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Trilobites — The Eyes Have It!

Frank Sherwin, M.A., and Mark Armitage, M.S

© 2003 Creation Research Society.  All Rights Reserved.  Used by Permission
First published in CRSQ—Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 3, December 2003


It is well known that extinct arthropods known as trilobites occupy “ancient” (lower) sediments of the geologic column.  The first trilobites appear in sediments dated by evolutionists at 520 million years ago—the upper part of the Lower Cambrian, and they extend well into the Permian (supposedly 200 million years ago).

Figure 1. Light micrograph, unidentified trilobite specimen, approximately 2 inches in length, purchased from a “rock shop” in Holbrook, AZ.  The lens assembly was chipped away from the body, mounted on a metal stub for imaging.  Schizochroal lens assembly is shown (large bumps with white arrows).  Lens assembly arc is 180+ o (from left to right between black arrows).  Scale bar = 400 microns.

Trilobites, like all arthropods, have paired, jointed appendages and a chitinous exoskeleton.  The origin of arthropods in general, and trilobites in particular represents a problem for evolutionists, as mentioned by Osorio et al. (1997, p 244).

As Darwin noted in the Origin of Species, the abrupt emergence of arthropods in the fossil record during the Cambrian presents a problem for evolutionary biology.  There are no obvious simpler or intermediate forms—either living or in the fossil record—that show convincingly how modern arthropods evolved from worm-like ancestors.

Additionally, trilobites represent some of the most sophisticated arthropods known to man.  The trilobite eye, for example has been heralded as a structure far too complex to evolve over time by random variations in the genesof trilobite populations (Armstrong 1973 and 1976; Bergman 1992; DeYoung 2002; Wise 1989).  Not only is the trilobite eye made of pure calcite (optically transparent calcium carbonate) which has a precisely aligned optical axis to eliminate any double image that would have formed (Armstrong 1973; DeYoung 2002), it is also a “doublet” of two lenses affixed together in order to eliminate spherical aberrations, commonly found in ground glass lenses (Armstrong 1976)!  Trilobite eyes are massively arrayed in semicircular banks (See Figures 1–3) and even almost circular banks of up to 30-60 lenses per row, each with its own individual retina (McCormick and Fortey 1998; Gal et al. 2000).

Figure 2. Light micrograph, schizochroal lens assembly.  Individual lenses marked by black arrows.  Scale bar = 300 microns.

Recent work on trilobite eyes has shown them to be even more complex than originally thought.  Ordovician trilobites such as Pricyclopyge binodosa and Jujuyaspis keideli are said to have had a “large visual field” (Acenolaza et al. 2001, p 349) with “close to 360-degree vision” and “could see anteriorly, laterally, dorsally, and even downwards and backwards,” from one position (McCormick and Fortey 1998, p 236).  Further, it has been shown that another Ordovician trilobite, Dalmanitina socialis, actually has a doublet lens arrangement where the top calcite lens has a “conspicuous central bulge, the cause of bifocality [emphasis ours], which is a unique optical feature in the animal kingdom,” (Gal et al. 2000, p 846).  It is worth noting that only within the last 500 or so years, have scientists like Rene DesCartes, Christian Huygens and Ernst Abbe solved the difficult mathematical formulae which allow us to enjoy the optics we take for granted today.  Yet trilobites, (which according to evolutionists went extinct 200-100 million years ago) manufactured these complex lenses right on their bodies.

Thus, evolutionists are faced with the vexing task of explaining the development of glasslike lenses that correct for spherical (and possibly chromatic) aberration, the density of seawater, and which also perform the function of bifocality (much like prescription glasses today), as a result of the chance assemblage of genes within populations of trilobites on the “ancient” seafloor.

