Doug Kreuger has expanded the well-known Christian legend of the atheist philosophy professor who is unable to prove that he has a brain. (Special thanks to Steven Carr for this post.)
“LET ME EXPLAIN THE problem science has with Jesus Christ.” 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?”
“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. “Ahh! 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 them? Would you try?”
“Yes sir, I would.”
“So you’re good…!”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“Why not say that? You would help a sick and maimed person if you could…in fact most of us would if we could… God doesn’t.”
“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 elderly man is sympathetic. “No, you can’t, can you?” He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. In philosophy, you have to go easy with the new ones. “Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?”
“Is Satan good?”
“Where does Satan come from?”
The student falters. “From…God…”
“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he?” The elderly man runs his bony fingers through his thinning hair and turns to the smirking, student audience. “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this semester, ladies and gentlemen.” He turns back to the Christian. “Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”
“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? Did God make everything?”
“Who created evil?”
“Is there sickness in this world? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All the terrible things – do they exist in this world?”
The student squirms on his feet. “Yes.”
“Who created them?”
The professor suddenly shouts at his student. “WHO CREATED THEM? TELL ME, PLEASE!” The professor closes in for the kill and climb into the Christian’s face.
In a still small voice: “God created all evil, didn’t He, son?” No answer. The student tries to hold the steady, experienced gaze and fails.
Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace the front of the classroom like an aging panther. The class is mesmerized. “Tell me,” he continues, “How is it that this God is good if He created all evil throughout all time?” The professor swishes his arms around to encompass the wickedness of the world. “All the hatred, the brutality, all the pain, all the torture, all the death and ugliness and all the suffering created by this good God is all over the world, isn’t it, young man?”
“Don’t you see it all over the place? Huh?” Pause. “Don’t you?” The professor leans into the student’s face again and whispers, “Is God good?”
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”
The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. “Yes, professor. I do.”
The old man shakes his head sadly. “Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen your 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… In fact, do you have any sensory perception of your God whatsoever?”
“Answer me, please.”
“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“You’re AFRAID… you haven’t?”
“Yet you still believe in him?”
“That takes FAITH!” The professor smiles sagely at the underling. “According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son? Where is your God now?”
The student doesn’t answer.
“Sit down, please.”
The Christian sits…Defeated.
Another Christian raises his hand. “Professor, may I address the class?”
The professor turns and smiles. “Ah, another Christian in the vanguard! Come, come, young man. Speak some proper wisdom to the gathering.”
The Christian looks around the room. “Some interesting points you are making, sir. Now I’ve got a question for you. Is there such thing as heat?”
‘Yes,” the professor replies. “There’s heat.”
“Is there such a thing as cold?”
“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”
“No, sir, there isn’t.”
The professor’s grin freezes. The room suddenly goes very cold.
The second Christian continues. “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, 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, otherwise we would be able to go colder than 458 – 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.
A pin drops somewhere in the classroom. “Is there such a thing as darkness, professor?”
“That’s a dumb question, son. What is night if it isn’t darkness? What are you getting at…?”
“So you say there is such a thing as 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 and give me a jar of it. Can you…give me a jar of darker darkness, professor?”
Despite himself, the professor smiles at the young effrontery before him.
This will indeed be a good semester. “Would you mind telling us what your point is, young man?”
“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with and so your conclusion must be in error….”
The professor goes toxic. “Flawed…? How dare you…!”
“Sir, may I explain what I mean?” The class is all ears.
“Explain… oh, explain…” The professor makes an admirable effort to regain control. Suddenly he is affability itself. He waves his hand to silence the class, for the student to continue.
“You are working on the premise of duality,” the Christian explains. “That for example there is life and then here’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 cannot even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism but has never seen, much less fully understood them. 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, merely the absence of it.” The young man holds up a newspaper he takes from the desk of a neighbor who has been reading it. “Here is one of the most disgusting tabloids this country hosts, professor. Is there such a thing as immorality?”
“Of course there is, now look…”
“Wrong again, sir. You see, immorality is merely the absence of morality. Is there such thing as injustice? No. Injustice is the absence of justice. Is there such a thing as evil?” The Christian pauses. “Isn’t evil the absence of good?”
The professor’s face has turned an alarming color. He is so angry he is temporarily speechless.
The Christian continues. “If there is evil in the world, professor, and we all agree there is, then God, if he exists, must be accomplishing a work through the agency of evil. What is that work, God is accomplishing? The Bible tells us it is to see if each one of us will, of our own free will, choose good over evil.”
The professor bridles. “As a philosophical scientist, 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 observable.”
