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]
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 attempting to prove that God couldn’t exist. His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. For twenty years, he had taught this class and no one had ever had the courage to go against him. Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever ‘really gone against him’ (you’ll see what I mean later).
Nobody would go against him because he had a reputation. At the end of every semester, on the last day, he would say to his class of
Well, a few years ago, there was a freshman who happened to get enrolled in the class. He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about this professor. He had to take the class because it was one of the required classes for his major and he was afraid. But for
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
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 up proceeded to walk to the front of the room and share his faith in Jesus for the next half hour.
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
in Meadville, Pennsylvania. In his version, the antagonist is said to be one
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