This is my last semester in college and one the classes I’m taking is “Evolution and Systematics”. My professor is an outspoken atheist ( I had anticipated this) and regularly derides any belief in God ( sometimes adding foul language into the mix). During the first day of class, he asked us to “raise our hands if anyone in here believes in the flying spaghetti monster”. I didn’t raise my hand because I felt that it would have been pointless to engage in any sort of debate. Should I have done the opposite? I don’t want to fail to be a witness, but at the same time I think we need to pick our battles, especially those in which we engage people who are earnestly seeking answers. Am I mistaken in this view? On a side note he mentioned the Kitzinger vs. Dover trial. I have heard of this trial, but I have never studied it in detail. He said that some people involved, and I’m guessing he meant the people promoting creationism, were involved in illegal activities. Is this true?


I believe that it would probably be a mistake to confront your professor publicly in class.  To be completely honest with you, I am not sure if I am right or not. These things are a judgment call.  My personal perspective comes from being a professor myself for 35 years.  I believe that a student ought to submit him or herself to the instructor, be willing to learn from them.  They ought to “eat the fish, but spit out the bones.”  Generally we should submit to those who are over us in such a situation to the extent that we can and learn what we can.  If an instructor asks for feedback, that is fine.  At the end of the semester when you are asked to give student evaluation, you should feel free to express your concerns, but publicly challenging your instructor might come across as disrespectful.

However, there are potential exceptions and I do not believe it is my place to tell you with authority what you ought to do, as I am not in that room.  Paul called out  the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:3.  Did Paul sin here and what he did is simply reported, or is what he did being given as an example of Paul behaving in a righteous way?  Believers will differ on this.

One option would be for you to go to the professor’s office hours and share that you were personally intimidated and feel that his behavior is not acceptable.  Something tells me it is highly unlikely you will do that!

Here is what I think about this situation.  This professor ought to be fired, or at the very least strongly reprimanded.  If you came to me and told me this story and if I were a professor at that institution, I would march immediately down to the department chair or to the dean and demand that some action be taken against this professor.  He is creating an intimidating atmosphere in his classroom.  He is abusing his position of power and authority to publicly embarrass people he does not agree with.  Not only is this unprofessional, it is might even be illegal, depending on whether this is a state institution or a private university.  I strongly suggest you speak to the dean or the department chair about the completely unprofessional behavior of this professor.  Students should not have to tolerate this kind of abuse.

I have given this kind of advice in the past and found that most students prefer to keep their head down and move on.  In one case, I made the call myself to the department chair, and it was for behavior less serious that you describe above.

KItzinger vs. Dover is irrelevant to this question, is it not?  My mother told me that “two wrongs do not make a right.”  Is this his justification for using profanity (unethical and perhaps reason to fire) and for intimidating believers publicly (also unethical and perhaps illegal)?

By the way, if you need someone to testify on your behalf if you confront this situation, I would happily speak for you as a professor and former chair of a college department.  If you want to quote me to your professor, do not hesitate to do so.

John Oakes


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