Chain Mail: God Vs Science

I was hit by the following chain mail a long while ago and has since been wanting to post something about it on my blog. I have finally got about to doing so today.

Warning: This post is going to be a looonngg one. The contents of the chain mail are as follows:

A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, “Let me explain the problem science has with religion.” 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?”

“Yes sir,” the student says.

“So you believe in God?”

“Absolutely.”

“Is God good?”

“Sure! God’s good.”

“Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?”

“Yes.”

“Are you good or evil?”

“The Bible says I’m evil.”

The professor grins knowingly. “Aha! 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 him? Would you try?”

“Yes sir, I would.”

“So you’re good…!”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.”

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. “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 student remains silent.

“No, you can’t, can you?” the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.

“Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?”

“Er…yes,” the student says.

“Is Satan good?”

The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. “No.”

“Then where does Satan come from?”

The student falters. “From God”

“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?”

“Yes.”

“So who created evil?” The professor continued, “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.”

Again, the student has no answer. “Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?”

The student squirms on his feet. “Yes.”

“So who created them?”

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. “Who created them?” There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. “Tell me,” he continues onto another student. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”

The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. “Yes, professor, I do.”

The old man stops pacing. “Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen 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? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?”

“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”

“Yet you still believe in him?”

“Yes.”

“According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?”

“Nothing,” the student replies. “I only have my faith.”

“Yes, faith,” the professor repeats. “And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.”

The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of His own. “Professor, is there such thing as heat?”

“Yes,” the professor replies. “There’s heat.”

“And is there such a thing as cold?”

“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”

“No sir, there isn’t.”

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit up to 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 the lowest -458 degrees.”

“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 (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. 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.”

Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.

“What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?”

“Yes,” the professor replies without hesitation. “What is night if it isn’t 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, wouldn’t you?”

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. “So what point are you making, young man?”

“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.”

The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. “Flawed? Can you explain how?”

“You are working on the premise of duality,” the student explains. “You argue that there is life and then there’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 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.”

“Now 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 begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

“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 preacher?”

The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.

“To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.”

The student looks around the room. “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?” The class breaks out into laughter.

“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. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.”

“So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?”

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. “I guess you’ll have to take them on faith.”

“Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,” the student continues. “Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?”

Now uncertain, the professor responds, “Of course, there is. We see it everyday. 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 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.

There are various versions of the story (this version was taken from this blog). Some are shorter. And some even claim that the student portrayed in the story was Albert Einstein - LOL.

I'll put this outfront: Only the scientifically illiterate or ill-informed masses would be impressed with this huge argument from personal incredulity. Just look at the comments in the blogs that appear after a search on Google.

A quick glance of the story would reveal several fallacies for anyone who is well-informed about Science in general. However, I shan't be taking the arguments apart personally since I found a rather nicely written "sequel" to the story in question.

This was a comment by Ash on this blog:

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?"

"Uh, no."

"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?"

"Well..."

"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?"

"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 sequel doesn't end here. It continues for another two short paragraphs.

I'm deliberately dividing the ending from the rest of the sequel - I don't agree entirely with what it is about to say.

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.

The statement in italics is, in my opinion, incorrect. I seriously doubt that anyone could deconvert within 15 minutes because of a short discussion with his/her professor.

Deconverting to become an atheist is not like conversion to a particular religion. There typically isn't a epiphany where one goes "Ahha! I don't believe god exist anymore!" Chances are that deconversion is a long process beginning with doubting the validity of your current religion and probably ending with understanding your philosophy in life. The learning doesn't stop even then.

Actually, I find the ending rather counterproductive as well. Any decent believer who reads such an ending would be put off by the rather condescending implication that they would be easily deconverted by such an event.

In fact, by writing such an ending, it would be committing the same mistake as the believer who wrote the original story in the first place. A condescending remark in a chain mail just doesn't quite fly.

Any opinions?


* By the way, it was this entry by the Singapore Mormons that probably prompted my orignal interest.

** On a sidenote, wait... there are Mormons in Singapore?! Wow...

5 comments :

S.A. said...

Sure there are Mormons in Singapore. They used to be a common sight in MRT stations. I've seen a Mormon continue preaching even in the train itself.

But I do wonder if there are Scientologists in Singapore.

Nox said...

Now that you mentioned it, I do wonder if there are Scientologists in Singapore. I hope not.

S.A. said...

Actually, I was hoping there would be. It might be interesting to talk to them. Find out what they really, personally believe.

Nox said...

Sure, that would be interesting.

However, given the reputation that the Church of Scientology has, it might not be worth the trouble.

S.A. said...

=-)