Someone sent me a link to this blog entry at some random weblog that appears to be a new variation on the popular Evil Atheist Professor versus the True Believer student chain letter that’s been making the rounds for years. Previous versions were much shorter and attributed the student as being Albert Einstein, but this version has replaced making the student someone famous with making the fiction considerably longer. This isn’t the only blog with this email up as of late and just about every site that has it marvels over what a great bit of logic it is.
Well I’m here to say it’s a load of crap, but first I should start by relating the sad story in question:
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.”
The 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.
This students statements are true, can you or can you not make night darker?
Is it possible for it to get colder after absolute zero -458 degree’s F.
Can you feel,taste,see,hear,or smell your brain,
If anyone can contest this please do.
So I did. Here’s my reply:
- It’s a fictional story that’s been attributed to any number of people including Albert Einstein, but has no basis in reality. It’s also a very flawed argument that’s only really impressive to the scientifically illiterate. It’s kind of sad to see it making the rounds once again, but at least the latest incarnation isn’t attributing it to Einstein. Let’s start with the most obvious problem with this entire argument: The Christian God is supposedly omnipresent therefor if God is literally everywhere how can there be the absence of God anywhere? This is a fatal flaw to the Absence of God = Evil argument. Additionally there’s the problem with the simple fact that many believers commit acts of evil in spite of their belief in God and often because of their belief in God. This would also be an obstacle for the evil = absence of God argument.
Secondly it relies on conflating two different meanings of the word faith. Namely the faith required for something that’s pretty well established—the fact that the professor does have a brain—versus the faith required for something with absolutely no evidence—the existence of God. In the former there are any number of ways to prove the existence of the professor’s brain, some of which would be extreme but definitive (open his skull and look), but a simple cat scan should suffice for most people. The existence of brains is so well established, in fact, that most Christians wouldn’t be stupid enough to question that reality in the first place.
In comparison you’d first have to nail down exactly what you mean by the word “God”, because even among believers of the same religion there’s often a difference on opinion about the nature of God, before you could even begin to try and establish whether or not it would be possible to determine if he exists. Clearly the type of faith it would take to believe in such a being is miles beyond the faith it takes to accept our lowly professor as having a brain without resorting to cracking his head open to check, though that would at least be possible if it had to come to it.
This particular version managed to work in the anti-evolution angle as well though that too is a flawed and incorrect argument. Evolution has been observed in both simple lab experiments and by studying fossils from antiquity. That is an entire argument unto itself, however, and more time than I wish to expend at the moment.
Furthermore the definitions for heat/cold and light/dark demonstrate that the author of this fiction has only a limited understanding of the concepts he’s writing about. The whole paragraph where the student explains the concept of heat is wrong, but most people aren’t scientifically literate enough to grasp that fact. They just see a lot of scientific words and their eyes glaze over and they think something really intelligent was said.
The author contends that “heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy” and that is flat out wrong as heat is actually the transfer of energy caused by a temperature difference. If two systems are not in thermal equilibrium with each other then heat transfer will occur with the flow going from the higher temperature system to the lower temperature system until thermal equilibrium is obtained. Or, in other words, if one system is hot and the other one is cold then heat will transfer from one to the other until they are the same temperature. The statement that we can have “super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat” is just nonsense. The author is conflating the word “heat” with the word “hot” the latter of which is, like “cold”, a relative term describing the temperature of an object in relation to something else.
So too the author goes on to demonstrate only a partial understanding of light and dark. He starts by conflating the scientific definition of light, which includes the entire electromagnetic spectrum, with what is known as “visible light.” What we refer to as dark is actually just a low level of visible light, but not the absence of light as is claimed in the text. Even in the total absence of visible light all objects will continue to give off infrared and gamma radiation due to heat transfer and as such there is no absence of light at all even though you can’t see. A simple pair of infrared goggles is all it takes to see in the darkest of environments. In order to remove all light you’d have to remove all energy (absolute zero) which isn’t possible to do outside of the realm of theoretical mathematics.
So the answers to the questions at the end of this missive end up as follows: Yes, you could make night “darker” by blocking out more and more of the electromagnetic spectrum. No, you can’t make something colder than absolute zero because that’s the point when a system has no energy. For that matter it’s not possible to reach absolute zero either, though you can get close and matter starts to do some funky stuff at those temperatures. Yes, you can feel, taste, see, hear, and smell your brain if you really wanted to, but some of those would be messy and probably leave you damaged in the process. For some folks, though, it might be an experiment worth undertaking.
Please feel free to chime in with any other flaws you find in either the original story or my rebuttal.