Friday, September 04, 2015

William Provine Has Died

William Provine, a tireless crusader for evolutionary theory and opponent of creationism, has died.  He was 73.  Provine was a professed atheist, as the NCSE story relates:
Provine was a vocal and persistent opponent of creationism. He wrote thoughtfully on evolution and creationism, e.g. in his essay on "Evolution, Religion, and Science" in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (2006), but he was perhaps most famous for his views on the connection between evolution and atheism. He once asserted, "As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people" — a consequence that he welcomed. His views were formed in graduate school, where, he related in his memoir, "[a]fter reading [Theodosius] Dobzhansky several times and listening to [Lynn] Throckmorton, my belief in purposive nature disappeared for good." He was eager to share his views.
Evolution only makes you an atheist if you have a very limited view of God that has to fit into a young earth creationist box.  I wonder if he ever read the writings of B.B. Warfield and Bernard Ramm.  I do not know if he ever debated a theistic evolutionist, but I do know that constantly debating young earth creationists might very well give one a jaded view of organized religion.

I have long thought that atheism derives, largely, from socio-cultural perspectives and that science cannot “make” someone an atheist.  The fact that the BioLogos Institute exists at all ought to be a good indication of that.

Put another way, if two people examine the same data and conclude that they support evolutionary theory in exactly the same way and one person comes away thinking  “Well, this obviously shows there is no God,” and the other person comes away thinking “Wow, look at the awesome power of God's creation,” then the driver is clearly not science.

The story does not relate the cause of death but I do know that Provine lived decades longer than he thought he was going to be able to.  He came to the University of Tennessee in the late 1990s to give a talk on evolutionary theory and intimated at the time that he had a malignant brain tumor that he thought was untreatable.  Apparently, they treated it very effectively. 


  1. His father was a Presbyterian minister and admirer of Alfred North Whitehead, and Provine himself was "entranced" by Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man in graduate school before his conversion, so he had at least some exposure to non-creationist forms of Christianity. I don't know whether he ever debated a theistic evolutionist.

    1. Thank you for that additional information, Glenn. I never got a chance to speak to Dr. Provine about how he came to his religious beliefs.