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Author: Kazim Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 25027  
Subject: Re: Debate Between Professor and Student Date: 2/26/2001 1:51 PM
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That's a charming little piece of fiction. Searching the net for keywords in the story, I discovered that this little piece is reposted on over 600 pages. It has all the classic elements of an urban legend...

* In many cases the poster swears this is a true story.
* None of the pages ever says what particular school this took place at, or what the name of the professor is.
* Many of the minor details change subtly with each retelling. Especially, there are several different endings to the story. In your version, the student sits down amidst pandemonium. In some versions the professor rushes out of the room in embarrassment. One version concludes "... The student got an A in the class." Another has the professor go crazy and rush the student, only to die of a stroke.
* Every character in the story is a caricature, starkly contrasting "Good, persecuted student" and "Evil professor".

I love the caricatures. The professor jumps in his class's face without provocation. He is described with such evocative phrases as "The elderly man runs his bony fingers through his thinning hair and turns to the smirking, student audience." (His bony fingers and baldness are described twice, just to make sure we get the point.) He shouts at his student for no reason at all, then sticks his face in front of the student. He's always smiling, smirking, and generally acting like a comic book villain. But when reacting to the other student, he sucks, hisses, freezes, gets angry, "goes toxic", etc. One wonders how in the world he ever got his Ph.D when he obviously has never received any criticism in his life and doesn't know how to deal with it.

The heroic Christian, of course, gets described with neutral words like "explains", "replies", "continues", "looks around". Unlike the prof, his physical features are never described, except that he grins once.

But the most salient feature of the story is that neither the professor nor any of his students have an adequate grasp of the most basic concepts of science. What kind of idiot is this professor, whose idea of science is that if you can't smell it, taste it, feel it, hear it, or see it, then it doesn't exist? If that's the case, then what happened to electrons, cells, Newton's laws of motion, living dinosaurs, black holes, photons, magnetism, infrared light, and general relativity? For that matter, what about abstract concepts like "harmonic chords" or "Thursday"?

Science isn't about what we can perceive with our five senses. If that were true we wouldn't need scientists, because most of us already HAVE those five senses. It's about organizing facts about the known world into descriptions that can explain the way things happen. These descriptions make predictions which can be tested, repeated, and falsified if they're wrong.

Of course, science can't actually prove that the professor has a brain. Just because every human or animal body that has ever been dissected and analyzed has always had a brain; just because countless experiments have demonstrated that the brain controls an organism's ability to move and speak and reason; just because an animal with a damaged brain becomes an inanimate mass of carbon... these things are hardly conclusive proof. What science can do is make predictions with confidence and high accuracy; it can prove things beyond reasonable doubt but it can't prove anything with 100% certainty. The fact that it is able to change and correct mistakes is part of what makes it a powerful tool.

If the professor had any kind of clue what he was on about, he could have explained all this. Of course, the problem isn't with the professor, who is after all only a fictional character. The problem is that the author of the story has never heard of or simply doesn't understand the scientific method. It's easy to make up little stories where the opposition is always an evil overlord who doesn't know how to argue and your side always wins. It's also easy to win at chess when you control both sides of the board.

Oh, and one final point...

OTHER STUDENT: "Wrong again, sir. You see, immorality is merely the absence of morality. Is there such a 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?"

No, evil isn't the absence of good. An empty universe would be devoid of both good AND evil. A universe with no life or intelligence would not be good or evil. "Good" and "evil", assuming they exist, are not passive activities or "absence" of something else. A professor of philosophy should have seen through that immediately. But he doesn't because he, like the story's author, is completely out of his depth.
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