Nature’s Destiny – Michael Denton

Michael John Denton (born 25 August 1943) is a British-Australian biochemist who is Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Denton is the author of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and Nature’s Destiny, the former book was instrumental in starting the intelligent design movement.

Michael Denton is Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Otago in New Zealand. His primary research focus is on the molecular genetics of retinitis pigmentosa.

Dr. Denton is well known for his two influential books Evolution: A theory in Crisis and Nature’s Destiny. His most recent work considers whether organic forms (protein, RNA folds, Microtubular forms, tensegrity structures, cells forms, bodyplans) are intrinsic features of nature and essentially the same as chemicals or molecules. He presented this idea most recently in his December 2002 paper, “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the Pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law” which appeared in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. In this paper he argued that the way matter is arranged into the higher architecture of life is determined by a set of rules or ‘laws of form’ which determine and predict all biological forms like the laws of chemistry predict all chemical forms.

Michael Denton, Senior Research Fellow in Human Genetics, University of Otago, New Zealand

Michael Denton’s primary research focus is on the molecular genetics of retinitis pigmentosa. He is well known for his two influential books, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe. His recent work considers whether organic forms (e.g., proteins, RNA folds, microtubular forms, cells forms, and body plans) are intrinsic features of nature – whether they are essentially the same as chemicals or molecules. He presented this idea in his December 2002 paper, “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the Pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” which appeared in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. In his paper, he argues that the way matter is arranged into the higher architecture of life is determined by a set of rules or “laws of form” that determine and predict all biological forms, just as the laws of chemistry predict all chemical forms. … rbios.html

Confused wrote:There can be not even the slightest change in the cosmological constants if life is to continue. No wiggle room. No room for error. If even the slightest alteration in any of these constants were to occur, life would likely cease to exist (at least mankind would).

I guess this is a good time to go into the first chapter in which he briefly goes over the fine-tuning with forces and constants.

page 13 wrote:if these various forces and constants did not have precisely the values they do, there would be no stars, no supernovaie, no planets, no atams, no life.

Then he transitions from cosmology to introducing fine-tuning found in biology.

page 17 wrote:The new teleological current would be challenging enough to the contingent biology even if the life-giving coincidences were restricted to the realm of physics and astronomy. But the coincidences do not stop at the distribution of supernovae or with the resonance of the energy levels of the carbon and oxygen atoms. They extend on into chemistry, into biochemistry and molecular biology, into the very fabric of life itself. Advances in chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, and molecular biology, commencing at the beginning of the last century, but mainly over the past fifty years, have revealed an additional set of mutual adaptations or coincidences in the chemical and physical properties of water and in many other of the key constituents of life – of precisely the kind that one might expect to find if the cosmos is indeed the biocentric whole that astronomy suggests.

Chapter 2 is where he starts to go into details about this and presents the properties of water.

Furrowed Brow wrote:However I want to make one point about Chapter 3. Denton makes play of the fitness of the visible light spectrum. And the unfitness of wave lengths outside the normal visble light spectrum for vision.

The point is not the visible light range per se, but of the limited range of the electromagnetic radiation.

page 51 wrote:70 percent of the electromagnetic radiation emitted from the surface of the sun is concentrated in an exceedingly narrow radiation band extending from the near ultraviolet through the visible light range into the near infrared. This minute band represents the unimaginably small fraction of approximately one part in 10E25 of the entire electromagnetic spectrum

This is not terribly interesting by itself, but what makes it remarkable is that it is the same range that is fit for life.

page 53 wrote:Electromagnetic radiation from gamma rays through X rays to ultraviolet rays is all harmful to life. Similarly, radiation in the far infrared and microwave regions is also damaging to life. Just about the only region of the electromagnetic spectrum which is harmless to life apart form the visible and the near infrared is the region of very long wavelength radiation – the radio waves. So the sun not only puts out all its radiant energy in the tiny band of utility to life but virturally none in those regions of the spectrum which are harmful to life.

Add to this the interesting fact that atmospheric gases absorb EMR outside of this range.

page 55 wrote:Even the atmospheric gases themselves absorb EMR very strongly in those regions of the specturm immediately on either side of the visible and near infrared.
page 60 wrote:We should indeed be awed and staggered by this series of coincidences that the EMR of the sun should be restricted to a tiny region of the total EMS, equivalent to one specific playing card in a deck of 10E25 cards stretching across the universe; that the very same infinitely minute region should be precisely that required for life; that the atmospheric gases should be opaque to all regions of the spectrum except this same tiny region; that water should likewise by opaque to all regions of the spectrum save this same infinitesimally tiny region, etc.

Confused wrote:So I will agree that he did, to a certain degree, show a biocentric model, but I will stipulate that I found nothing convincing to show that the universe was made specifically for life as opposed to life adapting and evolving to an universe already established with somewhat good conditions for life to do so.

In several of his arguments, life adaptation has no relevance.

For example, in chapter 2 he talks about the properties of water. It is the physical properties of water itself that makes it fit for life. Without those properties, life would not be possible.

page 40 wrote:What is so very remarkable about the various physical properties of water cited above is not that each is so fit in itself, but the astonishing way in which, in many instances, several independent properties are adapted to serve cooperatively the same biological end.

It’s generally recognized that water is required for life, of any sort.

For these and other reasons, liquid water is still the Holy Grail for planetary scientists, who, based on what they know today, consider it likely that liquid water is essential to all life, terrestrial and extra-. Says Neil de Grasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, “Given that life on Earth is so dependent on water, and given that water is so prevalent in the universe, we don’t feel that we’re going out on a limb to say that life would require liquid water.”

page 46 wrote:Without the long chain of vital coincidences in the physical and chemical properties of water, carbon-based life could not exist in any form remotely comparable with that which exists on earth.

Confused wrote:A biocentric model, not an anthropocentric model. Life in general means nothing to theists unless their is proof that the universe was created specifically for man, not life in general. Thus far, he has not done this.

Proof is too strong of a word. And I don’t believe anywhere does Denton state that he is trying to “prove” either biocentrism or anthropocentrism.

But, I would agree that the book doesn’t really provide strong arguments for anthropocentrism. But, for biocentrism, I think his arguments are compelling.

Confused wrote:Not that it was created for life, but that life was able to form and evolve because of its ability to adapt.

Actually, yes, it was created for life. That is, change the properties, and life as we know it would not exist. Could other forms of life come about? Could any life be based on anything other than water, carbon, and light? Could be. But we cannot give any reasonable scenarios on what it would be.

Life then would require these physical attributes. Without it, life would not be able to form, much less evolve.

Cathar1950 wrote:I am always reading where they find life in places they would never expect it.
They pop up in extreme conditions.

One of these days, we’ll have to debate on extremophiles.

Furrowed Brow wrote:On many issues I guess UV and Infra Red radiation can be said to be harmful to life. But then some organism seem to take advantage of UV and IR light.

I don’t debate this. But, the main point of his argument is the narrow range of EMR that is emitted by the sun, of utility for life, and can penetrate the atmosphere. These properties just line up correctly in order for life on earth to exist.

This is why is is skewed 2 – some conditions in every respect imaginable will be harmful to life, say inside a black hole. Where conditions are not completely fatal, then if and when complex life finds purchase, it will thrive in areas that are not too warm, not too cold etc. Goldilock conditions.

But are there other conditions that any life can exist? It might be “warm porridge” and be just right for us. But to say that something else could survive on “hot porridge” or “cold porridge” would be conjecture.

A christian theist, who believes God made man unique in the universe, is going to have difficulties with the implications of this thesis, if ever such a strong point in favour of Nature’s Destiny were to emerge. Because the thrust of Nature’s destiny, if nature really does have a destiny would then to be the creation of complex life at all possible opportunities, and making those opportunities universally abundant.

Actually, I don’t agree with his conclusion that man is the destiny of evolution. And I think his argument for it is weak. And Denton actually admits that it is weak. But, I defer that for later.

I have already made the point that life really sits atop a hill, and is not balanced on a tightrope.

Whether it is a “hill” or a “tightrope” still demonstrates a level of design necessary for life to exist.

In this sense microbes are the lowest common denominator of life. So really it would be far more accurate and pertinent to write a book arguing Nature’s Destiny is microbiotic life.

He does go into arguments beyond microbial life at some points in the book. But, even if one just accept his arguments for biocentrism, then I’d consider his arguments to be a success.

About chapter 4, I thought it was a weak chapter.

One interesting point was “there is a very striking correlation between the abundance of the elements and their utility for life” (page 78). But the rest of the chapter on radioactivity, plate tectonics, geophysical and geochemical condition, and the hydosphere lacked the depth to convince me of their importance.

Confused wrote:Confused wrote:
A biocentric model, not an anthropocentric model. Life in general means nothing to theists unless their is proof that the universe was created specifically for man, not life in general. Thus far, he has not done this.

Otseng wrote:
Proof is too strong of a word. And I don’t believe anywhere does Denton state that he is trying to “prove” either biocentrism or anthropocentrism. Pg XI: ”

The aim of this book is ,first, to present the scientific evidence for believing that the cosmos is uniquely for life as it exists on earth and for the organisms of design and biology very similar to our own species, homo sapiens, and second to argue that this “unique fitness” of the laws of nature for life is entirely consistent with the older teleological religious concept of the cosmos as specifically, designed whole, with life adn mankind as its primary purpose”…………….” as I researched more deeply into the topic and as the manuscript went through successive drafts, it became increasingly clear that the laws of nature were fine-tuned for life on earth to a remarkable degree and that the emerging picture provided a powerful and self-evident support for the traditional anthropocentric teleological view of the cosmos”.

I’m not saying that he’s not arguing for anthropocentrism, rather simply that he doesn’t attempt to “prove” it. He uses the words “present the scientific evidence” and “provided a powerful and self-evident support”, but never “prove”.

Perhaps I’m quibbling over semantics, but my only disagreement with your point is in the use of the word “prove”.

Denton shares a bit on “proof” that near the end of the book.

page 386 wrote:… no hypothesis can be finally proved. All we can do with the hypothesis is attempt to refute it. The longer it resists our attempts, the better the theory. Consistency with the facts is the best we can hope for, even in the most powerful scientific theory.

And again, I would actually tend to agree agree with you that the book doesn’t argue much to support anthropocentrism, but rather primarily supports biocentrism.

Chapter 5 talks about the fitness of the carbon element.

Some excerpts:

page 106 wrote:Carbon is unique among the elements in the number and variety of the compounds which it can form. Over a quarter of a million have already been isolated and described, but this gives a very imperfect idea of its powers, since it is the basis of all forms of living matter. Moreover it is the only element which could occupy such a position.

page 111-112 wrote:The vast and unique plentitude of organic compounds can only be exploited by living systems within a temperature range of approximately -20 C to 120 C.

