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Travels with Denton: California Edition

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Michael Denton and I are traveling in California now for a series of speeches and meetings. Last night’s event at San Jose State University drew a good mix of students and non-students and was cozy if not packed. Denton spoke on: “Nature’s Fitness for Advanced Life Forms: Defending the Anthropocentric Vision.” The attentive audience was friendly and very thoughtful in the Q&A. The San Jose State atheist club was apparently represented in the audience but there was no trouble with incivility.

According to Denton’s thesis, not only is the universe fit for human life, but it is exclusively fit for human life. He discussed why life must be carbon- and water-based. But nature’s fine-tuning goes much deeper. He argues that there is an essential aspect to human biology that is not found in other carbon-based life forms.

Denton noted that our sun emits light in exactly the spectrum that is needed for photosynthesis but also for which our atmosphere is transparent. And the atmosphere contains the very gases that carry the constituents needed for photosynthesis. (Denton talked about this with me in an informative podcast you can hear at ID the Future.)

Heat expiration via water depends on multiple specific properties of H2O. But humans are just about the only mammal that makes much use of heat expiration. These properties seem fine-tuned to the needs of humans.

Denton focused especially on the fine-tuning of carbonate. Bicarbonate acts to buffer the body from changes in acidity, but at the same time it transports CO2 out of the body — and it’s a waste product! This is extreme fine-tuning, and highly elegant. The potential for both human respiration and photosynthesis were built into the properties of matter from the first moment of physical existence. Denton noted that Schrödinger said “Beauty is truth.” Denton rightly remarked, “This is very beautiful.”

The audience found his talk compelling because, I think, these were new forms of fine-tuning arguments they’d never heard before that uncovered new types of correlations between many diverse chemical and physical properties of matter important to sustain life.

As Denton put it, there’s a “web” of complexity where basic molecules we take for granted like H2O, CO2, O2, and O3 all interact and work in concert to carry out all kinds of crucial life processes with great efficiency and beauty.

Speaking of beauty, it’s great to be back in the Bay Area, which is enjoying a balmy last week of winter. It is delightful, as always, to spend time with Mike Denton. I even had an opportunity, inveterate Star Trek fan that I am, to take a break to visit the future site of Starfleet Headquarters in the 23rd century.

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I’ll have more to report tomorrow.