The wonder of the eye

Dr. Doug Borchman unlocks the mystery of the eye in the lab every day at the University of Louisville. Though he has studied the eye for more than 30 years, he said there’s still much to learn.

Dr. Doug Borchman has studied the lens of the human eye for decades.

He says there’s still much more to learn.

“I’m in awe of some of the things I see,” Borchman said. “It’s too beautiful. Every day I go to work to unlock the mystery of the eye.”

Borchman came to Louisville 26 years ago a convinced atheist. Growing up outside Detroit to hard-working parents, he was the kid who understood chemistry like other kids understood comic books. After graduating from Cass Technical High School, a special school in the inner city of Detroit, he added layer after layer to his learning, eventually earning his Ph.D. in chemistry at Wayne State University. He was the first one in his family to graduate from college.

Throughout his education, atheism was reinforced by professors who talked with certainty of a world that came into being through time, chance and the laws of physics. But it was the more tangible, more personal side of disbelief that was, perhaps, most convincing. Each year, 55 people were killed and another 150 people were assaulted within a 4-mile radius of his home. When Borchman’s 80-year-old neighbor was raped, two of his friends were killed by a drug dealer with a baseball bat, and he lost his sister to drugs, he turned his back on a God who allowed that to happen.

“At that point in my life, I thought religion was silly,” Borchman said.

Even then, he married Susan, who did believe in God.

Borchman now believes it was no accident that he and Susan settled in Louisville. He had two career possibilities: research at the University of Alaska or the University of Louisville. He applied to both and made follow-up calls, reaching a professor at U of L who shared similar interests.

After that conversation, Doug and Susan came to Louisville to learn more about the job and the town. When he pulled into a gas station off Interstate 71, the professor he was supposed to meet recognized him standing at the gas pump. They talked a while and Borchman was hired. The professor later said he believed it was a sign. The two have not run into each other by chance since.

A friend told Susan about Southeast Christian Church. She came, loved the church and brought Doug to a service in 1988. Doug said she dragged him. It was far different than the churches he’d visited over the years.

“The preacher was compelling,” Borchman said. “People had joy. It wasn’t stiff like the church I’d grown up in. There was something special about that place.”

He returned Sunday after Sunday.

In time, Borchman decided that atheism made no sense and opened the door to faith in a God who created the world and wanted a relationship with him. Three mornings a week, he spends time in the prayer room at Southeast before beginning his day in the lab.

Borchman has written 104 peer-reviewed articles and speaks often around the world. The magnificence of God’s creation isn’t lost on him as he approaches his work.

“I believe God gave us science to show He exists,” Borchman said. “One hundred years ago, we didn’t have the tools to see all this. Science tells us there must be something else. It takes an intelligent designer to produce the level of complexity in our world.”

In the lab, Borchman studies the preciseness of the human eye, which has 40 separate components. He has become an expert on the lens.

“The cornea, lens, retina, nerves, connections are ridiculously complex,” Borchman he said. “There is so much to know. For an eye to be able to see, all the basic components must be present at the same time and work together perfectly. For instance, if all the other components, such as the cornea, iris, pupil, retina and eye muscles, are all present and functioning properly, but just the eyelid is missing, then the eye will incur serious damage, dry up and blindness would quickly ensue.”  

Charles Darwin, the founder of evolutionary theory, wrote in regards to the difficulties of applying evolution to the eye. “… that the eye … could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.”

The eye still baffles scientists today.

For most of his career, Borchman studied cataracts, the clouding of the lens that occurs with age and is the leading cause of blindness in the world.

The lens of the eye points to incredible complexity.

“If we look at just the lens and imagine a fish that didn’t have a lens in their eye, for the lens to be formed somehow in that fish by time and chance, the lens would have had to be perfectly formed and clear when it initially appeared in the eye, otherwise the lens would block vision and the survival of the animal would be seriously compromised,” he said. “To be clear, all the following must occur: the lens must not have a blood supply or intracellular organelles; the macromolecular structure of the cells and molecular structure of the biomolecules much be ordered as in a clear crystal; the intercellular space must be extremely small and the biomolecules in the lens must have the correct index of refraction. No series of mutations could cause any or all of these changes in a tissue simultaneously.”  

When Borchman studies the lens, he sees God’s handiwork, and the work of time, chance and the laws of physics can’t explain how such a remarkable organ was formed.

He often talks to church groups about creation.

“Odds are so remote that we got from nothing to us by just time, chance and the laws of physics,” Borchman said. “As a chemist, to make a small molecule is difficult. A protein I’ve studied, the calcium pump, is made of 1,000 amino acids. We can synthesize 18 amino acid chains or so in the lab under controlled conditions, but we can’t fathom synthesizing a 1,000-amino acid protein let alone folding the chains into just the correct shape and placing them into a membrane.”

The simplest cell has 2,000 types of proteins.

“Science is not a stumbling block to belief in a Creator,” Borchman said. “Rather, it tells us there must be something else. What’s incredible is this Creator God wants to have a relationship with us.”