Atheist professor myth
|Christ died so we could write articles on|
|A multi-chef broth|
|Devil's in the details|
|The pearly gates|
The atheist professor myth is an urban legend, often told through chain emails, in which an atheist professor attempts to disprove the existence of God and is subsequently embarrassed and shamed by a wise Christian student in front of the whole class. Despite the strawman nature of the professor and the fallacious arguments used by the student, especially the claim that evil is the absence of God, this myth has become quite popular among Christians for decades and variations of it predate the internet. The most famous variation claims the student to be a young Albert Einstein.
 Einstein variation
|Does evil exist?
The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, "Yes, he did!"
"God created everything?" The professor asked.
"Yes sir", the student replied.
The professor answered, "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". The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.
Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question professor?"
"Of course", replied the professor.
The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"
"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?" The students snickered at the young man's question.
The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. 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 (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat."
The student continued, "Professor, does darkness exist?"
The professor responded, "Of course it does."
The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."
Finally the young man asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?"
Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. 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 not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. 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.
 Elite military variation
Navy SEALs are always taught
1) Keep your priorities in order and 2) Know when to act without hesitation.
A Navy SEAL was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was an avowed atheist and a member of the ACLU. One day he shocked the class when he came in, looked to the ceiling, and flatly stated, "God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I'll give you exactly 15 minutes."
The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, "Here I am God. I'm still waiting."
It got down to the last couple of minutes when the SEAL got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold. The SEAL went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence.
The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the SEAL and asked, "What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?"
In other examples of the same variation, it's not a SEAL, but a Marine. In real life, both groups would probably consider such behaviour as "conduct unbecoming" which could result in a court martial. Also, it often ends with the class cheering and clapping for the SEAL/Marine.
 Dropped chalk variation
|This is a true story of something that happened just a few years ago at USC. There was a professor of philosophy there who was a deeply committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester attempting to prove that God couldn't exist. His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. For twenty years, he had taught this class and no one had ever had the courage to go against him. Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever 'really gone against him' (you'll see what I mean later).
Nobody would go against him because he had a reputation. At the end of every semester, on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students, "If there anyone here who still believes in Jesus, stand up!" In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. They knew what he was going to do next. He would say, "because anyone who does believe in God is a fool. If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that he is God, and yet he can't do it." And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. The students could do nothing but stop and stare. Most of the students were convinced that God couldn't exist. Certainly, a number of Christians had slipped through, but for 20 years, they had been too afraid to stand up.
Well, a few years ago, there was a freshman who happened to get enrolled in the class. He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about this professor. He had to take the class because it was one of the required classes for his major and he was afraid. But for 3 months that semester, he prayed every morning that he would have the courage to stand up no matter what the professor said or what the class thought. Nothing they said or did could ever shatter his faith, he hoped.
Finally the day came. The professor said, "If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up!" The professor and the class of 300 people looked at him, shocked, as he stood up at the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, "You FOOL!! If God existed, he could keep this piece of chalk from breaking when it hit the ground!" He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleats of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away, unbroken.
The professor's jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man and then ran out of the lecture hall. The young man who had stood up proceeded to walk to the front of the room and share his faith in Jesus for the next half hour. 300 students stayed and listened as he told of God's love for them and of his power through Jesus.
 Obviously fallacious reasoning
The story about a student humiliating a fictional professor is based on a fallacy called mistaking the map for the territory, also known as reification. We should first notice that using the presented logic, one could claim that poverty does not exist, since it is just a lack of wealth, that scurvy does not exist, since it is just a lack of vitamin C, that vacuum doesn't exist, since it is just an absence of matter, or even that sorrow does not exist, since it is an absence of happiness. These statements are obviously nonsensical.
The error leading to the statements "cold does not exist because it is an absence of heat" and "darkness does not exist because it is an absence of light" is that the story conflates human perceptions of physical phenomena with laws governing them at the microscopic level. Although cold is indeed a weaker thermal motion of molecules and darkness is an absence of photons, this does not change the fact that humans perceive weaker thermal motion of their bodies as cold and the absence of photons hitting their retinas as darkness. Therefore, even though cold and darkness do not exist as fundamental physical phenomena, they do exist as human perceptions, or qualia. Since "good" and "evil" are human perceptions and cannot be identified with any fundamental physical forces, the whole analogy falls apart.
A further problem with claiming that evil is an "absence of God" is that it implies that God is not omnipresent.
While stories about a student like Einstein humiliating an atheist professor might make for very entertaining Chick Tracts, they probably don't convert anyone. Rather they function mostly as a way of reinforcing things that Christians already believe to be true, and make them feel smart about doing so.
The Navy SEAL variation manages to be rather stupid. The crux of the story is the obviously hypocritical behavior of the student. He tells the professor he fought overseas to protect his right to say things he disagrees with, right after physically assaulting him for saying things he disagreed with. Additionally the SEAL never addresses the professor's argument in the first place, since his only reply is to use/threaten force—which is meant to shut down discussion rather than establish the truth of the matter.
The dropped chalk version simply relies on a cheap strawman atheist who seems to think that chalk breaks every time it hits the ground.
Finally, much like the argument from first cause, none of these examples establish which god or gods are in question. The elite military variation is particularly problematic if you consider why that soldier had been to Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place.
