I'm just a stupid undergrad, apparently

I stopped by our Send an Atheist to Church event between my classes to see how it was going. A professor (I won’t say from which department, don’t want to identify him) was debating with club members working the table. He had initiated the discussion, and I wasn’t paying much attention until the topic turned to evolution.

It was a bit odd. He mostly accepted evolution, but believed that Intelligent Design was a better explanation for what guided the process. He argued that atheist philosophers and scientists outright rejected ID, and it never gets a chance to be debated or discussed.

(Not exact quotes, but fairly darn close)

Me: That’s because ID isn’t scientific.
Him: Yes it is.
Me: No it isn’t. Name one testable prediction for ID.
Him: Well there a many, but the complexity of structures like flagella.
Me: First of all, it has been explained numerous times by numerous people how the flagella could evolve in a stepwise natural fashion. Second of all, that’s not a way to support or falsify ID. It would falsify evolution, but that doesn’t mean God is the answer.
Him: Well all the great scientists were religious. Newton’s religion helped him figure out physics.
Me: …You can be religious and be a scientist. That doesn’t mean your religious beliefs are correct too.
Him: Well, how about Francis Collins? He was the head of the Human Genome Project and is the head of NIH.
Me: That’s just argument from authority. He’s brilliant at genetics, but that doesn’t mean he knows everything about evolution.
Him: Are you head of the NIH?
Me: No, but I study genetics and evolution.
Him: Do you have a PhD?
Me: I’m going to start working toward my PhD in the fall, maybe you’ll listen to me in five years.

Seriously, how demeaning. Yep, I’m just a dumb undergrad. Obviously I have no say on anything because I don’t have a PhD and I’m not the head of NIH, even though evolution is an easy enough concept for teenagers to understand.

I was pretty much done with him at that point. He may as well have said “little girl, go back to your corner and shut up.” What a disrespectful way to treat a student, especially when you are the one who has no idea what he’s talking about.

I would be sorry for anyone who was in this guy’s class. Disagree with him? Nope, you’re just dumb and immature. Come back when you have more letters after your name.


  1. says

    I don’t think you’re dumb and immature, Jen. Biology has always been a weakness of mine, but when I read what you write on the subject, I get a lot of it, and your passion and devotion convince me to look up the stuff I don’t understand. If anyone is dumb, it’s this prof, who believes that a degree makes a person rather than the brain inside of them.

  2. says

    Education and common sense are totally unrelated, your proffessor may have qualifications all the way up to his armpit, but it doesn’t prevent stupidity. Take Einstain, he was one of the greatest minds of all time, but he couldn’t manage simple tasks that even a five year old has grasped.Your proffessor lets his blind faith control his rational, he tries to make the world fit his beliefs instead of accepting reality.

  3. says

    ^ Everything that Veritas said. Honestly, the idea that the debater with the most credentials is automatically the winner is more than laughable or contemptible, it’s downright insulting. Any moron can get accredited. Doesn’t mean they actually learned anything of value. Just look at Creationists with PhDs, for crying out loud.Honestly, that professor deserved nothing more than a sideways, “are you kidding me?” sort of glance and maybe a low scoff.

  4. Jim H says

    Jen, you at least have to say if it’s a science department!(Also, I think you need a /em tag in there somewhere… ;-) )

  5. Jim H says

    Oh, and, what others said above me. (Seriously, grad students usually know more about research projects than their professors, since they are the ones doing the work; most grad students don’t have PhDs…)

  6. says

    It would be interesting to know what this turkey was a professor of. Something that doesn’t require much in the way of critical-thinking skills, apparently.ID has been amply debated and discussed, notably and publicly at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, where Michael Behe’s arguments for it (including his pet bacterial flagellum) were shredded. A good source on that is Edward Humes’s book Monkey Girl, which your professor would find it enlightening to read.

