Michael Denton

Senior Fellow, the Center for Science & Culture and the Center on Human Exceptionalism

Michael Denton holds an M.D. from Bristol University, as well as a Ph.D. in biochemistry from King’s College in London. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, Denton has had a critical impact on the debate over Darwinian evolution.

Denton’s most prominent book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, coined the phrase that evolution is a “theory in crisis,” and is credited with having inspired both Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe to investigate scientific problems with Darwinian evolution. His book showed that severe cracks exist in the foundation of Darwinism in areas related to homology, paleontology, and molecular biology. Although originally drafted more than 30 years ago the core argument that much of the complexity of the biological world cannot be accounted for in terms of cumulative selection has stood the test of time as witnessed by the growing skepticism by many in the scientific community that micro evolution can be extrapolated to macroevolution. Following the work of historian of science Thomas Kuhn, Denton recounted that scientific revolutions occur when the dominant paradigm accumulates so many deficiencies that it reaches a “crisis” stage. According to Denton, Darwinism has reached that final stage. His 1998 sequel, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, elaborates on the evidence for design in nature, showing that the laws of the universe are finely-tuned not only for the existence of carbon-based life and even complex beings of biology close to modern humans.

Dr. Denton’s research topic as a PhD student and post doctoral fellow at Kings College in the 1970s was the differentiation of the red blood cell, and his main research focus since the early 1980s has been on identifying genes responsible for inherited retinal disease in humans. Because certain categories of disease genes (e.g. recessive genes) can be more easily identified by studying large consanguineous pedigrees, he has spent several months each year for nearly two decades working and living in India and Pakistan where large inbred populations, ideal for gene mapping, are relatively common. His retinal research led to the identification of several new retinal disease genes including the gene used in the first successful gene therapy trial at Moorfields eye hospital in London in 2009.

He has long adhered to a structuralist view of organic form, seeing much of the underlying order of life to be immanent in nature, the result of higher organizational principles or ‘laws of form’ which constrain the behaviour of complex higher order assemblages of biomatter. As he argues, because these organizational principles or laws are emergent, and only manifest by their influence on ‘higher order assemblages,’ they cannot be inferred from analysis of the individual molecular components or parts of living systems analyzed in isolation and consequently pose a severe challenge to the reductionist agenda. Darwinism is also challenged because they represent emergent causal agencies which are immanent in nature and have nothing to do with natural selection. Moreover as Denton stresses: “Emergent features of any composite or whole (like the properties of water) are only manifest when the components of the composite (hydrogen and oxygen) are ‘combined together.’ Because of this, they cannot be the result of cumulative Darwinian selection which is by definition a gradualistic process which can only build order bit by bit. Selection may choose and conserve the emergent properties of a whole but it cannot create them in the first place.”

Dr. Denton has published his work in journals such as Nature, Biochemical Journal, Nature Genetics, BioSystems, Human Genetics, Clinical Genetics, the Journal of Theoretical Biology, and Biology and Philosophy. He has presented his work at major universities throughout the world. His current research focuses on exploring the role and limitation of genes in the generation of cell form, particularly retinal cells and red blood cells and examining the challenge posed to Darwinian functionalism by the apparently non adaptive ground plans or types which underlie much of the adaptive complexity of life. He rejects the metaphysical basis of the Darwinian framework, specifically the assumptions that living organisms are nothing more than machines and that all properties of organisms have adaptive significance.


The Miracle of Man: Extraordinary “Coincidences” All the Way Down

On today’s ID the Future, Miracle of Man author and biologist Michael Denton continues his conversation with host Eric Anderson. Here Denton does a rapid flyover of several more anthropic “coincidences” in chemistry, biochemistry, and Earth science that are fine tuned to allow air-breathing, bipedal, technology-developing terrestrial creatures like ourselves to exist and thrive. The fine tuning, what Denton calls anthropic prior fitness, would seem to require foresight and planning on literally a cosmic scale. The wide-ranging conversation, the final one in a four-part series, gives a flavor for the breadth—if not the depth and richness—of Denton’s new book from Discovery Institute Press, available here.

The Miracle of Man: Fine Tuning for Blood and Breath

In Part 3 of The Miracle of Man interview with author Michael Denton, the Australian biologist and MD explores with host Eric Anderson some of the bioengineering marvels of the human lung and, more fundamentally, some of the many things about chemistry, the sun, and planet Earth that had to be just so to allow our respiratory and circulatory systems to work—not merely as well as they do but at all. It’s fine tuning for creatures very much like ourselves, what Denton terms The Miracle of Man. “Denton provides the a scientific underpinning for a theistic real humanism far beyond the nihilistic implications of so-called secular humanism,” writes German paleontologist Günter Bechly. “The book deserves to become a game changer Read More ›

