The Questionable Authority

Beavers of the Gaps

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.

Comments

  1. #1 vel
    December 12, 2008

    beaver gods? The internet has everything

    http://www.geocities.com/missus_gumby/dancing.htm

  2. #2 TomS
    December 12, 2008

    Traditionally, one looks not for just the motive, but also the opportunity and the means. It is interesting that advocates of ID make a point of not being interested in any of those three.

  3. #3 Mike
    December 12, 2008

    Dembski says: “In an off-hand comment in a thread on this blog I remarked that I was dispensing with the Explanatory Filter in favor of just going with straight-up specified complexity. On further reflection, I think the Explanatory Filter ranks among the most brilliant inventions of all time (right up there with sliced bread). Im herewith reinstating it it will appear, without reservation or hesitation, in all my future work on design detection. ”

    And that’s it. Nothing more. There couldn’t be any clearer evidence that he’s just playing at propaganda.

  4. #4 Wheels
    December 12, 2008

    Just in case someone thinks the EF is being misapplied, nope. The Explanatory Filter really cannot account for natural behaviors observed in nature without false positives. If it isn’t explained by a Natural Law, if it isn’t explained by Random Chance, then it must be Design. “Design” must therefore be defined loosely enough to make beavers into designers. Perhaps the ID advocates will not object to this in the least, or perhaps they will shift the burden of Design onto whomever they think designed the beavers. Then we are firmly in the “Who designed the Designer?” territory.
    I will leave it to “those who intuit logos” (as one UDer put it) to ruminate on the implications.

    Mike: No explanation or retraction of his earlier admission that the chance/law/design aspects are not mutually exclusive, either. Not that leaving us with an unexplained statement would be unusual, but shouldn’t he at least owe it to his loyal supports to say how he went wrong and suddenly decided that his Filter was “among the most brilliant inventions” again?

    Also, I would be posting something to this effect over there, but I never got my registration password e-mail.

  5. #5 George
    December 12, 2008

    Okay, so the designer is a beaver? What’s the point? God designed the more subtle complex creations, humans many other things, beavers make damns and lodges, birds nests, bees hives, there is lots of ID around – some more intelligent then others.

    The problem with the explanatory filter is that you cannot answer questions one or two in most cases. You can only conclude ID when, in fact, you catch the designer in the act so to speak. While you did in fact catch the beavers in the act, you said there is no natural law to explain the trees really do you in fact know everything about nature I think not. So you must stop there and wait until you do know every thing about nature. You cannot proceed just because you dont know of a law yet as your understanding is incomplete. Of course, the other approach that actually works is to catch the beavers, now you have the intelligent designer in the act.

    So far, no one has caught any direct evidence of gods actions of design. ID’s only hope is do exactly that. The ID’ists know that and know they cannot.

    The analog evolutionary theory to ID would be to say: “If you cannot find hard evidence of gods actions, evolution is the only other answer.” This is classic burden shifting. If you cannot prove your theory then make the other party prove theirs – you can always find something they have not yet learned or as Behe demands, I want you to show every single mutation across all history and every creature that resulted in the formation of the human immune system. While this is clearly silly, it is done in law suits all the time.

  6. #6 Goldra
    December 12, 2008

    Dear, dear, Doctor Dembski sounds so like a petulant child doesn’t he. To dispense with something that in ones mind ‘ranks among the most brilliant inventions of all time’ seems somewhat misjudged. Methinks other motives apply.

  7. #7 David vun Kannon, FCD
    December 12, 2008

    I made this point in a comment on that UD thread, but for some reason it hasn’t appeared yet!

    EF leads us to conclude design, just not very intelligent design!

  8. #8 Metro
    December 12, 2008

    Maybe I’m just a slow thinker (a possibility I’d be about nineteenth to admit) but doesn’t this fall into the whole “Okay–you reduced the gap, but it’s still a gap,” argument creationists normally apply to the fossil record?

