Re: Answer to Eugenie Scott's views

William B. Provine (
Fri, 20 Mar 1998 02:28:33 +0000

Dear David,

Many thanks for your thoughtful email regarding methodological naturalism and
God of the Gaps.

> What exactly do you mean by "subject to investigation"? Methodological
> naturalism, as a method, can be attempted on anything. However, your
> philosophy determines whether you think it will yield meaningful results,
> or whether it is possible that a non-naturalistic explanation will be
> better.

I agree. The question is simply whether the method is useful under any given
situation. Eugenie Scott says hands off, you can't use methodological naturalism,
and you say its ok to use it, but in some cases you won't get very much. I would of
course take that chance.

> If God of the gaps is defined as the view that God is specially present in
> areas not explained by science, my view is neither God of the gaps nor
> deistic. I agree that neither of these options is a satisfactory God.
> However, there are many options between these two extremes. The
> Westminister Confession of Faith, V:III states "God, in his ordinary
> providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and
> against them, at his pleasure." In other words, God is working both in
> gaps and in non-gaps. Even most purported gaps have large "natural"
> components to them. For example, the lack of a physical father is the only
> peculiarity claimed about Jesus' birth, as opposed to the abnormal births
> attributed to some of the Greek deities or the option of appearing without
> development and birth.

I appreciate this theological point, made so many different times, and especially by

liberal theological formerly mainstream churches (such as my old Presbyterian
church). The problem is that this kind of God seemed to me then so intellectually
contrived, so distant, that it wasn't worth much to me. It is so easy to say, "God
is everywhere and works through the laws of nature." What I cannot see, is why such
a God would be of any real use to anyone. I am extremely curious--do you on this ASA

list think this kind of God is comforting to you?

> I think we are using essentially the same definition of miracle-an event
> that violates natural laws due to supernatural involvement. There are
> certainly plenty of fraudulent claims of such. However, the Bible does not
> suggest that miracles will be particularly amenable to scientific analysis.
> Firstly, miracles are not very replicable. "You shall not put the LORD
> your God to the test" has also been translated "You shall not experiment on
> God". Skeptical challenges do not seem to be accepted by God very often,
> though open-minded ones often are. Secondly, the primary purpose of
> miracles in the Bible is to attest to someone's authenticity as a spokesman
> for God. The completion of the Bible in New Testament times makes such
> miracles unnecessary.

I try to be both open-minded and critical. Of course I would try to experiment on
things supposedly created by God. Taking my chances at the Pearly Gate are fine with

me, since I think I will be dead, dead, dead before that.

> There may also be an element of "free will" involved. God does not force
> people to believe in Him, and a fully documented miracle may be more
> forceful than He wants.

I don't believe free will exists.

Best wishes, Will