Michael Denton: The Miracle of Man Rests on a Primal Blueprint

This ID the Future continues Miracle of Man author Michael Denton’s conversation with host Eric Anderson about his latest book. The focus of this capstone work in his Privileged Species series is, as the subtitle explains, The Fine-Tuning of Nature for Human Existence. Here Denton and Anderson dive deeper into the book’s argument that science has uncovered multiple ensembles of fitness for creatures much like ourselves—land-going, airbreathing, intelligent bipeds capable of controlling fire and developing new technologies. In other words, it’s not just a handful of things about nature that appear fine tuned for our existence. It’s a long list of things, and indeed, a long list of interdependent ensembles of prior fitness—what Denton sometimes refers to as a “primal Read More ›

Michael Denton: The Miracle of Man Interview

On today’s ID the Future, host Eric Anderson sits down with Australian biologist and MD Michael Denton to discuss his new book, The Miracle of Man: The Fine Tuning of Nature for Human Existence. As Denton notes, throughout the Middle Ages, humans were viewed as central to the cosmic scheme of things, but this anthropocentric view began to fall out of favor in the sixteenth century, and few if any scientific discoveries in the subsequent two centuries offered any apparent aid or comfort to the view. That, however, isn’t the end of the story. According to Denton, even as Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection seemed to be draining from the idea what little life remained Read More ›

Michael Denton Reads from His New Book, The Miracle of Man

Today’s ID the Future spotlights the groundbreaking new book The Miracle of Man: The Fine Tuning of Nature for Human Existence, with author and biologist Michael Denton reading excerpts from the work. Here Denton, who is also an MD, marvels at the engineering sophistication of the human heart and hands. Then he dives into the heart of his new book, teasing just a small sampling of the many ways nature appears fine tuned for bipedal, intelligent, technology-developing creatures such as ourselves. One or two such examples are interesting. But where the argument gains dramatic force is in the accumulation of many examples, stretching from physics and the characteristics of our sun to chemistry and the ensemble of unique characteristics of Read More ›

Michael Denton and the Fine Tuning of Chemistry for Life

On this ID the Future, biochemist Michael Denton draws from his groundbreaking new book, The Miracle of the Cell, to explore a fine-tuning design argument centered on the periodic elements essential for life. Twenty elements—and water, too—appear to have been precisely fine-tuned in advance for highly specific biochemical roles. Without their precise properties, cellular and animal life would be impossible. “Words fail,” says Denton, to describe the “almost eerie sense” that someone very powerful knew in advance the roles and capacities required of various elements to carry out the astonishingly sophisticated activities that make cellular life possible. Denton says that this fine tuning provides an independent line of evidence that life is the result of intelligent design.

Michael Denton Talks Finely Tuned Chemistry and ATP Synthase

On this ID the Future, biochemist Michael Denton delves further into his revelatory new book The Miracle of the Cell. Here he discusses finely tuned chemical bonds. Cellular life would be impossible if strong bonds weren’t just so for some cellular functions, and if weak bonds weren’t just so for others. Each type of bond exists in a Goldilocks zone, neither too strong nor too weak for its purposes. They’re tailored to fit. Denton also explores the miracle enzyme known as ATP synthase and some of the fine-tuning particulars of this life-essential molecular complex.

Michael Denton’s Epiphany about Nature’s Fitness for Life

On this episode of ID the Future, biochemist and author Michael Denton tells host Eric Anderson more about his new book The Miracle of the Cell, and about his epiphany when he recognized the many remarkable ways that nature’s chemistry is fine-tuned for life. The focus in this conversation is on carbon chemistry and its “goldilocks zone” ability to form stable bonds but let loose of them when needed. Whereas biologists once wondered about a vitalist “life force” in the cell, Denton sees intelligence and foresight in the very design of carbon, its unique properties, and its “coincidental” relation to water. According to Denton, all of this, taken together, constitutes “one of nature’s most remarkable examples of nature’s fitness for Read More ›

Michael Denton Discusses The Miracle of the Cell

On this episode of ID the Future, Eric Anderson speaks with biochemist Michael Denton about Denton’s new book The Miracle of the Cell, part of his continuing Privileged Species series exploring nature’s fine tuning for life. New research keeps unveiling ever more ways in which this fine tuning exists, from the cosmos to the atoms of the periodic table, even to the subatomic level of quantum tunneling. As for the cell itself, It is as if scientists are discovering a “third infinity,” says Denton.

Michael Denton: Remarkable Coincidences in Photosynthesis

On this episode of ID the Future from the vault, we listen in on a few minutes from a lecture given by Australian biochemist Michael Denton, author of the brand new book The Miracle of the Cell. In this segment, Denton explains the “remarkable set of coincidences” that makes the creation of oxygen through photosynthesis possible. From the specific energy of visible light to the unique properties of water, this degree of fine tuning for life shouts intelligent design.