    Law: None (That we know of)
    Chance: Odds incredibly small (But exactly how small? And could something have happened to increase those odds?)
    Design: God/Siva/Samhain did it (but it could have been Kali-Mai/Zeus/Jupiter).

    So how does this Explanation Filter contribute bugger-all to the discussion?

  9. #9 Mark Perakh
    December 12, 2008

    To anybody familiar with Dembski’s habitual shenanigans, was clear that all this was just to attract attention to his persona. “Look, guys, Dembski abandoned his pet EF!!!!” So Dembski was again talked about. As the talk was subsiding, he issued another announcement, rejecting the previous one, and again, “Look guys, Dembski is again claiming the perfections of his pet EF!!!” Dembski, Dembski, Dembski!!!! That’s all he wants -attention, and to get it he habitually invents such “jokes” fitting a village fool. The great Russian poet Pasternak authored a poem famous in the Russian-speaking world that starts with the words: “It is unseemly to be notorious…. It is shameful, while being nobody, to be spoken about by everybody…” (My clumsy translation). Dembski lacks the elementary taste and decency to abstain from such infantile tricks.

  10. #10 e-dogg
    December 12, 2008

    Ladies and gentlemen, just in time for the holidays, WAD’s latest piece of “street theater”–the Nutcracker edition.

  11. #11 Eamon Knight
    December 12, 2008

    Shouldn’t beavers fall under “natural law”? What about spiderwebs?

  12. #12 island
    December 12, 2008

    You don’t have to strike-through “god did it” if the assumption is that there is… “something “non-materialist” and special about the human brain”.

    You only have to do that if you want to show skepticism when and if they make the claim that they believe that a natural ID possibly responsible, which would necessarily preclude a “non-materialist” claim.

    sorry, I’ve apparently turned into a microscopic nit picker… ;)

  13. #13 Mark Duigon
    December 12, 2008

    I don’t get it–how do beaver brains differ from human brains? Beavers screw up the environment to build their homes and shopping malls. Humans screw up the environment to build their homes and shopping malls. In either case, those screwing up the environment don’t consider themselves criminals. How then are the beaver brains any less special?

  14. #14 Stephen Wells
    December 12, 2008

    I used to think that “Design” in the EF just meant “Unknown.” Now it means “Unknown, but possibly beavers.” Improved specification!

  15. #15 Glen Davidson
    December 12, 2008

    It just gets back to their stupid equation, intelligence=unnatural.

    Most of their mindless analogies have at their basis the idea that the “mind” operates miraculously and without obeying “natural law.” This is one reason why they can’t grasp the fact that both the “natural process” of evolution and the “natural processes” of intelligence can make somewhat similar forms and objects (and do so because only a relatively few ways of, say, flying work at all well), although it is and always has been easy to differentiate between the results of these two processes.

    Above all, they “just know” that the brain isn’t due to its “materials,” and so a “materialistic process” like evolution could never be responsible for it. They wouldn’t dare put such a circular “argument” out there very often (the Egnorant one does, however), but it’s one reason why they cannot discuss anything about evolution in a sensible manner.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  16. #16 Stanton
    December 12, 2008

    I don’t get it–how do beaver brains differ from human brains? Beavers screw up the environment to build their homes and shopping malls. Humans screw up the environment to build their homes and shopping malls. In either case, those screwing up the environment don’t consider themselves criminals. How then are the beaver brains any less special?

    Among other things, beavers are not sentient. That, and while beavers feed on the twigs and bark of the trees they fell, they do not take the time to cut down every single tree in the forest at one time. That, and beaver ponds tend to become filled up with sediment, turn into meadows, and be reclaimed by the forest.

  17. #17 island
    December 12, 2008

    If these guys are right then there is no real difference between Beavers, humans, and mushrooms that “design” “fairy-rings”, other than, degrees of freedom.

    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/edit/archives/2004/09/30/2003204990

  18. #18 Norman Doering
    December 12, 2008

    Have any of you guys tried posting your fine arguments over at Uncommon Descent?

