Although Rev. Joseph Bertha of St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittston acknowledges that that a levee system protected some of the Wyoming Valley from the recent September flooding, he also believes that prayer (combined with the intercession of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ) had something to do with preventing some of the flooding according to a recent Times Leader article. Is this a reasonable assumption to make?
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 to the levee system preventing some of the flooding. What evidence can possibly be presented to substantiate the idea that a supernatural intervention occurred and why should this explanation be accepted when a perfectly reasonable naturalistic explanation is available?
Theodore Shick, in an article titled “Can God Explain Anything” published in the summer of 2003 in “Think,” refers to the popular skeptical heuristic called Occam’s Razor. Shick says “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. So a theory that makes unnecessary assumptions is unreasonable. […] [Y]ou shouldn’t assume the existence of anything that is not needed to explain the phenomena.”
Another criterion proposed by Shick is scope – “the amount of diverse phenomena explained by a theory.” Shick explains that when comparing two theories, the better theory is the one that has greater explanatory power. Shick 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.”
Bertha’s ideas also face other important criticisms. If supernatural intervention occurred and God is all-good, why did the flooding even happen in the first place or impact some of the area? If prayer can be used to prevent natural disasters, why are the levees even needed? If God only helps those who help themselves [which many religious people may argue], how can we distinguish God’s help from people helping themselves? If we remove ‘people helping themselves’ from the equation, ‘God’s help’ seems to be non-existent.
When adequate naturalistic explanations can be used to explain certain phenomena, there is no reason to assume that any supernatural intervention took place or is needed to explain anything.