Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | December 9, 2010

5. Beavers and Intelligent Design

I'm standing by a very large
beaver-girdled cottonwood tree.

Continuing the series on Beavers

A friend emailed me the following tongue-in-cheek comment on this picture from the preceding blog post:

“You were inferring from the marks on the tree that beavers made them – how do you know it didn’t grow that way? Are you implying that persons of reason can detect agent causation? Get real!”

I definitely do think that causation by an intelligent agent can usually be detected. This presupposition underlies practically any investigation into past events.

Most criminal investigations, archaeology digs, cryptography (is it a coded message or a random signal?), forensics (was death from natural causes or foul play?), the government-funded Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), etc. presume the ability to detect actions by intelligent agents by their effects.

Why do archaeologists get so excited when they find a stone axe buried in a cave? Why are they thrilled at finding cave paintings? It’s because they instantly conclude that men – intelligent causation – generated these effects.

The key question is always,
What is the most reasonable explanation of the effects?
Without an eyewitness or recorded testimony, one can never prove the validity of an explanation of a past event. One evaluates explanations and chooses the most reasonable one.

What about the cottonwood tree in the above picture? What is the most reasonable explanation of its girdle?

Beaver at work felling tree

Potential explanations include:
1. Beavers girdled the tree.
2. The tree grew that way.
3. Someone emulated beaver work with a chisel.

In support of Explanation #1:
1. Eyewitnesses have photographed beavers making similar marks on trees as they felled them. See the accompanying photos by Gordon Lonie.
2. Eyewitnesses report that cottonwoods are beavers’ favorite food in SE Michigan.

Problems with Explanation #2:
1. The tree could not have grown that way because it was girdled. Trees grow at the bark layer and die if the bark layer is cut, thereby cutting the path of nutrients to the tree. This is known based on eyewitness reports and botanical research.
2. How did the tree grow the wood chips scattered on the ground and completely disconnected from the tree?
3. There is no historical or eyewitness record of cottonwood trees growing this way.

Problems with Explanation #3:
1. Other nearby trees that were similarly girdled were substantially weathered and appear to have been girdled in past years. Why would someone come year after year to perform this hoax? Did they also spread wood chips around the trees?
2. Or if done in the same year, why would they weather some of the girdles?
3. What is the compelling motivation for a person to girdle and weather the trees?
4. What advantage accrues? Is it worth the risk of breaking the law to damage park trees?

I can’t of course prove my claim that Explanation #1 is correct. But I do argue that Explanation #1 (Beavers) is the most reasonable explanation to account for the girdled cottonwood tree. Other explanations are far less likely.

From the evidence of the girdled cottonwood tree, I have inferred the existence of an intelligent agent (namely a beaver) that caused the effect (the girdled tree).

Presidents Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, Lincoln on Mt. Rushmore

Likewise from the stone faces on Mt. Rushmore, I infer the existence of a carver. It is far less probable that wind and rain erosion formed the faces we see.

Is it conceivable that the far more complex men represented by those simple stone faces were formed by random chance, if we are sure that the simple representations had to be designed?

Thus I infer the existence of a Creator (Intelligent Designer) as the most reasonable and most likely explanation of mankind.

All of Creation shouts of a Creator (Romans 1:19,20). The God of the Bible, Yahweh, is that Creator.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Read the prequels in this series of blog posts on Beavers:
1. Beavers – Intro
2. Beavers in Troy
3. Busy Beavers
4. Looking for Beavers

Read the sequel:
6. Beavers Are Environmental Keystones

Read my full discussion of beavers in four newspaper articles:
2010.09 Busy Beavers
2010.10 Beaver Life
2010.11 Beaver Benefits
2011.10 Beavers and Atheists

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Thursday December 9, 2010 A.D.

Read my December 2010 Bible-Science column
World’s Most Titled Man.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

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