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Hitchens: The Blind Salamander

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Christopher Hitchens (yes, everyone knows he’s an unabashed atheist) makes an excellent point about a certain species of cave-dwelling salamander, related to a topic that keeps showing up in The LGF Creationism Cage Match—the evolution of the eye: How blind salamanders make nonsense of creationists’ claims.

Or in this case, the devolution of the eye, to adapt to an environment where vision is unnecessary for—even detrimental to—survival.

It is extremely seldom that one has the opportunity to think a new thought about a familiar subject, let alone an original thought on a contested subject, so when I had a moment of eureka a few nights ago, my very first instinct was to distrust my very first instinct. To phrase it briefly, I was watching the astonishing TV series Planet Earth (which, by the way, contains photography of the natural world of a sort that redefines the art) and had come to the segment that deals with life underground. The subterranean caverns and rivers of our world are one of the last unexplored frontiers, and the sheer extent of the discoveries, in Mexico and Indonesia particularly, is quite enough to stagger the mind. Various creatures were found doing their thing far away from the light, and as they were caught by the camera, I noticed—in particular of the salamanders—that they had typical faces. In other words, they had mouths and muzzles and eyes arranged in the same way as most animals. Except that the eyes were denoted only by little concavities or indentations. Even as I was grasping the implications of this, the fine voice of Sir David Attenborough was telling me how many millions of years it had taken for these denizens of the underworld to lose the eyes they had once possessed.

If you follow the continuing argument between the advocates of Darwin’s natural selection theory and the partisans of creationism or “intelligent design,” you will instantly see what I am driving at. The creationists (to give them their proper name and to deny them their annoying annexation of the word intelligent) invariably speak of the eye in hushed tones. How, they demand to know, can such a sophisticated organ have gone through clumsy evolutionary stages in order to reach its current magnificence and versatility?

Read the whole thing.

By the way, I also recommend the BBC Planet Earth documentary. I have the Blu-ray version and it’s one of the best films of its type ever made.

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 Frank says:

All right, Zubin, hit it! -- Frank's onstage cue to conductor Zubin Mehta during their collaborative effort with the L.A. Philharmonic orchestra in 1970