I like this response to this story the best:
OK, this is me back. This little scenario is all very well and makes the Christians all smug and self-satisfied, because the second Christian really
put the old atheist professor in his place.
But let me tell you something. The professor must have been only newly converted to atheism, because he gave all the wrong answers! It's a good thing
he was a philosophy professor and not a science professor, because with answers like that he would have flunked high school!
Let's have a look at this then shall we? I'm not a professor of any kind, but I'm going to elaborate here on the things that I would have done
First of all, I feel that it is extremely rude to attack someone's religious faith in this manner, regardless of what you feel about what is true or
not. The professor, having recently lost his brother to cancer, is lashing back at the Christians in the class because he feels that he was betrayed
by God, and he is being inexcusably rude about it, too. It is a classic transferrence of anger, and the poor professor needs grief counselling. So in
the first place I would not have begun a philosphy class with the express purpose of trying to destroy other peoples' faith. Their faith is not my
concern. When they publicly preach falsehood, I tend to want to speak up. In this case, neither of the Christians were publicly preaching falsehood.
In fact the second Christian probably had a better grip on reality than the professor did.
OK, so let's see where the professor went wrong after this. Any science professor should know that cold is an absence of heat and darkness is an
absence of light. I knew that in third grade. For all his upholding of scientific principles, this professor also should have known that science
relies as much on deduction and scenario-modelling as it does on direct observation. If observation were all there was to it, then the entire
scientific corpus would consist of only what any particular student observed. I did not observe Vesuvius erupting. According to the Christian in this
story, that means that it didn't. But someone did. His name was Pliny the younger, and he wrote down what he saw. I trust an eyewitness account.
Now, in science, the emphasis is on experiment. You don't just write down what you observe. You contrive a set of circumstances to answer a particular
question about something you observe. Then you write down the results of your experiment, and (this is the crucial bit) see whether anyone else
observes the same thing.
So in essence, the argument about not observing evolution and not observing the professor's brain is flawed, because science does not solely rely on
direct observation. Of course, observation is an important part of science, and the position that only what can be observed exists is called
positivism. The professor in this story is obviously a positivist, and the second Christian points out the flaws in this philosophy quite effectively.
But positivism is not science.
Okay, next bit. The professor "goes toxic" when someone questions his philosophical standpoint. This is in a philosophy class right? Isn't part of the
point of philosophy to question one another's worldview? This professor shouldn't be in science, and if he "goes toxic" at the first sign that a
student can think independently, then he doesn't belong in philosophy, either! For me, that student would be well on the way to an 'A'.
Then, after going toxic, he also bridles. "As a philosophical scientist," he says, "I don't view this matter as having anything to do with any choice;
as a realist, I absolutely do not recognize the concept of God or any other theological factor as being part of the world equation because God is not
Here his stance is also deeply flawed. He describes himself as a "philosophical scientist". This is a delusion. For reasons discussed above he cannot
call himself a scientist in any sense of the word, philosophical or not. He claims to be a realist, but describes a positivist. He should also deny
the existence of electrons and protons, because they are not observable either. Recently we have been able to observe atoms (with scanning tunneling
electron microscopes), but never their constituents. However, the theory predicts certain things, and what can be observed supports the results that
are predicted. The theory agrees with observation. To doubt the existence of electrons because they can't be observed casts doubt on a large number of
scientific principles, some of which agree with observation to a startling degree.
Here's another way to look at it. Can you observe air? No. This doesn't mean that air doesn't exist. You can't smell sarin gas, either. But sarin gas
can kill you.
So far I have been kind of supporting the Christian against the professor, because to me the Christian's stance makes more sense than the professor's.
However, the Christian makes one major fundamental mistake, which tells me that he really has absolutely no understanding of what science is or what
it is about. The professor's answer to this loaded question is wrong in every significant detail.
The Christian asks "Tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?"
This is such a tired old argument that all Christians should know it by now if they didn't choose to see evolution in a flawed light. The 'correct'
answer (which the professor failed to provide) is "No, I do not teach my students that they evolved from a monkey. I teach my students that they and
monkeys had a common ancestor, which was neither a monkey nor a student. The observed evidence supports this."
But Christians (not all Christians mind you) do not accept the true definition of evolution, and continue to argue against the principle that people
are descended from monkeys. They ask "if people evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"
The Christian in the story asks "Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?" and again, the professor answers the question badly (as of
course suits the Christian author of the scenario).
The 'correct' answer to this question is "Have you ever observed love with your own eyes? Have you ever observed faith? Have you ever observed the
Resurrection with your own eyes? Just because we don't observe something with our own eyes doesn't mean that we can't accept evidence from other
sources. Your Bible tells you that the Resurrection occurred. The fossil record, amongst other evidence, tells us that evolution occurred."
This will only get the Christian going though. If you ever answer this question in this way, be prepared to answer all of the other questions that
invariably follow about transitional fossils, polystrate fossils, and if it gets that far down the track, radiometric dating.
