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 #111

Post by Furrowed Brow »

otseng wrote:
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
I think there might be a misunderstanding here.

What I meant was that if you set a test with the questions:

a) What is an abundant element in the Universe?
b) What is the most versatile element to form compounds?
c) What element forms stable compounds?
d) ........etc etc.

Then Carbon will come top in that test. There will be another set of question for which Water will come top and carbon will fair very badly. So it is all down to what questions are being asked.

Ok life in alternative universe, or at the centre of neutron stars, life that does not need fire are shuffled off out of the picture. Fine.

But the fundamental motivation to the line I have been following is that if one sticks to a very empirical stance of only admitting observed phenomena as evidence, then that is like observing a world of possibilities through narrow blinkers. Which is a fine methodology as long as you don't then in any way rest your case or imply that the occurrence of a phenomena as being too improbable to be down to chance, or that what is observes is "optimal".

You chance can't do that maintain a valid position. Moreover as I have already said, it is inconsistence to maintain a radical form of empiricism to keep out one class of unobserved concepts like multiple universes, whilst in the same breath admitting another kind of unobserved concept like an intelligent/purposeful cosmic scheme. And if Denton is not saying there is intelligence or purpose or some other weasel word that amounts to as much, then all it all adds up to is the WAP.

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Post #112

Post by otseng »

Furrowed Brow wrote:But the fundamental motivation to the line I have been following is that if one sticks to a very empirical stance of only admitting observed phenomena as evidence, then that is like observing a world of possibilities through narrow blinkers.
I think this is the first time I've been accused of being too empirical. O:)

I think this is very interesting. If we stick to a radical empirical stance, then the logical conclusion would be a designer. But, if we deviate from a totally empirical stance, then what you are suggesting is that there could be other universes that has physical laws that are different. And that such places could harbor life unlike our own. I would say that such a position is not too different from a supernaturalist position.

So, if we either accept a strict empirical view or believe in an alternate world of possibilities, either would at a minimum point to the existence of the supernatural.

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Post #113

Post by Furrowed Brow »

otseng wrote:
Furrowed Brow wrote:But the fundamental motivation to the line I have been following is that if one sticks to a very empirical stance of only admitting observed phenomena as evidence, then that is like observing a world of possibilities through narrow blinkers.
I think this is the first time I've been accused of being too empirical. O:)

I think this is very interesting. If we stick to a radical empirical stance, then the logical conclusion would be a designer. But, if we deviate from a totally empirical stance, then what you are suggesting is that there could be other universes that has physical laws that are different. And that such places could harbor life unlike our own. I would say that such a position is not too different from a supernaturalist position.

So, if we either accept a strict empirical view or believe in an alternate world of possibilities, either would at a minimum point to the existence of the supernatural.

:lol: now you know I never said anything like that; neither does either approach point to anything like the supernatural. Denton has sneaked the Supernatural/destiny/cosmic schemes into the discourse. But not through valid argument, empiricism or statistical possibilities.

I think it comes down to the fact that he is trying to find language that allows him to say more than the WAP. But he fails. The concept of "optimal" is screwy for the same basic reasons I have already given.

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Post #114

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:
Confused wrote:
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.
Would you not consider natural selection/adaption trial and error? I sure would.

I need not counter his claim using science. Simply because his claim isn't scientific. You can state that if the assumptions are valid, then the conclusion is valid, but we both know this is a fallacy, care to guess which?

You think Denton uses science to support his view? No, I think not. Science is irrelevant to his claim because his claim isn't scientific. At best, he uses inductive logic, and a poor example of it. Tell me, what in science states that the universe was created for life? Is the evidence for such a claim any stronger than for one that might claim that life adapted to the universe by a mere chance happening of a spark leading to the formation of simple life forms that evolved into complex ones?
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Post #115

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote: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.
Funny how his entire book fails to prove anything anthropocentric about life. Rather his own arguments instead only show a sliver of hope as opposed to biocentric. His view is only good if human life was the ultimate aim of evolution or natural events.

Eye: lobsters is much more evolved with higher acuity. Perhaps Denton needs to update his information.

Fire: meet fur. Meet polar bears. No overwhelming requirement for fire. It is only so very important if one proves human life was the ultimate target of life in general. No proof, so fire is irrelevant.
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Post #116

Post by otseng »

Chapter 12 starts part 2 of the book where Denton talks about the evolution of life.

I think this is the weakest part of the book. Part 1 of the book was choke full of verifiable data, but part 2 is sorely lacking of much direct evidence.

Denton even admits that part 2 is not as convincing as part 1.
page 383 wrote:The evidence that life's becoming is also built into nature, presented in the second part of the book, is admittedly not as convincing as the evidence presented in the earlier chapters.
Ironically, one of the strongest arguments against his idea of evolution is from his previous book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Which I also thought was an excellent book.

Denton does an admirable job of going where the evidence leads to in part 1. Even to the point of realizing the metaphysical implications. But, as evidenced in part 2, he is still constrained by having a naturalistic solution to explain the origin and diversity of life.

