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Fire-Maker Book: How Humans Were Designed to Harness Fire and Transform Our Planet (The Privileged Species Series) Paperback – July 18, 2016
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Michael Denton is the author of Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, which is an extended critique of what Denton considers to be the paradigm failure of the theory of evolution by natural selection ("TENS"). In that book, Denton did not offer a positive theory for what should replace TENS.
This book doesn't offer an explanation for a replacement of TENS either, although it does sotto voce gesture at design and fine tuning or a run of luck that beggars the imagination. The word "God" never makes its way into the text, but by the end of the book, the reader is left with the feeling that the universe is an incredible "put-up job."
Denton goes into incredible detail to point out the string of coincidences that have to occur to give humanity the ability to work with fire. Beyond having a hand with opposable thumbs, humans are within the height and weight range that gives us the ability to obtain enough fuel and be able to work close enough but far enough from fire to get the fire hot enough to work metal. If mankind had not been able to use fire to work metal, then human technology would never have arisen. And then there is the amazing fact that the "seven ancient metals" are scattered around enough and available for humans to find and exploit.
And then there is the amazing fact that the terrestrial atmosphere during the human era is just right to permit the use of fire. There have been times when the atmosphere has had too much oxygen and times when it has had too much carbon dioxide. Too much oxygen will lead to fires that run out of control; too much carbon dioxide will make fires ineffective. The human-era atmosphere is blessed with oxygen in the right range but with enough air pressure furnished by inert gases to make fire possible. Then there is this obscure bit of fortune:
"It is another element of fortuity in nature that the properties of the transitional metals atoms, such as iron and copper, have just the right atomic characteristics to “gently” activate oxygen for chemical reactions. In fact, all the oxygen-handling enzymes in the body, even those not specifically involved in oxygen activation such as hemoglobin (which is involved in oxygen transport), make use of transitional metal atoms. So the inertness of oxygen at ambient temperatures is rescued in the body by the unique properties of the transitional metal atoms that activate it for energy generation in air-breathing organisms like ourselves, whose high metabolic rates and active lifestyles depend critically on the energy of oxidations.17 If not for our unique oxygen-handling capacities, we as carbon-based life forms dependent on oxidations for our metabolic energy would certainly not be here.
In short, the inertness of dioxygen is clearly fit in several ways for air-breathing organisms obtaining their oxygen in gaseous form supplied from an atmosphere: It enables the energy of oxidations to be utilized in the body; it prevents us from spontaneously combusting; and it allows for the controlled utilization of fire. It is worth noting that the inertness of oxygen at ambient temperatures is a fitness in nature particularly relevant for terrestrial, air-breathing organisms like ourselves, preventing spontaneous combustion and at the same time allowing for the mastery of fire.
It does not apply to aquatic organisms that extract their supply of oxygen from water and are incapable of ever lighting a fire. And of course these characteristics are completely irrelevant to anaerobic bacteria and those extremophiles entombed in the crustal rocks, far removed from the concerns of life with oxygen."
The put up job extends even to the humble metal copper:
"Indeed, the whole electric age is in a very real sense a gift of the material properties of metals and of one metal in particular: copper.
The fitness of metals because of the conjunction of their ductility and electrical properties is certainly an arresting fact. And it is not just their strength and hardness that are maximally useful in the ambient temperature range. Curiously, several metals—especially copper, the conductor par excellence—are far better conductors at ambient temperatures than at higher temperatures.
Copper, for example which is still indispensable for dynamos and electric motors, conducts electricity ten times more efficiently (that is, its resistivity is ten times less) at 100° C than 600° C.25 If the conductivity of copper were ten times less, wires would have to be ten times the cross-sectional area to provide the same conductivity, ruling out many applications and making the construction of motors and dynamos far more difficult.
Copper does indeed have ideal fitness for its applications in electrical devices: The inherent strength, hardness, and flexibility of copper building wire make it very easy to work with. Copper wiring can be installed simply and easily with no special tools, washers, pigtails, or joint compounds. Its flexibility makes it easy to join, while its hardness helps keep connections securely in place. It has good strength for pulling wire through tight places (“pull-through”), including conduits. It can be bent or twisted easily without breaking. It can be stripped and terminated during installation or service with far less danger of nicks or breaks. And it can be connected without the use of special lugs and fittings. The combination of all of these factors makes it easy for electricians to install copper wire.26 Copper also resists corrosion more than aluminum or iron. In an article on copper posted on the web the author waxes lyrical about its utility: Copper’s unique properties make it an invaluable component of our future. Copper is so good at managing heat and electricity, it is practically irreplaceable for use in sustainable energy—from solar panels to wind turbines. Copper can be 100% recycled—making it a perfectly green material. Just shy of 1 trillion pounds of copper have been mined since the dawn of human history—and most of it is still in circulation thanks to copper’s recycling rate (which is higher than that of any other engineering metal)… The entire industry of copper mining and copper alloys is dependent upon the economic recycling of any surplus products. Not only can copper be recycled from post-consumer equipment like old plumbing pipes or discarded electrical cable, but the scrap pieces of copper from factory floors can be recycled into new grade A copper. About half of all copper that is recycled is post-consumer scrap copper and copper alloys have been recycled for thousands of years. In fact, one of the wonders of the old world, the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue spanning the entrance to Rhodes Harbour in ancient Greece, was said to have been made of copper. No trace of it remains since it was recycled to make other items."
Some of this stuff may be "after the fact" reasoning; if it wasn't copper, it would have been some other metal. On the other hand, if you add them all together, you get the sense of teleology - a final cause. The universe was looking for Aristotle's "one who wanted to know" and went to a lot of effort to make it happen.
In addition, if you think about Denton's chain of lucky coincidences in terms of our search for extraterrestrial intelligence, then the "great silence" makes sense. It takes a lot to build a fire. Maybe we beat the billions to one odds against us.