Monday, March 12, 2007

Chalk it up to utter idiocy

Someone recently forwarded the following to me. After reading it I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Lame" is too kind. And "stupid" doesn't capture the depth of its stupidity. Presumably the narrative is meant to be an argument of some sort to subscribe to one of the world's religion (or one of its denominations), its deity, and theology. But as you will see it is devoid of any (rational) argument. The climax of this "true story" (yeah right!) is so inane I'm appending the real ending to this true-to-life account.

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 to prove that God couldn't exist.

His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic.

Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever really gone against him because of his reputation.

At the end of every semester on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students, "If there is 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 believes 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.

All of the students would do nothing but stop and stare.

Most of the students thought 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 enroll.

He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about his professor.

He was required to take the class for his major, and he was afraid. But for three 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 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 would 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 pleat 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, proceeded to walk to the front of the room and shared 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.

And here's what happened next:
... It'd been half an hour since the professor ran out of the lecture hall. Just as the Christian freshman finished his spiel, the professor came back wheeling in a trolley filled with boxes and boxes of chalk. After regaining his breath, he opened a box and took out a piece. He held it up for everyone to see. He gazed into the eyes of each and every person in the room. Then he spoke. "If God exists, he could and would stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking." He stretched out his arm and let go of the chalk. Sure enough it shattered as it hit the tiled floor. He took out another and declared at the top of his voice, "If God exists, he could and would stop this piece from hitting the ground and breaking." He let the chalk drop, and again it broke into pieces. He drew another ... and another... and another until he had gone through all the boxes in the cart.

The professor waited for a response, but not a word was forthcoming from the students, not even from the Christian freshman, who by now had buried his face in his hands. And so the professor said, "My dear students, it is a common mistake to cherry pick one instance that apparently substantiates our claim whilst turning a blind eye to the thousands of pieces of chalk that have shattered. This psychologists tell us is the error of confirmation bias--wherein we search for evidence that affirms our belief but then ignore or even sweep under the rug any and all the evidence that disconfirm it. It is also a common mistake to make an attribution error and to claim that some X is the cause when no causal link has yet been established. This is what is known as the non causa pro causa fallacy. In logic, if our premise is that 'If P then Q' and Q occurs, it is fallacious to then claim that P had occured. This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. The onus is upon those who claim that X caused the chalk not to shatter to prove beyond reasonable doubt that in fact X is the causal factor."

"So please, my dear students, do not fall into the trap of self-delusion. If you value truth then you must not shrink from thinking deeply and clearly. May you have learned valuable lessons in critical thinking today. Class dismissed."


vjack said...

Sounds like a Christian urban legend. I think I may have heard a similar tale before, attributed to a professor at one of the schools I attended. Something tells me that many folks have heard similar stories.

Anonymous said...

Question...are you an atheist yourself? Cause that would help me know where you're coming from. Oh and let me also add why is it idiotic? Evolution is more of a joke than Christianity is.

Edwardson said...

You most probably won't get the following either:

Anonymous said...

Heheheh! Evolution is a joke. Reality is that man was created from dirt and women were descended from a man's rib. Sure, no joke in that.

Anonymous said...

Heheheh! Evolution is a joke. Reality is that man was created from dirt and women were descended from a man's rib. Sure, no joke in that.

Anonymous said...

I have no way of knowing whether the story is true or not, I am a christian and would like to believe so, but I have no proof. First, to address the teacher in the story Psalm 14:1-3 (NIV) states "The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." Second, while reading the "Real Ending" the scripture that really stands out in my mind is Deuteronomy 6:16 (NIV) "Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah." Here the author Moses is addressing another passage of the bible in the beginning of exodus 17 where the Israelites were questioning whether God was with them because they were thirsty and did not yet have water. It is stated again in Matthew 4:7 (NIV) Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Here Jesus is speaking with Satan who is tempting him in the desert. Third, in the "Real Ending" it sas "‘My dear students, it is a common mistake to cherry pick one instance that apparently substantiates our claim whilst turning a blind eye to the thousands of pieces of chalk that have shattered.’" In response to this, you are also turning a blind eye to the one instances and writing it off as coincidence. Fourth, to say that there is no link between the the two events in the story is hard to believe if it is in fact true. After 20 years of the chalk shattering the chances of the chalk not shattering like that are one in a million. Let me leave you with this scripture that basically says no man has any excuse not to believe in God because everyone can see him in all of his creations Romans 1:20 (NIV) "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Edwardson said...

"... I have no proof." Isn't that the gist of it all? That there is no evidence? No evidence for the existence of Shiva, Zeus, Kuan Yin, Allah, Ahura Mazda, ... or the deity you believe in? By what means did you rule out the gods you don't believe in? By what means did the believers in other gods rule out your deity?

Re coincidence and probability: Let the probability of a piece of chalk not shattering be P. If as you say P is nonzero--you said it's one in a million--then we do expect that among a great many (a million or more) pieces of chalk dropping and shattering there will be one that doesn't. That's expected. That's what one in a million means. Now given P, if you could drop a billion of them then we'd expect hundreds of intact chalk. What would be miraculous would be for no chalk to shatter after a billion have been dropped.

I recommend the book Innumeracy by mathematician John Allen Paulos.

Edwardson said...

"What would be miraculous would be for no chalk to shatter after a billion have been dropped."

Sorry for that error. What I meant was "What would be miraculous would be for all the chalk to shatter after a billion have been dropped."

Anonymous said...

Sorry it took so long to respond... I have been racking my brain for the right answer to the first part of your question and the truth is there is no one right answer, there are many good answers. I choose to have an intimate relationship with my creator Jesus Christ because he took on my sins and I don't have to be good enough to earn his love or salvation, salvation is a free gift and all of my sins were paid for on the cross. Also, if you read the bible there are numerous prophices of Jesus from hundreds of years before his birth and that is all the proof I need. As for the people that believe in other dieties I have no idea why they choose to beileve what they do I can't speak for them.

Edwardson said...

Just so that it's made explicit (principle of audiatur et altera pars), you are assuming that:

1. the being/entity "Jesus Christ" exists or existed
2. he is your "creator" (however you may define that)
3. he "took on your sins" (again whatever that may be)
4. there is such a thing/process/phenomenon as "salvation" as you describe and understand it to be
5. the statements/stories made in your bible are historico-factual, are absolutely reliable and can be taken at face value, come from a deity?, unedited, and/or whatever your assumptions may be about your sacred text.

Now it behooves you to provide empirical evidence (pointing to ancient texts is merely passing the buck to ancient authors) for the above assumptions. In other words, show that they are in fact true, and provide intersubjectively verifiable evidence to show the above assumptions are in fact rooted in reality.

That's hardly an unfair demand, since you and I would also ask the same from those with extraordinary beliefs, say Raelians or Mormons or Hindus or those who believe in Yeti or those who claim they've been abducted by advanced humanoid extraterrestrials.

mr.Rivet said...

Always rememember that the need for a sigh is a lack of faith.Christian scripture say that you shall not tempt your lord thy god. Weather one or a billion chalk pices fell and didn't break it matters not. The truth is that belief in god is based on faith.i will close with a quote
"if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee,know thou,my son that all thee things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy benfit"