order to not be crazy and irrational”. That’s the narrative you use when talking to non-Christians about science.

In the beginning was the naturalism:

  1. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the universe was eternal
  2. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that a life-permitting universe was as likely as a life-prohibiting universe
  3. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the cell was a simple blob of jello that could spontaneously emerge in some warm pond
  4. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla would be explained by subsequent fossil discoveries
  5. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that there was nothing special about our galaxy, solar system, planet or moon

But then science progressed by doing experiments and making observations.

Here are some examples of discoveries that undermined the primitive atheism:

  1. Scientists discovered redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation (evidence for a cosmic beginning) and more!
  2. Scientists discovered the fine-tuning of gravity and of the cosmological constant and more!
  3. Scientists discovered protein sequencing and exposed the myth of “junk DNA” and more!
  4. Scientists discovered an even shorter Cambrian explosion period and the absence of precursor fossils and more!
  5. Scientists discovered galactic habitable zones and circumstellar habitable zones and more!

Atheism, as a worldview, is not rooted in an honest assessment about what science tells us about reality. Atheism is rooted in a religion: naturalism. And the troubling thing we learn from looking at the history of science is that this religion of naturalism is insulated from correction from the progress of science. Nothing that science reveals about nature seems to be able to put a dent in the religion of naturalism, at least for most atheists. Their belief in naturalism is so strong that it repels all scientific evidence that falsifies it. Atheists simply don’t let science inform and correct their worldview.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

6 thoughts on “New study: scientists discover that inverted retina / blind spot is not a “bad design””

  1. The eye-bit, I’m fine with. I’m not sure I really get it in full detail, and I’m not sure why it isn’t an account of evolution doing a good job of making do. But I won’t fall into the same trap I have before, or that Dawkins did back in ’86 of assuming my intuition of how an eye should function is actually how an eye should function.
    So, nice big question mark over that bit of “bad design”.

    But, what about the rest of it? You call naturalism a religion. You cite times atheists’ have had their views overturned and simultaneously argue they don’t change their mind… which is it?

    And, more over, how do you know those atheists who are ontological naturalists* wouldn’t change their mind if naturalism were falsified? Because it hasn’t been, yet.

    * as opposed to methodological naturalists, or to atheists who have different ontologies and epistemology altogether.

    1. Religion is a worldview dealing with the nature, meaning or purpose of the universe. By that definition naturalism is a religion.

  2. I’ll keep my eye out for Ribak’s work. But it hasn’t been published yet. Nor does it seem to have an DOI number, denoting it’s acceptance somewhere.

  3. There is no such thing as bad design, only things that work and things that do not work. Some things only work in certain settings, or for certain people. But they still work, in context. And things that do not work tend not to last.

  4. It looks like secular scientists are finally catching up to creation scientists on this issue. Creationists have published on the superiority of the human retina design years ago.


    The supposed “bad design” of the human retina joins a long list of debunked atheist arguments, including the many “vestigial organs,” “junk DNA,” and the idea that embryos replay their evolutionary history during development. The list of evolutionary just-so stories is quite long, but most have been thoroughly proven to be the myths they are by good science.

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