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Will Provine Was No “Nilhilist”; Gail Provine Graciously Sets the Record Straight

David Klinghoffer

Will and Gail Provine.jpg

We covered the passing of our evolutionary interlocutor Will Provine, an honest and loving atheist, at some length (see here, here, here, here, and here). One sweet thing that came out of this was hearing from Professor Provine’s widow, Gail Provine.

She emailed to express her approval of what we wrote, which not only gave me the opportunity to personally wish her comfort but, frankly, also made my day, despite the sad occasion. Some of us had the merit of meeting and knowing her late husband; others (such as myself) unfortunately did not. We evidently got something right, nevertheless, and despite the divergence of his picture of reality from ours.

However, Mrs. Provine took issue with our word choice in one respect and I wanted to acknowledge that. Commenting on the initial post at ENV, “William Provine, RIP: Noble in His Honesty,” she wrote:

Kudos to you! You really got Will, and I think he would have agreed with everything you said except probably your use of the word “nihilistic” to describe his worldview. If you accept this definition of nihilist from the Merriam-Webster dictionary,

a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless

b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

then I would say that Will’s worldview was in no way nihilistic. He did not believe in an ULTIMATE foundation for ethics (i.e. the Bible), but he certainly thought that as a society we must have a robust set of ethics and morals that we teach our children (and that we learn from our parents and community). In the same way, he did not believe in an ULTIMATE meaning in life (i.e. God’s plan), but he did believe in proximate meaning (i.e. relationships with people — friendship and especially LOVE 🙂 ). So one’s existence is ultimately senseless and useless, but certainly not to those whose lives we touch here on earth.

Anyway, I found your obit to be the most accurate portrayal of Will of those out there. Thank you again.

Best wishes,

Gail

What a wonderful email, and what an admirably upbeat, appreciative attitude from a woman who has recently lost, at least in this life, the man she loves. Wow. As Paul Nelson observed, some people of religious faith could take a lesson from that.

As to the point about “nihilism,” she observed in a follow-up note, “I remember someone kept trying to label Will a ‘nihilist’ in his Wiki entry, and he kept taking it out.” It’s interesting to learn that some atheist evolutionary advocates too are plagued by disinformation specialists on Wikipedia, an experience we know well.

I leave to philosophers the task of defining the term nihilist, but I think intelligent design advocates should know as well as anyone the importance of allowing honest people to label and define their beliefs as they see fit. The courtesy is withheld from us by some on the evolutionary side of the Darwin debate, so we owe to it Professor Provine not to stick a word on him that he explicitly rejected.

Thank you, Mrs. Provine, for your kind words and gentle correction! I’m glad to offer my apology.

Photo: Gail and Will Provine, courtesy of Mrs. Provine.