Reply to Provine

Keith B Miller (
Fri, 13 Mar 1998 22:20:43 -0600

The following is Eugenie Scott's reply to Provine's response to Eugenie's
comments on Provine's Darwin's Day talk.


>Dear Will,
>Sorry to be late replying: I've been out of town since Feb. 21st.
>I drive crazy my husband and other people who enjoy arguing by insisting
>that there is no sense fighting over empirically-determinable issues! When
>Will's essay is posted on Massimo's "Darwin Day" web page, people can
>decide for themselves if I caricaturized his address or not.
>Will, I don't quite know where you got the idea that I "believe in a divine
>birth of Jesus Christ" (????) I am both a philosophical as well as a
>methodological naturalist. But I believe that the two are logically as
>well as practically noncontingent. If one is a philosophical
>naturalist/materialist, it is expectable that one is also a methodological
>materialist, but not necessarily the converse -- but therein hinges a basic
>disagreement between us. I was unable using both logical as well as
>empirical evidence to convince you in Knoxville that being a methdological
>materialist does not rule out theism, but you remain unconvinced. I don't
>recall your presenting either logical or empirical refutations of my
>position, but let's just agree to disagree on this. Life is too short. If
>any of the readers of this letter are interested in my views on
>methodological and philosophical naturalism, they can check out NCSE's web
>site at
>A point you made in your Darwin Day talk was that there are "no Gods worth
>having" because of Darwinism. I find this puzzling. Wouldn't that
>question better be answered by believers than non-believers like us?
>Certainly the large number of scientists who are Christians or of other
>faiths, including conservative Christians, who accept evolution but who
>remain theists consider their God worth having. You are certainly entitled
>to your opinion that these people "leave their brains on the church steps",
>but I see no evidence of such brainlessness.
>The conservative Christian scientists to whom I refer to seem to be
>perfectly logical, rational, sane individuals who happen to have a
>different metaphysics than I have. Fine. It's their science I care about,
>and practically, it's no different from mine. There are plenty of
>conservative Christians who like me, are strict methodological
>materialists. Until I spent some time on their listserves, and meeting and
>talking with them, I was unaware of this. I don't know what your exposure
>has been to modern day conservative Christians, but I hope you do not err
>in considering them monolithic in their beliefs. Trust me: they have hard
>arguments about some of these same issues.
>You mention that the teachers group that I addressed in Knoxville included
>some "creationists." I assume these were "special creationists" as I
>defined them in that talk. I make a clear distinction between criticizing
>the ideas expressed in creation science as oppposed to criticizing those
>who hold them. Even when I make this crystal clear, I find that some
>individuals take offense, especially if they hold dearly to these ideas.
>If some teachers in the Knoxville audience felt I was attacking THEM, then
>this is just another reminder to me to be even clearer about separating the
>ideas held by some from the people themselves.
>I am puzzled that you doubt Phil J.'s prediction that teaching "both views"
>in high school would result in a gain for creationism. I assume you thus
>think that evolution properly presented would succeed in the "sifting and
>winnowing of ideas" of vigorous scholarly debate. But you also state that
>in your college-level class, "creationists always increase their numbers
>during the semester." Either something is going on in college-level
>classes that isn't going on in high school classes, or you fail to present
>evolution competently, or there is some other explanation. I have no
>reason to accept the first, I cannot possibly believe the second, which
>leaves the last possibility.
>One alternative is that Phil is right, since this is what you find in at
>least your college classes. I am sure that neither of us would cede that
>such a putative increase in numbers of rejectors of evolution would be due
>to the "weaknesses in evolution." Perhaps your college classes are
>anomalous for some other reason than your ability to present evolution
>competently. We could go on, but I don't think we'd get anywhere.
>At any rate, the most important area of our disagreement I believe is your
>insistance that "both views" should be presented in high school classes.
>You argue that this is a wonderful, critical thinking exercise that will
>motivate students to think and learn more. Having spoken to many K-12
>teachers, I doubt that this will be the case: most teachers don't
>understand evolution well enough, nor, frankly, do they understand the
>theological issues required to competently present creationism in all its
>variety, or even the narrower "creation science", which I suspect you have
>in mind. I recall at least one teacher telling you this in Knoxville. Some
>of the same arguments I have raised elsewhere against debating are also
>relevant here, but I won't go into them. An important argument against
>"equal time" though, is that we shouldn't be pretending to students that
>the idea that everything in the universe came into being all at one time
>has any scientific credibility, regardless of students' enthusiasm to
>believe and/or debate it.
>In truth, though, in my experience, many educated, scientifically-trained
>conservative Christians are more concerned with the promotion of
>philosophical materialism in the guise of science than they are with
>whether evolution took place. An issue that lurks around the corners of
>our discussion was the dropping of two words ("impersonal" and
>"unsupervised") from the NABT statement. Whether these words are or are not
>scientifically valid (I do not believe they are) they are *unnecessary* to
>the definition of science or evolution. My friend Bill Thwaites noted in a
>post to me that if we are going to put "impersonal" and "unsupervised" as
>ideas relevant to evolution, they should also be included whenever we talk
>about any science. So we would now say, "The shortest distance between two
>points in Euclidean space is a straight line, if there is a god or not." In
>physics it might be said that "for every action there is an equal, opposite
>and *impersonal* reaction." And "two objects can not occupy the same space
>at the same time, with or without the help of God, if he/she exists or
>not." In chemistry it could be said that "the number of electrons gained
>and lost on each side of a chemical equation is, with no help from God,
>See what I mean by "unnecessary"?!
>Nothing inherently wrong with a definition containing unnecessary words,
>except that it would be less elegant. But *these* unnecessary words caused
>a strong reaction in many parts of the public, including conservative
>Christians. It made things more difficult for teachers, when the purpose
>of the statement was to make it *easier* for them! Sounds like a good
>reason to me to drop unnecessary words.
>But then my goal is to see that evolution is taught in school, and with
>luck, even accepted as good science. The antievolutionists's goals are to
>increase doubt about evolution as science, and the original NABT statement,
>by being interpreted as making a metaphysical as well as a scientific
>statement, gives them a wonderful stick with which to beat scientists and
>teachers. Personally, I'm glad that stick was taken away. I have seen
>harrumphing comments to the effect that "well, they took the words out, but
>they didn't really mean it! They're still a bunch of materialist bad
>guys!" but it is hard to take these sour grapes seriously. I don't know why
>anyone would want to hand them back that stick.
>I came back to 189 other e-mails in addition to this, plus an
>obscenely-piled in-box. Must end here!
>At 04:35 PM 2/21/98 +0000, William B. Provine wrote:
>>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.
>(snip rest)
>Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.
>Executive Director
>National Center for Science Education, Inc.
>925 Kearney St.
>El Cerrito, CA 94530-2810
>fax: 510-526-1675

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