Answer to Eugenie's Scott by Provine

Keith B Miller (
Sun, 22 Feb 1998 17:23:09 -0600

Forwarded from Will Provine;

>Dear Eugenie,
> Since I am always up for a good discussion, you might have sent me
>direct a copy of your letter to Keith Miller.
> >Provine's Darwin Day talk here in Knoxville was truly bizarre. In one
>>breath (well, one hour) he pronounced that evolution means there is no
>>God, there is no ultimate meaning in life, there is no design, there is
>>no afterlife, there is no virgin birth, no resurrection, and
>>furthermore, evolution means there is no free will, hence we should not
>>be revengeful against those who do badly and rather than have capital
>>punishment, we should lock people up for a year or so until we have
>>loved them into being rehabilitated.
> No wonder you found my talk bizarre. You did not listen very
>carefully. Or you were content with a caricature for your audience.
> First, this talk was on Darwin Day. My first slide stated that Charles
>Darwin held every implication of evolution given in the lecture. Do you
>think Darwin's views are bizarre? His contemporaries thought so. That's
>why he did not publish them in his lifetime.
> I take you seriously when you say that you are a philosophical
>naturalist. So if you believe in a divine birth of Jesus Christ, you are
>a "philosophical naturalist" plus some choice miracles. I do not think
>of this position as a "philosophical naturalist." Moreover, in a universe
>that will kill off all life eventually, no ultimate basis for ethics and
>no ultimate meaning in life is possible. Do you think gods are visible
>in the natural world?
> But I clearly said that proximate ethics and proximate meaning in life
>were deeply important. We should work for them together, religious
>and non-religious alike. Do you not think that we treat our criminals so badly
>that they become worse members of society than when they went
>in? Did I not suggest that almost no-one would ever believe that humans
>have no free will and that cooperation with fundamentalist Christians
>would be very important with regard to crime and punishment? I spoke
>about my connections with Campus Crusade for Christ and
>our common desire for forgiveness and rehabilitation of criminals.
>>This was quickly followed by
>>admonishions that we should embrace cloning, sterilization of children
>>from age 12-21, the ability of parents to choose their children's
>>characteristics, and limit people to one child families.
> I should have added certification for parenthood, as in adoption
>agencies at present.These were not admonishments, but my beliefs
>about the future when humans have used up their resources and
>spoiled their environment. I specifically mentioned Stuart Pimm in
>the audience who is an expert on degradation of environments and
>human wastage of resources. Quality of life will go down and people
>may believe the things I said and worse. I think these issues need
>discussion now as well as later. Waiting until we are faced with
>the difficulties of a much lower standard of living is a bad idea.
>I said clearly that these comments were based upon a decline
>of resources.
>> Oh -- and
>>Eugenie Scott is a repressor of truth because she doesn't want to give
>>all religions a chance to compete with evolution in the classroom. She
>>is guilty of the "nastiest kind of denegration" of fundamentalists
>>because they are not "good Christians". I am not making this up.
> You were not the only one at the Wednesday night meeting with
>with the teachers. Every speaker except the last one denigrated
>creationists. The denigration was nasty. If you don't believe this, you
>can ask creationist teachers in the audience. I sat next to two of them
>and they felt each negative comment about them. I see no need
>whatsoever for denigrating creationists. I think it is very unfair
>for a small band of naturalist evolutionists to control all the opinions
>that are allowed to be heard in the high school biology classes.
>You have offered teachers a variety of techniques to shut up the
>creationists in their classes. Indeed, I do think this policy hurts
>evolutionists in the mind of the public. I think you will find
>that creationists will become more rather than less vocal in the
>years to come. So we have differences on this issue.
> You say clearly that the Christians who have no problem with
>evolution are Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists,
>Congregational, etc, what you call "mainstream" Christians.
>I merely offered the well-known fact that fundamentalist Christians
>are the "mainstream" Christians now, the ones who oppose
>evolution, and who come in for denigration from you and
>many other evolutionists.
>>course, in his public lectures he omitted what he has said in print (and
>>which I have no reason to doubt he still believes): that the reason he
>>wants "equal time" for creationism in the classroom is that he is sure
>>this will produce more atheists. Instead, he claimed that having a
>>free-for-all in the classroom would be "So much fun!" I'm sure teachers
>>feel that way, which is why so many of them teach evolution....