  7. says

    So, any old PhD would make you qualified to spout off on ID, but actually studying genetics and evolution doesn’t? That’s an interesting assertion. He seems to be saying that the years of single-minded dedication to the study of english literature required to get a PhD in that field will somehow also make you an expert in other unrelated fields. Maybe it tunes your mind to telepathically merge with the PhD collective, so you can access the memories and thoughts of all those other great minds. It’s probably just as effective a way to learn things as putting a book under your pillow at night!Who knew? If only I’d gotten a PhD, I could now be an expert in everything. I guess that’s why colleges that are hiring professors never look at the candidates’ CVs to see what they’ve studied or published – as long as there’s a PhD after their name, who cares? That is the way it works, right?

  8. says

    I won’t say from which department, don’t want to identify himI’m betting even money that it was an engineer. The Salem hypothesis rides again!!!Also, you might want to close your italics tag up there, Jen.

  9. says

    So you point out that he is just using argument from authority and his response is more argument from authority with an ad hom thrown in, nicely played.

  10. says

    Wow that is some terrible argumentation there. Bald assertion about something he clearly knows nothing about, argument from authority, argument from authority, argument from authority. The guy would have been better off just claiming to be “agnostic” about evolution – at least then he wouldn’t have to defend a position he clearly hasn’t researched enough to be able to actually have formed his own opinion of.I wouldn’t assume anything about what department he might be from based on that, but there is one thing I would assume – he’s probably a regular churchgoer. “Argument from authority” is pretty much the trump card as far as argumentation goes among the church-going religious.

  11. Julie says

    Aw, shucks! So sad that I wasn’t there. That could have been fun.”Aw, look Jen! You’ve argued him into a corner and made him feel inadequate, and now he’s condescending to you in an attempt to regain the upper hand. Poor baby. Don’t you know that being a patronizing douchebag doesn’t win your argument for you?”

  12. M. C. Bender says

    You need to close the italics…That said, I too would be curious which department this professor is from. I’ve met a few (not many) people who do seem to think that having advanced degrees makes them infallible, although luckily they seem to be a minority…

  13. says

    I saw this set-up in the PMU today and was SO confused. Especially when I walked past it later in the day to see the “are you going to heaven?” people set up too.Funny event. Too bad I was afraid that someone was going to try to convert me….would’ve made a donation to the non-theist cup.Does the non-theist group at Purdue have a website?

  14. says

    Html tag fixed. Sorry, I posted that from my iPod, which 1) hates formatting html and 2) does not let me edit posts.If you do some sleuthing, you can figure out more about the guy. That’s all I’ll say.Emily: Sorry we accidentally scared you away! That actually happened to a lot of people. Here’s our website: http://www.purduenontheists.co

  15. says

    Just want to clarify 2 things from my last comment:1. I forgot the /sarcasm tag…I in no way believe in signs.2. Phil Plait is The Man!That is all.

  16. Anonymous says

    There is a reason why he said that to you, Jen. He realized that he was out of his depth and that his arguements didn’t stand up to your scrutiny. So the only thing he could do is to lash out at you with a personal attack. If the best he can do is to tear you down personally instead of making a logical and reasonable argument, then you win.

  17. says

    To be fair, if one PhD is telling me one thing, and one undergrad is telling me another, I’ll be more inclined to believe what the PhD is saying.Of course, evolution has, y’know, evidence and stuff behind it.The thing is, appeal to authority is all most non-biology majors can get. Dawkins and others can write books explaining the evidence of evolution, but even then you have to take their word on most of it. The average person can’t really go out of their way to do the experiments and make the observations.And that’s true for everyone. You may be able to directly observe the evidence in your field, but you’d be lost in another. When physicists tells you that time dilates when you move near the speed of light, all you can really do is trust them. They can explain the evidence, but you don’t have the experience or equipment to double check it.It’s a little disturbing. Appeal to authority isn’t scientific, but it’s the only way most people know anything about science. Maybe that’s why most people don’t understand it.

  18. says

    Really: a professor? Is he one of those who give humanities a bad name? I haven’t heard anything that ridiculous since my junhior college days and a required poetry class, in which I, erm, clashed with the instructor…

  19. Wes says

    Don’t feel too bad, Jen. I’m a grad student, and I’m still dumb as hell. :)But you shouldn’t feel any compunction about identifying this pompous bastard. If he’s a professor at the school, he can just take it. After saying something that condescending and arrogant to a student, he deserves it.

