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                   Saturday, August 7, 2010 - 1:46PM CDT

Pathways of strictly natural interpretations

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I was having a conversation with friends at lunch one Sunday, and happened to look outside at a nearby bank's landscaping. There were rows of flowers, trimmed hedges, and mulch confined into a plot of land surrounded by a concrete curb. Since our conversation was on science's explanation of the origins of the universe versus the Biblical account, this analogy came to mind.

If one refused to entertain the possibility that the bank's landscaping was designed and created by a professional (since we did not see it happen) - only allowing a naturalistic, scientific analysis of the observed evidence at face value - then one's interpretation of how the landscaping acquired its current form would take on some interesting direction.

First let's try to explain the mulch using only face-value evidence and scientific observation, ruling out any possibility of a landscaper. The mulch is made up mostly of tree bark. So, we know that the mulch had to come from trees. The bark is shredded, so we know some force had to act on the bark to remove it from the trees and pulverize it into small pieces. Then, those pieces had to be transported to their current location. Again, we didn't see a landscaper do the job, we only know what we can see in front of us. So, what are the possible natural explanations for the mulch?

First, we have to find natural events that are capable of debarking trees and shredding the pieces. A violent tornado is certainly capable of this. How about transporting those pieces? A tornado can do that as well, lofting debris far from its source. After careful investigation, the tornado seems like the best natural explanation for what we see. A flood or a nesting animal could have also done the transporting. But since a tornado could do everything - the debarking, shredding and transporting - we'll conclude that a tornado is the most logical answer. And since we a priori reject the idea of a landscaper, that's what we have to go with until a better explanation is found. And intellectually and scientifically, we've done a pretty good job of using our knowledge to come up with an answer. We didn't just pull the explanation out of the air, we used complete and reasonable logic.

But that explanation brings up some problematic questions. Why is the mulch perfectly confined inside of the concrete curb, with not one piece spilling out into the driveways? Why is the mulch purely made up of bark, and not interspersed with other debris like leaves, trash, twigs, insulation, papers and other objects that we'd expect if a tornado was responsible? Again, we have to stick with only science and 'face value' evidence to answer those questions. And at present, all we can say is we just haven't figured it out yet, trusting that with advances in science, we will eventually find the answers to those questions - and ultimately a complete naturalistic explanation to how the bank's landscaping came into being.

Now I know that some could get nitpicky about that analogy. We could observe other landscapings taking place, we could see and interview landscapers, etc. I know it's not a flawless comparison. But I'm not trying to draw a perfect parallel - I'm attempting to show how confining one's investigation of nature's origins to only observed evidence and natural science can lead one down a fairly acrobatic path of reasoning, even if that reasoning is logically and scientifically sound. If we have a compellingly reliable record saying that the bank's landscaping was designed and put into place by a skilled landscaper, then it isn't unreasonable to give credence to that explanation that completely fits if it is true.

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