“I would have thought that the absence of God’s moral code in this world is probably one of the most observable phenomena going,” the Christian replies. “Newspapers make billions of dollars reporting it every week! 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 makes a sucking sound with his teeth and gives his student a silent, stony stare. “Professor. 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 priest?”
“I’ll overlook your impudence in the light of our philosophical discussion. Now, have you quite finished?” the professor hisses.
“So you don’t accept God’s moral code to do what is righteous?”
“I believe in what is – that’s science!”
“Ahh! SCIENCE!” the student’s face spits into a grin. “Sir, you rightly state that science is the study of observed phenomena. Science too is a premise which is flawed…”
“SCIENCE IS FLAWED..?” the professor splutters.
The class is in uproar. The Christian remains standing until the commotion has subsided. “To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, may I give you an example of what I mean?”
The professor wisely keeps silent.
The Christian looks around the room. “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?”
The class breaks out in laughter.
The Christian points towards his elderly, crumbling tutor. “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.
The Christian shakes his head sadly. “It appears no-one here has had any sensory perception of the professor’s brain whatsoever. Well, according to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says the professor has no brain.”
The class is in chaos. The Christian sits… Because that is what a chair is for.
The professor, amused at the student’s antics, asks the student whether he’s ever read anything about science.
“No,” says the student. “I only know what I’ve heard in church.”
“That explains your ignorance about what science is, young man,” says the professor. “Empirical knowledge of something does not always entail direct observation. We can observe the effects of something and know that it must exist. Electrons have not been observed, but they can create an observable trail that can be observed, so we can know they exist.”
“Oh,” said the Christian.
“No one has observed my heart, but we can hear it beating. We also know from empirical knowledge of people that no one can live without a heart, real or manufactured, or at least not without being also hooked up to some medical equipment. So we can know that I have a heart even though we have not seen it.”
“Oh, I see. That makes sense,” said the Christian student.
“Similarly, we can know that I have a brain. I wouldn’t be able to talk, walk, and so on unless I had one, would I?” said the professor.
“I guess not.”
“In fact, if I had no brain I couldn’t do anything at all. Except maybe become a televangelist!”
The class broke up with laughter. Even the Christian laughed.
“Evolution is known to be true because of evidence,” continued the professor. “It is the best explanation for the fossil record. Even prominent creationists admit that the transition from reptiles to mammals is well documented in the fossil record. A creationist debate panel, including Michael Behe and Philip Johnson, conceded this on a televised debate on PBS. It was on Buckley’s “Firing Line” show. Did you see it?”
The Christian student cleared his throat and said in a low voice, “My mom won’t let me watch educational TV. She thinks it will weaken my faith.”
The professor shook his head sadly. “Knowledge does have a way of doing that,” he said. “But in any case, evolution is also the best explanation for phenomena that have been observed.”
The Christian student sputters, “You–you mean we HAVE seen it?”
“Of course. Evolution has occured within recent times, and it continues to occur. Birds and insects not native to Hawaii were introduced just a couple of centuries ago and have evolved to take better advantage of the different flora. So this evolution has taken place within recorded history. Recent history. Did you know that?”
“Viruses other diseases evolve to become resistant to medicine. This is not only observed but it is a major problem that science must confront every day. Mosquitos in the tunnels of London’s underground have evolved to become separate species because of their isolation from other groups of mosquitos. But enough about evolution. That doesn’t have anything to do with our issue, evil, does it?”
“What does it have to do with our issue?” asked the professor.
“Well, if you don’t believe in god, then you must believe we came from apes.”
The professor laughed. “Evolutionists don’t believe that people came from apes or even monkeys. They believe that humans and apes had a common ancestor.”
“Wow!” said the Christian. “That’s not what they told me at church.”
“I’m sure. They can’t refute evolution so they have to spread misinformation about it. But don’t you know that many Christians believe that god made humans by evolution?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“In fact, of the four people who debated the evolution side on PBS, on William F. Buckley’s ‘Firing Line,’ which I just mentioned, two of them were theists. One of them is a reverend, in fact.”
“Really. Many denominations of Christianity embrace evolution.
Catholicism, the largest denomination of Christianity, is compatible with evolution. So evolution is not relevant here, is it?”
“I guess not.”
“Even if it were true that you have to be an atheist to believe evolution, which is not the case, and even if it were the case that evolution was unsupported by evidence, which is also not the case, this would not explain evil at all, would it. It is irrelevant.”
“I see that now,” said the Christian. “I don’t even know why I brought it up. I guess I thought it was an example of how you believe something without evidence.”
“Well,” said the professor. “As you can see, it is not. There is plenty of evidence for evolution. And even if there were no evidence, this has no bearing on the issue of evil. As we proceed through the philosophy course, you will see how to use your reasoning ability to separate important issues from irrelevant ones.”