  20. Greg23 says

    Gee, an arrogant professor. What a surprise! You will run into many of them in your life – doctors too. When you have expertise in one area and/or are successful, so you become used to people deferring to you, it’s easy to think you are an expert in everything.The ad hominem – That’s saying ‘uncle’ in debate speak. It means you have no argument! To Strinka – ‘To be fair, if one PhD is telling me one thing, and one undergrad is telling me another, I’ll be more inclined to believe what the PhD is saying.’Only if it’s in the PhD’s field concentration!

  21. says

    I understand you don’t want to ‘out’ him, but I really do pity whatever students he may have and might get later. If he’s that dismissive of you, why would we expect him to have more respect for his own students? They deserve to be warned before he gets a chance to harm them.

  22. Apropos of Nothing says

    Most people (non-academics) I’ve met who argue for creationism don’t really know anything about the debate. When they discuss it among their friends or in their churches they are never challenged. They “know” Darwinian evolutionists are atheists, i.e. bad, and that Genesis is God’s word on the creation of the earth and all things in it.They have picked up creationist talking points…if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?, if it looks designed it must be designed, something can’t come from nothing, etc.. As soon as someone says anything indicating any knowledge of evolution and points out how those arguments have been answered many times by many people, the creationist goes away in a huff (or in a minute and a huff, thanks Groucho) or, as in your case, seeks to discredit the one arguing for evolution in an ad hominum manner.I am not saying that there are no thoughtful creationists, but this is the pattern that I see. Follow any of the threads at the facebook page for 1,000,000 people who believe (unfortunate word there) in evolution and you will see what I mean. Some “fans” of that cite are creationists and they introduce the same old malarky which is then jumped on by evolutionists. Then those creationists go off the thread only to reappear on another one with the same nonsense.That’s my experience anyway….

  23. mcbender says

    Thinking about it a bit more, this incident doesn’t surprise me too much. I’ve encountered creationism (and religion, of course, but that’s -slightly- less shocking) in otherwise intelligent people a bit too many times for comfort… it’s rather frightening to me, actually.As one example, one of my colleagues here apparently believes in ID. I remember having a discussion with him about it once, and he was able to make it sound superficially plausible – essentially, he’d been taken in by the “not enough time for evolution” canard, and I wasn’t knowledgeable enough at the time to argue him out of it.I wonder if it’s some kind of flaw in engineering education. We don’t really get enough critical thinking; well, they tell us we’re getting it, but they define critical thinking as “problem solving” which is not the same thing at all. If I didn’t enjoy reading about that sort of thing in my free time, I’d never have encountered the idea. That’s a problem.It pains me to say it, but he’s a very good engineer and he’s going to do good work. I don’t like him much for other reasons (primarily to do with views on ethics – I find his behaviour unethical most of the time, although given that he’s a believer that shouldn’t surprise me), but I can’t avoid acknowledging his competence in his field. Despite all that, I think it’s tragic; I can easily see him getting a PhD (which I believe he plans to) in computer engineering or robotics and then becoming one of the many “scientists doubting evolution”.It pains me to see great minds taken in by these sort of memes, but I often find myself wondering what if anything can be done about it. When I see examples such as the acquaintance I’ve mentioned, I find myself despairing ever making progress.

  24. says

    Of course you’re (we’re) dumb and immature – most of what you know is falsifiable and wasn’t known at all a century ago. That just can’t compare to age and wisdom of The Eternal Truth.Wear it as a badge of honor.

  25. says

    Jen, why are you protecting this guy? You shouldn’t be afraid to shame someone who approached you with baseless insults in public. Shout it from the rooftops! (Or the internets, as it were.)

  26. Rob says

    I once had a serious argument with a philosophy prof regarding authoritarian personalities and their supposed ‘conservative’ politics [the 3 most extreme were socialists]; his response was to demand where I had gotten the idea from because “undergraduates don’t have original ideas” !!! I only found out later that I had apparently invalidated his PhD Thesis quite by accident…

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