Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Scientific Methodology Parable

This incident stemmed from a tree falling in my yard several years ago. One of my neighbors, a devout fundamentalist Christian, and he is indoctrinating his children all too well. I was looking at the tree, trying to figure why it fell when one of his brood informed me that God knocked it down. I did a bit more investigating and turned it into an example of the differences between science and this extreme fundamentalist religious cult pretending to explain the world around them. So it goes something like this:

A scientist and a fundamentalist are standing outside next to a tree that had fallen down overnight. The scientist looks at the fact, he has a tree down across part of his yard and he also looks at all the other trees on his property and wonders why the tree fell down. The fundamentalist says “God knocked your tree down.”

The scientist goes back inside and looks at last night weather report and realizes that late in the night there was a bit of a storm. He hypothesizes that the storm may have been the agent that took his tree down. The fundamentalist says “God knocked your tree down.”

The scientist is again outside looking at his tree when one of his neighbors brings over a CD. Apparently the neighbors security system caught an image of the tree going down and thought the scientist would be interested in it. Together they watch the video and the scientist sees two large pieces of compressed Styrofoam, the kind used to insulate basements, fly in the wind and get caught in his tree. The later storm hit the large area of stiff foam. His hypothesis becomes a theory with the evidence. Not only did the storm topple his tree, but the foam panels acted like sails, providing even more area for the wind to push against his tree. His theory matched the available evidence. When he told the fundamentalist about the panels, the fundamentalist replies, “God knocked your tree down!”

The scientist, not 100% satisfied, contacts a tree expert to examine the downed tree and also to see if any of the other trees on his property are in danger. The tree expert examined the tree, the weather report, and the panels acting as sails and added several more pieces of evidence. He says the trees were originally planted a little on the shallow-side, not giving the tree as much support as it would if it had been planted deeper. That lack of support aided in the effects of the storm and the panels. So the theory, while now different, is a stronger explanation of the fact the tree is down. The tree expert also takes a sample off the tree’s exposed roots for analysis. When the fundamentalist hears about the roots he screams “God knocked your tree down!”

The tree expert gets back with the scientist. “Your tree also has a fungal growth that can weaken root systems. I have a special fertilizer for you to strengthen the roots of your other trees.” The fundamentalist yells even louder “GOD KNOCKED YOUR TREE DOWN!”

Now the theory is even stronger. It was a combination of storm, panels, shallow planting, and weakened roots that brought down his tree. The fertilizer will help insure his other trees don’t fall.

The moral of the story is that maybe God wanted the tree down, but if you end your thinking there, you will lose more trees and can only wonder why God hates you!


  1. It's like my own reconciliation of God and science. Like the creationists, I believe God created it all. However, while the fundamentalists are content to stop at the Genesis explanation, I prefer to dig deeper,all the way to the Big Bang. I wish I could make these superstitious idiots understand that God was not about to try to make goatherders understand the intricacies of the Big Bang and cosmological evolution - He was content to give them a simplified "let there be light" version that they could wrap their technologically primitive brains around.

  2. I shared this story with a Creationist friend of mine and she added a postscript:

    "A week later a tree fell in the fundamentalist's yard. The next morning he was over at the scientist's house asking "Ummm just what was the name of that tree expert?"

  3. Ha!

    Your friend is a creationist with a sense of humor - a rare combination based on what we have seen on Topix.

  4. That she does. She is a creationist, but not a Biblical Literalist. She's been to Topix, but doesn't wish to participate because she says the 'pseudo-creationists', as she calls them, aren't worth her time and energy.

    She;'s also the one who invited me to see "Expelled" and then apologized to me afterwards.

  5. Interesting.

    How does one become a creationist without being a biblical literalist? Does she follow "old earth" creationism, or is she more an ID proponent?

  6. I think she wanted to be an ID proponent, but that silly Ben Stein 'mockumentary' cured of her that. She is more the Catholic tradition of seeing the Bible as a collection of allegorical stories rather than a science textbook. She doesn't even try and 'sell' the idea of a global flood or the Earth being less than 10,000 years old.

    She doesn't completely agree with Evolution, but I am working on her. Her misunderstandings of Evolutionary theory were pretty shocking for an intelligent and college educated person. But she does have a functioning brain.