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The Atheist Professor and The Cleverer Student

Quoted below is a ‘parable’ that has reached me a few times now via the seemingly unending supply of  religious chain spam.

The story revolves around a theist student who apparently out wits and out debates he’s atheist professor of philosophy on the question of the existence of god and the problem of evil.

For the most part it is almost not worth responding…but since it reached me a few times I thought I’d try to point out a few things…

An atheist professor of philosophy speaks to his class on the problem science has with God, The Almighty.

He asks 1 of his new religious students to stand.

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

Student: Yes, sir.

Prof: So you believe in God?

Student: Absolutely, sir.

Prof: Is God good?

Student: Sure.

Prof: Is God all-powerful?

Student: Yes.

Prof: 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 is silent.)

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

Student: Yes.

Prof: Is satan good?

Student: No.

Prof: Where does satan come from?

Student: From uhh God.

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

Student: Yes.

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

Student: Yes.

Prof: So who created evil?

(Student does not answer.)

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

Student: Yes, sir.

Prof: So, who created them?

(Student has no answer.)

Prof: 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.

Prof: Tell us if you have ever heard your God?

Student: No, sir.

Prof: 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.

Prof: Yet you still believe in Him?

Student: Yes.

Prof: 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.

Prof: Yes. Faith. And that is the problem science has.

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

Prof: Yes.

Student: And is there such a thing as cold?

Prof: Yes.

Student: No sir. There isn’t.

The lecture theatre becomes 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 is pin-drop silence in the lecture theatre.

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

Prof: 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 were you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

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

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

Prof: 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 1. 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?

Prof: 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 shakes his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument is 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 is in uproar.

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

The class breaks 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 is silent. The professor stares at the student, his face unfathomable.

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

Student: That is it sir. The link between man and God is faith. That is all that keeps things moving and alive.


The student tries to address the problem of evil (if the good god is omnipotent, how can it let the bad exist) by paralleling the definition of evil as the absence of good with that of cold as the absence of heat and darkness as the absence of light.

“ There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat.”

“ In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?”

Boils down to: “Because darkness is absence of light, darkness does not exist”..(ditto with coldness). One might also then conclude that say a hole in the ground, since it is only absence of ground, does not exist.

Presumably the student concludes that because evil can be seen as the absence of good, evil does not exist so the problem of evil disappears. Even if one is to consider evil simply as the absence of good, this still does not answer the question of why god created evil…it simply uses an alternative definition of evil so only restates the question as something like “Why did god create a world where there exists absence of good?”

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.

The premise of duality (good vs evil), a common premise inherent to most religions, especially Christianity and co. (e.g. God vs Satan; Heaven & Hell; Angels & Demons), lie at the core of the paradoxical problem of evil. What he accuses the professor of doing (premise of duality) is actually the very problem he is trying to explain away for religion…which the student actually failed to ever do as mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The student goes on to attack science using magnetism and electricity as an example of how science knows nothing about what we can not “see”. If the student really thought that science knew nothing about electricity, he need only stick his fingers in a power socket to experience a shocking revelation. The fact of the matter is that science knows a great deal about electricity and magnetism (and all the other fields of science) and we are constantly learning more and adjusting our understanding accordingly. Science is not perfect, not complete and does not claim to be either but is still by far the best picture of reality that humanity has ever painted. But the fact that science does not explain everything does not mean one can declare any old concept beyond the reach of science and untouchable without some kind of sound justification.

Then, unlike what the student asserts, evolution is not based on faith, but fact. Huge amounts of scientific enquiry and experimentation confirms evolution.

We have actually “seen” evolution in many instances, including but not limited to: fossils; viruses; pepper moths, animal breeding; bacteria and more. It has also been rubber stamped by genetics..our understanding of genes alone proves evolution. Evolution is a fact, like gravity, and people who try to use it in an argument for god are always either ignorant, uninformed or devious.

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?

This highlights the student’s misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of how the scientific method works. Science does not say that only things that our crude and basic human senses can experience exist and empirical does not mean only things we can see with our own eyes and feel with our physical senses; It means things that we can define, test and measure. We have acquired enough empirical evidence by cutting open people’s heads (amongst other things) to conclude that it is overwhelmingly likely that every healthy human’s head has a functioning brain in it. It’s not a faith thing, its a verifiable fact thing… we can cut open the professor’s head and confirm that he has a brain… religious people are yet to find something to cut open (so to speak) to prove that there is a god.

For reference, the scientific method:

To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[2] The Oxford English Dictionary says that scientific method is: “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. […..] Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable, to predict future results.

