Tag Archives: Design

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.

Excerpt:

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.

Biomimetics: scientists making discoveries using God’s designs in nature

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

Well, scientists are still gaining insights from God’s book of nature.

Evolution News reports on the latest:

Pure science seeks understanding of “the nature of nature” and its operations. Applied science takes the insights from pure research and makes it work for human interests. What if you had a single word that incorporates both? Here’s a contender for such a word: Biomimetics. The application side is clear, because engineers and inventors try to imitate nature’s designs. But the pure-research side becomes active in the process, because you have to understand something before you can imitate it. This is a win-win bonanza for 21st-century science, and intelligent design, if not by that name, is at the center of it.

They list the following areas where scientists borrowed from God’s designs in nature to make scientific progress:

  • drug discovery (Nature Communications)
  • artificial muscles (American Institute of Physics)
  • robotics (Engineering at Illinois News)
  • drones (Live Science and New Scientist)
  • crop pollination (New Scientist)
  • ceramics (Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science)
  • more ceramics (Nature Communications)
  • clothing (American Chemical Society)
  • more clothing (Phys.org)
  • more robotics (Public Library of Science)

Naturally, I chose the bird example for this blog post, because I love birds more than any creature – especially parrots.

This time it’s peacocks and peahens:

Peacock dye. The American Chemical Society is involved in the gold rush, too, excited to announce that “Peacock colors inspire [a] greener way to dye clothes.” The iridescent colors of birds and butterflies come not from pigments, but from geometric structures at the nanoscopic level that intensify certain wavelengths of light. Everyone from fashion designers to parents to the EPA will be happy to learn about better dyes inspired by peacock feathers. “Testing showed the method could produce the full spectrum of colors, which remained bright even after washing,” an ACS team said. “In addition, the team said that the technique did not produce contaminants that could pollute nearby water.”

Amazing that some people just go about their lives ignorant and oblivious to the design that’s all around them. Then again, if they thought about who made these designs, it might interfere with their pursuit of pleasure. Maybe they just shut out the evidence so they can keeping being the boss of their own lives, and never take responsibility for their moral choices?

Romans 1:18-21:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

See the related posts below for more posts on biomimetics.

Related posts

Stephen C. Meyer and Doug Axe discuss 5 major problems with macro-evolution

Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed
Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed

The host of the Cross Examined radio show Dr. Frank Turek talks with Stephen C. Meyer and Doug Axe about a recent conference of Royal Society scientists discussing the problems with the theory of macro-evolution.

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • about the Royal Society conference
  • the main topic was whether naturalistic mechanisms can produce new body plans and new organ types
  • no one disputes micro-evolution: beaks changing size, antibiotic resistance
  • many of the naturalistic scientists admitted the problems with current naturalistic theories, but they don’t want to embrace the need for a designer
  • none of the proposals that were debated solved the real problems with macro-evolution
  • Problem #1: the sudden origin of body plans in the fossil record
  • Problem #2: the origin of information (e.g. – in protein molecule)
  • Problem #3: need for favorable early mutations (for body plans)
  • Problem #4: the problem of epigenetics
  • Problem #5: the universality of the design intuition

Some of these problems have actually gotten worse for naturalistic evolution as our scientific knowledge has grown.

If you want the two best books on intelligent design, get Dr. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”. I should note that Dr. Meyer is not a young Earth creationist, and has defended the Big Bang cosmology as a solid evidence for a Creator of the universe. Being in favor of an old universe and an old Earth is compatible with being opposed to evolution – because of scientific reasons.

New study: galactic habitable zone depends on fine-tuning of cosmological constant

The galactic habitable zone (GHZ) is shown in green against a spiral galaxy
The galactic habitable zone (GHZ) is shown in green superimposed on a spiral galaxy

This is going to be old news to readers of this blog who are familiar with the Michael Strauss, Walter Bradley and Guillermo Gonzalez lectures on habitability and fine-tuning. But, it’s nice to see these ideas show up in one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed science journals in the world (if not the most prestigious).

