Uncle Reggie Stories: Darwin’s eye: “absurd in the highest degree”
Uncle Reggie 的故事: 达尔文的眼:荒谬至极
(Sonic 翻译)

The little old lady in a small village in southwest China was amazed. She cried out, “I can see, I can see!” Even though she couldn’t see things very clearly, she now recognized her family whom she hadn’t seen for years. The eye team from our medical mission had just performed a minor miracle again. Just like similar minor miracles again and again, over nearly 2 decades of work, in little villages where high tech medical care was difficult to reach. And it was always such a great joy to see the responses, the smiles, and the appreciation which the families had for the team and it’s efforts. In point of fact, in today’s modern high tech hospitals, the most common critical eye problem these villagers had, cataracts of older age, is easily treated. But not if you are old and living in poverty in a remote village, in many mountain areas of the world.


Medical Services International, MSI Eye team performs cataract surgery in poverty areas, with dramatic results.

For the medical mission team, it was easy to associate the joy of this woman, with the joy of the blind man healed by Christ, who was vividly recorded for us thousands of years ago. The critics of Christ at the time, who did not appreciate his miracles, were harassing the formerly blind man, after the healing. They wanted to see if there was some fault in his account, and especially if there was something they could accuse the man who had healed him. But, the ex-blind man exclaimed, “I don’t know much about this man (Christ), but one thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see!” Truly, he wasn’t really sure how it could have happened, nor could he discuss the philosophy or theology of what happened, but he knew for sure what had happened to his eyesight. Indeed, having eyesight is a world of difference from having no eyesight, and those of us who have normal vision, take our eyes for granted, and oftentimes forget how truly amazing these eyes really are.


We all know that science has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last century. When I was a teenager studying in high school, half a century ago, the science books used to call the cell, “the simple cell,” because truly there was so little really known about it. Well, we know now that the cell is definitely not simple. In fact it is so complicated it “hurts your brain” to think of it. And you can guess, 150 years ago, when Charles Darwin was roaming around in the Galapagos Islands, his knowledge of science, especially of biology, was so rudimentary, that we have difficulty even imagining that lack of today’s ordinary knowledge. It is close to the difference between cataract affected blindness, and cataract removed eyesight


Imagine, there was then no electron microscope, no knowledge of cellular functions, no knowledge of genes and DNA, no knowledge of how genes work at the molecular level etc. etc., something unimaginable to the average middle school student today. The difference in understanding gives us an appreciation of why people of Darwin’s generation would come up with philosophical theories that are now known not to be possible. The complexity of the body systems was then totally unknown, and truly today any part of the body, any tissue, any cell is known to fantastically more complex than anyone could have even dreamed of at that time.

可以想想,那时没有显微电镜,没有细胞功能的知识,没有基因和DNA的知识, 没有基因在分子水平怎样发挥作用的知识等等,那时候知识的匮乏对今天普通中学的学生而言是难以想象的。不同的理解能力让我们明白达尔文时代的人为什么持有的是我们现在认为是不可能的哲学理论。机体系统的复杂性那时是完全未知的,机体的任何部位、任何组织、任何细胞现在看来都是相当的复杂远远超越了那个时候的人的想象。

Charles Darwin’s dramatic book, in spite of lack of modern scholastic credentials and understanding.

I have read Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species” with that perspective in mind, and I can sympathize with his trying to understand what was actually going on in biology. Literally, millions of obstacles, filters and clouded vision were between him and the objects of his study. And so, I have always been very empathetic that his inquiring mind tried really hard, and am impressed that he could see, even dimly, that there were certain things that he intuitively knew had huge problems. When he looked at the eye, he realized that the complexity of function that was known even at that time, was truly astonishingly frightening to him. He wrote, in his book, “to suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, admitting different amounts of light, and correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” I admire him for his astute observation, perfectly correctly, that natural selection, a key principle in his theory, was totally stumped. He freely confessed that it was “absurd to the highest degree.”