It is surely a highly suggestive coincidence that the chemical reactivity of the one great class of compounds, uniquely fit in so many other ways to serve as the build blocks of life, is of optimal utility for the complex atomic and molecular manipulations associated with life in precisely that temperature rang – 0 C to 100 C – in which water the one fluid supremely fit to serves as the matrix for carbon-based life forms, exists as liquid at sea level on the earth.

page 115 wrote:We can conclude that the weak bonds are only of utility for holding organic compounds into complex 3-D forms, within the terperature range of approximately 0 C to 100 C.

There are other points made in the chapter, and overall, I thought the chapter did a good job in arguing that carbon is the fittest element on which to base life.

Chapter 6 talks about the fitness of oxygen and carbon dioxide and how higher life forms are dependent on these gases.

page 120-121 wrote:All higher organisms obtain their energy supply from one of the most important chemical reactions on earth – the complete oxidation of reduced hydrocarbons to carbon dioxide and water:

reduced carbon compounds + oxygen = water + carbon dioxide

This key reaction provides many times more energy than any of the multitude of aternative energy-generating reactions.

Oxygen far surpasses any other chemical element except flourine in the amount of energy liberated in the process of combining with other elements. Fluorine is, however, dangerously reactive at ambient temperatures. Also … when fluorine reacts with hydrogen, the product hydroflouric acid is one of the most dangerously reactive of all acids.

So, oxygen is the most fit element for life for obtaining energy through chemical reactions.

page 126 wrote:“Oxygen is … the only element in the most appropriate physical state, with a satifactory solubility in water and with desirable combinations fo kinetic and thermodynamic properties.”
page 127 wrote:“the evolution of large complex forms of life on Earth was only possible due to the advent of atmosphereic oxygen and the subsequent evolution of oxidative phosphorylation. This requirement significantly reduces the probability of the evolution of complex life forms on some remote planet.”

Photosynthesis is the reverse reaction of oxidation.

page 137 wrote: water + carbon dioxide = oxygen + reduced carbon

Nearly all complex plant and animal life on earth depends upon it. It generates all the fuel … which energize complex life on earth.

So, though we take these two chemical reactions for granted, it reveals an elegant design of complex life. Oxygen and carbon dioxide are gases at earth temperature range and atmospheric pressure. Water is abundant. And life is based on carbon.

page 139 wrote:it highlights one of the main arguments of the book, namely that the laws of nature are fit for only one specific type of life – that which exists on earth.

Chapter 7 is about DNA and RNA. And Denton admits that it’s more difficult to demonstrate that DNA and RNA is the optimal solution.

page 160 wrote:Although the current evidence is insufficient to establish absolutely the unique fitness of DNA and RNA for their respective biological roles, all the available evidence is at least consistent with this position.

Though it cannot be conclusively shown that it is optimal, there can be no question that it is an elegant solution.

It has the ability to self-replicate. “Every living system replicates itself, yet no machine yet possesses this capacity even to the slightest degree” (pg 147).

Though it contains a lot of information, it is extremely compact. “The information necessary to specify the design of all the organisms which have ever existed on the planet, a number according to GG Simposon, of approximately 1 billion, could be easily compacted into an object the size of a grain of salt!” (pg 154)

It is quite stable, yet able to be split. “it is more stable than the great majority of laboratory biochemicals.” (pg 153) “Although the two strands of the helix bind strongly, their affinity is not so great that they cannot be pulled apart and manipulated by the biochemical machinery of the cell.” (pg 153)

Confused wrote:I agree with your overall assessments of chapters 6 and 7 but don’t agree that they are the most intelligent designs or even the best designs.

To show that they are not the best design requires you to give a plausible alternative that is superior. Otherwise, it is an unsubstantiated claim.

All of the processess are interdependent upon one another. If one of the processes is interrupted, say for instance an asteroid hits the earth leading to dust etc coating the earths atmosphere leading to no sunlight for an extended period of time so photosynthesis can’t occur, global temperatures can’t be maintained, and life is essentially suppressed and many plant and animals become extinct, then all the subsequent processes cannot occur.

Of course if a cataclysmic event occurs, then there will be a major disruption in life. But, I fail to see how this has any relevance to his argument.

He points to water being so essential, but fails to point out that most of what is found on earth (oceanic salt water) isn’t suitable for land life.

This is true also, but again, how is the fact that land life cannot live in saltwater relevant?

But look at the climate and atmosphere required for this elegant design. It must be maintained within narrow parameters.

I think this is another evidence of fine-tuning.

Too warm waters with too cool atmosphere leads to destructive hurricanes, too cool air in too warm atmosphere leads to massive thunderstorms and tornados. Too much gas pressures in the earths core leads to volcano eruptions and earthquakes.

I don’t recall anywhere where Denton argues for a “perfect” atmosphere.

But, actually I would agree that the current atmosphere is not “perfect”. And I believe the atmospheric conditions prior to the flood were superior to current conditions.

And considering that fact that though most mutations are insignificant, the fact that those that are consist of more fatal mutations rather than beneficial mutations once again demands the acknowledgment that regardless of how elegant Denton wants to make this, it certainly isn’t intelligent and most would consider it fairly incompetent to a degree when you factor in the inefficiency and unpredictability of the system as a whole.

I would agree that detrimental mutations vastly outnumbers beneficial mutations. But, I do not see this as evidence against design.

Just because viruses can infect Microsoft Vista does not mean that the Vista was not intelligently designed. Or if rust appears on a Cadillac, it doesn’t mean the car wasn’t intelligently designed.

McCulloch wrote:Perhaps, but it does argue against the omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence of Microsoft and General Motors.

Microsoft is not omnipotent?! Heresy!

Denton covers proteins in chapter 8.

page 182 wrote:As the constructor devices of the cell, it is the proteins that carry out all the atomic manipulations upon which life depends.

However, like DNA, Denton doesn’t conclusively show that proteins are the best solution.

page 186 wrote:While there could perhaps be “alternative” proteins of very different amino acid sequence and perhaps even basic design which are functionally equivalent to hemoglobin or collagen, if the teleological position is correct, then no “alternatives” should be fitter than the natural products. Unfortunately, protein chemistry is not sufficiently advanced to provide any clear answers. Consequently, the teleological position cannot be subjected to a vigorous test.

But, current evidence shows that no other class of molecules approaches the diverse range of functionality as proteins.

page 181 wrote:Within the context of current scientific knowledge proteins are, as far as we know, the only available molecular constructor devices possessing, first, the capacity to carry out a vast diversity of structural and functional chemical roles, involving every imaginable type of specific atomic and molecular manipulations and, second, the capacity to assemble themselves automatically without the help of an external agent.
page 188 wrote:In the entire realm of science no class of molecule is currently known which can remotely compete with proteins. It seems increasingly unlikely that the abilities of proteins could be realized to the same degree in any other material form.

BohemianBanjo wrote:The burden of proof is on those attempting to show that the implied design, or excellence of design, is inevitable. That’s exactly the subject of debate.

Yes, the burden of proof is upon Denton. And I think he does a good job arguing for his position in the book. He has provided quite detailed arguments and evidence for his position. So, if you have specific arguments against what Denton presents, please present those.

To beg the issue, and simply assume that there is design or excellence of design and expect ‘proof’ of the negative is a useless pursuit. The unsubstantiated claim is that of design.

No, I’m merely challenging Confused’s statement “but don’t agree that they are the most intelligent designs or even the best designs.” It is this statement that needs to be supported.

As for the evidence for design, I’ve already presented the arguments for light, water, carbon, oxygen, carbon dioxide, DNA, proteins, and some others. And I’ll be continuing on with the other chapters as time permits.

Confused wrote: Sorry, been out with flu. Will get up to speed and respond promptly by tonight.

Sorry to hear that. I’ve only gotten the flu once and it was enough for me.

Ok, plausible alternatives. To start with lets look at the mutations of DNA.

Before we go down too far with your scenarios, I’d like to reiterate the main points of chapter 6 and 7.

Chapter 6 covers how oxygen and carbon dioxide are the best gases for life for utilizing energy in chemical reactions. There is no indication that there are any better gases for carbon based life.

Chapter 7 covers DNA/RNA. There is no indication that there is a better mechanism for encoding the information for life. He even considers different number of nucleotide bases and different length of codons. And there is no indication that any other combination is better.

So, from a book debate perspective, there is no plausible alternate that is superior to the use of oxygen and DNA for life.

Now, outside of the book debate perpective, we can briefly consider your other questions.

Would an intelligent designer not have been more efficient had he prevented these mutations from occurring?

Well, if you do not allow for any mutations to occur, then micro-evolution would not be possible. And I think the ability of organisms to microevolve has great utility for life. Probably much more so than the scenario where organisms would not be able to microevolve.

Would not it been more efficient if these immune systems were active and effective in vitro so as to prevent mutations from occurring? Sort of a safety system?

I believe the DNA does have a self-correction system to attempt to fix transcription errors. And it has a self-repair system to fix damages.

Your computer can get a virus at any time the program is developed.

My point is that if an object can be “damaged”, it doesn’t mean by itself that the object was not intelligently designed.

Why not an immune system that takes an offensive stand instead?

I believe it does. The body has a self-protection mechanism against viruses. For most people, the majority of the time it is able to nuetralize the viruses.

Ok, I have offered two plausible alternatives that are better designs.

However, they are hypothetical scenarios. It would be like me telling Microsoft that they wrote an inferior operating system since it’s vulnerable to viruses. But until I can demonstrate how to write an OS that is impervious to viruses, then my claim is unproven.

Or the function of osmosis or active filtration in the cellular structure (going from higher concentrations to lower concentrations in order to maintain homeostasis)

Actually, I think this is an ingenious solution.

He claims the universe, atmosphere, etc are so intelligently designed but they can’t even prevent the harmful effects of UV radiation let alone another asteroid event.

Again, just because something can damage it, doesn’t show that it was not intelligently designed.

Your premise is that for something to be the best, it has to be impervious to any sort of damage. Sort of like saying Superman is not the best since he is vulnerable to Kryptonite.

This would contradict such fine tuning. As would the fact that half the earth is to dry so forest fires run rampant while the other half is being flooded every year (obviously half and half aren’t exact percentages, but used to make a point instead).

Forest fires can actually be beneficial for forests.

As for the fine-tuning of oxygen. If there is not enough oxygen, then life would not be able to exist. If there is too much oxygen, then fires would be uncontrollable.

page 121 wrote:The probability of a forest fire being ignited by lightning increases by as much as 70 percent for every 1 percent increase in the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere.

“Above 25% very little of our present land vegetation could survive the raging conflagrations which would destroy tropical rain forests and arctic tundra alike… The present oxygen level is at a point where risk and benefit nicely balance”.

And if rust appears on a Cadillac it may not mean that car wasn’t intelligently designed, but it obvioulsy wasn’t fine tuned.

