Beavers and Intelligent Design

by William T. Pelletier, PhD

narnia beaversA 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?

Potential explanations include:

1. Beavers girdled the tree.

2. The tree grew that way.

3. Someone emulated beaver work with a chisel.

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