This is problematic in that a slew of inconsistencies and gaps arise. One is demonstrated by his self-refutation by his earlier book. Another is the lack of much solid evidence to back his claim. And I also do not recall any predictions or methods of falsification for his idea in part 2.

However, if one is constrained by a naturalistic explanation, there is not much one can rely on except evolution. Though he does have a different view in that the evolution was "directed" rather than random, the essence is still the same. And also as Dawkins points out, there is really no differentiation between the two.

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Post #117

Post by otseng »

Furrowed Brow wrote::lol: now you know I never said anything like that; neither does either approach point to anything like the supernatural.
No, I know that you didn't say that. But I thought I gave a pretty good argument. O:)
Denton has sneaked the Supernatural/destiny/cosmic schemes into the discourse. But not through valid argument, empiricism or statistical possibilities.
I wouldn't say he "sneaked" it in, but rather logically concluded it.
Confused wrote:Would you not consider natural selection/adaption trial and error? I sure would.
Yes, but only in regards to biological organisms, not to things that are not biological.
You can state that if the assumptions are valid, then the conclusion is valid, but we both know this is a fallacy, care to guess which?
The only assumption is that the laws are consistent throughout the universe. So, no, I do not know which is the fallacy.
Is the evidence for such a claim any stronger than for one that might claim that life adapted to the universe by a mere chance happening of a spark leading to the formation of simple life forms that evolved into complex ones?
Much stronger. Especially considering the fact that there is no scientific explanation of how the first life was formed.
Eye: lobsters is much more evolved with higher acuity. Perhaps Denton needs to update his information.
Actually, lobster eyes are covered in chapter 15.
Fire: meet fur. Meet polar bears. No overwhelming requirement for fire. It is only so very important if one proves human life was the ultimate target of life in general. No proof, so fire is irrelevant.
His argument about fire is not about warmth. But that it is necessary for metallurgy.

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Post #118

Post by Furrowed Brow »

Otseng wrote:I wouldn't say he "sneaked" it in, but rather logically concluded it.
Whther he is presuming or concluding, the one thing he is lacking is sound logic. 8-)

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Post #119

Post by otseng »

Chapter 13 argues for the principle of plenitude.
page 299 wrote:In which it is argued that the diversity of life on earth approximates to the maximal diversity possible for carbon-based life.
The chapter is too subjective and does not provide much objective evidence. We do see a great diversity of life on earth, but that does not show that it already contains the maximal diversity possible. If evolution is true, one would expect that several million years from now a greater diversity of life would exist.

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Post #120

Post by QED »

otseng wrote:
Furrowed Brow wrote:But the fundamental motivation to the line I have been following is that if one sticks to a very empirical stance of only admitting observed phenomena as evidence, then that is like observing a world of possibilities through narrow blinkers.
I think this is the first time I've been accused of being too empirical. O:)

I think this is very interesting. If we stick to a radical empirical stance, then the logical conclusion would be a designer. But, if we deviate from a totally empirical stance, then what you are suggesting is that there could be other universes that has physical laws that are different. And that such places could harbor life unlike our own. I would say that such a position is not too different from a supernaturalist position.

So, if we either accept a strict empirical view or believe in an alternate world of possibilities, either would at a minimum point to the existence of the supernatural.
We seem to have before us a dichotomy between a single designer-created universe and a multiverse from which we, ourselves, have anthropically selected one (of many) that particularly happens to support our own kind of life. The coincidences in the physical constants do appear to be overwhelmingly improbable and the process of spontaneous symmetry breaking that led to them would seem to preclude any inherent compulsion towards the eventual formation of carbon based life. So from this it is indeed tempting to deduce that some greater space for universal possibility exists - or that the sole universe has been cleverly assembled.

But what can we say about other outcomes had the initial symmetries broken in different ways? Just how is it that we can say with confidence that other random draws would result in different kinds of physics that couldn't support life capable of looking back on itself as we are doing here?

Notice, also, that the conclusion that we've been carefully assembled has the same empirical credentials as the conclusion that all Indians walk in single file on account of our empirical observation of one Indian's behaviour. In fact the conclusion that a sole universe exists (one that has been cleverly assembled) itself entails a metauniversal state from within which the supposed assembly takes place.

When it comes down to the core semantics "design" is ultimately a matter of selection. Sentient minds can consider a range of options and make an intelligent selection. Other systems can make insentient selections on the basis of geometry, eclectic or magnetic force etc. and things can be self selecting -- like respondents to certain kinds of surveys. In order to identify the specific type of design (selection) responsible for our existence we need to know far more about the context for our existence than we do.

Declaring that the empirical evidence leads us to a metaphysical designer-creator does nothing to distinguish this entity from a metauniverse full of potential for self-selection. Not one piece of empirical evidence gathered by Denton is capable of resolving this ambiguity. And let's not forget that this ambiguity consists of one, highly specific, proposition about sentience on an unprecedented and inexplicable scale against an insentient, functional, equivalent. Sentience is being drafted in to fulfill the same function as random variation allied with some form of natural selection. And yes, the phrase "natural selection" can apply just as well to non-biological as well as biological systems.

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