In The Beginning God: A Creation RPM (2): Pixels & The Wonder of Vision

Monitors, printers, and digital cameras all use graphic displays, composed of pixels. And if you’ve ever watched an expanding thumbnail image morph on your computer screen from clear to blocks of fuzzy squares, you’ve seen them. Pixels are just units used to express digital graphic quality. Now if you’re impressed with high definition graphics; consider this: you don’t see in pixels! And that’s because our God-designed visual detection and processing technology is much more complex. Very likely you recall the fact that the retina in your eye (corresponding generally to the disc in your digital camera) contains approximately seven million cones and about twenty times that amount of rods. And each of these light receptors contains about two thousand discs housing the chemical machinery necessary to detect photons of light. The cones are further subdivided into three types whose function is to impart color to the visual field. Generally, cones function optimally in bright light and rods in reduced light. Let’s see how these photo receptor signals are processed before being sent via the optic nerve to the brain. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”

Now before you lose interest, please understand that what we’re focusing on is but one of a plethora of complex biological structures and biochemical processes in the body, all of which declare intelligent design. And to understand the impact of the message you may, in parlance of a previous generation, have to put on your “thinking cap” and persist. Please do.

For starters, don’t chastise yourself for your failing mental faculties next time you rush back into the house because you forgot your keys. Take heart; for while racing from the sunshine into your darkened home, an extension of your brain – the retina – is constantly, instantaneously, and accurately processing a vast array of electrical pulses to update a signal to the optic nerve. The key to this technology is the ability to define light contrasts via “visual processing.” You likely wouldn’t have found your keys if your retina, like a computer, was simply mapping pixels. Your retina is “smarter.”

Now, picture two Mexican hats: one right side up and one upside down. In simplified terms, think of a club sandwich (your retina) with light hitting the upper surface of the toast. This toast layer, or GCL contains ganglion cells connecting to about a million optic nerve fibers. Instead of a BLT, the next layer is IPL or inner plexiform layer which, itself, is divided into five layers called neuropils. The next piece of toast, called the inner nuclear layer (INL), contains amacrine, bipolar, and horizontal cells in that order. Instead of your favorite shrimp salad, the next layer is another bewildering maze of neurocircuitry just as in the IPL. So if you’re still with us, you guessed correctly: it’s called the outer plexiform layer (OPL). And the toast scraping the plate (ONL) contains the rods and cones. And the plate? It serves several roles; one of which is producing retinal, essential to vision.

In the retina, rods and cones respond chemically to light resulting in an electrical charge controlling neurotransmitter signals to the optic nerve. Through a very intricate and complex process, a fascinating network of specialized cells craft this signal. These cells (horizontal, bipolar, ganglion, and amacrine) communicate via neurotransmitters across gap junctions (synapses) to excitatory receptors and photoreceptors creating spatial and dim light mediated responses. This amazing network, through integrated feedback between these cells, produces the modulated signal bringing us to those Mexican hats. One describes a spot of light with a dark surrounding field and the other a spot of darkness with a surrounding field of light. And streaming cross referencing between these two hats comprises the signals to the optic nerve. The result? You can see!

Now it’s very unlikely retinas are your area of expertise. It is very likely you’re thinking how the Ethiopian answered Philip’s question. But now you do know visual messaging is complex. Actually it’s a clear example of specified complexity. So let’s get out the tool box and go to work in search of Intelligent Design. Take a moment to think of what you’ve just read in light of functionality, contingency, irreducible and specified complexity. Intelligently designed? Could it be otherwise?

“By chance,” said the late, noted evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, quite unabashedly, not once but possibly forty times. You see, Ernst Mayr was a man of stolid faith: faith, that is, in evolution. But if common sense didn’t threaten his faith, recent advances in visual genetics certainly should.

We’re referring to the selector gene Pax-6. It has more recently proven to be a master control gene directing other genes during assembly of the retina in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Almost by definition, this gene contains a controlling genetic sequence of base pairs largely impervious to mutations, referred to as a homeodomain and paired domain. This may only be read as a clear confirmation of Intelligent Design since a fixed genetic operator, independent of evolution, apparently directs retinal construction. Of greater moment than what Pax-6 does is the information it contains, not just information, but complex specified information. And complex specified information directing the manufacture of mousetraps or retinas may only derive from Intelligent Design. A good read in this context is Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information (Chapter 6) in Wm. Dembski’s seminal book “Intelligent Design.”

So the intelligently designed Pax-6 gene, controlling retinal morphogenesis, is in fact the handiwork of God. So are our God designed retinas. Are we surprised? “Thine eyes did see my substance… and in Thy writing all my members were written.” Of course not; we knew that. Our Lord Jesus Christ is not situated at the end of an inferential trail. He is and shall ever be “First in all the creation of God.”

A home work assignment for young Christians: reread Ephesians. Think of the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10), even seen also in Intelligent Design.