But if the engine is running smoothly, then it would be evidence that it is fine-tuned. ;)

Confused wrote:No, DNA has no such self-correct system unless you consider spontaneous miscarriage a self correcting system. But DNA cannot repair itself. I would request where you get this information? If I am wrong, which is plausible though unlikely, then I stand corrected. But the latest information I have has not such correcting system.

Here are some links on DNA repair: … epair.html

The minimal clips you responded to shows the limited amount you wish to entertain me.

Please don’t take my terseness as being dismissive. Actually, I was trying to address some of your points, but I admit I’m not able to address all of them. Though I have been trying to address the general argument that just because something is not “perfect” it doesn’t show that it was not intelligently designed.

My alternative are directly related to the chapters in which you review.

I think we are saying two different things here.

From what I gather, what you are saying is that there are “faults” with DNA, oxygen, etc. But, what I’m saying is that just because there are “faults”, it doesn’t mean there is something else that is better.

The argument presented in the book is that (complex) life would have to be based on water, light, carbon, oxygen, carbon dioxide, DNA, and proteins. There are no other liquid, energy source, element, gas, molecular structure that is superior to base any life on. This is what I’m asking for when I say a plausible alternative. Besides the things listed, are there other viable alternatives?

QED wrote:But this is the same as believing, when you try on an off-the-shelf suit that fits you perfectly, that the factory specifically had Mr Oliver Tseng in mind.

If the factory had the capability of creating suits of any size, but only created my own size, then it would lead me to believe that it was designed specifically for me.

Incidentally, I can’t help but point out that if people perceive intelligent design in biology that’s precisely because there is a form of intelligence behind it. It’ s just not the same type of conscious intelligence that we’re most familiar with.

Actually, if you’re referring to natural selection, none of the chapters presented so far can be accounted for by natural selection. Only the components that would have predated the first life have so far been presented.

Confused wrote:Denton is the one claiming they are the superior designs. If I can point to as many flaws in the design that currently exists, as I have already done, then I effectively diminish the potency of his claim.

However, I do not think Denton makes this claim.

Rather, what he does say is:

page 193 wrote:We have seen that, in the case of water, the carbon atom, the process of oxidation, the light of main sequence stars, the earth’s hydrosphere, etc., the evidence suggest strongly that each is uniquely and optimally fit for its particular biological role. If the teleological position is correct, the DNA-protein system should also be uniquely and maximally fit for the advanced type of cellular life that exists on earth today.

… it seems hardly conceivable that there could be any other two molecules as mutually fit, or more perfectly adapted to play the fundamental roles of “information bearer” and “constructor device” in a self-replicating automaton as complex and intricate as the cell.

Confused wrote:Dentons argument has yet to show how the universe adapted for life as opposed to how life adapted to the universe.

As I’ve mentioned, none of the things presented so far can be explained as life adapting to the universe. All the things presented have been the basic components that are the building blocks of life. All these are necessary before even the first life could come about.

And before the first cell spontaneously appeared, life would ultimately lead to being based on light, Earthlike atmosphere, carbon, water, oxygen, and even possibly DNA and proteins. The fact is that anything else would be suboptimal or not even possible.

Furrowed Brow wrote:Thus Nature’s Destiny never manages to move off the base of a weak anthropic principle – things look the way they are because that’s the way we find them.

The book addresses this charge:

page 385 wrote:It is sometimes claimed by critics of the design hypothesis that the universe is bound to look as if it is designed for our existence because we could only be here if the universe was adapted for our existence. There is abviously an element of truth in this line of argument, for indeed the universe must be adapted to some degree for life but rather on the far stronger claim that the cosmos is otimally adapted for life so that every constituent of the cell and every law of nature is uniquely and ideally fashioned to that end.

The design hypothesis can, of course, be refuted … For example, the discovery of an alternative liquid as fit as water for carbon-based life, or of a superior mean of constructing a genetic tape, better than the double helix, of alternatives superior to oxidation, superior to proteins …

Furrowed Brow wrote:And if life in that universe occurs, then they will see they are made of carbon.

This is precisely what Denton is saying.

page 140 wrote:For life we need the carbon atom and water, and for complex life we neeed oxygen, we need carbon dioxide, we need bicarbonate, we need the transitional metals, we need an atmosphere like that on earth, and we need all the chemical and physical properties precisely as they are. And for life anywhere in the cosmos it will be the same. For there is no alternative.
Furrowed Brow wrote:It is not the case that we see the universe the way it is because its rules are adapted to allow some degree of life

The issue is that if the properties were not adjusted, set, positioned for what they are, then life would not be possible at all.

Take the point where the density of water is lower in solid state than in liquid state. This anomoly is required for any marine life to exist. If water behaved like any other liquid, there would be no marine life. Fortuitous chance that this anomoly occurs for water? It’s possible. But, what we see is a multitude of fortuitous chances. And as the evidence mounts, the conclusion of intentional design strengthens.

page 384 wrote:The strength of any teleological argument is basically accumulative. It does not lie with any one individual piece of evidence alone but with a whole series of coincidences all of which point irresistibly to one conclusion.

It lies in the summation of all the evidence, in the whole long chain of coincidences which leads so convincingly toward the unique end of life, in the fact that all the independent lines of evidence fit together into a beautiful self-consistent teleological whole.

QED wrote:But isn’t their argument resting upon the fact that we only see one universe

Any observation would be based on only one universe. Whether we are talking about physics, science, mathematics, history, etc. To base our understanding on what we observe on the “one” universe we have is all we can go upon.

QED wrote:and from this observation is drawn the assumption that this is the only universe

I think it is a fairly solid assumption. Especially considering the fact that there is no evidence that there are any other universes.

QED wrote:So it seems to me that this whole argument rests entirely upon the enormous statistical errors involved in a “sample of one”.

Denton’s arguments rests upon the scientific facts that we observe in our universe. And makes a conclusion that applies to our own universe. The fact that he only observes our own universe does not diminish his argument.

Furrowed Brow wrote:From fortuitous chance only fortuitous chance follows – you never get design.

Quite right. And I don’t believe it is by chance or being fortuitous. My point is that if one believes all of those coincidences are by chance, then it’s hard to explain the multitude of coincidences except by design.

For sake of argument I have conceded Denton all the ground he wants, and still the design argument gains zero purchase. That was the point of my previous post.

I understand this is your point, but I fail to see your argument explaining why.

Denton has argued that before life even started, we can predict how life would be like. This point Denton presents convincingly.

Now, the next step is then does this point to design? I would say yes.

Suppose we see an arrow on a wall in the middle of a bullseye. Is this a sign that someone has good aim? Not necessarily. It could be he shot an arrow and then painted a target around it. But, if he painted a target first, then shot and hit the bullseye, then it would be a sign he’s a good shot.

Same thing here. It’s not that life came about and then we say based on because we are here that we are designed. It’s the fact that the target was painted before we got here. Even before the first cell even got here. The necessary conditions, the target, was painted even before life came about. And then life hit the target. Because of this, it is evidence for design.

Some definitions of design:
– to conceive or fashion in the mind; invent
– to have as a goal or purpose; intend
– to create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner

We can see how life was conceived even before life arrived. We can know from the laws of physics and chemistry what life would be like. We can see the goal even before it got started. We can see how the optimal components were used to create life.

It is not a result of chance that we are here, but of purposeful design.

QED wrote:Now, if we’re being really strict, this creates a problem for everyone. No matter how tempted we are to insist on gaining meaning from our statistical sample of one (one universe, one base for life) no statistician would (or should) ever be content with that setup. The statistical error simply renders any conclusion worthless.

However, the argument that Denton presents is not as simple as saying that we have only one universe and only have life on Earth to sample. Rather, it is based on the known properties of chemistry and physics to make his argument. We look at the properties of carbon, oxygen, EMR, carbon dioxide, water and conclude that these are the optimal components to constitute any complex life.

Suppose a prosecutor only brings in one suspect to the courtroom. The defense cannot simply argue that the prosecutor has no case since he only has one suspect. What makes the case admissible are the evidences that the prosecutor brings in that shows the suspect is guilty. It is on the evidence alone that the case would rest on, not the number of suspects.

He is not arguing that since we only see one type of life in this universe that therefore that can be the only one type of life. If he simply claimed that, it wouldn’t be worth considering.

What Denton does do is analyze the evidence, the components of life, and argues successfully that they are the optimal components and that any complex life would have to be similar to life on earth.

Victor Stenger wrote:Ultimately fatal to the design argument is the unwarranted assumption that only one type of life is possible–a chemistry-based life such as we have here on earth. This would not exist except for the narrow range of parameters in our universe.

This is not assumed in the book. Rather, it is what he concludes in the book and presents arguments to support it.

So, rather than being an unwarranted assumption, it is a supported conclusion through the evidence that he presents.

QED wrote:The only defense you have against this contending explanation is to demonstrate that the observable universe is, or can be, the only extant region of spacetime. This, as I have pointed out, is already ruled out as we know that we’re seeing a horizon imposed by the speed of light rather than a physical boundary.

Really the only assumption that I see is that the laws of chemistry and physics are the same throughout the universe. If we make observations based on what we see here, it should be applicable throughout the universe. Carbon would still be carbon. Water would still be water and so on.

As for the observable universe horizon, it would not be relevant. As long as the laws of chemistry and physics are the same outside of the horizon, the claims would still apply.

Design is just another hypothetical option along with several other contenders.

What are the other contenders that you mention?

All of it’s attraction stems from complex human factors that are incidental to the external actuality. None of these factors actually compel us to break the symmetry of the ambiguity.

Whoa, that passed directly over my head. Could this be rephrased in more simplistic terms?

Perhaps I might have a go at explaining it then. We can take any mathematical treatment we like for assessing the probability (and there are some pretty cute ones!) that the universe should have the properties it does but we will always arrive at a finite figure — no matter how large. This figure then invites an explanation. Setting aside the possibility that there are unseen inter-dependencies and treating all factors as independent (the worst case for a naturalistic treatment) all we do is increase the size of the probabilistic state-space from which our universe is drawn. If an anthropic coincidence multiplies the improbability by six orders of magnitude, we can argue that the state-space must be six orders of magnitude greater in extent. That’s why FB can concede an entire encyclopedia of anthropic coincidences and still reject the design argument as being the only possible explanation.

I guess I’m a bit too simple-minded, but I fail to grasp your argument.

Perhaps it’d be easier for me to understand your point if you could present the other possible explanations for the apparent design that we observe.

Any universe that we, as carbon-based life, can look out upon today will necessarily have looked as it did long before nucleosynthesis started churning out our carbon.

OK. I think on this point we agree. Life as we have now will necessarily have come out the way it has. There is no alternative. Denton further claims that any other lifeform on another planet will also necessarily be the same. We see that the physical/chemical properties can only allow life like ours to come about.