“I’m guess learning already,” said the student, looking at the floor.
“But back to the problem of evil,” said the professor. “You stated that evil is the absence of good. How does that solve the problem of evil?”
The student said lifelessly: “If evil is the absence of good, then god did not create evil.” It was evident that this was something the student had learned by rote and had often repeated.
The professor shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, let’s suppose for the moment that this is true. This still does not explain evil. If a tidal wave wipes out a whole town, and 100,000 people die, is that evil?”
“There is the absence of good,” said the student.
“But so what? The problem is why god did not prevent the disaster. If god is all-powerful he can prevent it, and if he is all-knowing he knows that it is about to happen. So whether he created the tidal wave is not relevant. What we want to know is why he did not do anything to stop it.”
The student looked confused. “But why should he prevent it? It’s not his fault.”
“If a human being had the power to prevent a tidal wave wiping out a town, and this person intentionally failed to stop it, we would not say that the person is good. Even if the person said, ‘It’s not my fault,’ we would be appalled that someone could stand by and do nothing as thousands die. So if god does not prevent natural disasters, and he is able to do so, we should not say that god is good by the same reasoning. In fact, we would probably say that god is evil.”
The Christian student thought for a moment. “I guess I’d have to agree.”
“So redefining evil as the absence of good does nothing to solve the problem of evil,” said the professor. “At best it shows that god did not create it, but this does not explain why god does not prevent it.”
The Christian student shook a finger at the professor. “But that’s according to our human standards. What if god has a higher morality? We can’t judge him by our standards.”
The professor laughed. “Then you just lost your case. If you admit that god does not fit our definition of good, then we should not call him good. Case closed.”
“I don’t understand,” said the student, wrinkling his brow.
“If I go outside and see a vehicle with four tires, a metal body, a steering wheel, a motor and so on, and it fits the definition of a car, is it a car?” “Of course it is,” said the Christian student. “That’s what a car is.”
“But what if someone says that on some other definition it could be considered an airplane. Does that mean it’s not a car?”
“No,” said the student. “It still fits the definition of a car. That’s what we mean by saying that it’s a car. It doesn’t fit the definition of an airplane, so we shouldn’t call it that.”
“Exactly,” said the professor. “If it fits the definition, then that’s what it is. If god fits the definition of good, then he is good. If he does not, then he is not. If you admit that he does not fit our definition of good, then he is not good. It does no good to say that he could be ‘good’ in some other definition. If we want to know whether he is good by our definition, you have answered that question. God is not good.”
“I don’t believe it!” said the Christian student. “A few minutes ago I would have laughed at the suggestion that god is not good, but now I actually agree. God doesn’t fit the definition of good, so he’s not good.”
“There you go,” said the professor.
“But wait a minute,” said the student. “God could still be good in some other definition even if we don’t call him good. Despite what we think, god could still have his own morality that says he’s good. Even if we couldn’t call him good, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t good on some definition. He could have his own definition anyway.”
“Oh, you would not want to push the view that god might be good in some other definition,” said the professor.
“Why not?” “Well, if he has definitions of things that are radically different from our own, he might have a different definition of lots of other things. He might have his own definitions of such things as eternal reward, or eternal life. Your supposed eternal life in heaven might just be a year, or it could be a thousand years of torture. God could just say he has a definition of reward that includes excruciating torture as part of the definition.”
“That’s right!” said the Christian, jumping up. His eyes were wide open. “If god can redefine any word, then anything goes. God could send all believers to what we call hell and say that it is heaven. He could give us ten days in heaven and say that that’s his definition of eternity!”
“Now you’re thinking!” said the professor, pointing a finger at the student. “This is what a philosophy class is supposed to do for students.”
The Christian student continued. “God could promise us eternal life and then not give it to us and say that’s his definition of keeping a promise!”
“Yes, yes,” said the professor.
“I can’t believe I used to fall for this Christianity stuff. It’s so indefensible,” said the student, shaking his head. “Just a few moment’s thought and all the arguments that my church gave me in Sunday school just collapse.”
“So it would seem,” said the professor.
“I’m going to go to my church tonight and give the pastor a piece of my mind. They never tell me about important stuff like this. And they sure didn’t tell me the truth about evolution!”
The student, who stood up as a Christian, now sat down as an atheist. And he started using his brain–because that’s what it’s for. The other students in the class sat there, stunned, for a few moments. They knew they had witnessed the changing of a person’s life, the redirection of a young mind from falsehood and religious dogma to the honest pursuit of truth.
The students looked at each other and then began applauding. This soon gave way to cheering. The professor took a bow, laughing. When the students calmed down he continued his lecture, and class attendance was high for the rest of the semester.