Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Dr. William Provine

Earlier this year, our apologetics class watched parts of the movie Expelled in order to discern the presuppositions people use in explaining their worldview and to discuss how we might respond. During one clip, producer Ben Stein interviewed Professor William Provine of Cornell University. Dr. Provine explained his evolutionary views, but it was the personal conclusions he drew from them that shocked our class. We were grieved to hear him say that if a brain tumor he had successfully fought off a decade earlier returned and was inoperable (which the movie said had returned), he would take a gun to his head and blow his brains out. Since there is no afterlife, he stated, it made little sense to him to prolong his suffering.

As my class of high school students discussed this, we decided we ought to write Dr. Provine, express our concern, and ask him to reconsider his worldview. To our further surprise, he ended up calling the church, getting my e-mail address, and responding to me and the students. What follows is first his letter, which despite his atheistic worldview reveals through his "gracious inconsistencies" he is made in the image of God. Then I have posted a letter my daughter Emory wrote in return (reviewed but unedited by me) after I assigned my students to read and review the chapter of the book Dr. Provine sent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Pastor York,

I have received 10 lovely letters from the following students:

Gabrielle Schwartz, Andrew Swinehart, Rachel Visser, Orlena Faris, Emory York, Trevor York, Moriah Fisher, Grace Harmon, Melanie Marcisz, and Abbie Marcisz.

I wish to thank you, and each of these wonderful students, for caring about me.

I gather that you showed the movie, Expelled, to these students. The folks who made this movie did so under false pretenses. They promised a movie with no bias. But the ID view dominates the movie. Had I known this, I would have refused to participate. The moviemakers cut the video shot to place all the evolutionists as mean and nasty people. I had to call them, and threaten a lawsuit, before they put in, near the end of the movie, that I never discriminate against any student, including the most religious. I adore my students, one and all. I work with Cornell United Religious Work to be a part of a secular group devoted to sane and equal society.

I hold atheism the same way I hold biological theories: as the best hypotheses we can see right now. I do not know that all gods are impossible.

My brain tumor, at the end of the editing of the movie, seemed to be growing fast to a neurosurgeon in Rochester, NY, and he recommended immediate chemotherapy in May, 2008. I did not trust him very much, because he said the tumor had been growing since 2004, and many neurosurgeons had told me that was untrue. My usual neurosurgeon in Syracuse retired, and I found another one there who actually was part of my operation in 1998. He asked for an MRI in October, 2008, on the same machine and gadolinium dye used from 2002 to 2006. The result was that he could not tell the difference between this scan and the one in 2006. There was no evidence of growth.

I still plan to teach my last semester before retirement in the fall of 2009 (retirement scheduled for June 30, 2010, when I will be 68 years old. I never expected to live to 65.

So your students can understand why I believe as I do (no gods that count, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no human free will, same as Charles Darwin), I attach an article I wrote for the Handbook of Religion and Science, published by Oxford University Press in 2006. I wrote this for high school students who can read it easily. If any of your students wish to answer that document, I would be delighted to reply.

Thank you again,


Will Provine


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Dear Professor Provine,

Greetings! I must first say how delighted and overjoyed I was to hear that you had responded to our letters! Your schedule must be full and it was very thoughtful of you to take time to reply. Rest assured that your kindness did not go unappreciated. Thank God that He has spared you from the possible growth of your brain tumor! I pray that His provision of your life will give you time to rethink your beliefs. You most graciously invited us to respond to your article and my fellow classmates and I are going to happily take up this offer. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to practice our apologetics!

As I stated in my previous letter, you must realize that my commitment to Christ and His saving grace is at the core of my being and argument. You were quite correct in saying that my belief in an intelligent designer, namely God Almighty, stems from my religious beliefs. I in turn can say that your evolutionist/atheist beliefs come directly from your refusal of God. In your considerate letter, you wrote that we were wonderful students, a very true statement. But sir, later you state that you believe in no ultimate foundation for ethics. Was not this previous statement concerning us rather ethical? What basis/foundation did you have for saying this? Also, I would like to ask, if there is no foundation for ethics what exactly is your idea of a sane and equal society? Towards the middle of your letter, you make this statement, “I do not know that all gods are impossible.” Yet, all your arguments are based on the fact that you believe or rather state there is no God. Excuse me for asking so boldly, but are you not grasping after straws?

In your article, you use the argument that the loss of species and bacterial attacks point against Intelligent Design. But how in the world can this be pointing to evolution? My understanding of evolution was that through natural selection, the species on this earth would be perfected. The strongest and fittest would survive, leaving us with a ‘super’ society. This idea is embodied in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. (Few people know this full, racist title.) Your argument claims the exact opposite, that there is a decline. In fact, this seems to fit better with the picture of Christianity than anything. All of creation groans under the affects of the Fall and sin. The whole earth longs for the second coming of Christ and His salvation.

