Faith and Reason and the Atheistprofessor Boogieman

In the beginning, Al Gore created the internet, and saw that it was good. But then people starting sending each other chain mails, and spam, and viruses, and making crappy Geospaces websites, and things have gone generally downhill ever since. Unless you’re a cat, I guess. One of the effects of the internet is that people of like beliefs can more easily congregate and reinforce (and re-enforce?) their beliefs with each other… even if that belief is completely insane.

It’s only natural that both the chain mail trend and the “mutual reinforcement” trend would make the jump to social media, like HIV jumping from monkeys to humans, and thus I saw this post on Facebook earlier today, reproduced in full. Original emphasis in caps; my emphasis in bold.

An atheist professor of Philosophy was speaking to his class on the problem Science has with GOD. He asked one of his new Christian Students to stand and . . .

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?

Student : Absolutely, sir.

Professor : Is GOD good ?

Student : Sure.

professor: Is GOD all powerful ?

Student : Yes.

Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?

(Student was silent.)

Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Is satan good ?

Student : No.

Professor: Where does satan come from ?

Student : From . . . GOD . . .

Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?

Student : Yes.

Professor: So who created evil ?

(Student did not answer.)

Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, who created them ?

(Student had no answer.)

Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?

Student : No, sir.

Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?

Student : No , sir.

Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?

Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?

Student : Yes.

Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.

Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.

Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?

Professor: Yes.

Student : And is there such a thing as cold?

Professor: Yes.

Student : No, sir. There isn’t.

(The lecture theatre became very quiet with this turn of events.)

Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)

Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, were you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?

Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?

Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?

(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)

Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?

(The class was in uproar.)

Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

(The class broke out into laughter. )

Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)

Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

Student : That is it sir . . . Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.

P.S.

I believe you have enjoyed the conversation. And if so, you’ll probably want your friends / colleagues to enjoy the same, won’t you?

Forward this to increase their knowledge . . . or FAITH.

By the way, that student was Einstein.!

moments of stories…..

Here is my response.

1. Einstein was Jewish. The story claims that the student was Christian.

2. Jewish cosmology doesn’t have a “Satan” figure, in opposition to God and acting as the source of earthly evil. That’s something the Christians stole from Zoroastrianism.

3. Einstein went to university at a polytechnic school in Switzerland, studying physics and math; he took no such philosophy class. And the modern conception of “science having a problem with religion” simply didn’t exist at the time. They acted in separate spheres. Science was the logos that described the physical world in rational terms, religion was the mythos that described the metaphysical world in metaphorical terms.

4. Any conversation would have taken place in German. Either the dialog above is such a loose translation as to have no meaning, or it was originally written in English.

It turns out that this kind of story is a genre unto itself among certain Christian groups. They misunderstand and mistrust both higher education as a whole and science in particular, and so they invent these little vignettes about the “atheist professor” and the “clever student,” in which the professor inexplicably begins browbeating students into atheism but is somehow rebuffed and silenced by a trite, incoherent argument from the student. Story ends in Christian triumphalism, affirming blind faith over “the wisdom of the wise.” Unfortunately, the student’s argument is fatally flawed throughout.

The professor character opens with a theodicy; a question of how an all-knowing, -loving and -powerful deity could allow evil to exist. The student responds with a heat/cold analogy, implying that no evil truly exists; merely absences of good. But this is clearly false: “absence of good” is apathy, not evil. And human apathy is not the cause of genocide; human apathy is not the cause of babies dying in famine or thousands of innocents dying in natural disasters. Further, why would an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity allow even apathy to generate pain, suffering and death for innocents?

The student twists the argument a little, though; instead of arguing directly against the existence of evil, he suddenly claims that death does not exist because it is not a “substantive thing.” But by that standard, neither does life. “Life” as we know it is a whole collection of biological processes, and very hard to define. Life is genetic material replicating itself and generating various chemical reactions. Life is not a thing, but an extended event.

Death is, similarly, an event. The heart stops beating. The nervous system stops firing. Cellular respiration stops. The body’s musculature relaxes, its temperature drops, and later rigor mortis and finally decay set in. All of these signs are as real and measurable as the signs of life. And if the death in question was the death of an innocent, cut down by an “act of God,” then it doesn’t matter whether that divinity is finite or infinite, dual or unitary, knowable or unknowable. An injustice happened and the deity is at fault.

Perhaps this story is a mash-up of two or more pre-existing stories. That would explain why it starts with a Christian student and ends with a Jewish one. It would also explain why the student leaves off the theodicy question in mid-stream, askew, and suddenly starts attacking evolution. Again, the student’s argument is flawed.

Evolution has been directly observed. Aside from the famous case of the peppered moths, the evolution of bacteria and viruses is well-documented, including the origin of a new species capable of digesting plastics.

For that matter, the student goes on to attack the professor’s brain, but brains are also easy to confirm experimentally, even without killing the test subject. MRI shows us pictures of brains all the time. Trepanning and other cranial surgeries expose the living organ to direct eyesight.

It gets worse, though. The student implies that everything not directly observable is a matter of “faith”… but ignores the ideas of indirect evidence, interpolation and extrapolation. If a hallway has two video cameras, watching each end but not the middle, and you see on camera 1 a person entering the hallway, and on camera 2 the same person leaving the hallway, then you assume that they walked down the hallway, even without having observed the event in person.

Similarly, untold millions of man-hours of science have gone into the unearthing and analysis, not only of an increasingly extensive fossil record, but also increasingly sophisticated genetic analyses. All of the evidence points to the existence of evolution, both on the micro scale (changes in phenotype and genotype frequency within a population) and macro (the generation of a novel population). The “theory” of evolution is no more debatable than the “theory” of gravitation.

Finally, the professor’s last line is inaccurate. “I guess you’ll have to take [my lectures] on faith, son”? No. That’s BS written by a lazy, ignorant, fanatical Christian. Here’s science’s real answer:

‎”Why should you trust my lecture? Well, first, if your teachers did their job right, you should be able to follow the chain of logic and evidence that modern science is based on. Have you studied math? Have you studied the experimental methods by which we measure and test the world? If there is any link in that chain that you disagree with, or don’t understand, then all you need to do is rigorously repeat the experiment and the calculations, if you want to check the results. Don’t just take my word for it; check it for yourself.

“Science needs no faith. Science lives with doubt, deals with doubt, even thrives on doubt, because it is *people asking questions* that drives scientific progress. Someone thought that perhaps a luminiferous aether exists; the Michelson-Morley experiment set out to measure it and found that it does not. Medieval Europeans thought that the world was flat; Magellan circumnavigated the globe and proved that it was round. Science is not a story of faith; science is a story of people asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ and ‘Are you sure?’ Will the sun rise tomorrow? Evidence suggests that it will, but if it fails to then we have something new to learn about.

“Scientists have opinions, yes, and opinions are flawed. Science is a world where disagreements lead to vigorous, rigorous fact-checking, which leads to growth. Darwin’s theory of natural selection was modified — it evolved, if you will — to take into account the increase of human knowledge. Darwin didn’t know about DNA, but because science is based on questioning, his theory was able to grow and become more accurate. Science doesn’t stagnate; it never relies on blind adherence to assure its survival.

“What is the difference between me and a preacher? I interpret DATA, and demand that you THINK. A preacher interprets literature, and demands that you stop thinking. The thing that keeps me alive and moving is not faith, but the joy and wonder of solving the puzzles and mysteries given to us by nature.”

Nu.

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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