There's an embarrassing essay circulating around the Christian/theist world that claims to show a simple Christian student gets the better of an atheist professor of philosophy by turning the professor's own logic against him. I'm subscribed to a fairly popular Christian Facebook group (no, I didn't subscribe myself, but it is interesting), and someone posted this. I thought it was laughable, but sadly most of the members of this Christian discussion group seemed to think it was brilliant. I briefly refuted the essay and got lots of arguments, so I told them I'd do a whole blog showing how ridiculous the essay is.
It's a bit long, but it's important to read it because it illustrates what the secular/humanist/rational-thought community is up against when it comes to faith versus reason. (I fixed some typographical errors that were in the original so that it didn't distract from the main point). Here it is with my refutation. My first comment is about half way down.
An Atheist Professor of Philosophy was speaking to his Class on the Problem Science has with GOD, the ALMIGHTY. 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?
Student : And is there such a thing as Cold?
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 Theatre )
This is so ridiculous it's embarassing. No professor of philosophy would be tricked by a stupid word game like this.
Words like "heat" and "cold" are not scientific or precise. We use them for brevity because we don't want to talk about molecular motion and energy in ordinary human conversations, and because they describe sensations that our nerves transmit to our brains.
To a scientist, "heat" is an imprecise word that describes the human perception of the amount of molecular energy that our bodies are absorbing at a given moment. "Cold" merely means that the amount of molecular energy is low enoungh to cause discomfort.
So it's stupid to say there is no such thing as cold. Everyone knows that "cold" is defined as the lack of heat, and is a subjective term.
Whoever wrote this essay wanted this to be the "shot across across the bow" of the professor's ship. It was supposed to be the startling moment that wakes us up, where we say, "Hey, what's going on here? Maybe this professor doesn't know everything after all!"
But in fact, it looks like the author of this essay simply never took a class in philosophy or linguistics.
When an eight-year-old does a simple magic trick in front of a bunch of professional magicians, they admire his pluck and encourage him. But if a grown man tries the same trick and thinks he's actually fooling everyone, it's embarrassing.
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?
Again, this is the same silly word trick. The author is claiming there is no such thing as darkness. Darkness is merely a subjective, relative term that says, "Insufficient photons are stimulating the retina for this human's present needs."
Replace "darkness" with "emptiness" and see how it sounds. Suppose your coffee cup is empty. Would you say there's no such thing as emptiness because you can't make your coffee cup any emptier than it already is?
The author of this essay has portrayed a "professor," but hasn't given him a high-school education. Any real professor of philosophy would make mincemeat of this argument. But real professors (especially in philosophy) are faced with smart-alec kids like this in every freshman Philosophy 101 class. Most of them learn to gently correct these young hotheads so that they can get on to important lessons.
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?
A real professor would have cut this student off by now and suggested some reading and a writing assignment to force the student to defend his position. And while writing the essay, the student would probably discover his errors.
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.
This is so dense with errors it's hard refute in just a paragraph or two.
The Premise of Duality is a religious concept, not a scientific one. The author of this essay is trying to put religious logic into an atheist's argument. The professor would never do that.
Science has a deep and detailed understanding of the electrochemical mechanisms of the brain.
Saying that science doesn't understand "Electricity and Magnetism" shows glaring ignorance. The correct name is "electromagnetism," and there is no duality at all. It's a single thing that exhibits different physical effects in different situations. And electromagnetism is probably the best understood science of all.
Now we get to the heart of this paragraph: "Death as the opposite of Life" thing is just another manifestation of the silly "duality" arguments presented above regarding heat/cold and light/dark. No philosophy professor would fall for this trick.
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.
This is a nonsequitur designed to trick the reader. By this time, the reader is supposed be thinking the student is really clever and has the professor "on the ropes." By introducing the controversial "e" word ("evolution"), the Christian readers get positively gleeful. The student is going to make mincemeat of evolution too!
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 )
Another subtle trick: the student says, "with your own eyes." Scientists use all sorts of instruments to extend our senses. You can't see sunspots "with your own eyes" because your eyes can't look at the sun. But does anyone not believe in sunspots? Or bacteria, viruses, supernova, radio waves, protons and electrons? It's ridiculous.
More importantly, scientists have observed evolution at every level. We've seen it at the microscopic level – it's the key to all modern medicine. And we've seen it at the macroscopic level, with plants and animals that continue to evolve as we watch. That's just a plain, irrefutable fact.
What the professor would really do is say, "Scientists see evolution in action every day. It's been proved over and over. Go take your biology, physics, chemistry and botany classes, and then come back to argue with me." Only the student wouldn't, because after taking those classes he'd realize he didn't have an argument.
Evolution is the best-proved theory in the history of the world. No other science can touch it.
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 )
In a real classroom, by this time the student would have been respectfully corrected and would have shut up in embarrassment.
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.
OMG. This is embarrassing.
Does the author of this essay really want to claim that we have to take the existence of our brains on faith alone? Do I have to state the obvious, that neurosurgeons operate on humans every day, and they've never found a walking, talking human who didn't have one? Or that coroners will tell you that a bullet through your brain will make you dead?
NB: 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 them to Increase their Knowledge ... or FAITH.
This is the only true statement: "increase their Knowledge or faith." But not both. You can either use faith to believe stuff that can't be true, or you can use logic and reason to discover the wonders of this universe.
This essay illustrates perfectly my biggest objection to religion: it relies on ignorance and actively discourages logical thinking and true inquisitiveness. It resists education. It thwarts rational thought.
Why? Because education, logical thought and inquisitiveness are all the enemies of religion. Religious beliefs can't stand up to real scrutiny. So religion has developed all sorts of defense mechanisms to discourage learning and logic.
And that's why I keep writing. I don't know how many religious people will actually read this far, but for those of you who have, I hope I've at least given you some food for thought.