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,
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,