    If you do try to post and it never shows up, report what you posted here:
    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-they-want-to-silence-us.html

    I’m trying to collect evidence on what gets censored at various sites.

  19. #19 Missus Gumby
    December 12, 2008

    At last! Visitors to my dancing beaver page!

    And it only took 6 years!

    Excellent.

    Missus Gumby

  20. #20 Michael Suttkus, II
    December 12, 2008

    Of course, the IDiots will argue that the “beaver function” smuggles in the Design of the designer of the “beaver function”. It’s the same thing they’ve been saying for years about spiders. The “designed” nature of the web is God’s, er, The Unnamed Intelligent Designer Who Might Be God Or Aliens Or Something’s intelligence leaking through.

    Of course, they never seem to realize this completely defuses their arguments against evolution. If the UNIVERSE is designed by God, then it could include the evolution function, smuggling in design while looking like just nature acting!

  21. #21 djlactin
    December 12, 2008

    Something smells funny about the beaver story… Yes, beavers cut down trees; yes, beavers make dams, BUT: 1) beavers do not neatly stack trees trunks. To stack tree trunks they would have to trim off branches and lop off the crown of the downed trees. They don’t do this. Then they would have to lever the logs into a stack. Not plausible. 2) Beavers dams that I have seen are made of branches (some fairly hefty), not of logs the diameter of the one shown in the picture. Also, a single beaver could not haul a log that size. (Beavers frequently just cut down big honkin’ trees and leave them where they fall. Why? Maybe they just need to wear down their teeth).

    My analysis: humans processed and stacked the logs (perhaps they were merely salvaging beaver-felled trees) and the trail to the dam was either a coincidence or a red-herring.

  22. #22 Rolf Aalberg
    December 13, 2008

    Confirmation of what we have known all the time, that ID ‘theory’ accomodate multiple designers…

  23. #23 Ian H Spedding FCD
    December 13, 2008

    Ummm, if the whole Universe was designed by God – as ID conjecturists believe even if they won’t say – then surely the Explanatory Filter, if it works, should throw up nothing but positive results since there is nothing undesigned for it to screen out?

  24. #24 Karen S
    December 13, 2008

    What about the beaver’s extinct relative, Palaeocastor? They made made spiraling burrows known as devil’s corkscrews. Should we now call them Designer’s Corkscrews ?

  25. #25 Pete
    December 15, 2008

    Above all, they “just know” that the brain isn’t due to its “materials,” and so a “materialistic process” like evolution could never be responsible for it.

    Interesting. I fully accept that my consciousness is material and the result of the electrical impulses in my physical brain (and the result of 4 billion years of evolution). And yet I have this long running incredibility (yes, I recognize this is surely no real argument) that human consciousness, cars and football have to suggest there is some greater picture then just the material world. I know evolution and adaptation are not an “accident” so don’t misunderstand my next point, but it just seems like the whole of human consciousness can not just be the result of 15 billion years of electromagnetic (among a few other) forces without this time, these last few tens of thousands of years somehow being the “point” of it all (at least for this planet). Keeps me being a theist. Even if I finally abandon the cloak of my evangelical beliefs or even judeo-Christian beliefs, I don’t know if I could ever shake this feeling enough to become purely atheistic. I would probably just say “I don’t know” and then go about my life.

  26. #26 Stephen Wells
    December 16, 2008

    @Pete: you’re right, your incredulity is no argument. Why do you propose a _god_ instead of an _I don’t know_ ? And why do you think we are the “point” of the planet?

  27. #27 Chris
    December 17, 2008

    The UD folks often drag out forensic examples to demonstrate the application of the EF and detection of design. I don’t think it is an accident that one of their pet terms (CSI) shares a name with a popular criminal forensics TV program. They always seem to stop short of the key question of criminal forensics, though. After detecting design (i.e. determining that the event in question did not happen by chance), the most important question to the criminal investigator is identifying the designer. Dembski et al. insist that ID is only about detecting design and not about identifying the designer, when that is the only question that matters after design is detected, in crime or philosophy.

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