shrimp with 12 retina – evolution or design?

This is part of a continuing series to show the amazing things that God has created.  It also hopefully serves as an educational tool to show just how impossible random chance evolution really is.

In the deep sea, where light is dim and blue, animals with bigger eyes see better—but bigger eyes are more conspicuous to predators. In response, the small (10 mm to 17 mm), transparent crustacean Paraphronima gracilis has evolved a unique eye structure.

And there’s the question – evolved – or designed?  


A summary of the article is available at  An account is required to read the entire article.

To give an idea of the actual size of this shrimp, it’s length in inches would be from 0.39 to .67 inches.  Roughly between 1/2 and 2/3 of an inch.  That’s small.

Here’s what the scientists did –

Researchers collected the animals from 200- to 500-meter deep waters in California’s Monterrey Bay using a remote-operated vehicle. They then characterized the pair of compound eyes, discovering that each one was composed of a single row of 12 distinct red retinas. Reporting online on 15 January in Current Biology, the researchers hypothesize that each retina captures an image that is transmitted to the crustacean’s brain, which integrates the 12 images to increase brightness and contrast sensitivity, adapting to changing light levels.

So we have these tiny little shrimp (almost seems redundant, doesn’t it) with the “normal” number of eyes – two.  But each eye has 12 retinas, spread across a single row.  The hypothesis about each retina capturing an image and sending it to the brain seems reasonable.  But then we have a couple more things added in.  it’s not clear from the summary whether it’s the individual retina or the brain that adjusts to brightness and contrast – allowing the shrimp to adapt to changing light levels.  Sounds cool though, doesn’t it?  But wait a minute – don’t our eyes do that?  Maybe not as much as we’d like – but our eyes adjust to changing light levels.  But still – we have the twelve retina thing going on.  That’s different from us.

Let’s go deeper into the 12 retina phenomenon.  The article claims these special eyes evolved to allow the shrimp to see better in the extremely dim light , while not being easily detected by predators.  OK – the part about not being detected by predators – that make sense.  When you see an animal at night with light shining on it – the eyes are very obvious.  Eyes that wouldn’t shine like that would be very useful. Maybe more animals should evolve like that as well? (Just kidding.)

Anyway – let’s look a bit deeper.

The hyperiid amphipod Paraphronima gracilis has a pair of bi-lobed apposition compound eyes, each with a large upward-looking portion and a small lateral-looking portion. The most unusual feature of the P. gracilis eye is that its upward-looking portion is resolved into a discontinuous retina with 12 distinct groups, each serving one transverse row of continuously spaced facets. On the basis of eye morphology, we estimated spatial acuity (2.5° ± 0.11°, SEM; n = 25) and optical sensitivity (30 ± 3.4 μm2 ⋅ sr, SEM; n = 25). Microspectrophotometry showed that spectral sensitivity of the eye peaked at 516 nm (±3.9 nm, SEM; n = 6), significantly offset from the peak of downwelling irradiance in the mesopelagic realm (480 nm). Modeling of spatial summation within the linear retinal groups showed that it boosts sensitivity with less cost to spatial acuity than more typical configurations.

Without going into all the gory details, this is essentially talking about how sensitive these 12 retina are.  The numbers they came up with are 516 nanometers (nm) +/- 3.9 nm (a very insignificant number, and a Standard Error of the Mean (SEM) of 6 which is also very small, so the 516 should be very accurate).  But what is that in something we can relate to – like maybe inches?

Well – it’s 0.0000203149606299 of an inch.  That’s two hundred thousandths of an inch.  That’s amazingly small.  By comparison, sort of, the average human hair is about 0.004 inches.

So – we’re to believe that these retina evolved to this level, by random chance?  Seriously.  It’s amazing they weren’t all devoured by the predators long before this happened.

 But it gets better.

Hyperiid amphipods are cosmopolitan members of the mesopelagic fauna with at least ten different eye configurations across the family—ranging from absent eyes in deep-living species to four enlarged eyes in mesopelagic individuals.

 Not all of the members of this family of species has the same type of eyes.  There are at least 10 different ones.  

Think about what that means though.

It’s not just the retina that needed to somehow split apart and form new ones – maybe up to 11 additional.  It needs to happen in both eyes.  And the animal needs to somehow determine what’s the best number of retina to have.  None for the really deep ones – up to twelve for the one we just looked at.  Isn’t evolution just amazing?

Oh yeah – don’t forget about the brain part.  If we assume that two is the “normal” number of eyes – there also has to be a corresponding number of new pathways from each retina to the brain.  That’s up to 22 more pathways – all evolving at the same time as the eyeballs did.  I mean – without a pathway to the brain – what good is the additional retina?  Oh, and each of the retina has to be pointed in the proper direction.  It would get really confusing if one eye had them in a straight line and the other in a circle! And that brings up the brain again.  Each of those possibly 22 additional pathways has to have a place to connect to the brain.  And, the brain has to have to the capability to process each of those additional pathways.  That is one heck of a lot of very specific things that need to place – and in a very coordinated fashion.  

How can random changes solve problems?

I can’t even begin to calculate the statistical probability of all these things happening just right in order to provide the single shrimp pictured at the top, let alone the other creatures with differing eye structures.  Even while I was taking graduate level statistics classes, I couldn’t have done that.  But it’s got to be incredibly unlikely. 

But here’s the thing.  Even if you’re willing to ignore the statistical improbability of these creatures having the eye structures that they do – based on random genetic mutations – 
How can one claim that these specific changes evolved from a need to see in deep water with virtually no light and also to protect the creature from predators?

That’s a tough question.

If evolution is random – how is it known that these two things are needed?  Who knew that?  Randomness cannot possibly know it!

Add to that the fact that the eye structure seems to be different depending on the depth of the water (affecting both the amount of light and the pressure on the eye – hence no eyes at the deepest levels) – and randomness gets even worse.  And – if it was random – why are there specific eye configurations for different members of the family?  Surely 11 or 13 retina would also have been close enough to 12 that both the ability to see and the requirement to be hard to detect could have both been met.  But we don’t see these shrimp with 11, 12, or 13 retina.  Only 12.  Why is that?

Intelligent design does solve problems

Solving these problems requires some sort of design.  

There’s simply no other way for one family of animals to have one set of characteristics.  These shrimp have 12 retina because that’s what the design called for.  Sure – there will be anomalies – birth defects.  But they aren’t carried on through the species as a whole.

The different members of the family have different eye configurations, depending on the depth of the water they live in, influenced by the pressure of the water, meeting the needs to see in the amount of light filtering down to their level, having the proper pathways to the brain, having the capability within the brain to process the signals coming along those pathways from each of the retina – because that’s what the design calls for.

To believe that all of this happens randomly is just beyond belief.  And then take it beyond this one shrimp – beyond the family of creatures to which it belongs – to all living beings – and so many still insist it’s not by design?


As we become more and more “educated”, I think we also move more and more into the territory Paul wrote about in Romans 1:18-23 –

Ro 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Ro 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Yes – we learn more – we should be learning how our world (not to mention the universe) is so complex that intelligent design is absolutely essential.  And as we learn more – many of the things about our world, not even God’s qualities but even His creations – are becoming visible to us.  But even that doesn’t help.

But it’s the last part of the last verse that really sticks out to me.

exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

 Look at this line from the article again –

In response, the small (10 mm to 17 mm), transparent crustacean Paraphronima gracilis has evolved a unique eye structure.

Let me shorten that a bit –

In response, the … crustacean … has evolved a unique eye structure.

The shrimp evolved itself!

Have we not just exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a shrimp?



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