The old “crop circle” craze fanned the curiosity of many, till humans were filmed making them.  Now, scientists have a different circle mystery, and they’re stumped.

The “Explanatory Filter” devised by William Dembski (see IDEAcenter.org) includes intelligent causes as a last resort, once natural law and chance are ruled out.  Often, it takes time to work through the filter.  When the crop circle craze hit, the simplicity of the circles suggested a natural cause at first.  But then the patterns got more and more elaborate, exhausting the probabilistic resources of chance or natural law (or both) to account for them.  In addition, they exhibited complex specified information, like mathematical forms only minds would comprehend.  This shows that scientists intuitively use the filter, even if they don’t accept Dembski’s intelligent design theory.

A test case is underway in Africa.  Live Science reported that researchers are stumped at mysterious circles out in the middle of nowhere, 111 miles from the nearest village.  “In the sandy desert grasslands of Namibia in southern Africa, mysterious bare spots known as “fairy circles” will form and then disappear years later for no reason anyone can determine,” reporter Stephanie Pappas wrote.  “A new look at these strange patterns doesn’t solve the wistful mystery but at least reveals that the largest of the circles can linger for a lifetime.”

Geometric circles are familiar in the plant kingdom.  Some mushrooms grow in circles called “fairy rings.”  Some superstitious people coming across these near-perfect circles of mushrooms jumped to the conclusion that mystical spirits were at work in the forest (thus the name).  They didn’t use the explanatory filter correctly; it shows that rushing to a design inference can be unwarranted.  Some grasses and bushes can also be found growing in circles.  The usual explanation is that the organism moves outward in all directions as nutrients in the center are exhausted.  That explanation, though, does not fit the African fairy circles.  They cannot yet be explained by nutrients, toxic vapors, termites or other natural causes so far examined….

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