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Doctor’s Diary: Evolution in the Country of the Blind

Geoffrey Simmons
An illustration from "The Country of the Blind," by Claude Allin Shepperson / Public domain.

Editor’s note: Dr. Simmons is a physician and the author most recently of Are We Here to Re-Create Ourselves? He is a Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Fans of H. G. Wells are probably familiar with his 1904 short story, “The Country of the Blind.” It has been republished, played on radio, and portrayed on television, many times. Inspired by Wells, I offer a parable, of sorts, that resembles the present debate over evolution. 

The original story is about an explorer named Nuñez, who slips and tumbles into a previously unknown valley while climbing Ecuador’s highest peak. There, he finds a very active farming community that was trapped for centuries following a massive earthquake. Despite their extreme isolation, the villagers have managed reasonably well. That includes enduring a blow from a pervasive viral disease that blinded all subsequent newborns. Over time, however, the community adjusted. The idea of having sight eased into forgotten folklore. Given the acquisition of new ways to survive, sight was deemed unnecessary, and eventually it was thought useless. Newer homes were built without windows, indoor lighting was skipped, and all pathways to and from the fields were lined by kerbs (edging).

Initially, Nuñez is received well. He is given living quarters and a job. Yet a thought keeps recurring in his mind — In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Unfortunately, he doesn’t keep his thoughts to himself. After a while, he is chastised by the elders for these “delusions” about being able to see. When he falls in love with Medina-Saroté, his employer’s daughter, and wants to marry her, the village elders insist that he have his eyes removed. She could not be given over to a delusional husband. Much to his dismay, a date is set for the enucleation of both of his eyes.

Don’t Worry, No Spoilers

No sense spoiling the rest of the story. Sorry. However, I believe that proponents of intelligent design have met with comparable, blind objections. 

Richard Dawkins, an outspoken atheist, has said: “Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond a doubt evolution is a fact,” and “Evolution is the only game in town, the greatest show on earth.” P. Z. Myers, an atheistic professor in Minnesota, has said, “Rational people have better things to do than grant unwarranted credibility to every half-assed delusion.” It’s interesting that he actually used the word “delusion.”

The Internet is loaded with comments such as: “If the intelligent designers win, chemistry will be simplified. The Periodic Table will have only four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. And, the practice of psychology will be simplified. The DSM VI will list only four diagnoses: melancholic, phlegmatic, choleric, and sanguine.”

The Miracle of Childbirth

This is cultural and academic mental blindness not unlike the Land of the Blind. And very wrong. Just look at the miracle of childbirth. Millions of macro- and micro-changes, successive complexities upon complexities take place throughout gestation, at the right time, in the right order, and at the right place. When the time is right, the unborn sends unique chemical signals to the mother that it is ready to move through the birth canal. I’m also struck by the improbabilities of genetically matched sexual partners evolving coincidentally along (up) the Tree of Life. That is three billion DNA pairs per parent, which find and line up perfectly within the new, fertilized ovum. (See my last article at Evolution News.)

A designing agent must be responsible for writing and reading the blueprints, engineering, plumbing and electrical works. Neo-Darwinists would have one believe that human evolution was relatively easy. But the fish to bird to monkey to man transition ignores billions of missing or difficult steps. Perhaps trillions. Just note that ape babies pass out of the birth canal with their faces up while our babies arrive with their faces down. There are no species with in-between, quarter-turned, or half-turned babies along the Tree of Life. Human newborns have a large artery (the ductus arteriosus) that bypasses the lungs while in utero (no need to absorb oxygen there). Upon command at birth it immediately closes so that blood will go to the lungs. There could not have been an in-between valve. Also of interest, we have a fatty layer in our skin seen in dolphins and not in monkeys.

A First Breath

Furthermore, a newborn human baby must, once the umbilical cord is cut or blocked in some manner, take that first breath within four minutes. Breathing must continue on at a rate that will guarantee an adequate flow of oxygen. Parts of this process are timed as well as the intricacy of a Mars landing. Perhaps better. If the baby breathes too soon, it asphyxiates; if too late, it may be permanently damaged by or die from hypoxemia. This critical timing could not have come about by trial and error, accident, mutation, or natural selection.

There are many other striking aspects of the human body that cannot be explained by evolution and small successive steps. One incredible example is the single braid of the spinal cord at the base of the human skull. Here, the left column crosses over to the right brain and the right column crosses over to the left. Why not straight-up connections? That would seem most logical and easiest. If one were to argue that the crossing over of thousands of nerves happened by accident, then one must explain the paths of two optic nerves. Half of each nerve goes to the opposite eye. This is not a complete crossover and not compatible with some ancient predecessor who twisted its spinal cord.

Intelligent Foresight

In addition to intelligent design there is a lot of evidence of intelligent foresight. Humans come with bone repair instructions just in case there’s a fracture, very precise clotting instructions in case there’s a bleed, and the ability to make antibodies to a host of pathogens we’ve not seen before. There’s a wound closure kit and a lacrimation control. We can (foresight) cough, belch, vomit, sneeze, and expel diarrhea. There’s a latent ability to raise temperatures (create a fever) to help fight infections and oxygen monitoring stations to alter the rate of breathing. Our heart has a back-up pacemaker in case the original one falters. In fact there are a third and fourth back-up of sorts, as well. And don’t forget the “Flight or Fight” mechanisms (just in case). Virtually all of these systems arrive in the unborn at the same time.

Humans have two fewer pairs of chromosomes than apes do (23 pairs for humans and 24 pairs for apes); experts say the extra chromosomes simply fused with our second chromosome. There’s nothing simple about that. Millions of matching DNA pairs moved simultaneously in the female and in the male, at the same time, for no good reason. And crazy enough, it created a human.

Of Apes and Men

Ever since the chimp and human genome were sequenced, experts have said we share 95-99 percent of their DNA. Yet Dr. Marcos Eberlin, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, has shown that 80 percent of our proteins, created by our DNA, are different from a chimp’s. Perhaps that explains the huge differences in phenotypes. Also, lost in the discussion is the impact of recently discovered orphan genes, which are uniquely human and overlapping genes. Our genes can code for different proteins if read left to right (rather than right to left only). The phenomenon is called heteropalindromes. A parallel might be how the word stressed, when the sequence of letters is reversed, becomes desserts, devil becomes lived, reward becomes drawer, and deliver becomes reviled. The message given can be quite different. Palindromic genes can deliver two very different messages and they may actually increase the number of differences we have with apes.

Of note, we also share 70 percent of our genes with slugs and 50 percent with bananas. One might speculate, if this analysis were simplified and genetic percentages represented phenotypic change, we ought to have a trail of slime wherever we walk and/or turn yellow when we’re ripe. 

Priceless and Inexplicable

Humans have priceless and inexplicable capabilities. To create is one of those. We compose books, plays, songs, stories, and dances. And we invent ­— cars, planes, appliances, and screw drivers. Apes cannot speak as we do. They lack the right anatomy and they particularly lack the neurological platforms. Very few animals are aware of themselves and even fewer, if any, are aware that other animals have that kind of awareness, too. We have a conscience. When choosing between right and wrong, we have an inner voice that speaks with another inner voice. How come? Very few animals display compassion and sympathy. I could go on.

We are clearly unique. One cannot remodel a shack, even the best shack in the world, into a skyscraper by trial and error. Design is essential.