Nature's Destiny - Michael Denton

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Nature's Destiny - Michael Denton

Post #1

Post by otseng »

This thread is to debate the book Nature's Destiny by Michael Denton.

The following debaters are allowed to participate:
Cathar1950
McCulloch
Confused
Furrowed Brow
otseng

Here is the agenda:
- Start off with background info of the author and book.
- Clarify any terms used.
- Cover one chapter at a time and debate the points made in that chapter. We might skip some chapters if we agree to it.
- Give closing arguments and final thoughts on the book.
- Go out for a drink.

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Post #101

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:
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.
True, but does Denton ever show any evidence that life didn't adapt to this universe by process of trial and elimination? The conclusion Denton wants to present is that because of all these things are needed for life, then the universe had to be created exactly as it is for life to occur. 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? No, there is no evidence to show it one way or the other. But Denton would have you believe there is no other explanation.

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. He would have his readers believe that by reviewing the science, we can infer that life required these parameter, building blocks of life, etc.... therefor the universe had to be created for life. Anyone can read the sentence I just wrote and say "wait, that makes no sense" and they would be 100% correct. Denton provides no proof that life isn't a mere issue of trial and error.


I think the greatest issue is that Denton seems to think he can apply science to the metaphysical and say (just as you say) to disprove it, one must provide an alternative solution that is better than his theory. The problem is that science isn't designed to explain what he is inferring. His overall assumptions of his book isn't a scientific explanation. He uses scientific observations to infer his supernatural hypothesis. Flat out, he can't do this and expect science to accept his theory as science. Simply put, it isn't.

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.

In regard to the arguments vs conclusion, he is at best using inductive logic in his arguments. He is taking observable facts and using inductive logic to say this is the conclusion. You (and he) are wrong to say that by using valid and/or sound arguments then the conclusion must be valid. Wrong, sound data can be used to infer an invalid conclusion. You are both saying that because X and Y are true, then Z must be true, however there is absolutely no proof of Z. Z (God) is completely irrelevant to X (universe) and Y (nature). X is relevant to X, Y is relevant to Y, X and Y may even be relevant to X and Y, but in no way does X and Y imply a Z simply because X and Y can't explain all of X and Y. X and Y are only valid and relevant to X and Y.

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: )
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Post #102

Post by otseng »

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?

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Post #103

Post by Furrowed Brow »

There is an issue with the way language is being used here. I’ll try to draw out the problem.

1/ “There are no alternative universes that end in life”
2/ “There are no alternatives possible universes. They do not and could never exist”
3/ “The possibility of alternative universe cannot be observed and thus must be ruled out”.
4/ “Alternative universe are an unknown, but have import for statistical arguments”

4/ Ok the point I think both myself and QED have been putting forward in our a different ways is that any argument that leans, albeit implicitly or without realising it leans on chance, probability or statistics, cannot evade alternative universe scenarios. As soon as one nods towards the improbability of an event, then one immediately opens the door to alternatives. Whether those alternatives are observed or not is beside the point. However, if one is a sentient being, then don’t be surprised to find oneself in a universe that is able to support your own mode of life.

Any argument in the form of 4 never gets beyond the Weak anthropic principle.

3/ takes a methodological stance. This is a radical form of empiricism. Which is fine. But if all alternatives are ruled out because they cannot be observed, then it is invalid to say we know the universe then had to have a particular end. We don’t know that. The methodology edits out unobserved possibilities, it does not negate such possibilities. Moreover, there is an inconsistency here. It the methodology rules our unobserved possibilities then so to must it rule out an observed designer or design principles.


2/ takes a far stronger position. There are no alternatives. This is a bit like the difference between saying “I don’t believe in God” to “I believe there is no God”. Point 2 being akin to the latter. But a point I keep repeating is that if there are no alternatives then there is no design to the shape of the universe. It could not have been done another way.

1/. Ok 1 accepts alternative universes but makes a claim about only one containing life. And then we come back to the point that all those other possibilities will be unique in some other way. That makes this universe unique but not special. Or if we like to see it as special we are drawing on some other aesthetic prejudices for what makes a special universe. And hey it is nice being alive, and seems a whole lot preferable to the alternative. But that is not a mathematical nor scientific criteria for inferring a designer.
Otseng wrote:But, if we know what the end is to look like, and it looks likes that, it is a sign of intelligence.
Only 2 allows the premise “if we know what the end is to look like”. And from 2 you cannot infer intelligence.

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Post #104

Post by otseng »

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.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-int ... 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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_Selection
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.

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Post #105

Post by otseng »

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.

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Post #106

Post by Furrowed Brow »

Otseng wrote: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.
Denton presents a whole set of observations, that are conditions which pass his test “optimally fit for life“. He then ends up with a class of conditions whereby its members are each deemed fittest in their specialist arena. But the conditions are disperse. 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. Whilst the test Water comes top in just washes over the Carbon and Oxygen. The analogy is crook. The scenario is not like Suzie coming top of every test. Denton’s argument achieves no more than Suzie came top in Test 1, Bob came top test 2, Jane test 3. Substitute the names Suzie, Bob, and Jane for Carbon, Water and Oxygen.

Once the subject of the test is set to the question “what is fittest for life” someone is always going to come top. That is neither a matter of chance or design. Ok lets say it is not just that one candidate or other comes top but that they each score 100% that is the vital point. But have all the question that could be asked been asked? Is carbon optimal for life inside a neutron star? Probably not. Is something else optimal under such conditions, possibly. Don’t know for sure. And that is the point. There is a universe of unknowns that Denton’s argument just edits out of the picture. Which as you say is being empirical. But the fact he does this leaves a word like “optimal” meaningless.

If alternative universe, statistics, probabilities, and counterfactuals are decreed as of limits, then any argument that takes that stance can only say that any set of conditions sufficient for life are sufficient for life. It is just plain invalid to introduce a concept like optimal.

Put it this way. We can use the same logic to assert that the Space Shuttle is an optimal space ship because no alien space ships have ever been observed.

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Post #107

Post by otseng »

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.

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Post #108

Post by Furrowed Brow »

Otseng wrote:Denton does not make any argument like this. So, Denton does not "muddy the waters" because he never makes this type of claim.
Ok Ok 8-)
pxiii Denton wrote:Only hrough biology can our unique type of carbon-based life and especially advanced forms like ourselves lay claim to a central place ib the cosmic scheme.
Let me try again: If the cosmic scheme had no alternative then there is no cosmic scheme. So it is invalid to infer that life is central to the cosmic scheme. Unless you also want to argue that stars, neutrons stars, asteroids, black holes, protons, electrons, molecules, photons, gravity, electromagnetism, rocks, puddles, etc etc are all equally central to said cosmic scheme.

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Post #109

Post by otseng »

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.

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Post #110

Post by otseng »

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.
http://www.space.com/searchforlife/water_overview.html
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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_chauvinism
Living beings must receive a stable and continuous supply of energy from a star.

WHY FROM CARBON?

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.

WHY NOT FROM SILICON?

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)
http://biocab.org/Exobiology.html

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