Sir, with all due respect in mind, why are you so adamant in your arguments when there is no “Ultimate meaning in life”? If you did not know deep in your heart that there is a God who judges and rules his people, you would not be trying to defend your position. It is completely futile. There is nothing after this life in your empty beliefs. Though I am just a child before you, I have to say you are being arrogant, wanting to be in control of your life, but not wanting to be held responsible by an awesome Being. You cannot escape His righteous judgment no matter how much you reject Him. Professor, say you witnessed your one and only beloved son suffer an agonizing death to save the life of someone else. Then this rescued person turned around and despised the life that had been offered freely for him. He was thankless for what your son had done. Can you honestly tell me you would not have any feelings, any ethical pains? Well, this is a small-scale example of what you are doing to God and His Son, Christ Jesus. He is longing to bring you to Himself, yet you revile this offering. Please, repent from this denial and turn to Christ.

Well, I have bothered you long enough. Thank you once again for your cordial response. I hope that none of the contents in this letter have seemed too forward or brash. I mean no disrespect, but merely seek to share God’s wonderful gift with you. You are ever in my prayers.

In His Incomprehensible Love,

Emory York



7 comments:

Brent said...

I skimmed over the introduction part and did not see who wrote the response letter. As I was reading, I was thinking what great points and what a fine job Barry did responding to his letter.
"He", I thought to myself, did a wonderful job of using the Dr.'s letter to show how he is essentially lost, and has no real basis for his arguments.
Needless to say I was quite surprised at the end when I saw my "sweet little" niece Emory had written the letter. Well done!
Praise the Lord for her parents, SCA, and mostly the Grace, Love, and Guidance of Him that first loved us!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Barry. thanks for sharing it. And may God grant what your daughter prayed...that this Prof. would turn to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Jeff Kessler

Anonymous said...

A very good letter indeed. Did he ever respond to that?

Barry York said...

Dr. Provine has yet to respond. I had recontacted him after these letters were sent asking if he intended to do so. He stated yes, but we have not yet heard from him. I will update my blog with his response if we do.

David Bruce Trevecca said...

I have also had the priviledge of emailing Dr. Provine and in his response to me he said, "If you can offer me any proof, I am more than willing to listen." I sent two more emails explaining God's work in my life and my families lives. This included divine guidence, healing, and the mere fact that he and I share over 5 similarities, raised on a farm, experience with brain tumor, lived near Chicago, lived near Ann Arbor, and also lived near Nashville, TN.

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naium said...

"your evolutionist/atheist beliefs come directly from your refusal of God."

Evolutionism is not the same as atheism. You can be an atheist without believing in evolution. You can also believe in theistic evolution.

"In your considerate letter, you wrote that we were wonderful students, a very true statement. But sir, later you state that you believe in no ultimate foundation for ethics. Was not this previous statement concerning us rather ethical? What basis/foundation did you have for saying this?"

You do not have to believe in an ultimate foundation for ethics to do or say things that are perceived as ethical by someone else.

"you make this statement, “I do not know that all gods are impossible.” Yet, all your arguments are based on the fact that you believe or rather state there is no God. Excuse me for asking so boldly, but are you not grasping after straws?"

I have noticed some atheists will claim there is no god, but if pressed further, will state that it's impossible to disprove god and/or that there is a very small chance that there is a god, etc. Some people will also state that such and such is true or false, but that nothing can be 100% proven. I relate it to people who say things like "people are stupid" or "women are bossy" but really mean "many people are stupid" and "many women are bossy". Humans tend to take shortcuts in their speech. Is this the case with Dr. Provine? I don't know, I would imagine so, but maybe he does in fact truly believe in such an obvious contradiction.

"In your article, you use the argument that the loss of species and bacterial attacks point against Intelligent Design. But how in the world can this be pointing to evolution? My understanding of evolution was that through natural selection, the species on this earth would be perfected. The strongest and fittest would survive, leaving us with a ‘super’ society."

This is a common misconception. Animals are believed to evolve to be well-suited (fit) for their environment. If the environment changes, then species may go extinct. Animals better suited for their environment are believed to usually be the first to go, while the ones less specialized for their environment (more general types) are believed to usually dominate until more specialized animals evolve again to take the place of the extinct ones. What you describe sounds more like Lamarckian evolution to me, where evolution is depicted as a ladder of perfection/superiority.

"If you did not know deep in your heart that there is a God who judges and rules his people, you would not be trying to defend your position."

I really find these types of arguments to be very crude... Can you not imagine someone who does not believe there is a god, Christian god or Islamic god, who simply wishes to defend their position because they believe their position is true?

Atheists will often accuse Christians of defending their position because they're too scared to accept that there is no all-powerful and all-loving god who cares about them. Sometimes Christians will accuse atheists of not believing in a god because they want to believe they're the pinnacle of evolution (and nothing greater is out there). There are plenty of other examples of assumptions atheists and Christians will make about each other that are not only unreasonable, but sound like nothing better than one trying to put the other in a little box.