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This article is from
Creation 31(1):45–47, December 2008

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Fibre optics in eye demolish atheistic ‘bad design’ argument

Diagram showing the layers of the retina (modified from Brash J.C. [ed.], 1951. Cunningham’s Textbook of Anatomy, p. 1169, by permission of Oxford University Press, Oxford).


This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 31(1):45–47.

Backwardly wired retina?

One of the tired old canards on which antitheists have dined out for years is the claim that our eye is stupidly wired back to front, something no decent designer would use. E.g. the vociferous misotheist and eugenicist Clinton R. Dawkins said in his famous book, The Blind Watchmaker:

‘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 retinas. Each photocell is, in effect, wired in backwards, with its wire sticking out on the side nearest the light. The wire has to travel over the surface of the retina to a point where it dives through a hole in the retina (the so-called ‘blind spot’) to join the optic nerve. 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). I don’t know the exact explanation for this strange state of affairs. The relevant period of evolution is so long ago.’

Other anticreationists such as Kenneth Miller parrot the same sort of argument (see Refuting Evolution 2, ch. 7: Bad design is evidence of leftovers from evolution?)

Theology trumps science after all?

For all the cant about creationists using theology rather than science, notice that Dawkins was really using a theological argument rather than a scientific one. I.e. he was claiming that a designer wouldn’t design something like this, rather than scientifically demonstrating evolution (cf. Rats! A toothless argument for evolution). After all, he admitted to ignorance of an evolutionary explanation.

This is not surprising—the computer simulation he touts as proof for eye evolution starts with the nerve behind the light-sensitive spot. The vertebrate eye has the nerves in front of the photoreceptors, while the evolutionary just-so story provides no transitions from behind to in front, with all the other complex coordinated changes that would have to occur as well.1

Ophthalmologists obliterate obfuscation

However, ophthalmologists have denounced Dawkins’ claim repeatedly. E.g. George Marshall, the Sir Jules Thorn Lecturer in Ophthalmic Science, stated in reply to Dawkins:

‘The idea that the eye is wired backward comes from a lack of knowledge of eye function and anatomy.’2

Dr Marshall explains that the nerves could not go behind the eye, because that space is reserved for the choroid, which provides the rich blood supply needed for the very metabolically active retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This is necessary to regenerate the photoreceptors, and to absorb excess heat. So it is necessary for the nerves to go in front instead.

It’s important to note that the ‘superior’ design of Dawkins with the nerves behind the photoreceptors would require either:

  1. The choroid in front of the retina—but the choroid is opaque because of all the red blood cells, so this design would be as useless as an eye with a hemorrhage!
  2. Photoreceptors not in contact with the RPE and choroid at all—but the photoreceptors would be slow to regenerate, so it would probably take months before we could drive after we were photographed with a flashbulb, as another ophthalmologist, Joseph Calkins, points out.3
  3. Another creationist ophthalmologist, Dr Peter Gurney in a detailed article, pointed out all the above with the RPE, but pointed out another use: extracting excess heat.4

However, in the evolutionists’ fantasy world, it is only natural to take the word of evolutionists totally lacking in ophthalmology qualifications over creationist experts in ophthalmology, when the issue is ophthalmology.

PNAS 104(20):8287–8292, 15 May 2007 Müller Glial Cells.
Müller glial cells act as living optical fibers, transporting light through the inverted retina of vertebrates. With their funnel-shaped endfeet, Müller cells collect light at the retinal surface and guide it to photoreceptor cells on the opposite side. Images are thus transmitted through optically distorting tissue.
Click here for larger view

Eye works well

The above section shows that inverted wiring is necessary for vertebrate eyes to work—but that is the direct opposite of what evolutionists claim would be the ‘correct’ wiring. Note that the evolutionists’ claim is actually undercut by their own assessment of squid eyes, which despite being ‘wired correctly’, don’t see as well as vertebrate eyes, according to the evolutionists themselves.5,6

Interestingly, anyone with excellent eyesight is said to have ‘eyes like a hawk’, which are ‘backwardly wired’, not ‘eyes like a squid’.

The excellent sight provided by these allegedly ‘wrongly wired’ eyes makes Dawkins’ objection absurd even on the face of it. Surely if something works well, it is crass to whinge at alleged design faults. However, the precise reason for its excellent working was discovered only this year, as will be shown next.

