William B. Provine: The Evolutionary Theorist Even Creationists Loved

#AceHistoryNews – Dec.05: Provine, a distinguished professor at Cornell University for most of his academic career, was a historian of science, a kind of hybrid between scientist (especially an evolutionary theorist) and historian.

He trained in this area at the University of Chicago, receiving his Ph.D. in 1970, though he took his first degree there in mathematics. Will’s original interest in mathematics explained a great deal.

He liked abstract thought, was comfortable with logic and expected people to be, well, logical. That’s why he was fond of saying things like “if you believe in evolution you have to check your brain at the church-house door.” That was a sharp way of saying he didn’t endorse “compatibilism,” the technical term for people who see no conflict between science and religion. He could actually understand the die-hard creationists who differed wildly from him, but not the people who sought a middle ground.

That was why he was disappointed in his fellow Cornellian, Carl Sagan. The two taught a course together while Sagan was preparing to write Contact.

Will deemed the novel’s ending as mushy compatibilism; he couldn’t understand why it ended on a view that made science seem compatible with mysticism and religion.

Magazine article on Observer.com

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