Published Letter to the Editor "Natural Explanation for Flood Prevention"

A letter to the editor I sent to the Times Leader was published today. I argue that naturalistic explanations are better than supernatural explanations in reference to an article featuring a preacher who claims that God answered prayers and the flood waters ebbed because of this. Tides go in, tides go out, you can't explain that. Right? Wrong.

Rev. Joseph Bertha, of St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittston, believes that prayer had something to do with preventing some flooding, according to The Times Leader article titled “Prayers of thanks” (Oct. 24).

Rather than assuming that any supernatural intervention occurred, the ebbing flood waters can be accounted for in purely naturalistic terms. Waters reach a certain point and eventually recede; in addition, the levee system prevented some of the flooding. Why should a supernaturalistic explanation be accepted when a perfectly reasonable naturalistic explanation is available?

Theodore Schick, in an article titled “Can God explain anything,” published in the summer 2003 issue of “Think,” refers to the popular skeptical heuristic called Occam’s Razor. Schick writes: “Other things being equal, the simpler a hypothesis is – the fewer assumptions it makes – the better it is. If phenomena can be explained without making certain assumptions, there’s no reason to make them … (Y)ou shouldn’t assume the existence of anything that’s not needed to explain the phenomena.”

Another criterion proposed by Schick is scope – “the amount of diverse phenomena explained by a theory.” Schick explains that when comparing two theories, the better theory is the one that has greater explanatory power. Schick writes: “The attempt to explain natural phenomena by appealing to supernatural entities (gods), I believe, is no better than (an) attempt to explain (a) bridge collapse by appealing to gremlins. In both cases one is trying to explain the unknown in terms of the incomprehensible, and that can never increase our understanding.”

Justin Vacula

Co-organizer, NEPA Freethought Society