July 2022

Denton: Privileged Species Series

This review addresses a collection of five books written by Michael Denton for the Discovery Institute, addressing the theme of the wonders of creation. It probably should have been titled “The Privileged World series”, but that is not for me to claim. I have read these texts on my Kindle or iPhone. I presume that there is some intended sequence for reading these books, but I’m not sure what it is, so will choose my own order as I read through them. I will offer a summary at the end of the five reviews.

Fire-Maker: How Humans Were Designed to Harness Fire and Transform Our Planet, by Michael Denton ★★★★★

The subtitle of this short work does not do justice to the content of this book. It is a marvelous text, discussing many issues regarding fire that I had never ever contemplated. Regarding humans, if we were much smaller, we would not have had the capacity to handle fire. If we didn’t have human hands with opposable thumbs, the dexterity to start a fire would have never occurred. If we were too large, other issues arise, including physiological issues of human mass preventing us to be able to stand erect as bipeds.

The physics of this world is actually a more interesting story. The nature of water is vital in being able to allow trees to develop and grow. Wood in its various forms is essentially the fuel that is used for starting and maintaining fires. Progress in working with wood and charcoal allowed for hotter fires, first in order to kiln ceramic pots, and then to be able to work with metals. The atmosphere must not contain too much oxygen or too little. Too large of a planet or too small of a planet would have been unsuitable to maintain a fire-safe atmosphere. Oxygen is a fairly stable molecule, allowing for its safe use in forming fires. Wood is also very stable, as witnessed by the challenge of getting campfire wood hot enough to produce the fires we love to sit around, warm ourselves, and roast marshmallows on.

The intricacies of our planet that allow such a simple thing as fire to take place and to allow man to control those fires for their own uses is astounding. Denton does a wonderful job at leaving the reader in awe regarding the wonderful creation that God has designed for us.

The Wonder of Water, by Michael Denton ★★★★

This wonderful little tome discusses the nature and properties of water that make it a very special and unique substance. Unlike any other liquid known to man, it possesses very precise qualities, that even if slightly altered, would make life on our planet impossible. Water’s freezing and boiling point, water’s viscosity, water’s reactivity, it’s solubility, it’s transmissibility of light, it’s nature when it freezes and boils, are all properties that make it a very unique fluid, “almost” as though it were specifically designed. We so readily can imagine a complex organism like man, or even a simple bacteria, as being irreducibly complex. Yet, water is also an unimaginatively complex substance that forms the basic substance for life as well as for the modeling of our planet into a habitable orb. Plate tectonics, the oceans, the atmosphere, the physical form of the earth with mountains, plains, polar icecaps, and continual “recycling” of that landscape is all a result of water’s properties. Truly it is a substance that goes unnoticed because of its ubiquitous presence, yet Denton anticipates that we will discover many more properties of water that form its distinctive significance in our universe.

Children of Light: The Astonishing Properties of Sunlight that Make Us Possible, by Michael Denton ★★★★

“And God said ‘Let there be light’, and there was light”. Though some will joke that God spoke Maxwell’s equations, the newer Quantum Electrodynamics still fails at grasping the dual nature of light being both a wave and a particle. Yet, even Richard Feynman would agree that we haven’t really grasped the nature of light and electrodynamics with our inadequate models. Denton explores these thoughts as well as the nature of light. Looking at the entire spectrum of electromagnetic waves, visible light forms only the most minuscule portion of that spectrum. There is no reason why the visible spectrum should predominate in the universe, from the emission of stars to the emissions of man-made light-emitting products. Yet, the visible spectrum is the only portion of the spectrum that could sustain life and allow for all of the natural and biological wonders that we see. Slightly more energetic waves would denature DNA and proteins, and slightly less energetic waves would be insufficient for photosynthesis and being the earth from being nothing but a frozen tundra. Light is so mundane, and yet such a remarkable miracle.

The Miracle of Man: The Fine-Tuning of Nature for Human Existence, by Michael Denton ★★★★

This book seems to be more of a summary of the last three books. It serves as a good summary. While evolutionists seek to determine how the “development” of the species is in adaptation to a very complex universe, Denton takes another approach by looking at the world that species are “adapting” to, and looks at how that universe seems to have intentionally been designed to permit life. This is the anthropocentric nature of the universe, as though the universe and its laws and characteristics of all its elements seem intended to allow life to take place.

