Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: An atheist professor challenges God to keep a piece of chalk from breaking when he drops it from his hand.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1996]
Variations: Sometimes a glass beaker or an egg is dropped instead of a piece of chalk.
Origins: Preceding its 1996 Internet debut, this story was around across several decades — one reader recalls hearing it in 1968 while a freshman at
With certain key details changed, the tale appears in the memoirs of clergyman Richard Harvey, wherein he dates it back to his time as a student at Allegheny College
According to Harvey, Dr. Lee began delivering a set of three lectures on prayer to his freshman chemistry class each year, with the third lecture culminating in the challenge for anyone to stop a glass beaker he was about to drop from breaking through the power of prayer alone. Twelve years later, a student did step forward and successfully do so, putting an end to this set of lectures. Or so we're told.
Though this sighting gives a better idea how old the tale is, it fails to validate the legend. From the way this passage in Harvey's book is worded, it's clear he wasn't present at the lecture where the brave student took up the challenge. He, too, heard the same inspirational tale we're hearing now and chose to include it in his memoirs as something he believed.
And it is an inspirational tale of faith, one meant to encourage Christians to not waver in their beliefs even in the face of denunciation by a revered authority figure.
If USC (University of Southern California) has had a philosophy professor on staff who for the past twenty years devoted a class period each semester to disproving the existence of God, it's news to them. "Professor Dallas Willard, who has been here for
No one has named this professor or stated he was in class the day of the anti-God lecture. Call this current piece of netlore just an update of a much older legend.
The "running from the room" motif shows up in many legends as a convenient way of ending one character's involvement in the story or of bringing the legend to a close (see our Why Does It Taste So Salty? page for another example) because it forestalls the curious from asking the inevitable "What happened next?"
Chalk this one up as a charming parable, one not grounded in the facts as reported. It's David and Goliath in a classroom setting, the shaking-in-his-boots student taking on the ogre of non-belief in the form of a fearsome professor.
Barbara "chalk of ages" Mikkelson
Sightings: A somewhat related Jack Chick tract builds on similar motifs of the professor of science's challenging his students to disagree, one courageous student's standing up to dispute him, the professor's subsequent humiliation and hasty exit from the classroom, and the brave student's ability to hold his classmates enthralled after the professor leaves the room.
Last updated: 13 October 2009
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