Makes you think

by Richard on October 21, 2009

There’s a video doing the rounds on Facebook, headed This should keep us all thinking. It tells the story of an atheist professor of philosophy at the University of Souhern California who taught a compulsory class which aimed to disprove the existence of God. Apparently, I was the 18410th person to watch it. I’ll save you the trouble: the story says that for years, no one would argue with or contradict this man until, fortified by prayer, one young man stood up, humiliated the prof and witnessed to his faith.

Heartwarming stuff.

The trouble is, USC completely denies the story has any truth.

A e-mail that has been received by many USC students has recently caught the atten- tion of the School of Philosophy, which reports that the tale is not true. The e-mail alleges that a USC professor was a “deeply committed atheist” whose main goal in his class was to prove that God didn’t exist.
The first inquiries began a few months ago and have been steadily coming ever since, said philosophy professor Edwin McCann.
The e-mail’s story is one that was written to reaffirm faith in miracles and in God, but includes USC in the telling of the story.
The e-mail claims that at the end of every semester for the past 20 years, the professor is said to have asked his class of about 300 students to stand up if they believed in God, and no one ever stood.
Then he would “prove” God did not exist by dropping a piece of chalk on the floor and saying, “If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking.”
The e-mail says that one year, a young Christian man stood up and said he “still believed in God” when the professor posed the question to his class. The professor dropped another piece of chalk, and this time it did not break. Then the professor fled the lecture hall, the e-mail says.
In response to the e-mail, Mccann began to investigate its legitimacy.
“Professor Dallas Willard, who has been here for 32 years, affirms that nothing like this has happened during the time he was here,” McCann said. “Besides verbal denouncement of the e-mail, there are facts that prove that the e-mail couldn’t be true.”
The only philosophy classes that have 300 students or have been around for 20 years do not discuss God’s existence.
McCann and a colleague found great similarities between the “chalk story” and a story titled “70 Years of Miracles” by Richard Harvey. In this story, there was no philosophy teacher but a chemistry teacher, and instead of a piece of chalk, there was a flask.

If you followed the link to the USC site, you might have noticed that the date on the rebuttal was 1999, and at that stage the story was merely an email. But despite it’s falsehood, the story has continued to be circulated by Christians, even turned into a video which seems to have ‘gone viral’.

Now that does make you think.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }


Allan R. Bevere 10.21.09 at 1:29 pm

Thanks for the post.

When it comes to checking things out, we Christians are just as bad as the media when it comes to simply accepting the truth of anything that fits our narrative construal of the world.


John Meunier 10.21.09 at 6:19 pm

Amen to Allan’s point.

One of my minor pastoral challenges is trying to figure out what to do about the massive amount of bogus e-mail that makes its way into my inbox from well-meaning Christians.

These stories never die.


phillip mutchell 10.22.09 at 7:02 am

Christians that seek to prove their belief by such recourse to ‘miracles’ should confess their unbelief and addiction to power, the very opposite of the modus operandi offered by Christ.


Richard 10.22.09 at 8:35 am

Kim agreed with you Philip.

And I’ve just accidentally deleted him. Sorry Kim.


Kim 10.22.09 at 11:41 am

I think I said: “Absolutely, Phillip: I Corinthians 1:22-25.”


Richard 10.22.09 at 1:11 pm

That’s precisely what you said. Apologies again.


dh 10.22.09 at 7:25 pm

Folks, are you saying that Thomas who operated the same way through the “proving use of miracles” by “asking to place his hand in Jesus side” was addicted to power and should have professed his unbelief? I look at it that while it is terrible that people need miracles to prove the existence of God that doesn’t mean that God can’t at different times use miracles to reveal Himself to us for our Salvation. Also, the purpose of the miracles of Jesus was multifaceted 1) to heal people and 2) to reveal to people who Jesus was which is and was at all times God. I will say that Jesus did say “a wicked a perverse generation seeks a sign”. However, that didn’t change Jesus using miracles to reveal Himself to us.

I know in previous discussions how you all would defend Thomas. Yet this discussion seems opposite to that. I understand that this specific story might not have happened but it is very plausible that this story happened but not to the specific details as stated with regard to the specific school, USC, and/or with a different individual characters.


dh 10.22.09 at 7:26 pm

If God wants desries an atheist to be saved and keeps a piece of chalk from breaking when dropped and that is the only way for the atheist to accept the Belief in God then more power to Him. Amen God. :)


Richard 10.22.09 at 7:38 pm

Egad, dh! Nothing of what I’ve said rules out miracles. But first of all, the whole tone of that piece is that the stupid atheist gets humiliated in the end - the Christian comes out on top. That’s a symptom of “addiction to power”. And in any case, the story is made up but told as if it were not. The technical term for that is “lying”. You might think it is OK to lie in the service of the gospel.

I don’t.


dh 10.22.09 at 8:14 pm

I don’t condone lying ever. However, the lastest ones were unintentional. I will say that if it wasn’t true that I’m glad you brought it to our attention. However, I don’t approve the tone that it is not plausible or that this type of situation is not right.