This book was an intimate reminder to me of my days in medical school. I recall nearly weekly taking long walks or runs meditating on human anatomy and physiology and being perplexed at how perfect the entire system was designed and assembled. Life, from the smallest cells to the most complex organisms such as man, has such a remarkable intricacy; how reproduction with embryological development is so intriguing as to defy man’s greatest efforts to unlock the mysteries that we observe. Denton marches through many of the systems of the body, the circulatory, the respiratory, the musculoskeletal, and the nervous system, showing that they were all perfectly designed. The size, structure, design, and physiology are just right; i.e., they are just too perfect to have happened by accident. No other possibilities for evolution could have created the same superior function that we see in the observed bodies.

The Miracle of the Cell, by Michael Denton ★★★★

The Miracle of Man addresses the macroscopic wonders of life on earth, especially the life of multicellular organisms. The Miracle of the Cell takes a look at the microscopic and biochemical wonders of the cell. As usual, Denton focuses almost entirely on the biophysical properties of nature, and especially the nature of the elements and simple compounds that allow life to exist. His appreciation as to how organometallic enzymes just seem to find the correct metal atom to accomplish a certain task and none other is greeted by great wonder and suggestion that only intelligent design could possibly accomplish the task. It was a delightful ending to the story of just how privileged we are as a species, and how special it is that the world “seems” to be a perfect fit for life. It is remarkable how alteration of any of the properties of the chemical world we live in, such as a slight lowering of the freezing point of water, a slight shift in the spectrum of light emitted by the sun, a slight alteration in how oxygen absorbs light in the atmosphere, a slight difference in the viscosity of water, and a plethora of other properties of nature, would have made life not only different, but rather, frankly impossible to have occurred. It is a wonderful world that we live in!


There are several reasons why I gave the books in the series only 4 stars. There is excessive repetition in these books, and eventually, Denton might consider publishing them all as a single volume, reducing redundancy in the process. Each individual volume is well contained, yet the books are presented as a series, which I (perhaps wrongly assumed) were intended to be read as a series.

Denton is a physician-scientist, something that I also am. Reading the 5 books was a matter of suffering through the (appropriately) simplified language of how a physician would speak with a patient. For me, it was frustrating. For the non-biologically in-tuned reader, it is most appropriate what he did. Still, there is a lot that I learned from reading these books, and a perspective that was beautifully scripted.

Denton seems very reluctant to come to the conclusion that it must be an infinite-personal God that guided the “creation” of man. His reluctance is puzzling since he cannot account for one of the most intriguing properties of man, that of a conscious, communicable being with a sense of morality, with ingenuity, with those traits that so distinctively separate man from other living creatures. Besides, he is taking a science-of-the-gaps mentality, simply assuming that all it takes is enough time before science will determine the finer points of the development of the universe and life on planet earth. Man, with all his brilliance, has not yet even once competed with random “nature” to produce an enzyme that accomplishes a given task. Take for instance the Grignard reaction, one of the first learned in college organic chemistry; invent an enzyme that can accomplish what the Grignard reaction accomplishes at body temperature in standard organic conditions! There are thousands upon thousands of enzymes, none of which we can develop a better enzyme to do the task. Even in the laboratory, we are dependent upon biologically extracted enzymes to perform our molecular biological feats of wonder. It is easy to snipe that only time and research will be necessary to improve on what we find in nature, yet the absence of even a minor improvement upon nature still awaits us.

Just as a last word, please do not criticize my book reviews, as many of them were written under extreme duress in 110°F weather. If you have any criticisms, I will sic Greta on you!

Adventure to Yosemite

El Capitan, looking straight at the nose, with the Salathé Wall to the left

I decided to retrieve most of my resupply buckets for a canceled PCT hike, and it happened that I was also able to drop off a PCT hiker that I met three years ago at her new starting point of Kennedy Meadows. Intrepid flew into Las Vegas, and after a day of rest, we ventured off on a direct path to Kennedy Meadows (South). This entailed going through Death Valley in the heat of summer, so I decided to make the journey as early in the day as possible. We left at 6 am in the morning, traveling through Red Rock Canyon, Pahrump, and then down into the south end of Death Valley. This allowed us to see the lowest point in the USA, 262 feet below sea level, at Badwater Basin.