 Stereotypes utilized
All variations of the myth employ various stereotypes. The professor is implied to be part of a liberal plot to brainwash impressionable students. Modern variations often describe the professor as being a card-carrying member of such liberal bogeymen as the ACLU or NAACP, even though these groups have nothing to do with the story and serve only to poison the well by characterizing the professor as a wicked progressive. The professor is always described as being extremely aggressive and rude towards people of faith. This becomes particularly ironic in the Navy SEAL version, as the student literally attacks the professor. The professor is sometimes said to be a Vietnam War draft-dodger, to contrast him with the student who served in the military. In recent versions of the myth, the professor is often said to have voted for Barack Obama.
If the school where the incident took place is mentioned, it is almost always the University of Southern California, a college historically known for liberal activism.
The core of every variation of the myth is the idea that atheists are obsessed with disproving the existence of God. While some people like this do exist, most scientifically-minded atheists in the modern day recognize that the existence of God is not falsifiable, and instead focus on the negative effects that organized religion has on the world, and/or focus on the lack of evidence for certain beliefs while emphasizing that the null hypothesis on the subject of religion is atheism or agnosticism. Certain arguments for disproving the existence of God do exist, but none of them are presented in these myths, which instead involve people who think a piece of chalk not breaking when it hits the floor is conclusive proof that God is real.
Even though the professor is described as a devout atheist who has reigned supreme for decades, he is always brought to his knees by common arguments that any atheist who has debated with a Christian before will have heard. This obsession with "one single proof" dominates Christian debate tactics.
The myth of Einstein being a devout believer in God serves as the critical "punchline" to the original urban legend. Einstein was a well-known agnostic or pantheist (his exact views are difficult to pin down but he made it clear in his letters that he was not an atheist and, conversely, did not believe in a personal God). No account of this story appears in any biography or sourced story about Einstein and it is unanimously agreed to have never happened.
As in many conservative urban legends, the student in modern variations of the myth is described as being a Navy SEAL who proudly killed people for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some versions of the story have the professor insulting the student for his military service.
Some versions of the story end with the teacher running out of the room and the student teaching the class about Jesus and Christianity, even though a solid majority of Americans are Christian and even the non-Christians would already be aware of these concepts. This is because many of these urban legends take place in an alternate universe where Christians are an oppressed minority (we're looking at you, Jack Chick).
 Resulting paranoid beliefs
Without justifying any evidence at all that atheist professors are pushing their beliefs on students, the Christian Examiner has begun urging parents to prepare their students with extreme apologetics courses for the evil machinations of manipulative educators. The fear of children changing their minds about things as they learn about the world is just too horrifying to consider.
 Non-Christian variations
Although not nearly as common, there exist some versions of this story that deal with subjects other than the existence of God. One variation involves a libertarian Ron Paul (or Mitt Romney) supporter who embarrasses his socialist Obama-loving professor as they discuss economics. There is also a 9/11 truther version. The same basic fallacies are common to all versions of the story.
 Internet meme and parodies
The sheer stupidity of this story makes it ripe for parody. These often exaggerate the number of liberal organizations the professor belongs to, the absurdity of the student's argument, the punishment the professor receives, and the topic they are debating. These parodies often end with a twist where the student is revealed to be a famous person, like the Einstein myth. A common example template from which other parodies derive, believed to have originated on 4chan circa 2011, is as follows:
|A liberal Muslim homosexual ACLU lawyer professor and abortion doctor was teaching a class on Karl Marx, a known atheist.
"Before the class begins, you must get on your knees and worship Marx and accept that he was the most highly-evolved being the world has ever known, even greater than Jesus Christ!"
At this moment, a brave, patriotic, pro-life Navy SEAL champion who had served 1500 tours of duty and understood the necessity of war and fully supported all military decision made by the United States stood up and held up a rock.
"How old is this rock?"
The arrogant professor smirked quite Jewishly and smugly replied "4.6 billion years, you stupid Christian"
"Wrong. It’s been 5,000 years since God created it. If it was 4.6 billion years old and evolution, as you say, is real… then it should be an animal now"
The professor was visibly shaken, and dropped his chalk and copy of Origin of the Species. He stormed out of the room crying those liberal crocodile tears. The same tears liberals cry for the "poor" (who today live in such luxury that most own refrigerators) when they jealously try to claw justly earned wealth from the deserving job creators. There is no doubt that at this point our professor, DeShawn Washington, wished he had pulled himself up by his bootstraps and become more than a sophist liberal professor. He wished so much that he had a gun to shoot himself from embarrassment, but he himself had petitioned against them!
The students applauded and all registered Republican that day and accepted Jesus as their lord and savior. An eagle named "Small Government" flew into the room and perched atop the American Flag and shed a tear on the chalk. The pledge of allegiance was read several times, and God himself showed up and enacted a flat tax rate across the country.
 Film adaptation
Having apparently run out of books, comics, and 80s comedy remakes, a feature film loosely based on the atheist professor chain email called God's Not Dead was released in March 2014. The film's protagonist, a young Christian college student, is told by his aggressive atheist professor that he must prove God exists or fail the class. At the climax of the film, the professor is brought to tears by being asked "Why do you hate god?"
because all atheists are secretly Christians. Like most Christian propaganda films, it has received laughably poor reviews, and has a 22% 17% 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Depressingly, it has an 86% 80% in the "Audience Liked It" category, which suggests that the media is just too gosh darn liberal to appreciate TRUE and HONEST filmmaking it's really just preaching to the choir.