To quote a well-known evolutionist and trilobite expert, “Trilobites had solved a very elegant physical problem and apparently knew about Fermat’s principle, Abbe’s sine law, Snell’s laws of refraction and the optics of birefringent crystals…” (Levi-Setti, 1993, p 33).  This, of course, is patently absurd, since arthropods know nothing of the laws of optics.  It is thus clear that evolution cannot explain the presence of these astounding biological lenses.

Figure 3. Scanning electron micrograph, unidentified trilobite specimen, schizochroal lens assembly.  The specimen was coated with palladium on a scanning electron microscope (SEM) sputter coater for two minutes and viewed and photographed on a JEOL 35 SEM.  Large bumps are individual lenses.  Small bumps are unidentified, and their function is unknown.  Scale bar = 150 microns.

Figure 4. Scanning electron micrograph (SEM), unidentified trilobite specimen, schizochroal lens assembly.  Scale bar = 120 microns.

Many paleontologists working with trilobites feel that evolutionism is a gradual process and that one can see trilobites changing from one form into another.  This is countered by others, however who maintain that trilobites document the model of punctuated equilibrium, or periods of long stasis with no change followed by rapid bursts of innovation (Eldredge 1985; Eldredge and Gould 1972).  Clarkson and others have sought the middle ground by their theories that many pulses of trilobite extinctions have occurred (Clarkson 1986; Palmer 1999) thus driving trilobites “back to the drawing board.”  Whatever evolutionary mechanisms are proposed for the development of trilobites, however, the field of trilobite classification is in disarray.  One worker states, “[the field of] systematics [explaining biological diversity in an evolutionary context] is still in an unsatisfactory state…” (Fortey 2001, p 1151).

As microscopists, we do not frequent the lens “nursery” every year, hoping that new objectives have arisen from the endless procreation of “mother and father” lenses which live there.  Instead, we patronize the lens factory, where intelligent designers are hard at work creating lenses that will help us gather more highly resolved images.  As thinking entities, should we not acknowledge the Supreme Designer who built this capability into once living systems?


CRSQ (Creation Research Society Quarterly)

Acenolaza, G., M.F. Tortello, and I. Rabano. 2001. The eyes of the early Tremadoc Olenid trilobite Jujuyaspis keideli Kobayashi 1936. Journal of Paleontology 75(2):346–350.

Armstrong, H. 1973. Eyes of stone in trilobites. CRSQ 10(3):163.

–—–—–. 1976. Optical design in creation. CRSQ 13(1): 66.

Bergman, J. 1992. Is there any such thing as a higher creature?
Creation ex Nihilo 14(2):10.

Clarkson, E.N.K. 1986 Invertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, p 42, Allen and Unwin Publishers, London.

DeYoung, D. 2002. Vision. CRSQ 38 (4):190–192.

Eldredge, N. 1985. Time Frames, Simon and Schuster, New York.

Eldredge, N., and S.J. Gould. 1972. Punctuated equilibria, an alternative to phyletic gradualism, (in) Models in Paleobiology (T.J.M. Schopf, editor.) pp. 82–115. Freeman Press, San Francisco.

Fortey, R.A. 2001. Trilobite systematics: the last 75 years. Journal of Paleontology 75(6):1141–1151.

Gal, J., G. Horvath, E.N.K. Clarkson, and O. Haiman. 2000. Image formation by bifocal lenses in a trilobite eye? Vision Research 40:843–853.

Levi-Setti, R. 1993. Trilobites: A photographic atlas (second edition). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

McCormick, T. and R.A Fortey. 1998. Independent testing of a paleobiological hypothesis: the optical design of two Ordovician pelagic trilobites reveals their relative paleobathymetry. Paleobiology 24(2):235–253.

Osorio, D, J.P. Bacon, and P. Whittington. 1997. The evolution of arthropod nervous systems. American Scientist 95: 244.

Palmer, T. 1999. Controversy, catastrophism and evolution, p 335. Kluwer Academic Publishers. New York.

Wise, K. 1989. Scripture and trilobite’s eyes. Creation ex Nihilo 11(4):29.

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