Betsy at Badwater Basin, with the sun just coming up behind us
Intrepid at Badwater Basin
Betsy and I at Furnace Creek at 8 am. Furnace Creek has the hottest recorded temperatures ever anywhere on earth
Saying goodbye to Death Valley NP

There were several significant climbs in order to get out of Death Valley. This put us into the Owens Valley leading us to the curvy windy mountain road up to 6000 ft elevation to Kennedy Meadows (South) (KMS). Here, we had lunch at Grumpy Bears and wished Intrepid goodbye. We picked up the KMS resupply bucket and headed off to Independence, CA where we had the second resupply bucket left at the Courthouse Motel. We spent the night there, then traveled north to Bishop for breakfast at a Dutch Bakery, then took a short bypass to Mammoth, stopping at the Minarets Overlook. We crossed over Sonora Pass, a VERY tortuous, windy road (even worse than the road to KMS) in order to reach a Resort and Packstation, but ALSO named Kennedy Meadows, which I term Kennedy Meadows North (KMN). After retrieving our third resupply bucket and having lunch, we learned that there were no cabins available there, and the campgrounds were entirely full. We were prepared to camp but realized that this was not the place to camp. Off we drove, eventually making it to Mariposa, CA by the afternoon. While driving to Mariposa, I pointed out a cloud of smoke rising in the distance, noting that it was a forest fire, but we thought nothing of it. The hotels in Mariposa were mostly full and hyper-expensive, but we didn’t have much of a choice once we found a room.

In Bishop
Fish cookies at Schat’s. The bakery goods were awesome.
Looking at the mountain range across the valley from Mammoth Mountain. The Minarets show on the right edge of the photo.

In the morning, we wake up to learn that the forest fire is real, and that they shut down the roads to the south end of the park, as well as the Wawona Hotel where we were going to spend the first night, as well as the Mariposa Grove. The hotel reservation was automatically canceled, and we had no choice but to find something else to do for a day, knowing that we could definitely NOT enter the park. We drove to Merced, found a cheap hotel, and decided to get up very early the next day to have a full day in Yosemite National Park. The morning drive to the park was glorious, going through the very narrow V-shaped valley of the Merced River, and then entering the broad glacial carved valley of the Park. What we didn’t realize was that the forest fire smoke had engulfed Yosemite Valley and that we were unable to see anything. We did numerous stops, visited the Park center, and then checked into our cabin at Curry Village. Meanwhile, we were oblivious to our surroundings. That evening, some of the smoke temporarily cleared, offering a view of Half Dome and Glacier Point. Wow!

Blood-red sun rising in the east.
Bridalveil Falls
The Misty Mountains
Mountains in the Mist

The next day, we checked out of Curry Village, and took a hike up the Mist Trail (the actual name of the trail) to Vernal Falls. We then checked into hotel #2, the Yosemite Valley Lodge, across from the infamous camp 4.

Betsy lost in wonder in the Valley
Granite blocks everywhere defined the terrain of Yosemite Valley
Vernal Falls
Yosemite Falls, the tallest falls in North America

The next morning, we did a relaxed departure, spending time admiring El Capitan, and checking out the climbing routes up the face. We did not see any climbers on the rock. It was very hazy again. We departed the park by driving over Tioga Pass. This afforded views back into the Valley, including Half Dome. The views were quite clear from high up on Tioga Pass. We drove all the way to Tonopah, NV where we spent the night at Tonopah Station, a historical hotel but otherwise a real dive. It was an easy drive back home the next day, stopping only at the Area 51 Alien Center.

On the road out of Yosemite Valley, looking down on the valley
A wonderful view of the valley and Half Dome from the Tioga Pass
Hoping to see some aliens, but had to settle for this

The trip was wonderful and relaxing. I was able to get in a little bit of walking, and Betsy and I were able to go places and see things that we’d never seen before. Because of the forest fire and visibility issues, the trip definitely whetted our appetite to return. The trip to the Valley from North Las Vegas would take about 7 hours of driving, easily done in a day if the passes were open from snow. A day later, we again watched the movie of Free Solo with Alex Honnold climbing the Freerider route up El Capitan without a rope or any protection. Being there gave us the perspective to realize what an awesome feat he actually accomplished.