I finally got around to reading Michael Denton's outstanding work on design in nature called Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (1998), and I deeply regret my tardiness in getting to it. This is surely one of the most important works ever to have been written on the subject of design in the universe, and it should be studied by everyone with an interest in the topic and a background in the relevant science. It's Denton's thesis that every single aspect of the cosmos and life is precisely calibrated for the emergence of living things. He does not simply claim that there are some amazing coincidences in the structure of the cosmos but rather that every single fact of the physical world is optimally suited for the emergence of life. The case he builds in defense of this thesis is beyond impressive, it seems overwhelming.
Denton is an evolutionist who denies that evolution is a contingent phenomenon. It could not, he argues, have followed any path other than the one it did. Given the constraints imposed by the physical and chemical properties of matter, evolution inevitably led to relatively large mammals capable of technology and rational thought. In other words, human evolution is pre-planned and built into the laws and properties of the cosmos. The universe was built to accommodate us, and everything about it seems to confirm this conclusion.Denton, who is himself an agnostic, scarcely mentions who might be responsible for this planning or purpose (what philosophers call teleology), but he mounts a compelling case that the universe is indeed telic, i.e. purposeful. His case is compatible with that of the intelligent design people, but antithetical to both Darwinians (who deny any purpose in nature) and special creationists (who deny that a Designer might have used evolution over deep time as It's modus operandi).
In fact, one comes away from the book with this impression: It is possible to say of virtually any scientific proposition about the universe, any trait or characteristic that might be revealed by science from the microcosmic level to the macrocosmic, that it is a good thing that it has precisely the properties it does because if it did not, we could not exist. There seem to be very few, if any, completely gratuitous facts about the cosmos or about living things. Whether the universe is uniquely fit for life we can't say, but that it is supremely suited for life is undeniable.
Whether it is the age or size of the universe, the properties of the elements of the periodic table, especially carbon and oxygen, the properties of water, carbon dioxide, and bicarbonate, the geophysical structure of the earth and its location in the solar system, the type of solar system we find ourselves in, the properties of light and electricity, and on and on for four hundred pages, every aspect of the physico-chemical structure of our world is ideally suited to give rise to living things. And were any of these even minutely different than what they are human beings would never have emerged.
Denton points out that whether one accepts or rejects the design hypothesis, whether one thinks of the designer as the Greek world soul or the Hebrew God, there is no avoiding the conclusion that the world at least "looks as if it had been uniquely tailored for life: it appears to have been designed." He writes that, "All reality appears to be a vast, coherent, teleological whole with mankind as its purpose and goal." It is therefore incumbent upon the skeptic to offer a compelling reason to reject the design inference. They cannot fall back on the canard that the design hypothesis is not testable because it certainly is:
The hypothesis can be refuted by, for instance, "the discovery of some alternative liquid as fit as is water for carbon-based life, or of a means superior to DNA of constructing the genetic tape, ... or of alternatives superior to oxidation, ... proteins, ... the bilipid cell membrane, ... to the bicarbonate buffer system, ... just one clear case where a constituent of life or a law of nature is evidently not unique or ideally adapted for life, and the design hypothesis collapses."
The materialist explanation for all this evidence of design, on the other hand, is that it's a result of chance or the inevitable outcome of the existence of an infinity of worlds, but these claims cannot be tested and are impossible to refute. The design hypothesis possesses a status, therefore, that is epistemically or scientifically superior to its materialistic competitor.
Nature's Destiny is a dense read. It's packed with information, most of which is fascinating but which probably would be a little overwhelming for someone with little background or interest in science. For one who is fascinated by the debate between design and materialism, however, and who possess an interest and understanding of the relevant science, this will surely prove to be one of the top two or three most important books one could read on the subject.