There’s a very interesting article over at Uncommon Descent about beavers, and the things that they do. I’m not entirely sure why they posted the article – Barry seems to be trying to make the point that because Beavers clearly can commit criminal acts but just as clearly can’t form criminal intent, their brains are different from humans, and there’s therefore something “non-materialist” and special about the human brain. I’d like to take a look at the same story, but with a slightly different focus.
Here’s the story:
Green campaigners called in police after discovering an illegal logging site in a nature reserve – and rounded up a gang of beavers.
Environmentalists found 20 neatly stacked tree trunks and others marked for felling with notches at the beauty-spot at Subkowy in northern Poland.
But police followed a trail left where one tree had been dragged away – and found a beaver dam right in the middle of the river. A police spokesman said: “The campaigners are feeling pretty stupid. There’s nothing more natural than a beaver.”
Let’s look at this story from the perspective of detecting design. That’s a topic that’s particularly relevant right now, given that Dembski himself has recently abandoned, then abandoned his abandonment of, the explanatory filter.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the “explanatory filter” consists of a three step process for identifying “intelligent design”. In step one, you determine whether or not the phenomenon in question can be explained by reference to a natural law. If it can, you have your answer. If not, you move on and assess whether or not it can be explained by chance. If it can, that’s probably your answer. If not, God did it you must conclude that it’s the product of intelligent design.
At this point, I should note that Dembski’s filter skips over a step that’s utilized by most rational human beings – looking for motive. When we look at something and try to figure out if it’s something that is the result of intelligent design (or, at least, human design), we look for motive. Are we looking at something that humans would have a reason to do? (Like, for example, cut down trees.)
In the Case of the Criminal Castoridae, the folks who found the evidence seem to have taken all the steps mandated by the design filter.
Law: No known natural law results in the spontaneous stacking of felled trees. Move on to chance.
Chance: The odds of a group of naturally felled trees spontaneously arranging themselves into a neat stack are incredibly small. Move on to design.
Design: The felled trees are the result of an Intelligent Designer.
There seem to be only two possible conclusions that we can draw from this episode. Either it’s possible to correctly apply the explanatory filter, but come out looking like a fool, or the Intelligent Designer just might be a beaver.