Re: Answer to Eugenie Scott's views

William B. Provine (
Tue, 17 Mar 1998 12:41:39 +0000

I apologize for the garbled response to David Campbell's thoughtful email.

Dear David,

I sympathize deeply with your attempts to save the compatibilist version.
But the problems remain. I don't think you have explained them away.

> "Not visible in nature" assumes that God is only visible in miracles, which
> is not the view of many theists. I personally do not see how one can do
> science without methodological naturalism, since there is the underlying
> assumption of uniformitarianism and God's actions are not sufficiently
> constrained to make that assumption. However, it is possible to see God's
> hand in this predictability rather than simply accepting it as the way the
> universe happens to work.

Your argument is clear. I accept that you might think that God is visible in
the predictability of nature. Under methodological naturalism, any laws or
regularities behind the laws is equally subject to investigation. So far,
methodological naturalism has gone a very long way in this direction, but has
much farther to go. Your view is equivalent to either God of the gaps or a
Deistic god. The first is weak for all the reasons given on this reflector, and

the second is back in the worthless kind of God.

> Methodological naturalism, as its name implies, is a method. A miracle is
> not an exception to methodological naturalism. Rather, it is an exception
> to the assumption that methodological naturalism can explain the situation.
> Methodological naturalism is no menace to miracles in the natural world;
> instead, it may more fully document them.

This is a question of investigation. Miracles investigated in the present, when

enough data are present, always succumb to methodological naturalism. You are
in a terrible situation if you argue that your favorite miracles can be
disproved by scientific investigation. Are you willing to argue that Jesus came

from a virgin birth (with I guess one complement of divine chromosomes), that
paternity testing would reveal no connection with nearby men, and was
resurrected from the dead? If true, then I surely would become a believing
Christian. But the evidence so far is woefully weak from the viewpoint of
methodological naturalism. Your only hope is for the case to never be capable
of investigation. How about more recent miracles with good evidence that they
must be miraculous? Having God split Cayuga Lake and allowing me to walk to the
other side would immediately convince me.

I think you multiply your problems by saying, well, investigate miracles.
If you do, and find a perfectly reasonable natural explanation, then you are up

a creek. In the case of Jesus, or the thousands of cases offered up as virigin
births in this century, methodological naturalism suggests strongly that none
were virgin births. After all, we have only Mary's word for it, and that may be

just a reconstruction that can be tracked down by Biblical scholars.

Best wishes, Will