So, I guess the only point of contention is whether this shows design or not. Again, I would say yes.

If there was no other way for life to form and only one way for it to exist, then it would fall under the definition of design. It would show that the end would’ve been preordained. The goal of life would’ve been set at the very beginning. It would show that Earth-like life is special and unique because it would be the only life that could come about. All of these would be the hallmark of design rather than chance.

Without the full context of what we’re seeing we’re quite helpless in drawing such a grand conclusion.

What would be the “full context”?

Furrowed Brow wrote:Now take a zillion blind archers and point them in any direction; eventually one of them is going to hit that very small area of possibility.

However, there has not been a zillion archers, but only one. We have no evidence of life (or any attempts of forming life) based on anything but the components that life is currently based on.

we can say all those other arrows are dead arrows, and so don’t get to ask the question

However, there is no record of any “dead arrows”. We have absolutely no evidence of any life attempting to form that is not based on DNA/RNA. Or not based on carbon. Or not based on water.

That one result is a zillion to one shot, but enough blind arrows were fired to bring down the odds.

Do you have though any evidence of any blind arrows that were shot?

However, this last response is inadequate, because it still to some degree buys into the notion that life is a preferential state over all the other possible results.

What are the other possible results that you mention?

To presume it is a zillion to one shot is to presume that spot is special in some respect.

I think Denton argues well that the spot is special. In fact, the majority of the content of the book is simply presenting the scientific evidence of why the components and conditions for life are optimal.

Thus, even if you accept that life is as finely balanced as Denton suggests, which I don’t, the argument for design presupposes that life is a special result.

I don’t recall Denton specifically stating that life is “special”, so I doubt he presupposes that.

But what he does state is that life is comprised of the optimal components. And the physical laws of the universe was constrained for life to come about the way that it did.

Confused wrote:except it presupposes that there was no other way for it to happen.

I do not think he presupposes this. But, what he does argue is that any other way would be suboptimal, if even possible.

In the example you gave still shows that humans use oxygen. What Denton is arguing is the there is no other element that is suitable for providing energy for complex carbon based life.

page 120-121 wrote: All higher organisms obtain their energy supply from one of the most important chemical reactions on earth – the complete oxidation of reduced hydrocarbons to carbon dioxide and water:

reduced carbon compounds + oxygen = water + carbon dioxide

This key reaction provides many times more energy than any of the multitude of aternative energy-generating reactions.

Oxygen far surpasses any other chemical element except flourine in the amount of energy liberated in the process of combining with other elements. Fluorine is, however, dangerously reactive at ambient temperatures. Also … when fluorine reacts with hydrogen, the product hydroflouric acid is one of the most dangerously reactive of all acids.

Denton takes science and narrows the scope to lead the reader to see only the defined parameters he cites.

Of course. That’s the goal of the book. But, to argue against it would require showing how any other component for life would be better. And he argues that these “narrow” parameters is both optimal and what we find in life.

But Denton is attempting to use science to validate his book

I think that is the strength of the book. Rather than relying on philosophical arguments or hypothetical scenarios, he uses verifiable science.

I’ve noticed that nobody in this debate has so far had any problems with the scientific facts that Denton has brought up. Nobody has disagreed with any scientific points he has presented. And nobody has offered any alternatives to carbon, water, oxygen, light, carbon dioxide, etc. The only “alternatives” proposed have been modifications within these components, not other components.

QED wrote:The conclusion that is in contention is that these things are evidence of a deliberate act of creation by virtue of their apparent optimisation. Optimisation is a concept that is inextricably linked to the statistical landscape of possibilities and probabilities. To specifically infer deliberate design from the observation that so many improbable things have come together for our existence is to imply that you know for sure that no other attempts have been made elsewhere/before. If you have that knowledge then you can make that claim. We do not have that knowledge.

There are no evidence that any other attempts have been made on Earth. So, from what we can observe, we have no signs of any other attempts.

Could other attempts have happened on other planets? There could be. But, based on the arguments of the book, if they are any different, they would not optimally make use of the physical and chemical laws. Other life could potentially form based on silicon, but we know that it could not form as much compounds as carbon. Life could potentially use liquid hydrogen, but it would not be as optimal as water. Life could draw energy from radioactive elements, but it would not be as optimal as radiation around the visible light spectrum.

The premise of the book is that it is these components that are optimal. The optimization is then evident in that life makes use of these optimal components.

The evidence Denton is submitting does not bear witness to an act of deliberate creation as it has nothing to distinguish it from an alternative possibility. His conclusion rests on the probability for the coincidences which, in the absence of the full context for our observations, amounts to nothing better than a guess.

I’m not sure what you mean by the alternate possibilities.

His conclusions doesn’t rest on the probability of coincidences, but on the fact that we can determine based on the physical laws what the optimal components for life would be. This can be established even before any life would arise.

If we know the optimal components for life before any life came about, and life happened to come about any other way, then it would show that life would not have come about by intelligent design, but by random chance.

For example. Suppose a student takes a 100 problem true/false test. If he answers every one correct, we can safely say that he studied for the test. We know before when he took the test what the optimal answers would be. But, if he only gets 50% correct, then we can say that he probably just guessed at the answers.

Likewise, before life came about, we know based on the physical laws what would be the optimal components for life. And life came about by matching these components. Therefore we can conclude that it was a result of an intelligent cause.

How many other universes have been constituted? The certainty with which you can draw his conclusion is directly related to the certainty you have that this is the only region of space-time that has ever existed.

The conclusion would only apply for our own universe since that is the only thing that we can draw evidence from.

Yet if life is a product of a self-organizing process then we should expect it to follow principles of least action and therefore automatically select the richest set of elemental combinations out of all the different possibilities available.

You’ll need to clarify what “self-organize” means.

If you mean self-organize in that the components were “pre-programmed” to be of optimal utility for life, then I would agree with it. But, if you mean that the precursors to life were to “self-select” and “adapt” among the number of components around it, then I would disagree.

An example is the self-folding of proteins. Proteins fold only because of their chemical and physical properties. It is by the properties themselves that allow for proteins to self-fold not by any type of “selection” process.

If we were to find life based on boron and liquid ammonia, say on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, we know in advance that those elements are the optimal candidates for the formation of complex molecules far from the warming effects of the Sun.

However, no scientists ever considers any other liquid besides water for life. Water would still be the optimal liquid for any type of life. Even in regards to Enceladus, “Living organisms require liquid water and organic materials, and we know we have both on Enceladus now” says Carolyn Porco, head of the imaging team for the Cassini mission to Saturn.

It is by the properties alone of water that it is considered optimal for life, not simply that we have an abundance of it here on Earth. And even if any other liquid would be more abundant on another planet, it would not therefore make it optimal.

It appears that Denton is simply revealing his deep-down conviction that life is a product of deliberate design

Actually, this is not true. But, even if he was biased when he wrote the book, it would not be relevant to the truth of his argument.

QED wrote:

otseng wrote:

QED wrote:The evidence Denton is submitting does not bear witness to an act of deliberate creation as it has nothing to distinguish it from an alternative possibility. His conclusion rests on the probability for the coincidences which, in the absence of the full context for our observations, amounts to nothing better than a guess.

I’m not sure what you mean by the alternate possibilities.

We’re often drifting from one level of “creation” to another here, but the arguments are ultimately the same. In the case of the assembly of living organisms from complex chains of molecules it’s probably a fact that the complexity isn’t optional. For something like a human being to be capable of discussing the issue we will necessarily see complex molecular biology. That in itself doesn’t tell us anything about the route to that complexity and hence if it was deliberate in any way.

However, Denton is not arguing simply that something is “complex” makes it optimal. Or that humans can discuss it makes it optimal. Rather, it is by analyzing the fundamental components of life and looking at other possibilities and then determining that they are optimal. The alternate components are analyzed and determined to be sub-optimal.

Natural selection is an optimising process at the level we’re discussing here.

Natural selection only applies after life first arrives. Before life comes about, there is no natural selection. And all that we’ve covered so far have been the components that exist prior to life coming about.

Maybe, but what kind of intelligence? There’s a common misconception that natural processes of self-organization are in some way blind and will make “design choices” that are entirely random.

Again, if you’re referring to natural selection, it would not apply if there is no life yet. So, determining what components to use would not entail natural selection.

I think the hope is finding some sort of pre-life natural selection counterpart. But, so far, there is not such a thing. The only thing that would be available is random chance.

So, if there is an apparent design, there would only be two ways to explain it – intelligence or random chance.

Confused wrote:He does presuppose this in failing to consider the possibilities of other universes with different properties, different chemistry, different cosmological constants: therefor different possible building blocks for life. However, since this is in the realm of theoretical physics rather than experimental at this point in time, I can hardly use anymore concrete proof that these “pocket universes” exist than he can give me proof of the anthropic principle.

True, he does not consider other universes. But, it would not be necessary to consider other universes. Nor would it even be possible to consider them.

He is using natural to conclude supernatural. If he is allowed to validly do this, then I am just as valid as using the known to conclude the unknown. In other words, if you say he is justified in using what is currently known about the universe to validate “fine tuning” or an ultimate “designer” (both of which involve the supernatural as an explanation), then how is it any less valid for me to say that theoretical physics can use the knowns of the universe and validate the megaverse theory (currently more provable with theories/equations and has more viable opportunities for being proven/disproven with the advancement of technology in the future).

I believe he only goes where the evidence leads. Even if it means in concluding the supernatural.

One can certainly believe that any conclusion is unknowable. But, such an explanation would not be founded on any evidence or rationale.

As for the multiverse explanation, there are no evidence to support such a view.

That is abusing science by taking the natural and using it to try to validate the supernatural.

Actually, he has no pre-set bias on trying to validate the supernatural. But, even if he did, it would not constitute an “abuse” of science. Everything that he presents uses verifiable scientific evidence. There is pure science with no hint of “abuse”.

What naturalists would object to his conclusion. But, just because someone does not like the conclusion does not mean it is illogical or wrong or even abusive.

When I say he leads to reader to find no other conclusion but the one he presents, I say he does this with the wrong purpose IMHO.

In general, this is how science works. Scientists formulate their own hypothesis and present evidence to support it. There is nothing wrong with him attempting to lead the reader to his conclusion. The only thing that would be wrong is if his evidence or rationale is wrong, not in where it leads to.

He successfully avoids the facts that science isn’t meant to point to what he is attempting to make it point to.

Science should only go where the evidence leads to. It should not be biased beforehand on what the conclusion should or should not be.

He fails to demonstrate why Y is the only alternative.

Actually, he does consider the other alternatives. In practically each chapter so far, he does this.

It is misleading and falsely guiding the reader down a narrow path that will only lead to YOUR conclusion.

