The Johnson/Provine resonance

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Sat Mar 31 2001 - 09:29:42 EST

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    Tim Ikeda writes:

    > There seems to be a strong consensus that the use of science
    > and scientific discoveries to determine the presence or absence
    > of "purpose" in the universe is highly suspect, independent of
    > whether the speaker is a theist or atheist. Yet some apparently
    > feel that the comments of atheist scientists about evolution
    > and purpose have some "extra" impact. So far, I've only seen
    > notes from: a) atheist scientists who feel that evolution (and
    > modern science) demonstrate a lack of purpose in the world,
    > b) theists who agree that evolution implies a lack of purpose,
    > and c) theists who disagree about the linkage between evolution
    > and purposeless.
    > Yet we haven't heard about: d) non-theist scientists who feel that
    > evolution (& science) indicates nothing about the presence or
    > absence of purpose in the universe. And why do type-a and type-b
    > commentators disdain type-c respondents and ignore type-d
    > opinions entirely? I suggest it's because the latter two groups
    > refuse to play the game of the two former groups and thus
    > tend to get branded as "heretics to the cause."
    > Well, for the record, and you can quote me *word-for-word*
    > in this paragraph (prediction: not that anyone will bother),
    > I am non-theist scientist who definitely believes that Provine's
    > and Dawkin's beliefs about evolution and purposelessness are
    > rubbish. By symmetry, I also think that P. Johnson et al's
    > positions are intellectually deficient too. The validity of
    > evolution does not imply anything about purpose. It cannot.
    > It also implies nothing about the existence of God.

    Thanks, Tim, for your articulate representation of position d). As you know,
    I am a card carrying member of class c).

    The resonance between Will Provine's type-a position and Phil Johnson's
    type-b stance is made explicit by Phil when he says (in Darwin on Trial, p.
    165) that "Provine and I have become very friendly adversaries, because our
    agreement on how to define the question is more important than our
    disagreement on how to answer it."

    For those type-b theists who like to quote type-a atheists (like Will
    Provine) in support of their "evolution warrants atheism" position, here is
    a statement by Provine that is presented as a direct quote in ARN Study
    Guide for the Johnson/Provine debate tape:

    "Let me say one word too. I really agree with Phil on this issue. We need to
    have more discussion [re evidence relevant to evolution] in the university
    communities. I start my course on evolution with the students reading Phil's
    book. Then he comes and visits. He does more to turn my students into
    evolutionists than anything else. So I like open debate!"

    Will Provine is a fascinating person. But quoting him as an authority on
    the relationship of evolution and theism can get a type-b theist into murky

    Howard Van Till

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