Was it “addiction to power” on the part of Moses for God to use Moses to have his snake eat up Pharoah’s snakes? Didn’t Pharoah get humiliated on multiple occasions and at many times attempted to humiliate and humilitated the Jewish people? Isn’t it “addiction to power” to even set up the “straw man” that many atheists do to disprove God and to attempt to humiliate and humiliate Christians in the class roon? Doesn’t God humiliate atheists in Scripture by calling them “fools”?


Tony Buglass 10.22.09 at 9:52 pm

Miracles happen. All sorts of them. Sometimes they really are wonders with no other explanation (like the person I saw whose arm was healed of a long-standing injury in a prayer-meeting), sometimes they are open to other explanations, but the timing is so right it is a miracle that it happened then like that. After all, the point of miracles is their significance as pointers to the Kingdom.

What is going on in this debate is not the question of whether a miracle CAN happen, but whether this miracle DID happen. Apparently, it didn’t. Fine. Look - lots of stories go teh rounds in emails, emails have made it so much easier to circulate stuff - we can’t check them all out. The central issue is how we use such stuff in our evangelism. If the faith stands on no more than alleged miracles, then it has little to commend it. If it stands on changed lives, on believers who truly love their neighbours, then that is the biggest testimony (and the biggest miracle of the lot).

There is an old (Methodist) story about an argument over whether or not Jesus would have turned water into wine. “Maybe, maybe not,” was the response, “but I have seen him turn beer into furniture.” That’s testimony. That’s a miracle.


dh 10.23.09 at 5:21 pm

Tony, I totally agree except with the “beer into furniture”. :) I totally agree that the point of miracles is to show that God is God and that peoples lives would be changed or that God desires change for the greatest benefit for His Kingdom aka miracles shown to Pharoah.

I will say that what I said doesn’t contradict what you said or that what I said means I disagree with what you said lately. My take is that if God desires a particular atheist to have a changed life by Faith in Him and the only way for the atheist to have that changed life was for a miracle to happen (I understand that other atheists don’t need a miracle but that is not the point) then so be it. For it isn’t the miracles alone but the hardness of the heart of the atheist that only a miracle would soften the heart of the atheist. Does that make sense?

Tony, I would be interested in your take from our latest replies. I don’t want to give the impression that I disagree with you but show when an unbelievers heart is so hard what steps God might or has taken in the past to reveal Himself to them. I totally agree that our Faith is not solely based on miracles but it is an aspect and at times necessary for true change to happen in peoples lives for God’s Glory. I will also add that it is God’s love for people to change that God humiliated Pharoah or humilitate some atheists.

I totally agree that this particular miracle on the email didn’t happen but I don’t take the conclusion that it is “addiction to power” or “lack of love for people” with regard to this particular subject. For it is God’s love for people that makes Him say in His Word, “Only a fool says in his heart there is no God.” The same goes for Christians when they state this to some unbelievers as well.


Tony Buglass 10.25.09 at 5:18 pm

When you say you disagree with “beer into furniture”, what exactly are you disagreeing with? As I said, it’s an old Methodist anecdote, coming from the Methodist culture which was rigorously anti-alcohol. It referred to the not-uncommon situation in which working men were paid in cash on Friday night, and drank most of it away before they got home. “Turning beer into furniture” referred to what happened when someone was converted to a new life in Christ, stopped drinking, and had money to spend on their families instead.

For the record, I have heard many such stories from older church members.

As to God and atheists, well, I don’t see a God who bullies people into submission, but a God who gives himself in love, winsomely, persuading and cajoling, nudging in the right direction until they see what he is offering - then it is the person who accepts the offer, and invites Christ into their lives. I’m a bit worried by the suggestion that God might use a miracle to persuade an unbeliever: why does that not happen with all unbelievers? Because he only wants some of them, not all? Not convinced…


skb 10.26.09 at 12:02 am

Going back to the story at hand, does anyone know the professor’s name? Or the student’s name? We can verify that all these happened only if the subjects involved would tell what happened in the class room.


dh 10.27.09 at 3:24 pm

Tony, thanks for the clarification on the “beer into furniture”. I guess I DO believe in the ancedote. Thanks for the wonderul reponse with the following clarification. I really like it now. :) Your funny Tony.

Tony, I believe that with some people God is as you say and others He is not as you say. However, at all times He states it in love and care. Some people have more of a hard heart than others. Some need and God knows need a soft kind winsome word. Other people and God knows have such a hard heart that a soft kind word does not work with them and it is in love that God needs to “wake them out of their stupor”.

You also ask “why does that not happen with all unbelievers?” because not all believers need a miracle to believe in the need to accept Christ as ones Savior aka “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet Believe.” At the same time that doesn’t deny that Thomas needed a miracle to Believe that Jesus was God and was/is alive.

Wasn’t there times in the Bible that God responded harshly to wake people up who didn’t Believe in God? Couldn’t we say that blinding the Apostle Paul prior to his conversion kind of “harsh” (not that I’m disagree with what God because it was great what God did to Paul when one looks at the rest of his life) and not in a “winsome” or “nudging” or “cajoling” way?

