November 26, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

ID Pioneer Ponders Theology

A key figure in the intelligent design movement
considers the worldview implications
of the fine tuning he has documented

 

Dr Michael Denton, a key figure in the rise of the Intelligent Design movement (IDM) due to his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1986), which influenced Michael Behe and many others, has not been a religious man. A biologist and medical doctor, he has lately concentrated on the fine-tuning of the universe and earth that led to the fitness of the environment for intelligent technologically-capable beings like us. Now, thoughts about the Incarnation, he says, make sense.

In a conversation with an Italian interviewer from the Fornace School of Philosophy on YouTube (9 Nov 2023), Denton recapped his research over the years. Much of his early work was devoted to refuting the notion that natural selection is capable of assembling molecular machines or objects that are beautiful. Later on, in his Privileged Species series of books (The Wonder of Water, The Miracle of the Cell, Children of Light, Fire-Maker, The Miracle of Man), he has laid out impressive, incontrovertible evidences for the fine tuning of atoms and laws of physics that make human life possible. While none of these ideas are uniquely Christian—considering that they have been derived from the data by many non-theistic scientists such as Paul Davies and Roger Penrose—Christians see the design evidence as confirmation of many statements in the Bible, such as Psalm 19, Romans 1:20, and, of course, Genesis 1.

History and Future

Denton notes that intelligent design (ID) was long the scientific consensus. It took a beating during the Darwinian Revolution, but there’s no reason it could not become mainstream again. He thinks that the IDM is enjoying a resurgence for three reasons. David Klinghoffer summarizes these reasons in a post about the interview at Evolution News:

One reason, Dr. Denton says, is the “relentless” growth of the ID movement, in academia and around the world. This conversation is itself evidence on the latter point. (Fornace is in northern Italy.) A second reason is the way any materialist explanation of the origin of life keeps looking more and more implausible. James Tour’s Harvard roundtable discussion next week with top OOL researcher Lee Cronin will be telling on that subject. And finally, says Denton, there is a mounting realization that the mind is irreducible to matter, upsetting the Darwinian presumption that everything must reducible to matter. See the new book Minding the Brain on that score. All three merit our gratitude. Watch, enjoy, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

What Does It All Mean?

Years of contemplation about the many “cosmic coincidences” found by scientific observation seem to be drawing Denton toward theological implications. If the universe seems superbly fit for creatures like man, then why? What is the underlying purpose behind an intelligent Designer, if one exists? Why would he have created a universe where the necessary properties of matter were baked in from the beginning? Denton comments that of all the evidences for intelligent design—such as adaptation and molecular machines—the fine-tuning of atoms and laws of physics seem the most compelling to speak to a divine purpose. They lead toward an anthropocentric view of nature. Evidence has been accumulating that “we humans do occupy a special place in the natural order.”

At this point, Denton says something unexpected, coming from a non-religious scientist who had embraced notions that the suitability of Earth for man might be due to something like a law of nature—something to be accepted as a given. “The idea of a transcendent Mind behind the universe,” he says, “cannot be dismissed.” Then comes the real stunner in his concluding thoughts to the interviewer. The anthropocentric conception of nature is

terribly important for Christian viewers, too; because the doctrine of the Incarnation means that, to me—I’m not that religious myself—but looking logically at that doctrine, that Christian doctrine, that does imply that we humans—whatever faults and things we may have—do occupy some special place in the order of things from the beginning.

Return of the Anthropocentric Universe

Because the fitness of the universe for complex life and for beings like us had to have been installed “in the fabric of things from the beginning,” he continues, it supports the view that we are here for a purpose by a Designer—God—who intended for us to be here. He discusses this with evident emotion and delight. (Note that by “fitness” Denton is not referring to Darwinian fitness, but to the suitability of the constants of physics and laws of nature for complex life, especially for upright, mobile, technologically-adept, thinking beings like ourselves.)

…from fitness you can, in a sense, read the mind of God: God’s intention with creation. You can see the plan of creation in the fitness. It’s so specific and so exacting, and it’s a set of primal blueprints. But you can look at all other aspects of the world out there [such as molecular machines and biological adaptation], and you can’t see that evidence. That evidence resides in fitness, and probably in no other area of knowledge. So that’s greatly interesting me now….

And so you can see that the doctrine of the Incarnation—whether it’s right or not—makes sense, in terms of the intention of God for creation as man.

Dr Denton said in the interview that he is working with the Discovery Institute on a possible set of videos about the return of the anthropocentric view of the universe. Both Denton and the interviewer seemed eager to pursue that topic in a future discussion.

Credit: J. Beverly Greene

The evidence of molecular machines and fine-tuning—astonishing and awe-inspiring as it is—cannot compare to the wonder of the Incarnation: that God would become man and take our punishment upon himself so that we could be saved and reconciled to our Maker (II Corinthians 5:16-21).

This interview was very satisfying for me to hear, since I have been enormously blessed by Denton’s scientific evidence for the fitness of the universe for life. His chapter on the cell in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis was awe-inspiring. But I was frustrated at some of his later books suggesting that impersonal laws of nature can account for our universe. In Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (2016), he advocated a view called Structuralism in contrast to the Darwinian view of Adaptationism. This is the view that the structure of reality gives rise to intelligent beings like humans, as if it is a “natural” outcome of the way things are. But would a mindless universe ever produce minds, especially ones that can comprehend the powerful evidence for design?

Now that Denton is open to the possibility of a transcendent Mind behind the design, it is refreshing to hear that he is thinking about a personal Creator with a purpose for our existence. Perhaps James Tour, who is very open about his Christian faith, is having an impact on Denton, both with his evidence against a naturalistic origin of life and his bold Christian testimony. Dr Tour is a Jew who has embraced Jesus as the Messiah. I sense a new gleam in Denton’s eye in this interview that may indicate that he, like atheist-turned-Christian C. S. Lewis before him—is becoming Surprised by Joy.

Jesus said that “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32), referring to both his upcoming crucifixion and subsequent Ascension. Before returning to the Father, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would testify of the Son, convicting men of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). Despite the present darkness, Jesus “lights every man who comes into the world” (John 1:9-13). Like a gravitational field or tractor beam, the scientific evidence combined with that inner awareness of God’s image pulls each heart toward its Maker. That tug, tragically, can be resisted, because Christ desires willing followers (John 7:17) to receive him by faith (Hebrews 11, Galatians 2:16). The conscience can become insensitive, as if seared with a branding iron (I Timothy 4:2). Those who harden their hearts long enough are in danger that God will “give them up” to their own desires (Romans 1:22-32).

The late Christian author Dave Hunt used to say that faith is beyond the evidence, but is a step in the direction the evidence points. At this crossroads in his life when Michael Denton is open to thinking about the Incarnation, pray that he will not resist it, but step forward in faith to receive the mercy, grace and peace of God available only through Christ. (Romans 5:1-11, Colossians 1:13-20). That is our prayer for all our readers on this Lord’s Day and every day.

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Comments

  • JSwan says:

    I totally agree with your commentary. We should be praying for those who are turning away from materialistic origins – that they complete that turnaround path to God. Interestingly while driving to a relative on Thanksgiving morning I found myself praying for the miraculous conversion of Dawkins!

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