Optic fibre plate

Dawkins’ claim that the nerves obstruct the light has been falsified by very new research by scientists at Leipzig University. They showed that the vertebrate eye has an ingenious feature that overcomes even the slight disadvantage of nerves in front of the light receptors.7

The light is collected and funnelled through the nerve net to the receptors by the Müller cells, which act as optical fibres. Each cone cell has one Müller cell guiding the light to it, while several rods can share the same Müller cell.

The Müller cells work almost exactly like a fibre optic plate that optical engineers can use to transmit an image with low-distortion without using a lens. The cells even have the right variation in refractive index for ‘image transfer through the vertebrate retina with minimal distortion and low loss.’


Indeed, Müller cells are even better than optical fibres, because they are funnel-shaped, which collects more light for the receptors. The wide entrances to Müller cells cover the entire surface of the retina, so collect the maximum amount of light.

One of the research team, Andreas Reichenbach, commented:

‘Nature is so clever. This means there is enough room in the eye for all the neurons and synapses and so on, but still the Müller cells can capture and transmit as much light as possible.’8


Not only is the inverted wiring of our eyes a good design, necessary for proper functioning, it is also coordinated with an ingenious fibre optic plate. So the vertebrate eye has the advantage of a rich blood supply behind the receptors without the disadvantage of nerves blocking out light. Such fine coordination of parts makes sense with a Master Coordinator, while it’s a puzzle for evolutionists.


  1. Vij Sodera points this out in One Small Speck to Man: The Evolution Myth, Vija Sodera Productions, West Sussex, United Kingdom, pp. 292–302, 2003. Return to Text.
  2. Marshall, G. (interviewee), An eye for creation, Creation 18:19–21, 1996; . Return to Text.
  3. Calkins, J.L., 1992. Design in the Human Eye. Bible-Science News, January, pp. 6–8. Return to Text.
  4. Gurney, P., Is our ‘inverted’ retina really ‘bad design’? Journal of Creation 13(1):37–44, 1999; . Return to Text.
  5. Squid eyes are really a ‘compound eye with a single lens’, and its structure ‘is much simpler than in the vertebrate eye’. Budelmann, B.U., Cephalopod sense organs, nerves and brain, 1994. In Pörtner, H.O., O’Dor, R.J. and Macmillan, D.L., ed., Physiology of cephalopod molluscs: lifestyle and performance adaptations, Gordon and Breach, Basel, Switzerland, p. 15, 1994. Return to Text.
  6. Squid eyes are said to merely ‘approach some of the lower vertebrate eyes in efficiency.’ Mollusks, Encyclopædia Britannica 24:296–322, 15th ed., 1992; quote on p. 321. Return to Text.
  7. Franze et al., Müller cells are living optical fibers in the vertebrate retina, Proc. National Academy of Sciences USA 104(20):8287–8292, 15 May 2007 | 10.1073/pnas.0611180104, published online before print 7 May 2007; . Return to Text.
  8. Sheriff, L., Living optical fibres found in the eye: Moving light past all those synapses, The Register, 1 May 2007; . Return to Text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Evolution
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $12.00
Soft Cover
Refuting Evolution 2, updated
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $14.00
Soft Cover
The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $8.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Gavin B.
I found it quite ironic that one of the researcher who discovered the Muller cells said, "Nature is so clever". So when they find evidence that suggests a complexity which clearly indicates intelligent design, they respond by saying that "nature is so clever". How clever can nature get?
Michaelantonio L.
It's amazing to me that none of this incredible information is broadcast by anyone in the mainstream media.
The poor masses are fed ONLY a steady diet of climate change alarmist garbage & the alleged exclusivity & supremacy of Godless evolution. They refuse to allow any other ideas to be explored in our society or classrooms, no matter how well examined & plausible the concepts may be. They will use any tactic to destroy the idea that there is something else to consider, & their ideas may be flawed & illogical at their very core.

I was recently appalled at the guest appearance of a 19 year old science student on the HBO Bill Maher show, as this young person was parroting the clarion calls of the far left & their philosophical pillars of evil. A majority of the guests & audience members were treating this child's words as gospel, while ridiculing the lone dissenter with an ignominy not seen since Noah & his foolish boat built miles away from any body of water.

It's as if SAYING their philosophies repeatedly can will them into the truth. Why bother expending your precious energy to provide due diligence for actual truth & real answers, when you can create a fantasy laden theory & bully the populace into walking lockstep with your humanistic ego maniacal doctrine of natural selection & big bangs(It sounds more like a beauty product in a hair salon).

