How much wood can a woodchuck chuck…

… and how long before the Sierra Club stages a protest?
A group of environmentalists was appalled to find evidence of an illegal logging operation in a Polish nature reserve this fall. When the activists discovered a neat stack of twenty tree trunks they quickly alerted the police – hoping, no doubt, to save the remaining trees that were notched for felling.
As Barry Arrington points out,

Most crimes require the prosecution to prove a culpable mental state. For example, to prove murder the prosecutor must prove the defendant intended to kill the victim. On the other hand, to prove criminally negligent homicide, the prosecutor need only prove that the defendant was negligent.

Environmental laws are an exception to this rule and fall under the rubric of “strict liability.” To obtain a conviction for violation of an environmental law the prosecutor need only prove that the defendant engaged in the proscribed conduct (in this case, felling trees). His mental state is not relevant.

So, just to be clear, the culprits that started this illegal logging camp should be prosecuted no matter what their mental state. Motive is irrelevant here – the culprits belong in jail, right?
Because if we don’t keep those renegade beavers at bay, the Cows With Guns may come after us. And we can’t have that.
I echo Mr. Arrington’s query:

Now here’s my question for the materialists. Should the beavers be arrested and jailed for violating the environmental laws? It is no answer to say the beavers cannot form the requisite criminal intent. The crime is, after all, a strict liability crime and their mental state when they felled the trees is not relevant.

Materialists? What say you?

Published by

Rachel Motte

Rachel Motte is a freelance writer, journalist and editor specializing in social issues, educational affairs, and international religious freedom. Her work has appeared at, The Evangelical Outpost, The New Ledger, the Daily Caller, and in Jonah Goldberg’s recent anthology, Proud to Be Right. She is an alumna of Biola University, the Torrey Honors Institute, the Leadership Institute, and the World Journalism Institute. Rachel may be reached at rachel[at]rachelmotte[dot]com.

  • Tim

    My ultimate question is how appropriate is it to judge a man’s motives in addition to his actions. A man intending to commit a crime, but who does not carry it out, is not punished. And if he carries out a crime, should his intention matter, or only his action? It is only his action that affects others. But it does seem good to differentiate premeditated murder from manslaughter. (The OT law does so.) I can’t seem to reconcile these positions. Any help?

  • unapologetic catholic

    Well, unfortunately, the mentla state of the perpetrator of the environmetal crimes is irrelevent buthte genus and species of theperpetrator is relevant.
    Here’s the defintion taken from CERCLA the federal environmentla statute:
    “(21) The term “person” means an individual, firm, corporation, association, partnership, consortium, joint venture, commercial entity, United States Government, State, municipality, commission, political subdivision of a State, or any interstate body.”
    Beavers everywhere are safe.
    But, and I am nto a materialist, this presents a seriosu probelm for the design inference.
    The design inference proceeds by a three step analysis:
    1. Chance.
    2. Regularity
    3. Design.
    Stacked trees are not there by chance. There is no natural law of tree stacking. Therefore, the trees were stacked by design–beaver design, but design nevertheless.
    The design inferece is incapable of distingishing between apparent design by natural agents and forces on one hand and supernatural intelligent design on the other–unless the motive of the designer can be ascertained or the designer is caught in the act.
    We can therefore eliminate bird’s nests, spider webs, dung balls and beaver dams as supernatural.
    There is, so far, no example of a supernatural design that can be offered. Every confirmed example of design requires an analysis of motive (or observation of design in progress) to be sure that we observe an act of an intelligent agent, such as a beaver.
    The beaver trees is a good exampel of a “false positive” in the design infernece. The flasoe positive is eliminated only by further investigation and increased knowledge. There are numerous examples of “false negatives” so the design inference is pretty useless, as a practical matter.

  • phasespace

    Uh, I think there is one well established issue of law Arrington is ignoring in order to draw a false dichotomy.
    Ignorance of the law is not a valid defence. It is well established law that anyone engaging in a particular activity is personally responsible for learning about any laws that may restrict that activity.
    Arrington’s question isn’t an issue for materialists, it’s an issue of established law. Would Arrington be guilty of speeding if he drove 55 mph in a 30 mph zone if he didn’t see the posted speed limit? Absolutely.
    There is nothing here for materialists to answer for, this is just a poor attempt at trolling. The only way this could possibly be relevant to materialism is if Arrington takes the position that woodchucks are subject to our laws and regulations, in which case, Arrington clearly has bigger problems to deal with than wondering about what materialists think.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    And for Tim, who asks, “A man intending to commit a crime, but who does not carry it out, is not punished.”
    Yes he is, it’s called either “attempt” or “conspiracy.”
    “how appropriate is it to judge a man’s motives in addition to his actions.”
    Motive is everything.
    Man saws off another man’s leg–torture or medically necessary amputation?
    Person removes 100 dollar bill from another person’s wallet–gift, loan, mistake, justified emergency to save a life, or theft?
    Man buys a case of olive oil from Vito Corleone- purchase of food product or extortion?

  • Robert Ryan

    Well, O.K., it is kind of funny, but there is nothing to talk about since these are animals. No matter how far we progress, there is little we can do, lease laws aside, if old Rover decides to sit down and lick his own privates (or, for that matter, another’s)in public.
    To prosecute the beavers, we need a law that applies to the species. One that has teeth.

  • Sherwood

    Whatever happened to Joe Carter? I don’t mean to offend, but I feel that this site has really gone down the tubes lately.

  • Boonton

    From wikipedia:
    Under the common law the rule is that crimes require proof of mens rea except in cases of public nuisance, criminal and blasphemous libel, and criminal contempt of court.
    This is an example of an argument that is so clever that it ends up becoming an embarassment to the person making it. Environmental laws would clearly fall within a case of public nuisance. (I take it I don’t need to explain what mens rea is, anyone who watched Legally Blonde need do nothing else).
    As for why this doesn’t apply to non-humans? Because the law only applies to humans. If beavers wish to petition to become citizens with the right to a vote I’d be happy to offer them that status in exchange for being held liable to criminal and civil law.
    This doesn’t really seem like an issue of materialism. If we lived in some CS Lewis type world of talking beavers they’d probably be subject to the same environmental laws the people are. We don’t and whether you believe that the difference between beavers and people is due to some difference in matter or non-matter doesn’t really change the answer to your question.

  • lenf

    In the real world, the beavers would be trapped and relocated or shot to protect the resource, assuming that you can make a judgement as to the relative value of beavers and trees. Of course, legal issues might then arise from molesting the beavers.

  • lenf

    In the real world, the beavers would be trapped and relocated or shot to protect the resource, assuming that the relative value of beavers and trees could be determined. Of course, legal issues might then arise from molesting the beavers.