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Inverted Retinae and Other Funny Stories

F. C. Kuechmann

The True.Hogwash, an irrational reaction to, but not affiliated with, the Talk.Origins Archive, increasingly specializes in reprinting material from such esteemed publications as "Cretinism Is Nothing" Technical Journal, a pretentious pile of nonsense published by Answers in Genesis.  The republished material comprises a form of comedy so subtle one must usually read the material several times in order to fully grasp its underlying hilarity. Jonathan Swift, himself, who thought Irish babies would make great gourmet food, would be impressed.

One of the more recently posted "True.Hogwash Archive" examples of this outstanding humor is the article titled Is Our "Inverted" Retina Really "Bad Design"? [© 1999 by Answers in Genesis] by Peter W. V. Gurney, a theistic and apparently YEC British ophthalmologist with seemingly legitimate credentials and pedigree, The article first appeared in Vol. 13, No. 1 of the "Cretinism Is Nothing" Technical Journal.

Ophthalmologist Gurney's abstract immediately sets the theme and tone when it informs us that "...the vertebrate retina ... has long been the butt of derision by evolutionists who claim that it is inefficient, and therefore evidence against design." The humor here is that the inverted retina argument, so far as I can determine, first appeared in Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker in 1986 and has been noted and repeated mainly by creationists ever since. Only a creationist or a child would regard 14 years as a long time, and creationists consistently demonstrate a tendency to mistake the echoes of their own voices for the voices of others.

The author next informs us that "... the need for protection of the retina against the injurious effects of light ... and of the heat generated by focused light necessitates the inverted configuration of the retina ...".

The article that follows conforms to the familiar creationist template, with many diagrams and 53 endnotes, most citing legitimate noncreationist sources but also including at least two notes [Nos 21 and 53] referencing a previous Cretinism Is Nothing article, Seeing back to front: Are evolutionists right when they say our eyes are wired the wrong way?, by chief banana bender Dr Carl Wieland. A Wieland cite or three seems to be part of the price of admission to the Cretinism Is Nothing mutual foot-kissing and back-scratching society. Legitimate sources range from the popular magazine Discover to the Encyclopędia Britannica; from textbooks such as Foundations of Clinical Ophthalmology to noted professional journals like Retina, Exp. Eye Res., Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci, Am. J. Ophthalmol., Clinical Ophthalmology, Eye, and Trans. Ophthalmol. Soc. UK. Note 2 cites Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker, which gives Gurney a leg-up on Wieland's aforementioned "Seeing back to front" piece and its use of secondary sources only.

Gurney's introductory paragraph restates the monotonous assertion that "Evolutionists frequently maintain that the vertebrate retina ... appears to be less than ideal. They refer to the fact that for light to reach the photoreceptors it has to pass through the bulk of the retina's neural apparatus ..." The article then describes the structure of the human eye in painful detail, attempting to show how the existing configuration minimizes light-induced damage and repairs that which does incur.

If we ignore the fact that light exposure does significantly damage the eye by causing formation of cataracts despite the configuration of the retina, at a superficial level Gurney's argument seems sensible enough, but let's step back and look at the "big picture".

Creationists such as Gurney would have us believe that our eyes were designed by the "Big Guy in the Sky" in order to minimize damage from the environment.  And at the same time they want us to think that Big Guy"made the environment, too.

Big Guy made all the blue and ultraviolet light in the first place, and then, in order to demonstrate his fine sense of humor, Big Guy designed the eyes of vertebrates using materials that are harmed by that light. Big Guy gave us corneas and retinae that are damaged by light he also created. He designed things such that focused light heats the retina, then gave that retina a high blood flow to carry off the heat. Meantime he forgot to protect the cornea from ultraviolet-induced cataracts, and did nothing about skin cancer caused by UV.

Perhaps I'm being presumptuous, but I'd think an omnipotent, all-knowing designer could put things together such that eyes aren't harmed by light, nor light cause cancer. If such a being can't arrange things thus, it isn't omnipotent (reductio ad absurdum); if it could but obviously didn't, why should I kiss its ass and praise it?

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