Here’s the article from Science. (H/T Gunter)

It says:

Scientists have known for several years now that stars, galaxies, and almost everything in the universe is moving away from us (and from everything else) at a faster and faster pace. Now, it turns out that the unknown forces behind the rate of this accelerating expansion—a mathematical value called the cosmological constant—may play a previously unexplored role in creating the right conditions for life.

That’s the conclusion of a group of physicists who studied the effects of massive cosmic explosions, called gamma ray bursts, on planets. They found that when it comes to growing life, it’s better to be far away from your neighbors—and the cosmological constant helps thin out the neighborhood.

“In dense environments, you have many explosions, and you’re too close to them,” says cosmologist and theoretical physicist Raul Jimenez of the University of Barcelona in Spain and an author on the new study. “It’s best to be in the outskirts, or in regions that have not been highly populated by small galaxies—and that’s exactly where the Milky Way is.”

Jimenez and his team had previously shown that gamma ray bursts could cause mass extinctions or make planets inhospitable to life by zapping them with radiation and destroying their ozone layer. The bursts channel the radiation into tight beams so powerful that one of them sweeping through a star system could wipe out planets in another galaxy. For their latest work, published this month in Physical Review Letters, they wanted to apply those findings on a broader scale and determine what type of universe would be most likely to support life.

The research is the latest investigation to touch on the so-called anthropic principle: the idea that in some sense the universe is tuned for the emergence of intelligent life. If the forces of nature were much stronger or weaker than physicists observe, proponents note, crucial building blocks of life—such fundamental particles, atoms, or the long-chain molecules needed for the chemistry of life—might not have formed, resulting in a sterile or even completely chaotic universe.

Basically, the best place for a galaxy that permits complex, embodied life to exist is one where you can pick up enough heavy elements from dying stars nearby, but not be in an area that is so crowded by stars that you will be murdered by intense gamma radiation when they die.

The cosmological constant has to be set just right that we spread out enough to make space between spiral arms for life-permitting solar systems, but no so spread out that we cannot pick up the heavy elements we need for a metal-rich star, a moon, and the bodies of the intelligent agents themselves.

More:

As it turns out, our universe seems to get it just about right. The existing cosmological constant means the rate of expansion is large enough that it minimizes planets’ exposure to gamma ray bursts, but small enough to form lots of hydrogen-burning stars around which life can exist. (A faster expansion rate would make it hard for gas clouds to collapse into stars.)

Jimenez says the expansion of the universe played a bigger role in creating habitable worlds than he expected. “It was surprising to me that you do need the cosmological constant to clear out the region and make it more suburbanlike,” he says.

Remember, this is only one of many characteristics that must obtain in order for a have a location in the universe that can support complex, embodied life of any conceivable kind.

Let’s review the big picture

Time for me to list out some of the things that are required for a galaxy, solar system and planet to support complex embodied life. Not just life as we know it, but life of any conceivable kind given these laws of physics.

  • a solar system with a single massive Sun than can serve as a long-lived, stable source of energy
  • a terrestrial planet (non-gaseous)
  • the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to preserve liquid water at the surface – if it’s too close, the water is burnt off in a runaway greenhouse effect, if it’s too far, the water is permanently frozen in a runaway glaciation
  • the solar system must be placed at the right place in the galaxy – not too near dangerous radiation, but close enough to other stars to be able to absorb heavy elements after neighboring stars die
  • a moon of sufficient mass to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s rotation
  • plate tectonics
  • an oxygen-rich atmosphere
  • a sweeper planet to deflect comets, etc.
  • planetary neighbors must have non-eccentric orbits

It’s not easy to make a planet that supports life. For those who are interested in reaching out to God, he has left us an abundance of evidence for his existence – and his attention to detail.

And remember, these requirements for a habitable planet are downstream from the cosmic fine-tuning of constants and quantities that occurs at the Big Bang. No point in talking about the need for plate tectonics if you only have hydrogen in your universe. The habitability requirements are a further problem that comes after the fine-tuning problem.