我带着那样的观点读过达尔文的书《物种起源》,我很理解他试图搞清楚生物学上物种发展所做的努力。事实上,成千上万的障碍、模棱两可的观点呈现在他和他所研究的物种上。他探寻尽了不懈努力,他感受到某种印象,这种印象还有些朦胧,但是自觉告诉他存在着巨大的问题,对此我深有同感。他探寻尽了不懈努力,他感受到某种印象,这种印象还有些朦胧,但是直觉告诉他存在着巨大的问题,但他关注到眼睛,他被在那个时代就已经认识到的眼睛功能的复杂性所深深的震惊了。在书中他写道: “眼睛有着独特的设计用來调节不同远近物体的焦距,接納不同强度的光线,调整球面和色彩差度,如果认为这些都是自然选择形成的,我坦承,这个观点荒谬至极。” 我欣赏他机敏的观察,确实是这样的,他的理论的核心自然选择,难以自圆其说。他坦承那是“荒谬至极”。

Darwin’s humility is refreshing even today. As he was shocked by the complexity of the eye; to use a common jargon, there are zillions of other examples all over the body, of systems, of organs, of tissues, of cells where this comment would be totally applicable. He recognized that there were huge holes in his theory, “absurd to the highest degree,” which holes are today fantastically bigger and much more impossible to be covered over by a statement that “natural selection” will “somehow” take care of it. Somehow is the key. In fact, “how” is the province of science, old and modern, and if we cannot demonstrate the “how” we have lost our job. Theories are nice, but over 150 years, the difficulties have gotten infinitely worse, and this theory totally fails, because we have no way of showing “how” it could have happened. “The devil is in the details,” as they say. Indeed, “how” could the eye have formed? “How could it have evolved?” The silence is deafening.

达尔文的谦逊就是今天也让人崇敬。他被眼睛的复杂性所震惊。借用一句,来自机体全身、系统、器官、组织、细胞的数不清的例子都可以完全适用这个评语。他意识到他的理论有很大的漏洞,“荒谬至极。” 这个漏洞以今天看來可就更大了,它不能只是 “某种程度上” 的修正“自然选择” 的论调就可以弥平的。因为“某种程度上”是个关键。“怎样发生”是科学的重要领域,过去或者现在,如果我们不能证实“怎样发生, how?”,我们的工作就失去了意义。理论看上去很美好,但是150年过去了,雪上加霜,因为我们没能证明自然选择如何发生,这个理论彻底破产了。谚语说:“the devil is in the details,魔鬼躲在细微处。”事实上,眼睛如何形成的?它是如何进化的?答案可能是 “沉默”卻是“震耳欲聋的。”

Humility of Darwin as he realizes the eye’s known complexity even 150 years ago, works against his theories, in an “absurd” way.

My personal opinion is actually quite simple: Darwin had gone to seminary, and so he was schooled in philosophy. But he dropped out of seminary. Then he was sent to medical school, but he dropped out also. And he had no postgraduate training, no PhD. He was from a rich family, the cultural elite of the time, he did not have to earn a living, and basically, he was trying to figure out philosophically who we are on this earth. So, with family money and connections, he embarked on this journey, basically around the world, to test his thinking. Of course, he had no concept of modern physiology or molecular biology, no epidemiologic training, no statistics training. By today’s standards I suppose he was at best like a modern 7th grade level student in science. But he had to make do with what he knew at the time, and his perception about his limits is revealing.


When we look at the eye today in modern science, which might only be a fraction of what we might know a hundred years later, it behooves us to be humble, and to appreciate the limits of our knowledge. Even now, we should recognize that the impossibly complex system that is the eye, is so wonderfully constructed, so complexly integrated, and so mathematically precise, that a vastly superior intelligence who designed it all, is still our best conclusion. And actually, it is the best conclusion for everything else in the body. A Creator, not a new idea, but an idea from the beginning of time, in nearly all cultures and races of mankind. A conclusion that ties together many disparate facts, and gives us a reason for our own existence.