I would dare say that practically all books do this.

In doing so, we don’t rely on the supernatural as a final cause of something simply because we don’t know different yet. If we did this, all progress would stop and the world would become stagnant.

Nobody is saying that science should stagnate or that all scientists should turn into theologians. Even Denton now is continuing his scientific studies. Nobody is saying that science needs to stop.

Yes, I already know that you are going to counter with your typical “you must prove that there are alternatives to discredit Dentons”. And I will still say that I don’t, I must only prove that his aren’t the only ones. This is something done easily with theoretical physics. Then you will say, those aren’t provable. Then I will say, neither is “fine tuning” or “an intelligent designer”.

Yes, you read my mind. :)

I will say that noone is “proving” anything. Denton is simply presenting his hypothesis and the evidence to back it up. And based on the evidence he presents, he has a very strong case.

Not only is that as narrow minded as Dentons book, but it is also an abuse of science (IMHO).

If I’m called “narrow minded” that’s fine. But, it is on the strength of the evidence that is important, not if the conclusion, or the author, happens to be “narrow-minded”.

Chapter 9 goes into the fitness of the metals. I’m not going to spend much time in this chapter, but I’ll just quote one part on calcium.

page 206 wrote:In biological systems, it is calcium which is preeminently used where chemical information must be transmitted at great speed, as in the triggering of muscle contraction, transmission of nerve impulses across the synapse, triggering hormone release, the changes following fertilization, etc. As Williams point out in his review, “Amongst the metal ions available to biology only calcium can be high in concentration, can diffuse rapidly, can bind and dissociate strongly.”

Chapter 10 talks about the fitness of the cell.

page 212 wrote: It is these remarkable specks of organized matter that have constructed every multicellular organism that ever existed on earth.

They can do anything, adopt almost any shape, obey any order, and seem in every sense perfectly adapted to their assigned task of creating a biosphere replete with multicellular organisms like ourselves.

Then he describes lipids and how they are fit for life.

page 213 wrote:Lipids are found in all living things. They have many different functions. They are a major source of cellular energy. They function as electrical insulators and as detergents.

page 214 wrote:The fact that many types of lipids are insoluble in water is of great biological significance.

If there were no carbon compounds insoluble in water, such as lipids, organic chemistry would not be fit for life.

The hydrocarbon chain length of most of the lipids which occur in the cell is generally between 16 and 18 carbon atoms long. This chain length is fit for a number of reasons. Chain lengths of more than 18 carbon long are too insoluble to be of biological utility – they cannot be mobilized at all in water – but less than 16, they are too soluble. Fortuitously, lipids containing chains of this length are also fluid or near fluid over the temperature range in which most metabolic processes occur in living things.

Then he relates about lipids and the cell membrane.

page 215 wrote:One of the most important structures in the cell, which is largely composed of lipids, is the cell membrane.

But, the interesting thing is the properties of the lipids allow the cell membrane to form automatically.

page 215 wrote:The beauty of it is that everything arranges itself … simply because of their intrinsic chemical nature phospholipids naturally and spontaneously self-assemble to form a bilayer in a watery solution… It is, as it were, “the nature of the beast” for them to do so.

No other material is known which could substitute for this particular structure.

page 223 wrote:It is surely highly suggestive of design that a soup of these basic vital ingredients at precisely the concentration required to carry out the miracle of self-replication surrounded by the lipid bilayer should have, coincidentally, precisely the suite of biophysical properties of viscosity, density, excitability, etc, ideally and uniquely suited for the cell to carry out its designated task of building a biosphere of multicellular life.
page 233 wrote:The prefabrication of parts to a unique end is the very hallmark of design. Moreover, there is imply no way that such prefabrication could be the result of natural selection. Design in the very components which make an organism possible cannot be, as Carl Pantin pointed out some time ago, the result of natural selection. The many vital mutual adaptations in the constituents of life were given by physics long before any living thing existed and long before natural selection could have begun to operate.

Confused wrote:It is one of those “duh” things that makes one say “of course these are perfect parameters, building blocks, etc…. for life, because without them, life wouldn’t have evolved”.

The question then is it the result of design or of chance?

If life can only come about the way it has, it would indicate that the end is unique. There would be no chance involved since there is only one possible outcome. If it is not be chance, then it would be by design.

Denton’s hypothesis would be easily falsifiable by finding any type of life different from ours. Though we might not ever find any alien lifeform, at least in principle it would be falsifiable. Or it can also be falsifiable by finding any other component that would be more optimal. And this could be achieved here at Earth.

Denton limits the view of the reader by narrowing them down to observing the facts, then slams them in part two of his book by further narrowing these facts to take them out of the realm of natural and into the realm of supernatural.

It appears that what you have an issue with is the conclusion, rather than the arguments to reach that conclusion. If the arguments are sound, then that is what is important. It should not matter if the conclusion is not palatable. In this case, simply because the conclusion arrives at the supernatural, it does not mean that the argument is not sound.

What makes Denton all the more despicable is the fact that his applications of science misleads the reader by leading them into a position in which his final outcome can never be experimented.

Not sure what you mean by experimented. But the components that Denton brings up are certainly observable and testable. His hypothesis makes predictions. And I’ve pointed above on how it is falsifiable. These are the classic signs of a valid scientific hypothesis.

But this in no way proves that the target of the cells were specifically for the advancement of life rather than life is nothing more than a consequence of the cell.

What it does show is that the properties of lipids are optimally fit for life.

QED wrote:Denton’s conclusion is totally dependant on the assumption that our universe is the only instance of a region of space-time with a “personality” made up from a particular set of laws/forces etc. It doesn’t look as though Denton is aware of this as it should be acknowledged as an assumption at the outset. Rule number one in declaring your conclusions: always list your assumptions.

I would agree with this. The underlying assumption is that the physical laws are consistent throughout the universe. But, I would say this assumption underlies most everything, especially cosmology.

If the laws are different elsewhere, and we do not know what those laws are, we would not be able to make any statements or predictions about those places.

QED wrote:

otseng wrote: True, he does not consider other universes. But, it would not be necessary to consider other universes. Nor would it even be possible to consider them.

It is necessary, and hence it is not possible to draw any inferences about deliberate design from appearances alone.

He does not need to consider other universes because he makes no statements or predictions about other universes. His predictions apply only to our own universe.

QED wrote:In the context I have used it means for ordering to ocur in any system without the manual intervention of some sentient agency.

However, Denton does not believe in any “manual intervention” either. Rather, all “self-organization” would be a result of the properties built into the components.

QED wrote:The periodic table of elements presents many potential configurations in the same ways as a child’s toy bricks (are you familiar with LEGO?) are capable of linking. Of all the potential configurations it is a vanishingly small number that form “useful” roles as life-giving materials. I fail to see how we can draw any conclusions from this.

My child has a Lego set to make an airplane. He could conceivably make other things out of it. But, the end goal is an airplane. All the parts were put into the box and predesigned to form an airplane. If he put all the pieces together optimally, it would look exactly like what is on the picture on the box. And if he did put it together optimally, there’d be two explanations. Either he read the directions and followed it or he got real lucky by putting it together randomly.

This is similar to what Denton presents. Before life even came about, all the components were set up to allow for an optimal end result. And any other outcome would be suboptimal. And we can see before the pieces were put together what the end result would be. And it turned out exactly how it was setup to be.

QED wrote:Water on that moon or anywhere else is obviously useless as a solvent below 0 degrees C.

True. But if life is based on carbon, organic compounds can only be of utility between the temperature range of 0 to 100 degrees C. Outside of this range, organic compounds would not be able to maintain their form. And out of all the elements, carbon forms the most compounds. More on water and carbon below.

QED wrote:has an affinity with ammonia and hence can form into long-chain molecules at temperatures where ammonia is liquid (i.e. around -77C)
However, ammonia does have some problems as a basis for life. The hydrogen bonds between ammonia molecules are weaker than those in water, causing ammonia’s heat of vaporization to be half that of water, its surface tension to be three times smaller, and reducing its ability to concentrate non-polar molecules through a hydrophobic effect. For these reasons, science questions how well ammonia could hold prebiotic molecules together in order to allow the emergence of a self-reproducing system. Ammonia is also combustible and oxidizable and could not exist sustainably in a biosphere that oxidizes it.

Astrobiologists generally agree that life requires liquid water to form and to survive. (emphasis mine)

“Ice won’t do it. Water vapor in the air won’t do it. Somehow there has to condense at least a microlayer of water,” for life to evolve and survive, said Gene McDonald a scientist at the Astrobiology Research Element at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The insistence on water is not so much a peculiar egocentricity or some sort of narrow-mindedness that keeps scientists from imagining fundamental alternatives to life as we know it. It’s simply a limitation imposed by the laws of chemistry, McDonald said. (emphasis mine)

“If you’re going to do biochemistry, you have to move things around. And it’s a lot easier to move molecules around in liquid than it is in solid.”

It is not likely that the complex chemistry required to form living organisms can occur when molecules are locked in a solid matrix.

Vapor poses another barrier to developing life. “If you’re in the air, if you’re just floating around, then it’s hard to keep all of your parts together,” McDonald said. “If you’re a cell, you’ve got to keep your cell machinery together. So just on a physical basis, it makes the most sense to have life in a liquid medium.”

Scientists have suggested a few other solvents that might work in biochemistry for forming living organisms. Ammonia is the most promising of these, but liquid ammonia exists well below the freezing point of water, at temperatures where molecules and chemical interactions move only very slowly.

Ammonia melts at minus 107 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 77 Celsius) and evaporates at minus 28.3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 33.5 Celsius). If life did exist in a liquid-ammonia environment, it would face major challenges doing the simple chemistry it needs to fuel its own metabolism, McDonald said. “But it’s not absolutely impossible,” he added.

QED wrote:It is in my view a great act of carbon chauvinism to suggest that our kind of life is the most optimal.

One reason carbon is given the best chance is its versatility. “Carbon can make a lot of different compounds with a lot of different chemical properties, and it can have a lot of different functions,” he said.

The general consensus among scientists is that the kind of life likely to be found on other planets is carbon-based life “that looks at least something like life on Earth,” McDonald said.

Silicon has a number of handicaps as a carbon analogue, however. Because silicon atoms are much bigger, they have difficulty forming double or triple bonds. Silanes (hydrogen-silicon compounds analogous to the alkane hydrocarbons) are highly reactive with water, and long-chain silanes spontaneously decompose. Molecules incorporating Si-O-Si bonds (known collectively as silicones) instead of Si-Si bonds are much more stable; ordinary sand is one such example. However, silicon dioxide (the analogue of carbon dioxide) is a non-soluble solid at the temperature range where liquid water is possible making it difficult for silicon to be introduced into water-based biochemical systems even if the necessary range of biochemical molecules could be constructed out of it. In general, complex long-chain silicone-based molecules are still more unstable than their carbon counterparts.

