Imagine you find an elaborately cut key, carry it with you for years, then stick it in a random door lock — and it opens!
Or imagine you and ten thousand or more of your best friends approach a door with a biometric fingerprint lock controlling access to what lies on the other side. The lock rejects all your friends. But it recognizes your fingerprint, yours alone, and lets you in.
The analogies are imperfect, but something like that was going on in the evolution of human beings on Earth. As Australian biologist Michael Denton powerfully argues in the new documentary Privileged Species, the chemistry and other natural properties of the universe seem to have been "pre-adapted," uniquely, for life as we know it, and for carbon- and water-based oxygen-breathing intelligent beings likes ourselves in particular.
It was a packed house at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, necessitating dragging in extra chairs at the last minute to accommodate unregistered walk-ins. Directed by John West, the documentary from Discovery Institute is the kind to raise goose bumps, I think most everyone of the three hundred people in the audience would agree.
Dr. Denton, a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, answered questions and signed books and was thoroughly fascinating and charming. He’s a great talker and a great personality in the field of intelligent-design research and thought. The film encapsulates the case for ID in his book Nature’s Destiny, which he revealed he will be expanding on considerably with a forthcoming book, Microcosm. As Dr. West explained in his introduction, the film is an appetizer as we wait for the release of that major work, a capstone in Denton’s argument that chemistry is ultra-, ultra-fine tuned for life.
It goes without saying that the universe is "fit" or suited for life — obviously, since we’re here — but Denton has devoted years to elaborating the nearly countless ways that nature is fit "uniquely for creatures like us." He joked that the barroom scene in Star Wars, with its raucous crowd of diverse aliens, is necessarily science fiction. The universe saw us coming, very specifically, not some bizarre silicon-based alternative.
Only life as we find it on Earth turns the key. If life exists elsewhere, its home would remind us of Earth and the aliens would reminds us of ourselves. The periodic table, so wonderfully concise, is a recipe for us. Oh, and for our way of life too. While focusing on the unique properties of water, carbon, and oxygen, Denton shows that the chemical elements appear beautifully structured to allow the development of technology, from our use of fire to the rise of computers.
He emphasizes that this "stunning series of coincidences" is not a matter of scientific controversy, and in fact represents the great scientific discovery of the past century. It’s a matter of fact, not interpretation. Pull aside anyone at NASA, and they’ll tell you the same. What attracts debate is the inference to design — an induction that Denton regards as solid if you’re open to appreciating the "immense beauty and elegance" of how nature is structured. For Denton, intelligent design is simultaneously a scientific judgment and an artistic one.
In the Q&A, he explained how the major themes in his thinking go back to Aristotle, later carried forward in the medieval synthesis (Athens and Jerusalem) that understood nature as an integrated whole flowing from a designer’s intentions.
Denton observed that properties of nature uniquely fit for life continue to be discovered regularly and he offered the prediction that in the upcoming century scientists will uncover more and more. Darwinism will hold out as the only possible refuge for design deniers, until it is overwhelmed by the scientific counterevidence. He noted that epigenetics, replacing the old gene-centric view that he admits having held himself, poses a particularly keen challenge to neo-Darwinism.
It was a fine and exciting evening. Dr. Denton travels to the Los Angeles area today for the film’s Southern California premier at Biola University, tonight at 7 pm. In case you need further encouragement, the trailer is below: