Richard Dawkins is the Microsoft supported - Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and is perhaps the world's best known atheist.
Is he trustworthy in his presentation of the evidence that evolution can explain a complex structure like an eye?
In his book 1995 Book "River out of Eden" he says the following about a scientific paper written by Dan Nilsson and Susan Pelger:
[Their] task was to set up computer models ofevolving eyes to answer two questions ... [:] isthere a smooth gradient of change, from flat skin to full camera eye, such that every intermediate is an improvement? ... [and] how long would the necessary quantity of evolutionary change take?In their computer models, Nilsson and Pelger made no attempt to simulate the internal workings of cells.... Nilsson and Pelger began with a flat retina atop a flat pigment layer and surmounted by a flat, protective transparent layer. The transparent layer was allowed to undergo localized random mutations of its refractive index.They then let the model transform itself at random,constrained only by the requirement thatany change must be small and must be an improvement on what went before. The results were swift and decisive. A trajectoryof steadily mounting acuity led unhesitatingly from the flat beginning through a shallow indentation to a steadily deepening cup, as the shape of the model eye deformed itself on the computer screen... And then, almost like a conjuring trick, a portion of this transparent filling condensed into a local, spherical region of higher refractive index.... This ratio is called Mattiessen's ratio.Nilsson and Pelger's computer-simulation model homed in unerringly on Mattiessen's ratio.
As far as I know Dr Dawkins has made no attempt to retract or modify these sentences. They are seriously misleading. Dan Nilsson has stated in a letter sent to David Berlinski that there was no computer simulation in the research that led to the paper despite the fact that this simulation is brandished around the world as one of the most startling testimonies to the ability of random mutation and natural selection to produce complex structures like an eye!
This controversy blew up in the "Commentary" as "A Scientific Scandal" (available on the Discovery site abbreviated here)and David Berlinski has made available the letters and his response here.
If David Berlinski is to be believed the paper actually makes some fairly basic mathematical blunders.
Two things irritate me:
1. This serious case of misinformation has gone uncorrected for so long and is treated as a "minor error."
2. This kind of study fails to deal with the real issue which is in the area of a particular genetic program controlling the development of the eye and yet is presented as if the huge problems with making an eye have effectively been solved.