Finally, of the varieties of molecules identified in interstellar space as of 1998, 84 are based on carbon and 8 are based on silicon. Moreover, of the eight Si-based compounds, four also include carbon within them. This suggests a greater variety of complex carbon compounds throughout the cosmos, providing less of a foundation upon which to build silicon-based biologies. The cosmic abundance of carbon to silicon is 3.5 to 1. … chauvinism

QED wrote:Well that just sounds plain wrong to me. Of all the contenders for the transition from random chemistry to organic life, natural selection seems the most logical to me.

Even Dawkins admits that there is no natural selection (or anything similar) prior to the first life coming about. And also, by definition, natural selection only applies to life. So, until some counterpart is found, there doesn’t exist any such solution.

QED wrote:Do you recall my big box of “S” hooks? The mere geometry of the “S” is such that it naturally forms long chains if we swish them around.

Actually, I don’t recall reading that.

But, what if you pull out of the big box the hooks and all of the hooks are connected? As the number of hooks increases, the odds get smaller. If you have a lot of hooks in there and you pull them all out in one shot, I’d suspect some sort of intelligent intervention.

QED wrote:

otseng wrote: He does not need to consider other universes because he makes no statements or predictions about other universes. His predictions apply only to our own universe.

Yes he does. He makes an implicit statement about their non-existence the moment he concludes deliberate design from fitness observations made in this universe. Notice that this statement can be made irrespective of this being the only “universe” or one of many. This uncertainty commutes directly to his conclusion.

What he says is this:

“And for life anywhere in the cosmos it will be the same. For there is no alternative.” (page 140)

He makes no statement, implicit or explicit, about the existence or non-existence of life in other universes.

Furrowed Brow wrote:If there is only one universe with life in a sea of alternatives without life, that maybe highly meaningful to us, but mathematically makes that universe no more unique.

The problem is that, even if those other universes do exist, we have no empirical evidence of them. Thus, it makes it outside of science.

QED wrote:LEGO has only relatively recently begun to supply components in sets that make a particular model. The original concept was for the bricks to be general purpose and it was left entirely to the child’s imagination as to what models might be built. Given that the universe is populated by an unfathomably wide variety of atomic structures of all shapes and sizes I wouldn’t like to try supporting the argument that there was some particular picture on the box. The real picture has been in constant flux anyway.

My child has a big red box of Lego pieces. He has the freedom to make anything he wants from them. He has the capability of making a wide variety of things that’s only limited by his imagination.

But, he also has one particular Lego set that has pieces to make an airplane. The picture of the final product is on the front of the box. If he brings me something that looks exactly like the picture of the airplane on the box, then I’d be very impressed.

What is the difference? It’s because in the second instance I know what was supposed to be the final product before he even started making it. In the first instance, he could simply make things at random and I wouldn’t know what the final product should look like.

In the case of life, we can determine beforehand what the final outcome should look like. That is, it should be based on carbon, water, light, oxygen, and even DNA and proteins.

This is the crux of the design argument of Denton’s book.

If we did not know what the end is supposed to look like, it can be a bit subjective to determine if intelligence was involved or not. More likely, it would be a result of random chance. But, if we know what the end is to look like, and it looks likes that, it is a sign of intelligence.

This is similar to the target analogy where the target is painted first, and then an arrow is shot and hits the bullseye.

The target as argued for in the book is predetermined by the physical laws. Even now, scientists are looking for signs of life that should be similar to us. It’s not simply because of Earth chauvinism, but because the physical properties dictates it.

So, if we find intelligent alien life, just like practically all science fiction movies show, they would look almost identical to us (some might have pointed ears).

And wouldn’t that also be interesting? That any intelligent life found in the entire cosmos would look just like us? Wouldn’t that also be further evidence of some sort of conspiracy?

QED wrote:Do you not accept that this carbon chauvinism might be due to us happening to live in this particular Goldilocks range (0-100 deg.C)? This might be the most probable situation for sentient philosophers to find themselves in but it doesn’t rule out others.

It is not only because of the temperature range that makes carbon optimal. Even outside of this temperature range, silicon cannot make the number of compounds that carbon can.

QED wrote:Aren’t you even the teensiest bit nervous about using optimality and sub-optimality in drawing conclusions of this nature? I simply couldn’t bring myself to base arguments on such a subjective concept.

If it was not based on empirical data, I would be. But, we can objectively determine the optimality of the components.

QED wrote:It strikes me as being almost inevitable that with so many different elements having so many different properties that there will be one element amongst them all that best supports long chain molecules within a particular range of temperatures and pressures.

Suppose we have one class that have 30 students in it. Each student take all their tests by guessing. None of them study for the tests. At the end of the semester, Susie gets the top grade. By itself, this doesn’t mean much. Certainly one student will make the top grade.

But, suppose that the same group of students take another class in the next semester. And Susie again gets the top grade. Now things start to get suspicious.

If semester after semester Susie gets the top grade, then we start to suspect that Susie is not taking the tests randomly, but some intelligence is involved.

The argument Denton presents is not dependent on just one observation. But on a whole set of observations that reveal that intentional design has more explanatory power than random chance. It is the whole synthesis of optimal components and how they fit together that argues for teleology, not just from a single observation.

QED wrote:If it is known that ours is the only instance of space-time governed by a unique set of physical laws then we are indeed presented with an enigma. However we do not have this knowledge (as I keep on reminding us) so, no matter how tantalizing the appearances may be, we cannot draw the monumental conclusions that we might otherwise feel entitled to.

Yes, but as I also keep pointing out, if we have no empirical evidence, it is outside of science.

QED wrote:By who’s definition does natural selection only apply to life?

Here are some:

Some types of organisms within a population leave more offspring than others. Over time, the frequency of the more prolific type will increase. The difference in reproductive capability is called natural selection. Natural selection is the only mechanism of adaptive evolution; it is defined as differential reproductive success of pre- existing classes of genetic variants in the gene pool. … tml#natsel

Natural selection is the evolutionary process by which favorable traits that are heritable become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable traits that are heritable become less common.

QED wrote:Natural selection to me describes any ordering process that isn’t deliberately performed by a sentient agency.

If some sort of non-biological “natural selection” counterpart exist, I think it should use a different terminology to avoid confusion.

QED wrote:I fail to see how that is relevant to the context in which I offered the example. It was presented to demonstrate that particular geometries can be naturally self-ordering. The belief that man (like) agencies are necessary for all or any apparent order we see around us is thus shown to be fallacy.

It relates by the example I posted above. As the odds decreases of a random event to occur, and it does occur, then the odds of intelligent intervention increases.

Furrowed Brow wrote:No. Take any repeatable experiment you care to name. Given a set of conditions a predictable outcome results. For example. at sea level water boils at 100c. Not 80c nor 120c. The result is unique. Therefore it must be designed yes….well no. OK that was a simple example. But the principle still applies. Make it a very complicated set of conditions, if probability is not involved, and the result is the only possible outcome then the result is not chance. If the designer had no alternative then there is no designing going on. So it is invalid to infer the result is designed.

Denton has done a good job here of muddying the water.

Denton does not make any argument like this. So, Denton does not “muddy the waters” because he never makes this type of claim.

Furrowed Brow wrote:I detect you are presenting moving target here Otseng. Either optimal fit for life condition are a matter of beating the improbabilities or they are not. Can we tie this down please.

Optimally fit for life indicate design, not simply beating the improbabilities. So, sign me up for “they are not”.

If it is not down to chance that means every time we tried we always found we pulled the longest possible chain from the box, then we deduce that the conditions must be just right for this result. Sadly it is still invalid to go the extra step and infer a designer.

All I’m saying is that if a highly improbable event occurs, then we can start to suspect intelligence.

Confused wrote: True, but does Denton ever show any evidence that life didn’t adapt to this universe by process of trial and elimination?

He argues mostly on the components of life, not after life originated. So, he does not talk much about life adapting by trial and elimination.

Is it not just as plausible to say that attempts at life were attempted by means of silicon as a basis for life only to find by process of elimination that silicon wasn’t as adaptable, hence the change to carbon?

Even if silicon had tried to become life, we can know beforehand that it would not be the optimal element. Further we have no evidence that life tried to form by way of silicon.

In regards to his hypothesis, it isn’t scientific. That is the major problem. He is using the natural as evidence of a supernatural. Here is his abuse of science. Science isn’t meant to explain the metaphysical/supernatural.

It’s only because naturalists have pre-assumed that the supernatural does not exist. Thereby defining the supernatural out of science.

If his conclusion was a natural one, no naturalist would have any qualms about it. But, his steps to the conclusion are certainly scientific. It is only because the conclusion points to the supernatural do naturalists object.

And actually I would agree with Dawkins on this one. He states that we should be able to investigate God using science. And this book is a good example of how to do that.

Denton provides no proof that life isn’t a mere issue of trial and error.

It’s because there is no evidence of trial and error.

And if there was evidence of it, it would actually be a good argument against design. It would show that life attempted to form based on a random selection of the components. And then some sort of selection process picked the optimal components.

So, it would be up to the opponents of Denton to present such evidence to counter his claim.

And to go further, his assumptions ultimately say that not only was life created for these parameters, but that human life is the ultimate outcome. But he poses no proof whatsoever that the earth, universe is anything more than biocentric. He wants the reader to believe that a Creator created us, but he shows no proof that this creator valued human life over any other life. There is not a bit of this mentioned throughout all his book.

The only bit of this is in chapter 11, which I will cover next.

You (and he) are wrong to say that by using valid and/or sound arguments then the conclusion must be valid.

If the assumptions, evidence, and logic are all sound, then the conclusion is logical and valid.

I am certain I have just repeated what I said in my previous post, I just reworded it. I can’t figure out where we are having the communication blocks (though I am awful at wording thing right :confused2: )

I think in many ways we are all repeating the same thing. I’ll try to move us on to the next chapter.

In chapter 11, Denton argues for anthropocentrism.

page 235 wrote:In which it is argued that our species may be uniquely fit to explore and understand the cosmos and that the laws of nature appear also to be uniquely fit for large organic forms of our size and dimension. The evidence is not conclusive, but highly suggestive. Our species exhibits a set of adaptations which are collectively unique among carbon-based life forms on earth. These include high intelligence, linguistic ability, the hand, high-acuity vision, the upright stance, sociability. Moreover, the design and dimensions of the human body are fit for the handling of fire – a crucial ability, because it was only through the conquest of fire that humans discovered metals, developed technology and science, and ultimately came to comprehend the laws of nature and grasp the overall structure of the cosmos. Many coincidences appear to underlie our fitness for handling fire and our fitness for understanding the cosmos. For example, the earth’s size and atmosphere are fit both for beings of our size and dimension and also for fire. The strength of muscles is commensurate with mobility in a being of our size on a planet the size of the earth. The laws of nature conform to mathematical patterns which the human mind seems curiously adapted to grasp. In conclusion, the cosmos appears to be fit for our being and our understanding.


page 238 wrote: Of all the many varied life forms on earth, only our own species, Homo sapiens, is capable of any genuine understanding of the world. By any standards our success in comprehending and manipulating nature has been astounding. In the space of only four centuries since the scientific revolution, we have measured the diameter of galaxies, we have probed into the heart of the atom, we have peered back to the very beginning of time, and in past few decades we have even contemplated traveling to the stars.