To sum it up. There is really not much of a point made here by the student. He pretends to explain the problem of evil away by word play and tries to discredit science to rationalise religious faith (a kind of ad hominem). He tries to bring science down to religious faith’s level of certainty and tries to make religious faith look as rational as trusting the laws of gravity, which is well off the mark. The things that science have us believe in are testable, based on evidence and repeatable experiments… religious faith is pure faith with no evidence (apparently some kind of virtue within a religious context). The fact is that religious people have faith not because of evidence or proof (since there is no evidence or proof) but mainly because the faith was installed before the need for evidence or proof was ‘required’ to justify belief, via childhood’s religious indoctrination.




Posted in Evolution, Other, Paradoxical |&| Problematic, Why Gods do not Exist.

13 Responses

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  1. BaasLennie says

    Hoor Hoor

  2. David says

    Well, the intent of the wordplay “evil vs. absence of good” is obviously that the free will to do good, which has been given to us by God, is then not the creation of evil by that same God. Thank’s for clearifying that for me :)

  3. alekso56 says

    Einstein never said that, or anything close to that. He was raised a Jew and fancied himself a pantheist, and he had marked disdain for all world religions.
    Further, this hypothetical conversation is very inaccurate. Firstly, we can absolutely see brains. We need only cut open a skull to do so, or even just use an MRI. We can draw clear causal links between brain activity and a bodily process (indeed, ALL bodily processes), and despite a lack of complete information about it, we can easily empirically demonstrate the existence of such an organ.
    Likewise, we can easily observe evolution by simply using bacteria or various insects as control species, because they reproduce fast enough in laboratory conditions to expedite the process. Even if we couldn’t, the tree of common descent and its perfect correspondence with the fossil record is more than enough to constitute as empirical evidence. In that vein, the professor (and the student) is incorrect that we “evolved from monkeys”, as that is simply a term we’ve used to describe prosimian primates. What we currently label as monkeys wouldn’t have been alive in the forms we recognize them at the point that the ancestor of humans diverged from the ancestor of the last extant prosimian. It is far more accurate to say that we share a common ancestor with monkeys; to say we evolved from them displays a gross misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and thus the author reveals themselves to be unworthy of pretending to be Einstein.
    While the discussion regarding cold and heat is accurate enough to avoid my criticism, I also have a bit of contention with the darkness/light part of the conversation. It is acceptable that what we label as “darkness” is simply an absence of light, but it must be noted that there are various things in cosmology that are literally dark by their very nature, and likewise most of the things we THINK are dark are simply so because we can’t perceive the wavelengths of light that illuminate them. While this doesn’t necessarily harm the student’s analogy, it does make them seem unversed in astrophysics, which is another point against the author’s credibility.
    Continuing, we’ve quite obviously seen and measured electromagnetism, even in Einstein’s time, and we also know what thoughts and memories are (bummer reminder here; everything that makes us us is naturalistic in origin and scope, including complex personalities and identities, which invalidates almost every reasonable concept of the soul/spirit).
    Now, regarding the professor’s tenuous understanding of theodicy, death from cancer is a poor example. He’d be better off describing the torture and rape of a five-year-old Ugandan girl or something of the sort if he’s really trying to come up with a good example of “evil”. Satan, according to Jewish theology, is simply God’s payroll adversary, and as he is doing God’s work he cannot be considered to be evil. The Christian bastardization of Satan is definitely a dick, but then it raises the question of why God would allow such an entity to even continue existing, as there’s no remotely decent reason to allow its presence.
    Now… Where am I? 5 or 6? Meh, I’ll go with 6. Sixth, we have far more than five senses, and we also DON’T use them for most scientific discoveries because our senses–and more particularly the way in which we process information from our senses–are very faulty. So I don’t even know what the professor’s talking about there; he clearly isn’t a scientist.
    Lastly, the kid’s argument from analogy, I posit, simply does not work properly. Heat/cold and light/darkness are concepts we’ve created to describe a naturalistic universe that is generally beyond our capacity to alter it. God, however, is in the hypothetical position to do whatever it wants. It needs not even MAKE logical dichotomies. But let’s assume that it must do so. If one is then to define God as being life/goodness/health, with death/evil/sickness being the “absence of God”, an absurd contingency arises. Cold is the absence of heat because it was “before” heat (not in a chronological sense–I mean to say that it is what exists before heat is there to act), and heat’s disappearance would not remove cold. It would simply remove the terminology we use to understand it. Likewise, the removal of light would keep all darkness. Darkness and cold are baseline states upon which something else acts to make them less of themselves.
    The reason I point this out is because death/evil/sickness are NOT baseline states. If there was no life, that would not mean that only death exists, because death is that which acts upon life (not the other way around). It WOULD mean that there was no life, but death is not simply non-life (if it was, we would have to classify things like rocks as “dead”, which is an absurdity). And if there was no good, there could still be evil, as good/evil is a false dichotomy. The concepts attributed to God are necessary conditions (although not sufficient conditions) of the existence of the other concepts. In essence, the author of this chain letter has committed a mistaken reversal in the logical process. They’ve assumed that, because cold would still “exist” without heat, death would still “exist” without life–that is, death would be the absence of life–while we know this, upon even the slightest inspection, to be a clear falsehood. LIFE could still exist without DEATH, but death could NOT exist, even as a concept, without there first being life to act upon.
    That is, cold is the logical opposite of heat. It is “not heat”, and it could still be itself if there was no heat.
    Likewise, darkness is the logical opposite of light. It is “not light”, and it could also be itself without light.
    However, death is NOT “not life” except in the most tautological sense. It is contingent upon the existence of life. Death could not be a thing if there was no life upon which it could act, and thus death is more analogous to heat, not cold.
    Likewise, sickness is contingent upon the baseline state of health, and the word makes no sense if there is no health to first observe.
    And the good/evil dichotomy is, in fact, a POLAR opposite. The logical opposite of good is “not good”. However, that which is neutral is not good. Neutral is also “not evil”, and thus evil cannot be defined as simply as “not good” without, well, causing a false dichotomy.
    In short, the student’s analogy is fatally flawed. Life is what occurs in the absence of death unless one observes a microcosm in which there is no life to begin with (in which case non-life is the baseline state, but I reiterate that death cannot be equivocated with non-life for obvious reasons). Health is what occurs in the absence of sickness unless one is, once again, to observe a microcosm in which there is no life to be healthy. And good/evil are true polar concepts; the removal of one would still allow the existence of the other. As such, God’s involvement in the processes of life, health, and goodness cannot be compared to heat/cold and darkness/light in the way the student is attempting to do. If anything, the analogy must be reversed; life must be analogous to cold and death to heat, which naturally causes issues in the student’s philosophy.
    Also, theodicy is hardly the best argument against religions, so I don’t know why the professor is wasting his time with something like that. He could far more easily disprove Christianity by pointing out that Adam and Eve didn’t exist, and thus there was no original sin, and thus there is no need for the human sacrifice that underpins all of Christian theology.
    Basically, what I’m saying is that the professor’s a goober, the student’s an idiot, Einstein didn’t say that, and whoever wrote this doesn’t have a very good understanding of science OR theology OR formal logic.

