Fire and Fitness: A Summary of the Evidence
A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Science and Engineering 20 (September 1982): 1-36
Editor’s note: We are pleased to present a series adapted from biologist Michael Denton’s book, Fire-Maker: How Humans Were Designed to Harness Fire and Transform Our Planet, from Discovery Institute Press. Find the whole series here. Dr. Denton’s forthcoming book, The Miracle of the Cell, will be published in September.
The cosmos is fit for life in far more ways than I have touched on in this series. But the evidence we’ve discussed relating to the harnessing of fire is nonetheless instructive.
The same atmosphere that is fit for human respiration and fire (or combustion) is also fit in completely different ways for photosynthesis by allowing through just the right light and excluding the dangerous wavelengths in the far UV gamma and X-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. So the atmosphere that is fit for fire and human respiration is the very same atmosphere that is fit to produce the necessary reactants — reduced carbon compounds and oxygen — for both fire and respiration in the first place.
Again, the fitness of nature for fire in the ambient temperature range is also highly fortunate. The temperature range that is fit for organic chemistry and hence for the existence of carbon-based life forms like ourselves is also the temperature range in which water is a liquid, the one fluid that is uniquely and supremely fit in so many ways for life on Earth. Adding to the wonder, the very same temperature range is fit for the manipulation of metals, which provided the major stepping-stone on the route to 20th-century technology and civilization.
Nor does the fitness stop at environmental factors. There are clearly elements of what I call generative fitness in nature that allow for the development of embryos, for example, and for the origin and development of life on Earth.1
“Fitness of the Environment”
Overall, the evidence suggests that the cosmos is uniquely fit for beings of our biology to thrive on a planet like the Earth and to master fire and develop complex advanced technologies. Surely there could not be an equivalent ensemble of fitness in nature for some other type of life. Lawrence Henderson made the same point in his classic The Fitness of the Environment when he argued that the sorts of ensembles of fitness that make carbon-based life possible are so absurdly improbable that they are almost certainly unique, without any analogue in any other area of chemistry or physics.2 This implies that if there are intelligent denizens of other worlds possessed of an advanced technology, then they will closely resemble ourselves: carbon-based life forms obtaining their metabolic energy by oxidation and breathing air close in composition to that of the atmosphere of Earth.
Tomorrow: “Whatever the Cause, We Are No Accident”
- Michael Denton, Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (Seattle: Discovery Institute, 2016).
- Lawrence Henderson, The Fitness of the Environment (New York, MacMillan, 1913), 272 and 211.