Our intellectual endowment is certainly remarkable, but are we as the anthropocentric thesis predicts? Could such genius and abilities be instantiated in some other material form? Could some other thinking being radically different in design to Homo sapiens have been equally successful at unraveling the secrets of nature?

But even if life based on the carbon atom is the only form allowed by physics, it is obvious from the variety of life on earth that the possible number of complex carbon-based multicellular life forms is immense and that our own species, Homo sapiens, is but one within a universe of possibilities. Could it be that within this plenitude the only type of organism manipulating and exploring and eventually understanding the world is an upright bipedal primate of biology and design very close to that Homo sapiens? I believe the evidence strongly suggests that the answer is yes. (emphasis mine)

Denton admits that this chapter is not as strong as the preceding chapters, but I think the strongest case he puts for anthropocentrism is the ability of man to handle fire.

page 242 wrote:Our ability to handle fire is no trivial ability because it was only through the use of fire that technological advance was possible. Through fire came metallurgy and metal tools and eventually chemical knowledge.

He states that in order to handle fire, the organism must have several characteristics.

page 243 wrote: Because the smallest sustainable fire is about 50 centimeters across, only an organism of approximately our dimensions and design – about 1.5 to 2 meters in height with mobile arms about 1 meter long ending in manipulative tools can handle fire. An organism the size of an ant would be far too small because the heat would kill it long before it was as close as several body lengths from the flames. Even an organism the size of a small dog would have considerable difficulties in manipulating a fire. So we must be at least the size we are to use fire, to utilize metal tools, to have a sophisticated technology, to have a knowledge of chemistry and electricity and explore the world.

Would an upright bipedal primate much larger than a modern human be feasible? Probably not. The design of a bipedal primate of, say, twice our height and several times our weight would be problematical to say the least.
As it is, our upright stance puts severe strain on our lower back, especially on the intervertebral discs. Such a gigantic primate would almost certainly require thicker legs suffer sever spinal problems, and be less nimble than modern man, and certainly no more capable of building a fire.

The handling of fire would also be very difficult in an organism without a highly developed sense of vision. And again only a relatively large organism can possess a high-acuity eye.

So, an organism that can handle fire must be like us – lives on land, the size as man, bipedal with dextrous hands, good enough eyesight to see fire, and intelligent.

Furrowed Brow wrote:Carbon, Water, Oxygen etc. So Carbon takes the test and passes top of one test, but maybe comes bottom of the test which Oxygen comes top.

Denton is not alone in this view.

The insistence on water is not so much a peculiar egocentricity or some sort of narrow-mindedness that keeps scientists from imagining fundamental alternatives to life as we know it. It’s simply a limitation imposed by the laws of chemistry, McDonald said.

The general consensus among scientists is that the kind of life likely to be found on other planets is carbon-based life “that looks at least something like life on Earth,” McDonald said.

Secondly, there is a strong basis for the belief that all life must use carbon as the central atom to construct the molecular structures that form all the complex mechanisms of life. From a chemical standpoint it is the only element that appears to have the right balance of stability and reactivity to form very complex molecular structures needed for cell machinery.

Living beings must receive a stable and continuous supply of energy from a star.


A) It is an abundant element in the Universe.
B) It is available for living beings like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in water, and like carbonates in soil.
C) It is the most versatile element to form compounds.
D) The compounds formed by Carbon are very stable.


A. It has an atomic weight higher than Carbon (CAW = 12.01115; SiAW = 28.0855).
B. It does not possess the extensive versatility that the Carbon to form compounds.
C. The compounds formed by Silicon are unstable.
D. The SiO2 is a solid (Quartz, silicate), it is not a gas as the CO2.

A MAGNETIC FIELD- The planet that would hold living beings must have a protective field shield against massive particle’s radiance during solar electromagnetic storms. Earth has an efficient magnetic field shield.

A PROTECTIVE ATMOSPHERE- The planet which would give shelter to living forms must have a protective atmosphere against cosmic radiation. Earth has an ozone layer, but it could be also dense clouds of dust and water vapor.

WATER- Living beings have to be formed in environments rich on water. This is certain because water has unique physicochemical qualities.

However, we can almost be sure that apparently the life can only be experienced by systems built with organic compounds (those built with Carbon), and that the biosystems living on other worlds should be similar to the terrestrial biosystems; at least, on microscopic structure and thermodynamic qualities, although their macroscopic appearance be totally different to the terrestrial organisms. (emphasis mine)

Furrowed Brow wrote:But the fundamental motivation to the line I have been following is that if one sticks to a very empirical stance of only admitting observed phenomena as evidence, then that is like observing a world of possibilities through narrow blinkers.

I think this is the first time I’ve been accused of being too empirical. O:)

I think this is very interesting. If we stick to a radical empirical stance, then the logical conclusion would be a designer. But, if we deviate from a totally empirical stance, then what you are suggesting is that there could be other universes that has physical laws that are different. And that such places could harbor life unlike our own. I would say that such a position is not too different from a supernaturalist position.

So, if we either accept a strict empirical view or believe in an alternate world of possibilities, either would at a minimum point to the existence of the supernatural.

Chapter 12 starts part 2 of the book where Denton talks about the evolution of life.

I think this is the weakest part of the book. Part 1 of the book was choke full of verifiable data, but part 2 is sorely lacking of much direct evidence.

Denton even admits that part 2 is not as convincing as part 1.

page 383 wrote:The evidence that life’s becoming is also built into nature, presented in the second part of the book, is admittedly not as convincing as the evidence presented in the earlier chapters.

Ironically, one of the strongest arguments against his idea of evolution is from his previous book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Which I also thought was an excellent book.

Denton does an admirable job of going where the evidence leads to in part 1. Even to the point of realizing the metaphysical implications. But, as evidenced in part 2, he is still constrained by having a naturalistic solution to explain the origin and diversity of life.

This is problematic in that a slew of inconsistencies and gaps arise. One is demonstrated by his self-refutation by his earlier book. Another is the lack of much solid evidence to back his claim. And I also do not recall any predictions or methods of falsification for his idea in part 2.

However, if one is constrained by a naturalistic explanation, there is not much one can rely on except evolution. Though he does have a different view in that the evolution was “directed” rather than random, the essence is still the same. And also as Dawkins points out, there is really no differentiation between the two.

Furrowed Brow wrote::lol: now you know I never said anything like that; neither does either approach point to anything like the supernatural.

No, I know that you didn’t say that. But I thought I gave a pretty good argument. O:)

Denton has sneaked the Supernatural/destiny/cosmic schemes into the discourse. But not through valid argument, empiricism or statistical possibilities.

I wouldn’t say he “sneaked” it in, but rather logically concluded it.

Confused wrote:Would you not consider natural selection/adaption trial and error? I sure would.

Yes, but only in regards to biological organisms, not to things that are not biological.

You can state that if the assumptions are valid, then the conclusion is valid, but we both know this is a fallacy, care to guess which?

The only assumption is that the laws are consistent throughout the universe. So, no, I do not know which is the fallacy.

Is the evidence for such a claim any stronger than for one that might claim that life adapted to the universe by a mere chance happening of a spark leading to the formation of simple life forms that evolved into complex ones?

Much stronger. Especially considering the fact that there is no scientific explanation of how the first life was formed.

Eye: lobsters is much more evolved with higher acuity. Perhaps Denton needs to update his information.

Actually, lobster eyes are covered in chapter 15.

Fire: meet fur. Meet polar bears. No overwhelming requirement for fire. It is only so very important if one proves human life was the ultimate target of life in general. No proof, so fire is irrelevant.

His argument about fire is not about warmth. But that it is necessary for metallurgy.

Chapter 13 argues for the principle of plenitude.

page 299 wrote:In which it is argued that the diversity of life on earth approximates to the maximal diversity possible for carbon-based life.

The chapter is too subjective and does not provide much objective evidence. We do see a great diversity of life on earth, but that does not show that it already contains the maximal diversity possible. If evolution is true, one would expect that several million years from now a greater diversity of life would exist.

Chapter 14 is titled “The Dream of Asilomar”. It refers to the 1975 International Congress on Recombinant DNA Molecules held at the Asilomar Conference Ground.

In February 1975, 140 participants–mostly biologists, with a handful of lawyers and physicians and 16 members of the press–gathered at the rustic conference center overlooking the Pacific to tussle with an issue that had just burst onto the biology scene: the safety of recombinant DNA research. Known officially as the International Congress on Recombinant DNA Molecules but remembered ever since simply as “Asilomar,” that meeting was widely hailed as a landmark of social responsibility and self-governance by scientists.

Asilomar occurred at a unique moment in biology. Researchers had just discovered how to cut and splice together the DNA of disparate species and were beginning to contemplate the cornucopia of experiments this opened up. “Recombinant DNA was the most monumental power ever handed to us,” said California Institute of Technology president David Baltimore, one of the organizers of the 1975 meeting. “The moment you heard you could do this, the imagination went wild.” But a number of scientists at the time raised concerns about whether such experiments might create dangerous new organisms, microscopic Frankensteins that could sneak out of the lab undetected on the sole of a Hush Puppy and threaten public health.

Recombinant DNA technology is limited to tinkering with specific features of organisms by transplanting genes from one organism to another. We do not have the capability of directly changing DNA and generating something novel that was designed beforehand.

page 327 wrote:But no genetic engineer, from his knowledge of the principles of bioengineering and from his knowledge of the behavior and properties of macromolecules, could possibly specify the design of a living system a prior and encode the instructions for its assembly in a DNA sequence.

Further, what we are able to see are minor functional changes, not major functional changes.

page 341 wrote: Despite the evidence that organisms can undergo microevolutionary change and their components are clearly not quite as constrained as are the cogs of a watch, there is also no doubt that throughout the twentieth century, with each advance in knowledge, the design of living things has been revealed to be increasingly less and less modular and to increasingly approach the watch model or even the holistic nonmodular ideal of Coleridge and Aristotle. This is particularly true of advances made over the past three decades in studies of the molecular genetics of development. Just as the complexity of living things in terms of the sheer number of unique adaptive components has grown relentlessly, so too has their integrative complexity. The studies of the nematode are graphic testimony to this.

