Are human bodies poorly designed? Is the human retina a bad design?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

I think this “sub-optimal” argument against a Designer is stupid, because designs are always trade-offs between different quality goals, but just to put this one to bed, here is Evolution News.


Now a new paper in Nature Communications, “Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision,” has expanded upon this research, further showing the eye’s optimal design. According to the paper, Müller cells not only act as optical fibers to direct incoming light through the optic nerve, but are fine-tuned to specific wavelengths to ensure that light reaches the proper retinal cells. From the Abstract:

Vision starts with the absorption of light by the retinal photoreceptors — cones and rods. However, due to the ‘inverted’ structure of the retina, the incident light must propagate through reflecting and scattering cellular layers before reaching the photoreceptors. It has been recently suggested that Müller cells function as optical fibres in the retina, transferring light illuminating the retinal surface onto the cone photoreceptors. Here we show that Müller cells are wavelength-dependent wave-guides, concentrating the green-red part of the visible spectrum onto cones and allowing the blue-purple part to leak onto nearby rods. This phenomenon is observed in the isolated retina and explained by a computational model, for the guinea pig and the human parafoveal retina. Therefore, light propagation by Müller cells through the retina can be considered as an integral part of the first step in the visual process, increasing photon absorption by cones while minimally affecting rod-mediated vision.

(Amichai M. Labin, Shadi K. Safuri, Erez N. Ribak, and Ido Perlman, “Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision,” Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5319 (July 8, 2014).)

The paper presents Müller cells as a direct answer to the view that the vertebrate eye has a suboptimal wiring:

[T]he mammalian retina and the peripheral retina of humans and primates are organized in a seemingly reverse order with respect to the light path. This arrangement places the photoreceptors, responsible for light absorption, as the last cells in the path of light, rather than the first. Therefore, the incident light must propagate through five reflecting and scattering layers of cell bodies and neural processes before reaching the photoreceptors. This ‘inverted’ retinal structure is expected to cause blurring of the image and reduction in the photon flux reaching the photoreceptors, thus reducing their sensitivity. It has been recently reported that retinal Müller cells act as light guides serving to transfer light across the retina, from the vitreo-retinal border towards the photoreceptors.

I just had someone push this idea that human beings are badly designed as a response to the cosmic fine-tuning argument of all things. Her list of objections was all speculations (multiverse, aliense, design of humans could be better).

This argument that humans are poorly designed strikes me as literally insane. But since this argument is still in use, I guess I had better say something.

First, the argument assumes that the designer of human beings has to design for our comfort and pleasure. Apparently, God – if he were to exist – would be obligated to design creatures who never got sick, never grew old, and never suffered at all. This makes sense to atheists, for some reason – that the God of the universe has to create creatures that last forever and never suffer. There is this perception out there among atheists and very small narcissistic children (but I repeat myself) that God should be our cosmic butler, waiting at our beck and call to do whatever makes us happiest. From the Christian perspective, this is nonsense. Human beings only think about ultimate questions because, as C.S. Lewis wrote, we suffer pain and have limited lifespans. If were designed to be happy and live forever, we would never think about a relationship with God. By nature, humans want to avoid God, because we don’t want to be accountable to him for our rebellion against him and the harm we cause by disobeying the moral law.

The second problem with the argument from imperfection is that it has no understanding of how engineers work in practice. Engineers are used to trading off non-functional requirements against each other. If the laptop has a fast processor, then it runs hotter. If the laptop has great battery life, it’s heavier because of the larger battery. If the laptop has lots of memory, it costs more to buy. There is no way to get every design goal met because they conflict with each other.

Sometimes, I think that atheists are just little children who have stopped growing in maturity and wisdom. I once heard one particularly stupid atheist in a debate claim that his belief in God had ended when he asked God to help him find his cricket bat, and God had not cosmic butlered to his satisfaction. This happened when the atheist was a child, of course. And this is when most atheists become atheists. It’s not a conclusion that is reached for intellectual reasons. It’s just multiverse, aliens, science fiction, and sexual immorality all the way down. Give me what I want when I want it, and don’t judge me for being self-centered and immoral.

One thought on “Are human bodies poorly designed? Is the human retina a bad design?”

  1. It is true that atheists never bother to understand or care that the God of the bible demands that we live a certain way and it is not always what we want, and what feels best that will guide a Christian. No minimal entry standard for entry to heaven will ever be found, because all God teaches is how to excel and minimize pain and hardship we cause to ourselves and the rest of the world

    To live is Christ and die is gain goes against all that the world believes

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