> I do think that understanding evolution better would generate more
>people who believe, as I do, that no gods worth having exist. I am
>like you are with naturalism--instead of being an agnostic about those gods,
>I make a small leap of faith and believe that atheism is closer to the mark.
>In my evolution class at Cornell, creationists always increase their numbers
>the semester. About 10-15 percent of those who believe in guided evolution
>to naturalists, not atheists (though maybe some do). I do not care about
>this and say so to the students. Creationists have as great a chance to make
>"A's" as
>anyone else. I really care if the students think seriously about the
>implications of evolution. The course receives very high evaluations.
> Phillip Johnson and others think that creationism would gain
>rather than diminish in the high-school science classrooms. He may be
>right, but I think he is wrong. I think that naturalistic evolution can hold
>its own and more. More creationist kids will be convinced of evolution if
>their ideas are taken seriously in the classroom and criticized along their
>own views against evolution. Pedagogical advantages are great. I hope that
>some of the biology teachers might appreciate this approach, which I have
>used in upstate New York highschools, and used by other teachers. Are you
>so sure that this approach is so beyond the pale? Are we evolutionists that
>scared of creationism? Haven't we got lots of stuff up on the web defending
>evolution against nearly every creationist argument against evolution?
>>The audience didn't exactly get up and cheer. The ones sitting near me
>>looked at him like they might at a visiting Martian.
> Well, I would hope not. Audiences probably did not get up and cheer for
>Doug Futuyma last year, nor is that something I would expect if you gave
>the lecture. From my view up on the stage, the audience gave generous
>applause and a surprisingly large number of people stayed a long time for
>discussion (well over half the audience) followed by another generous
>applause. Perhaps the people near you were not typical.
> >Although the people in charge of Darwin Day appear to like Will, they
>>are posting his talk on their web site, which I doubt will have a
>>positive effect on his reputation. It'll probably help those of us who
>>take a more moderate view, though.
> Lot's of people appear to like me, including you (and certainly I
>like you, and arguing with you). Whether or not folks like me is
>unrelated to whether or not they agree with me. Massimo knew nothing
>about my topic when he invited me to give the lecture. I am sure he
>will get lots of reactions. One of my favorite jokes is to pick an
>unlikely candidate in the audience to whom all negative comments
>should be addressed, but I forgot. Massimo is a likely candidate,
>but he will have to do. If your notes to him are convincing, he will
>change his own "best hypotheses." You can send your comments
>to Massimo, but a copy to me might cause me to reject some of
>my bizarre
> You exaggerate my reputation. It has little room to fall. So I am
>not worried about that.
>>But do nonetheless encourage your associates to send their comments
>>directly to Massimo, and not just talk to one another. I have been
>>hammering pretty hard at them for the past three days, and I don't find
>>Massimo totally unreachable.
> Massimo is certainly reachable.
>>On the other hand, if I weren't
>>pathologically optimistic, I wouldn't have kept this job for 10 years.
>>Provine is hopeless, of course. I got nowhere with Will, even after
>>what I thought was a quite credible refutation of his "evolution =
>>atheism" position based on logic, philosophy of science, and empirical
>Gosh, I was not aware of the power of your philosophical naturalism plus choice
>miracles. It seemed inconsistent rather than credible.
>As Montagu said, "The scientist has truth without certainty;
>>the bigot, certainty without truth." We can all do with a little more
>>appreciation of uncertainty, I think.
>I said clearly in the lecture that every point I had made, though stated
>clearly for discussion, was a best hypothesis. If one of my religious
>friends were to get her diety to part Cayuga Lake, I would be an
>instant believer. Miracles seem to be in much shorter supply now than
>in the period before Medieval times. I am no more a bigot than you,
>perhaps less when it comes to creationists. Clearly held views, clearly
>expressed are the grist of hope for a better future. Perhaps you listened
>and changed your mind about anything related to science/religion during
>Darwin Day, but I missed it.
>>If you wish, you may post the above message, if you think it would be of
>>interest to people on the list.
>It was posted, and I hope this message will be posted with it. Perhaps
>readers will want to read my address when it gets transcribed and
>edited within a few weeks, along with the slides in the computer
>generated show.
>Will Provine
>>Keith B. Miller
>>Department of Geology
>>Kansas State University
>>Manhattan, KS 66506

Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506