From time to time somebody emails me one of these chain mails that circulates endlessly around the Internet, and I decide to post it. Here is the latest.
It only makes sense if you read it all the way through.
A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, “Let me explain the problem science has with religion.” The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.
“You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?”
“Yes sir,” the student says.
“So you believe in God?”
“Is God good?”
“Sure! God’s good.”
“Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?”
“Are you good or evil?”
“The Bible says I’m evil.”
The professor grins knowingly. “Aha! The Bible!” He considers for a moment. “Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?”
“Yes sir, I would.”
“So you’re good…!”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.”
The student does not answer, so the professor continues. “He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?”
The student remains silent.
“No, you can’t, can you?” the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.
“Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?”
“Er…yes,” the student says.
“Is Satan good?”
The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. “No.”
“Then where does Satan come from?”
The student falters. “From God”
“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”
“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?”
“So who created evil?” The professor continued, “If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.”
Again, the student has no answer. “Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?”
The student squirms on his feet. “Yes.”
“So who created them?”
The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. “Who created them?” There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. “Tell me,” he continues onto another student. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”
The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. “Yes, professor, I do.”
The old man stops pacing. “Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?”
“No sir. I’ve never seen Him.”
“Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?”
“No, sir, I have not.”
“Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?”
“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“Yet you still believe in him?”
“According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?”
“Nothing,” the student replies. “I only have my faith.”
“Yes, faith,” the professor repeats. “And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.”
At the back of the room another student stands quietly for a moment before asking a question of His own. “Professor, is there such thing as heat?”
“Yes,” the professor replies. “There’s heat..”
“And is there such a thing as cold?”
“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”
“No sir, there isn’t.”
The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees.”
“Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.”
Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.
“What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?”
“Yes,” the professor replies without hesitation. “What is night if it isn’t darkness?”
“You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it 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 it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word.”
“In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?”
The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. “So what point are you making, young man?”
“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.”
The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. “Flawed? Can you explain how?”
“You are working on the premise of duality,” the student explains. “You argue that there is life and then there’s 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?”
“If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do..”
“Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?”
The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.
“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 now not a scientist, but a preacher?”
The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.
“To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.”
The student looks around the room. “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?” The class breaks out into laughter.
“Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain? 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, with all due respect, sir.”
“So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?”
Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. “I guess you’ll have to take them on faith.”
“Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,” the student continues. “Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?”
Now uncertain, the professor responds, “Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”
To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”
The professor sat down.
If you read it all the way through and had a smile on your face when you finished, mail to your friends and family with the title: God vs Science
Well, I don’t want you to email this to your family and friends. While some of the ideas are really quite interesting, I see some problems with the presentation.
First of all, this tale has been told in a wide variety of versions, and it is already all over the web. Here and here are some examples. Snopes provides a report here. There are even Islamic versions (here and here).
Second, the point of the tale is to make a Christian feel smug. There is not much point in that. God wants us to feel humble, not smug. The problem with this mythical professor is that he feels he knows it all when in fact nobody does. There is no point in emulating such behavior, particularly for a Christian. While correcting the professor might be appropriate, ridiculing him is definitely not.
The tale manipulates our emotions. The tale takes advantage of the average Christian’s frustration and anger with the hostility we feel from much of society these days, particularly from academia. It urges us to vicariously enjoy the imagined opportunity to tell the professor off. However, the most appropriate reaction to such hostility is patience and understanding.
Ephesians 4:26-27 (New International Version)
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Third, the tale pits Science against God. No such contest actually exists. Science is merely our imperfect effort to understand God’s creation. The reason so many perceive a disagreement between science and Christianity is too many know too little about either. Scientists study science, but not religion. Most in other disciplines study too little of either science or religion.
If the tale has any value, then that value is to point out that we all need to study more. That study should include a tool highly valued by professors of philosophy, logic.
It’s interesting: this version of the e-mail is missing a line from the one that I received, which contained a mention at the end that the faithful student was none other than Albert Einstein. But Einstein (or any other student) never had this conversation. Fortunately, snopes debunked this attribution. The professor is plainly a fictional straw man. He “grins knowingly”, he’s “still smiling”, and the student “squirms.” It’s fiction writing, and he’s the setup man for the climax. The characterizations of him are so obviously anti-science, that any regular reader can see the fiction in this immediately. But then it’s not meant to reach a well-read audience. As Citizen Tom points out, it’s meant to make people feel that someone has out-smugged science on their behalf (never mind the irony of reading an email on a computer that would not exist without science). But what’s frustrating (as Tom says) is that it prolongs and fosters the ongoing “war” between science and religion, a battle which really only exists in those people where toleration and willingness to learn is lacking.
Great post, Tom!