The Christian in the story states "Sir, you rightly state that science is the study of observed phenomena" then goes on to 'disprove' the existence of
the professor's brain. The professor is dumbstruck in the light of the Christian's brilliant observation. Yet more evidence that he is not fit to be a
science professor, since he doesn't have the answer to the obvious ploy which is provided as a clinching argument.
The 'correct' answer is: "Okay, so you hypothesise that my brain doesn't exist. How are you going to go about proving it? Hypothesis without
experiment is not science. The best way to prove your hypothesis would be to open up my head and have a look. But that would in all likelihood kill
me, which is against the law and against your Christian ethic. So you'll have to find another way to prove it. But before you spend a lot of time (and
probably money) doing so, I might point out that in dissecting cadavers, surgeons and anatomy students have never opened up the head of a dead human
and found no brain. So Occam's Razor tells us that your hypothesis is incorrect to the point of reasonable doubt. The counter-hypothesis that I do in
fact have a brain fits the observed reality (that I am here, walking, talking, breathing and speaking to you) much better than your hypothesis
This clearly demonstrates that while science is correctly described as the study of observed phenomena, it doesn't work just to draw direct
conclusions from what directly hits your senses. You have to question what you observe. Although science is the study of the observed phenomena, the
Christian in the story stops at 'observed phenomena' and skips the 'study' part. If science could be reduced to a single question, it would not be
"what?" as the Christian in the story seems to think. It would be "how?"
Science cannot disprove God. The mistake (or rather, one of the mistakes) that the professor made in the story is in assuming that because God cannot
be observed, God doesn't exist. This is not a good basis for atheism, because as you can clearly see from this story, it is a very weak foundation. It
is indeed a flawed philosophy. The basis for atheism is much more complex and subtle.
The Christian in the story falls into massive overgeneralisation by his statement "Science too is a premise which is flawed..." No. What is flawed is
the professor's stance on science. The reason the professor's stance on science is flawed is that the whole story was written by a Christian, whose
own stance on science was flawed. Just like the second Christian in the story, the author overgeneralises his/her own belief in science as the real
thing, and sets up a massive strawman which of course is only too easy to defeat. It was designed to be argued against, so of course it is. If the
author had understood science better, the story could never have been written in this form.
All of the characters in the story are reflections of the author's self. The first Christian is the author at a young age, looking for affirmation of
his or her faith and not receiving it from an uncaring, antagonistic world.
The professor is the personification of all these doubts. He is the personification of the author's own flawed understanding of science and its
The second Christian is the author after going out and reading some books by Kent Hovind and Phillip Johnson. The author after reaffirming his/her
faith, who now has all the answers. Unfortunately he only has the answers to the questions he himself poses. The professor knows no more about science
than the author does - how could he? This is why the professor is ultimately humbled and embarrassed in front of the whole class. It is satisfying to
Christians because they see their attacker fall and crumble like the walls of Jericho.
Perhaps the whole story is part autobiography, part wish-fulfillment. It is possible that the first half of the story actually happened to the author,
and the second half is what the author would have said and done had he/she had the answers at that stage of life. Perhaps. If so, the two halves of
the story probably occurred years apart in the author's life.
It seems more likely to me that it was a Christian trying to teach other Christians how to have more faith in their beliefs, despite having them
attacked mercilessly. It does that, at the expense of flawed argument and flawed understanding. The purpose behind telling the story is sound -
Christians should indeed be prepared to defend their faith and provide reasons for it. But the reasons given in the story are not good ones.
The story perpetuates the myth that science is bunk. That science is somehow contrary or opposed to faith. That all of science is built on a flawed
The first thing that some Christians seem to be unable or unwilling to understand is that science cannot disprove anything. It can only prove things.
And it can only prove things on a provisional basis. Nothing is final, because it's always possible for more evidence to come in.
Christians always try to attack science by asking for certain, definite proof that God doesn't exist. Science cannot provide that, and they then leap
on that inability as evidence that science is flawed. Well, that's just comparing apples and oranges. It is like relying on the Bible to tell you how
to service your car. The Bible can't show you how to change a spark plug? Aha! The Bible is built on a flawed premise!
They also leap on the incompleteness of science. Since science does not have all the answers, it can't possibly be right. The more amazing belief
among some Christians I have encountered is the more epistemological view that science simply has it wrong. It asks the wrong questions and comes to
the wrong conclusions. It makes a flawed basis for understanding the world because it is simply erroneous. This is totally weird to me, because at its
basis, science is built upon finding verifiable explanations for observed phenomena. The Scientific Method is the closest we can come to finding the
truth about something.
I hope you can see now why I don't like this story. It perpetuates a flawed and incorrect stereotype - that of the atheist who constantly attacks the
faith of good Chrisians - and demonstrates an insufficient method of defence against it. It was written by a Christian for other Christians, but the
author's understanding of the subject matter is so incomplete that all it does is perpetuate the incompleteness to others. It does not teach anything
of worth, except for the fundamental purpose - to encourage Christians to be able to justify their faith.
The moral of the story - always have an understanding of what you are arguing against, or be prepared to accept when someone points out the flaws in
the understanding you do have.
edit on 22-3-2012 by EvilSadamClone because: (no reason given)