I don’t disagree with you that God predominately uses the “cajoloing”, “winsome”, etc. way. However I disagree with the apparent observation of you that this is in the absolute sense. I know some people who accepted Christ not in these ways and also the Bible states some the times as well. However, just because some times He is not that way doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us. He knows exactly and perfectly what is needed for the greatest amount of people to accept Him. For some no amount of persuasion from God will change their heart to accept Him and reject all god’s aka Pharoah.


dh 10.27.09 at 5:59 pm

… however just because someones heart is hard doesn’t keep Him from doing all He can, even in those rare times where it is like “pulling teeth” albeit after the many times where certain people have rejected time after time the “soft, winsome, etc.” words.


Tony Buglass 10.27.09 at 9:36 pm

I agree that not everyone needs the same approach, that there are those who are more open to the nudging of the Spirit, who might not need the ‘big hit’ of a miracle. My problem, though, is two-fold.

First, there are those who never come to faith. It could be argued therefore that God used the ’softly softly’ approach where he should have used a bigger bang, and he got it wrong. Surely, if he has the tools to apply to make sure that everyone comes to faith, then everyone would come to faith, and no-one would remain atheist. That doesn’t work, does it?

Secondly, there is the issue of freedom. People have the freedom to accept or reject the faith. God will persuade, but not overrule that freedom. In the end, he will allow those who finally choose to go without him to go without him. The alternative is compulsory universalism - everyone gets saved, like it or not. That doesn’t work, either - it’s tyranny, not sovereignty.

The real problem with your argument is that it doesn’t answer why miracles don’t happen when they really could be the right thing to happen. Back to where we started - why should God step in to prevent a piece of chalk from breaking in order to save one atheist, and at the same time refrain from the miracle of healing which would save someone from dying of cancer and the bereaved from turning their backs on him? (No, I know they don’t always, but I’ve seen enough cases where they have - why didn’t he do what you say he does?)


dh 10.28.09 at 3:52 pm

Tony, I need to clarify something. I probably can agree with you that all people will receive a soft voice call from God to accept Him. However for those who reject that call God may nudge them or wake them up so they can receive Christ. Waking up is not outside their freedom to accept or reject Him. To those who still reject Him who never come to Faith either 1) they rejected the soft voice and the nduging and the miracles and still never come or 2) They rejected the soft voice mutiple times and God knew in His forknowledge that no amount of “shaking” would get them to accept Him within their freedom.

I guess what I’m saying to align with you on the “presuasion” is that the use of persuasion by God is not solely soft voice but includes many other things that are “wake ups” depending on the level of softness/hardness of the persons heart.

I do think your question here: “why should God step in to prevent a piece of chalk from breaking in order to save one atheist, and at the same time refrain from the miracle of healing which would save someone from dying of cancer and the bereaved from turning their backs on him?” is the same question satan asked Jesus at His temptation. We have a limited understanding of what “good and bad” is. We know God is good all of the time. However, we must truly understand that God has His will and it is good even if in the natural it may seem bad within our limited understanding of good/bad. aka when Jesus said “Not My will but Your will be done.” In the natural it may have seemed bad for Jesus to die on the cross but we all know that within the will of God and God’s understanding of good/bad that it actually was GOOD.

I totally agree with you second point and nothing I said contradicts it.


dh 10.28.09 at 4:04 pm

Tony, I enjoy this discussion. I think if we continue with the response and clarify we might find we actually probably agree more than we disagree. If you need further clarification on what I wrote just ask.

I hate, even though I still do it many times, long winded replies and many times with the limited space and time comes limited relaying of understanding, thoughts, etc. to people and further clarification is needed. :)


Tony Buglass 10.30.09 at 5:40 pm

“However, we must truly understand that God has His will and it is good even if in the natural it may seem bad within our limited understanding of good/bad.”

Sorry, but this is a cop-out. If God can do miracles to persuade the atheist who ignores the soft voice, and chooses to do so, while at the same time ignoring the desperate pleas from those who call upon him for healing, I find such a god abhorrent, capricious, and tyrannous, not worthy of anyone’s worship. To suggest that we shrug it off by saying, well, we just don’t understand what good and bad means - hogwash, pal! Could you say that to a young dad and his kids who have watched their mother waste away painfully with cancer? I couldn’t - and yes, I have stood at such bedsides and cared for such families.

There is a whole set of problems under the heading of theodicy. Some of them I am prepared to leave standing in the hope that when I get to glory it will all make sense. Some of them I do so knowing that if they do not make sense, nothing will, not even God. I do trust him to get me past my ignorance. But I also believe that certain excuses for faith are not worthy of God, and not worthy of those who seek him.


Ron 11.09.09 at 5:25 pm

Is this story true? Sort of. It is loosely based on a story from
“70 Years of Miracles” by Richard H. Harvey
(Beaverlodge, Alberta Canada: Horizon House, 1977).

The story is set out in chapter 11, ‘The Flask Story,’ pp. 63-66

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