Nature, Fit for Man
The Miracle of Man: The Fine Tuning of Nature for Human Existence
By Michael Denton
Publisher: Discovery Institute
Review Author: Terry Scambray
The 20th century’s most prominent atheist, Bertrand Russell, once said that when he dies, if confronted by God and asked why he remained an atheist, he would simply say, “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.” Michael Denton is one of several 21st-century scientists who have come forward with evidence that the cosmos, by all scientific accounts, looks to be a profoundly crafted place for life — specifically, human life — to exist and then to thrive and flourish. Even an agnostic like Freeman Dyson, the Anglo-American physicist, said, “The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”
Voltaire famously wrote that if God did not exist, He would have to be invented. But immediately after that, he wrote less famously that God does exist because of the order in the natural world. America’s Voltaire, H.L Mencken, wrote, “I can recall no concrete atheist who did not appear to me to be a donkey. For if there is anything plain about the universe, it is that it is governed by law, and law is always a manifestation of Will.” Other cosmologists, such as Brandon Carter, Fred Hoyle, and Guillermo Gonzalez, have made similar claims for what has become known as the anthropic principle, meaning that this world offers an irresistible invitation for life to come and stay awhile.
Certainly, these ideas do not “prove God,” but when one considers the sublime fine-tuning of the universe as Denton describes it, the conclusion of a Designer is hard to resist. In recent years, Denton has demonstrated the tight fit between man and the cosmos in a series of short books on fire, water, light, and the cell. In each of these books, ranging in length from 68 to 168 pages, he depicts the elegant features of life. While specialists will appreciate their details, the wizardry of nature as Denton describes it will impress the non-specialist.
Denton’s first book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1985), is regarded as the opening salvo of the intelligent-design movement, which attempts to demonstrate that just as man-made things are designed by a mind for a purpose, the same applies to the even more wondrous features of nature. Denton’s medical degree from Bristol University, his doctorate in biochemistry from King’s College in London, and his deep knowledge of history and philosophy make him aware that by pointing out the shortcomings of Darwinism, he sends an entire worldview into a tailspin. As Denton puts it, Charles Darwin thought that “the eerie purposefulness of living systems resulted from a blind process — natural selection; that is, time and chance. God’s will was replaced by the capriciousness of a roulette wheel.”
Earlier thinkers deconstructed Darwin almost immediately after the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859). Denton’s critique relies mainly on up-to-date science, especially the latest findings in molecular biology, to restore the concept of purpose to explanations of life and the cosmos. The inner workings of the cell alone are too complex and far too interdependent to be built in a piece-by-piece manner and without purpose. The claim that time and chance are responsible for such sublime complexity “is one of the most daring claims in all of science,” Denton writes. “But it is also one of the least substantiated. No one has ever produced any proof that the designs in nature are within the reach of chance.”
In Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (1998) Denton shows that life exists on a razor’s edge of finely calibrated variables. He writes, “There is insufficient evidence to argue that the laws of nature are uniquely fit for every detail of human biology. However, I believe the current evidence points strongly in this direction and that future scientific advances will confirm the absolute centrality of mankind in the cosmic scheme.”
In The Miracle of the Cell (2020) Denton writes that a cell “consists of trillions of atoms, representing the complexity of a jumbo jet and more, packed into a space less than a millionth of the volume of a typical grain of sand. But unlike anything else, this entity can replicate itself. Here is an infinity machine with seemingly magical powers.”
Denton’s explanations are finely grained and demanding, but let’s look at two basics: water and fire. The properties of water are ideal for circulating in the human body’s billions of capillaries. Water is also a universal solvent, which creates conditions conducive to health. When water freezes into ice, it “has a viscosity of 1016 times that of water,” Denton writes in Nature’s Destiny. “The rocks which make up the crust of the earth have viscosities ranging between 1025 to 1028 times that of water.” So if “the viscosity of ice had been several times lower than it is, then glacial activity would have been much less effective in grinding down the mountains” to form rich valleys and to expose the vital minerals that make modern industrial society possible. (Note: 1016 means 1 with 16 zeros after it.) Fire, meanwhile, literally ignited the Industrial Revolution, and the earth’s boundless forests offered fuel to make fire, while the upright, bipedal features of humans and the manipulative abilities of human hands perfectly fit the demands of fire-making. From burning wood, charcoal was made, which burns at the high temperatures necessary to blend raw metals and then to shape them into the materials and machines without which civilization could not exist.
Some ask how the almost immeasurable size of the universe fits into what might appear to be this rather tidy teleological view. As it turns out, even the most distant galaxies influence the inertia of earthly bodies! Denton writes, “The existence of beings of our size and mass with the ability to stand, to move, and to light a fire is only possible because of the influence of the most distant galaxies, whose collective mass determines the precise strength of the inertial forces on earth.” Denton sees this feature of the universe “as a distant echo of the medieval doctrine of man which held that the dimensions of the human body reflect in some profound sense the dimensions of the macrocosm.”
Denton crowns his five-part Privileged Species Series with The Miracle of Man: The Fine Tuning of Nature for Human Existence. He readily admits that his claim that the cosmos is uniquely fit for man may strike many as extraordinary. As Carl Sagan wrote, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” But unlike the unsupported Darwinian claim that time and accident produced all of nature, including man, Denton responds that, regardless of how extraordinary his own claim appears, the facts speak for themselves.
Once again, Denton presents an amazing array of facts about man. For example, our cardiac muscle cells have “trillions of tightly packed molecular arrays of contractile filaments,” which generate the cardiac cycle, pumping blood to add a fourth of a liter of oxygen per minute and move one hundred trillion oxygen molecules per minute through the surface of our lungs. The human brain, for its part, performs 1015 synaptic operations per second and may be “the most complex functional assemblage of matter possible in our universe.” These are stunning ensembles in themselves, but they become even more so when you consider the many other variables that must be synchronized with them.
Denton concludes with a paean to man: “Our destiny was inscribed in the light of the stars and the property of atoms since the beginning. All of nature sings the song of man. We now know what medieval scholars only believed, that the underlying rationality of nature is indeed ‘manifest in human flesh.’” Tying back into the Christian worldview, Denton writes that the “great scriptural drama of Redemption requires man’s centrality in some sense.” Science and theology, specifically science and Christianity, prove to be inextricably connected, as they were when science was invented in the medieval universities. Or, as physicist Paul Davies put it, “Science offers a surer path to God than religion.”
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