    • stu says

      well that was a mouthful ………………………………………………………………………. ……………………………… ……………………………………………………. …………………………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………………………………… ……………………………….. ………………. …….

    • Tam says

      @alekso56- because of people like you, I have hope for the human race. – You’re brilliant

  4. Tam says

    @alekso56- because of people like you, I have hope for the human race. – You’re brilliant

  5. Russell says

    alekso56, very well put indeed.

  6. Kunal says

    Russell you’re a choot (Indian word for cunt) and obviously one with a very good thesaurus and serious abundance of spare time resulting in a serious attention craving problem …. heck you’ve even got me commenting on this worthless piece of crap you’ve puked out yet not understanding the essence of it …. cheers … (p.s. get a life 😉

    • russell says

      Hey Kunal, well your opinion is your prerogative … ever heard the term Ad hominem?

  7. Mark says

    It also highlights the stupidity of the professor…

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  10. James says

    Hi Russell (it is Russell correct?)

    I think you misunderstand the point the student is trying to make. He’s saying that just because something isn’t yet scientifically proven (religious or otherwise) that it doesn’t mean it’s not true – it’s just not yet scientifically proven.

    In your analogy he’s not saying a hole in the ground doesn’t exist in the same way he’s not saying his professor’s brain doesn’t exist. He’s just pointing out in an overly simplistic analogy to his professor (which one could disprove) that something is not necessarily untrue because science cannot yet prove it.

    Evolutionary theory may or may not be approximately the truth. But there is no repeatable scientific evidence to prove it. This doesn’t mean the theory of evolution is not true. However it does mean that if we take the simplistic stance that something must be scientifically proved, then evolution is not true, because there are currently big gaps in scientific evidence that are bridged by theory…or the student would say beliefs…faith.

    Maybe science, in time will prove the theory of evolution. Maybe science in time will also prove there is a God and creator. The answer may amaze or disappoint…who knows…maybe that science proving evolution will also explain and provide the scientific evidence also for God. Who knows.

    But surely we not saying that unless something is not yet scientifically proven (like evolution or God) then it is not true?

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