To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.
- Charles Darwin
A couple of months ago I assisted in my daughter's 2nd grade classroom for the ever anticipated "Cow Eye Dissection Day!" Every kid it seems looks so forward to that day, it's almost like the last day of school. An eye doctor spent a few minutes showing us volunteer parents how to use the scalpel to do the actual dissection (kids weren't allowed to use the sharp objects), and then we were set to go!
It was really pretty simple. I carefully cut away the surprisingly tough cornea. Removed the iris and then the vitrium all to the oohs and aahs of the 4 students at my table. I must admit that I felt pretty cool having the kids watch me in awe.
We then easily removed the lens. The teacher had given us a piece of a newspaper on which we could place the lens so that we could see how it worked. It was amazing! This little blob of clear material actually magnified the letters on the newspaper. Incredible! I've not stopped thinking about this since.
We continued to work to find the optic nerve and then let the kids touch the parts and notice the intricacies of this organ. It really was fun.
I was in awe. It was a wondrous thing to be a part of. And that's the point. We can say all sorts of things about what each part of the eye does. We have an abundance of information on the eye as well as every other piece of a living body. The thing works without me really thinking about it at all, and what we forget oftentimes is how interconnected all those parts are. They aren't "parts" at all, it goes deeper than that.
But I kept asking myself, why. "Why an eye?" Why an organ like this one and not another model? Yes, I know that the optic nerve transmits information via light that we "see" to the brain. Indeed! But why? Why does the eye exist the way it does? Most cows, after all, seem to be born with the same basic eyeball that works (usually) in this miraculous way. I love the science of it. It's fascinating. But I can't explain why we have this kind of eye as opposed to some other.
The quote from Charles Darwin above is well known. Many folks argue about what he meant when he wrote it. But I'm not writing this post to say anything about Darwin's faith. As much as Darwin relied on reason, I still think what made him the thinker he was was his wonder at what he saw. It doesn't mean we nominate him for sainthood, but we do join him in his wonder at what he observed with eyeballs of his own which enabled him to see . May we all see with just as much wonder and take joy in the surprise along the way!