Resources

The best book to read on this topic is “The Privileged Planet“, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. The latter is one of my absolute favorite Christian scholars, a real renaissance man. If the book is too much, there is a DVD by the same name that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Just FYI, Gonzalez made the cover of Scientific American in 2001, for his research on habitable zones. This is real evidence you can discuss with anyone, anywhere.

You can also watch the DVD for FREE on YouTube. Not sure how long that will be there. If you like it, buy the DVD, so you can show your friends.

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New study: birds are as intelligent as macaques and other mammals

Cockatiel lets a trusted friend see her wing
Female cockatiel lets a trusted friend spread her wing for inspection

Evolution News reports on a new study about my favorite creatures of all: birds!

It says:

Next time someone calls you a birdbrain, smile and say “thank you.” Our feathered friends come well equipped with hardware and software for complex behaviors. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences puts birds on par with macaques and other mammals, and even suggests they can think.

Here’s what the news from Vanderbilt University says about the results of a detailed study by researchers primarily from the University of Prague, with additional team members from Austria, Brazil, and the United States:

The macaw has a brain the size of an unshelled walnut, while the macaque monkey has a brain about the size of a lemon. Nevertheless, the macaw has more neurons in its forebrain — the portion of the brain associated with intelligent behavior — than the macaque.

That is one of the surprising results of the first study to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of more than two dozen species of birds ranging in size from the tiny zebra finch to the six-foot-tall emu, which found that theyconsistently have more neurons packed into their small brainsthan are stuffed into mammalian or even primate brains of the same mass. [Emphasis added.]

How is this possible? The answer includes miniaturization and efficient packaging:

That is possible because the neurons in avian brains are much smaller and more densely packed than those in mammalian brains, the study found. Parrot and songbird brains, for example, contain about twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass and two to four times as many neurons as equivalent rodent brains.

Not only are neurons packed into the brains of parrots and crows at a much higher density than in primate brains, but the proportion of neurons in the forebrain is also significantly higher, the study found.

The scientists note that even despised birds like pigeons show much the same brain power. Powered flight, obviously, takes a lot of hardware and software to operate in any bird; how much so in the supreme flyers Illustra Media showed in Flight: The Genius of Birds: starlings, Arctic terns, and especially the tiny hummingbirds? […]The small heads of birds belie the observations of complex behaviors they perform.

But it’s not just routine tasks the brains must perform. Some birds can remember where they stored hundreds of seeds. Birds have been observed to hide a seed while another bird is watching, then move it when the neighbor is gone — indicative of a possible ‘theory of mind’ that shows planning and recognizing what the other bird is thinking.

The study provides a straightforward answer to a puzzle that comparative neuroanatomists have been wrestling with for more than a decade: how can birds with their small brains perform complicated cognitive behaviors?

The conundrum was created by a series of studies beginning in the previous decade that directly compared the cognitive abilities of parrots and crows with those of primates. The studies found that the birds could manufacture and use tools, use insight to solve problems, make inferences about cause-effect relationships,recognize themselves in a mirror and plan for future needs, among other cognitive skills previously considered the exclusive domain of primates.

Indeed, crows have shown the ability to solve a puzzle made famous in an Aesop’s fable (Reuters): dropping stones in a pitcher to raise the water level in order to get a drink. New Caledonian crows have shown the ability to use three tools in succession to reach a food source (BBC News). Owners of parrots know the cleverness of their pets; their ability to mimic human speech and singing is astonishing. Some cockatiels can even do the Riverdance.

I love cockatiels and green cheek conures, they are my absolute favorite birds. Absolutely adorable creatures!

Anyway, the rest of the Evolution News post notes that this intelligence is a problem for naturalistic evolution. Specifically, it’s a convergence problem – the same capabilities being evolved independently, without recent shared common ancestry. How can birds and mammals, who don’t share recent common ancestors, have evolved the same capabilities, e.g. – vocal learning pathways, by chance? There is an explanation that does explain the observations, however – common designs made by a single designer.

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