The reason for this is that “nowhere in the organism is there a set of genes restricted to making the brain, an eye, or a leg. No structure or process or organ is genetically isolated.” (page 334) “It is impossible to isolate any part or organ in the nematode and treat is as an independent developmental entity.” (page 335)

Though Denton doesn’t say this, this is evidence that macromutations are not able to generate novel morphological features. Micromutations are constrained in what it can do. But for a new organ to appear requires for many (if not all) parts of the genetype to change simultaneously.

What Denton does say is:

page 342 wrote:The design of living systems, from an organismic level right down to the level of an individual protein, is so integrated that most attempts to engineer even a relatively minor functional change are bound to necessitate a host of subtle compensatory changes. It is hard to envisage a reality less amenable to Darwinian change via a succession of independent undirected mutations altering one component of the organism at a time.

Confused wrote:

otseng wrote:

Confused wrote:Would you not consider natural selection/adaption trial and error? I sure would.

Yes, but only in regards to biological organisms, not to things that are not biological.

Would you consider Carbon/Silicon organic or biological? Man has already tested Silicon and found it to be unsuitable in this universe. Is it possible that life did this earlier in the trial and error phase.

I would not consider carbon or silicon to be biological organisms.

Though life might have tried to come about it other ways in the past, we have no evidence that it has.

What is this evidence that the universe was created specifically for life rather than life adapted to an already formed universe through trial and error?

The evidence is that we can determine the optimal components a priori. Prior to life coming about, it can be determined what the optimal components are. This eliminates it as a result of trial and error.

Why is fire necessary?

Without fire, there is no metallurgy. Without metallurgy, there is no metal tools. And almost every technological innovation requires the use of metal or metal tools. There would be no way to look at the stars, to observe microscopic objects, to create glass, to create plastic, to perform chemical experiments, to mass produce books, to do efficient farming, to have computers, to fly to the moon, to build large buildings, etc.

Without being able to handle fire, our life would be almost no different than animals.

Man seems to be the only creature that requires not only a minimum of 10 years before they can start to have the skills needed to survive but also the only creature born without any ability to survive.

Actually, I think this is a good argument to show that humans are not evolved from animals. :)

QED wrote:However, I can’t help noticing that the description of the apparent design of biological systems being less modular and more holistic is familiar to me in terms of the products derived from Genetic Algorithms. It is always the “whole” organism that is being tested for fitness, not some part in isolation.

The problem is that major functional changes cannot be isolated to certain genetic changes. Or even a sequence of changes.

Denton quotes Ernst Mayr, “Every character of an organism is affected by all genes and every gene affects all characters.”

Denton goes on stating, “The fact that many genes are elements in complex combinations which play diverse roles influencing many different aspects of development implies that the process of development is not genetically compartmentalized.”

I think an analogy is that life is more like ants creating an ant nest versus contractors building a home. Any part of the ant nest cannot be attributed to a single ant, but as a result of all of the ants. Whereas the wires in a home can be attributed to the electrician. Likewise, an organ in the body cannot be isolated to a set of genetic code.

Chapter 15 is titled “The eye of the lobster”.

Most complex eyes found in animals are based on refraction. But lobster eyes are based on a different mechanism, reflection.

“This unique optical system is found in only one group of crustaceans, the so-called long-bodied decapods, which include the shrimp, the prawns, and lobsters.” (page 355)

The mystery is why did they develop a totally different mechanism of sight?

page 356 wrote:Why should an organism drop its perfectly functional refracting eyes and start out on the hazardous journey to reflection? Refracting eyes provide orrganisms with excellent image-forming capabilities, as witness the flight of the dragonfly. Many crustacean cousins of the lobster – crabs, for example – which occupy the same ecological niche as the lobster and have the same predatory lifestyle have refracting eyes and obviously survive quite well in the same level of illumination.

Another interesting observation in the chapter is about human brains.

Homo sapiens is considered to have arrived on the scene about 250,000 years ago. Denton quotes Paul Davies: “The mystery in all this is that human intellectual powers are presumably determined by biological evolution, and have absolutely no connection with doing science. Our brains have evolved in response to environmental pressures, such as the ability to hunt, avoid predators, dodge falling objects, etc.”

Human beings then had the capacity to understand complex science and mathematics over 200,000 years before they first used it. How can evolution explain this conundrum?

Furrowed Brow wrote:Well maybe the human brain has seen a few changes over that 250,000 years. It seems the human brain is still evolving.

It would appear that their findings only show the deleterious effect of evolution.

Their analyses focused on detecting sequence changes in two genes – Microcephalin and “abnormal spindle-like microcephaly associated” ( ASPM ) – across different human populations. In humans, mutations in either of these genes can render the gene nonfunctional and cause microcephaly – a clinical syndrome in which the brain develops to a much smaller size than normal.

Confused wrote:you are opting to rush through at a rapid rate of 1-2 chapters a day.

There are several reasons for this.

One is that I’d like to finish this thread and start rereading The God Delusion. Two is that I feel part 2 of the book is much weaker than part 1 (which actually Denton admits to). Third is that I actually do not agree with Denton’s idea of directed evolution so there’s not much for me to argue for.

QED wrote:Here’s another opportunity to mention the central problem with the interpretation of such findings. Denton’s conclusion is that there must be something intelligent guiding this “hazardous journey”. The evolutionist would not disagree. Denton, they would say, has found the apparent “intelligence” that natural selection can supply.

Presuming that a sentient designer had good reason to adopt this particular mechanism, likewise the Theory of Evolution has equal access to whatever advantage such an adaption would confer. Once again, the symmetry is maintained with between natural and supernatural interpretation.

Actually, I would agree that Denton’s view cannot be distinguishable with a completely naturalistic evolutionary process. And he does not present any method to test or falsify his claims.

So, though he does present the conundrums that exist to evolutionary theory, he does not really propose any alternative solution.

Human cognition has evolved to accurately model the external world as, more than most other animals, man has evolved in a direction that makes him reliant on the effective handling and adaptation of materials found in the environment.

However, simply being able to handle materials is not sufficient to undertake deep intellectual tasks.

I appreciate Davies point that the organ that does calculus now is essentially the same biological mechanism owned by cavemen, but calculus is built upon a series of simple operations that cavemen could probably perform individually.

The problem is that selective pressures had nothing to do with higher cognitive abilities. Therefore natural selection had no part in our ability of the sciences. Even if cavemen could do addition and subtraction, that would be all that natural selection could argue for.

Furrowed Brow wrote:We know that the human brain today is now different from 250,000 years ago. Thus the presumption that the early brain was already prefigured for mathetmatics cannot just be be presumed. It is a premise that needs to be argued for (if not proved) if it is to amount to a meaningful mystery.

Even if we suppose that cavemen did not have preconfigured cognitive capabilities to do calculus, then it would mean humans would’ve evolved later to be able to do it. But, exactly what selective pressure was responsible for this? How was man able to evolve to possess the higher cognitive abilities before it was able to be utilized?

“When I first wrote my treatise about our system, I had an eye upon such principles as might work with considering men, for the belief of a deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. Isaac Newton” (page 369)

We now arrive at the conclusion of the book.

page 370 wrote:it is all the more remarkable that the most presumptuous of all their beliefs, the central axiom of the Christian faith, on which the whole of medieval civilization was based, has stood the test of time and the critical scrutiny of four centuries of science.

The apparent demolition of the anthropocentric cosmos came about mainly through two great revolutions in thought… in astronomy … rise of Darwinism.

We have now a rise of empirical scientific evidence that resurrects the old religious notion of anthropocentrism. And even more, if we analyze strictly on the empirical data, the idea of intentional design is the most plausible.

“Reinforcing further the teleological position is the fact that its credibility has relentlessly grown as scientific knowledge has advance throughout the past two centuries.” (page 384)

“No other worldview comes close. No other explanation makes as much sense of all the facts.” (page 385)

QED wrote:

We have now a rise of empirical scientific evidence that resurrects the old religious notion of anthropocentrism.

Yet Mosquitos, Crocs, Sharks, Tigers etc. all feed on Humans so we could go on to argue that these animals are even closer to the “centre of the cosmos” (as pointed out in a famous Chinese proverb I believe). Scientific evidence requires interpretation and for interpretation to be convincing it needs to be unambiguous.

None of them are able to handle fire, so they can be ruled out. This leaves humans to be unambiguously the sole candidate.

And even more, if we analyze strictly on the empirical data, the idea of intentional design is the most plausible.

Disqualifying one or more metaphysical explanations on the basis that we have no empirical data for them should not be allowed to let another metaphysical explanation in by default.

The difference is that Denton’s data are all verifiable data. If we are to choose between a hypothesis backed with empirical data or a hypothesis with metaphysical possibilities, the former would make the stronger argument.

That’s an even stronger claim. It says “we have a metaphysical theory, and no other metaphysical theory has as much explanatory power.” I hope you appreciate that the trading of metaphysics in this way is really quite meaningless.

He doesn’t state that “no other metaphysical theory has as much explanatory power”, but rather, “No other explanation makes as much sense of all the facts.” This includes both natural and supernatural explanations.

The fact that the conclusion arrives at the metaphysical in no way makes it meaningless. His argument is meaningful because he uses scientific facts, makes reasonable assumptions, provides logical arguments, and provides how to falsify it.

However, there is no evidence of other universes and no way to test it or to falsify it.

Denton provides a compelling scientific hypothesis for the teleological nature of life. He also provides an interesting argument for anthropocentrism with man’s sole ability to use fire, and thus be able to ultimately understand nature.

For those that reject his conclusion, I would submit it’s not because his argument is lacking, but because one has a bias beforehand of rejecting the supernatural.

This is evident in that Denton did not set out to argue for design, but concluded it as he was writing the book.

“Although this is obviously a book with many theological implications, my initial intention was not specifically to develop an argument for design; however, as I research more deeply into the topic and as the manuscript went through successive drafts, it became increasingly clear that the laws of nature were fine-tuned for life on earth to a remarkable degree and that the emerging picture provided powerful and self-evident support for the traditional anthropocentric teleological view of the cosmos. Thus, by the time the final draft was finished, the book had become in effect an essay in natural theology” (page xi)

So, if one has an open mind and will logically go to where the data leads without having an prejudged bias, then Denton’s arguments makes a very compelling case for intentional design.

Atheists charge theists to use scientific evidence to show that a deity exists. But, then makes the rules that anything that alludes to the supernatural is not science. However, one cannot have it both ways. So, I believe Denton’s argument sufficiently answers the charge of providing scientific evidence for a god.

Well, I’ve given my final thoughts, and I think any more comments of mine will simply be reiterating what I’ve already said.

So, thanks everyone for participating in our first ever book debate and I look forward to our next book debate on The God Delusion.

Oh, one last thing, the drinks are on me. :drunk: