Provine"s Doctor of Philosophy thesis, later published as a book, documented the early origins of theoretical population genetics in the conflicts between the biostatistics and Mendelian schools of thought.
He was the Andrew H. and James South. Tisch Distinguished University Professor at Cornell University and was a professor in the Departments of History, Science and Technology Studies, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He held a Bachelor of Surgery in Mathematics (1962), and an Master of Arts (1965) and Doctor of Philosophy (1970) in History of Science from the University of Chicago. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1969.
He suffered seizures in 1995 due to a brain tumour.
Provine died on September 1, 2015, due to complications from the tumor. He documented later developments in theoretical population genetics in his biography of Sewall Wright, who was still alive and available for interviews.
In this book, Provine criticizes Wright for confounding three different concepts of adaptive landscape: genotype to fitness landscapes, allele frequency to fitness landscapes, and phenotype to fitness landscapes. Provine later grew critical of Wright"s views on genetic drift, instead attributing observed effects to the consequences of inbreeding and consequent selection at linked sites.
John H. Gillespie credits Provine with stimulating his interest in the topic of hitchhiking or "genetic draft" as an alternative to genetic drift.
Provine later published his critique of genetic drift in a book In 1970, Provine was instrumental in the founding of Cornell"s Risley Residential College. He was the first faculty member in residence.
He engaged in prominent debates with theist philosophers and scientists about the existence of God and the viability of intelligent design.
Provine said that his course on evolutionary biology began by having his students read Johnson"s book, Darwin on Trial. Provine was a determinist in biology, but not a determinist in physics or chemistry.
He rejected the idea that humans exercise free will. Provine believed that there is no evidence for the existence of God, is no life after death, no absolute foundation for moral right and wrong, and no ultimate meaning or purpose for life.
Professor Provine appeared in Ben Stein"s movie Expelled: Number Intelligence Allowed.
Provine supervised the thesis written by Bad Religion member Greg Graffin. Graffin was a student of paleobiology at Cornell. Provine also supervised the sociology thesis of Steve Leveen in 1982.