It's laughable how predictable these fools are when you challenge them to exercise fairness in debate. For instance, they celebrate diversity, yet they shut down any competing argument or plan. We ask them for a voucher program to generate competition & improved education, but they will not hear of it. We know why they won't, because they prefer to corner the market on ideas, & keep everyone under their own indoctrination.
Jonathan Sarfati
See also this article that mentions Maher's scientific illiteracy: Dawkins’ Ironic Hypocrisy.
Ivan J.
“I don’t know the exact explanation for this strange state of affairs. The relevant period of evolution is so long ago.” Note the arrogance from Clinton R Dawkins … as if assuming absolute knowledge.
Jeremy W.
What is infuriating is not Mr Dawkins speaking about something he is not qualified to, nor is it the misrepresentation of information, no it is that Dawkins and other ‘truth’ speakers get plastered all over media and in our face while the real Truth is belittled and relegated to obscurity.
The same kind of misinformation and lies are spread for all kinds of moral and lifestyle issues like homosexuality and abortion.
Sigh … but such is the life of one who chooses real Truth, because if they hated Him, how much more will they do to us.
Hans G.
Every time I have to laugh when an evolutionist criticizes the creator God about a bad design. Is this admitting to a God, even a bad designing God? Or is it more a pointing to a bad design? And here is the joke: Bad design from God, but there is no God but still bad design … hmmm evolution, where are you …?
Joseph Allen K.
Great explanation and arguments presented by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati.

The complexity of the human eye should be enough to convince anyone to fall on their knees and both worship and thank our wonderful God.
Curtis C.
“Any engineer” obviously would NOT assume that the photoreceptors should point toward the light, because human engineers have been using the opposite design for a very long time—has Dawkins ever heard of a reflecting telescope?

According to Wikipedia, reflecting telescopes were invented centuries ago—Isaac Newton is “generally credited with building the first reflecting telescope in 1668.” The same principle is used in satellite dishes, the Hubble space telescope, and much more. That's not fiber optics, but at the very least it shows that his assumption about engineering is way off base, even without understanding the eye itself. And engineers have also obviously used fiber optics as well to various uses.

I love that creationists are so much more willing to feature real science than evolutionists. It’s hard to find this level of fascinating detail on evolutionists' sites. I don't think they like to look too closely at the creation because they know it would be impossible to keep pretending we evolved. They unwittingly reveal that deep down they know God really did create—and incredibly well.

I pray the work you're doing will continue to “open eyes” and lead people such as those atheists fooled by the writings of Dawkins and others like him back to Jesus. :)
Chris R.
You refer (via a link) to “a computer simulation of gradual eye evolution by Dan Nilsson and Susanne Pelger”. In fact it was a mathematical model of 1829 selected steps. It was Dawkins in 1994 who mistakenly claimed it was based on computer simulations. See “Could the eye have evolved by natural selection in a geological blink?” on the Uncommon Descent website.
Robert N.
Every time I read or hear Dawkins I lose brain cells. Please, when will he just go away?
Roger T.
Well they say “that there’s none so blind as those that cannot see!”
I can just imagine a world where the optic nerves and the eyes are slowly evolving—animals crashing about bumping into trees and falling over cliffs! What a scenario!
Oh! But eyes slowly developed in primitive creatures didn't they?
So, why aren’t they doing that today?
Why is there nothing in the fossil record to substantiate these claims?
Simply because the Creator put it all together at once!
Praise God for that!
Richard G.
God bless you labourers in this detailed difficult demanding task. Glad you used Dawkins’s correct name. He uses Richard and so degrades the name. Atheism is so contrary to simple and to deeper reasoning that we should ignore atheists apart from what is necessary to give a reason for our hope to a questioner. My Mother produced four overseas missionaries out of her eight children. In a bus in New Zealand she once told a loud mouthed man who had told a lady there was no God, that he would be advised to be quiet because the Bible says it's a fool who says, “No God.” Though simple, this is so startling a story that I begin to doubt its truth. What IS true though is that only a fool says, “No God.” Dawkins is a fool, according to the World's Number 1 best-selling book, the Bible, a brilliant educated fool. The reason his books sell as they do (temporarily) is that sinners want such vindication for their sinful lifestyle and because they are desperate to clutch straws that might do away with the hell they know is promised to them, with its big maw open. Dawkins is simply clever and can therefore make up “explanations” against God’s truth.

I remember my exams of yore when it could be assumed that talk, any talk, had the possibility of fooling an examiner into giving some marks when none were attributable. To leave the paper blank was honest but gave the person marking them no basis to give any marks. Dawkins and Co say something, anything and fools are thereby fooled into accepting it.

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