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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

The Eye of the Trilobite
by Matthew Vanhorn
[Español]
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Trilobite Illustration
Illustration by Thomas A. Tarpley
One of the most fascinating finds in the fossil record is that of the long-extinct trilobite. Trilobites resided in the Earth’s ancient oceans, and often are considered to be the world’s first arthropods—creatures that consist of hard shells, and that have multiple body segments and jointed legs. Trilobites, which possessed a hard exoskeleton, bear a resemblance to horseshoe crabs, and are thought by evolutionists to be one of the first animals to have lived on the Earth. According to evolutionary theory, trilobites are over 250,000,000 years old.

Evolution postulates that all living animals have progressed from simpler creatures, and that by the process of natural selection, organisms have “improved” along the way. Conventional thinking, therefore, suggests that since trilobites are so ancient, they must have been fairly simple creatures with primitive features. However, the eye of the trilobite—which is incredibly complex—refutes such a concept. An analysis of the trilobite and its amazing eye lenses, leaves scientists in awe. Science writer Lisa Shawver once observed that trilobites had “the most sophisticated eye lenses ever produced by nature” (1974, 105:72). Trilobites did indeed possess the most advanced visual system in the animal kingdom.

But how is it possible, someone might ask, to know exactly what the eye of the trilobite was like, since generally soft tissues (like those founds in the lenses and corneas of the eye) are not preserved in the fossil record. The answer has to do with the fact that the eyes of the trilobites were composed of inorganic calcite—a composition very different from the organic tissues of the human eye. Calcite’s atoms are arranged in such a way that light entering at one angle proceeds undisturbed, while light at a separate angle is split into two beams traveling at different angles. Most trilobites had a pair of compound eyes that were made up of 100 to 15,000 lenses in each eye. Compound eyes in living arthropods are very sensitive to motion. Human eyes possess lenses (known as vertebrate lenses) that can change shape in order to focus on objects at varying distances. The trilobite’s eyes had rigid lenses that could not move to adjust the focus. Thus, in order to accommodate for its rigid lenses, the trilobite eye possessed an internal “optical-doublet” structure, combined with what is known as a “refracting interface” (necessary to make the two lenses work together) that corrected focusing problems. In discussing these features, Riccardo Levi-Setti, the world-renowned expert on trilobites, wrote:

In fact, this optical doublet is a device so typically associated with human invention that its discovery in trilobites comes as something of a shock. The realization that trilobites developed and used such devices half a billion years ago makes the shock even greater. And a final discovery—that the refracting interface between the two lens elements in a trilobite’s eye was designed in accordance with optical constructions worked out by Descartes and Huygens in the mid-seventeenth century—borders on sheer science fiction. The design of the trilobite’s eye lens could well qualify for a patent disclosure (1993, pp. 54,57, emp. added).

Trilobite Eyes
Illustration by Thomas A. Tarpley

The trilobite’s eye consisted of several thousand hexagons. This assured that light coming from any angle would be refracted into the creature’s eye. A small wall existed between the hexagons, in order to keep all of the refracted light from overlapping. Such features would allow trilobites to see perfectly in the water. Trilobites had no problem with near-sightedness or far-sightedness. Objects one foot away, or objects one hundred yards away, would be in focus simultaneously. Such intricacies suggest that evolution is a degenerative process, for nothing on Earth today compares to the eye of the trilobite. Consider the comment on this very point made by Niles Eldredge, famed evolutionary paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History.

These lenses—technically termed aspherical, aplanatic lenses—optimize both light collecting and image formation better than any lens ever conceived. We can be justifiably amazed that these trilobites, very early in the history of life on Earth, hit upon the best possible lens design that optical physics has ever been able to formulate (as quoted in Ellis, 2001, p. 49, emp. added).

“Justifiably amazed” indeed! Darwinian models that attempt to explain the trilobite’s eye are completely unable to account for such complexity, especially considering the fact that the trilobite is considered to have evolved so early. When one considers the complexity of the trilobite’s eye, and compares it with the considerably less-complex eye systems of animals and/or humans today, it would seem that evolution has “gone in reverse.”

One does not get a law without a lawgiver, a painting without a painter, a poem without a poet, or design without a designer. Try as they might, evolutionists simply cannot escape the evidence that points to the intricate design inherent in these amazing creatures. And, as even evolutionists admit, design implies a designer. The question every evolutionist must face then is this: Who designed the trilobite’s eye lenses? “Nature” certainly did not, because nature cannot design anything. Nature is simply “what’s there.” Who designed “what’s there“? The writer of the book of Hebrews answered that question when he wrote: “For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God” (3:4).

REFERENCES

Ellis, Richard (2001) Aquagenesis (New York, New York: Viking).

Levi-Setti, Riccardo (1993), Trilobites (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).

Shawver, Lisa J. (1974), “Trilobite Eyes: An Impressive Feat of Early Evolution,” Science News, 105:72, February 2.



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