September 18, 2007

Responding to Biased ProfessorsAsking the Right Questions

Note: We often receive emails from students asking for advice on how to respond to a particular professor's comments in class. The classes in which students are challenged in their Christian worldview include every discipline. Here is a recent email I received from a Summit graduate who was in her first week of an Anthropology class:

Dear Mr. Edwards,

I am a freshman at St. John Fisher College. Classes began only a week ago and already my faith is being attacked. My professor is very passionate about the subject, but even more passionate about his claim that Creation and Intelligent Design are not science and are just religious beliefs. He attacked Christianity at key points. Although I would rather not have it cost me an A in his class, I want to defend my faith and although I will most likely not convince him, I have a chance of planting seeds in the minds of my classmates. My dilemma is how should I respond to his claims?

In Christ,
Christina R.

Dear Christina,

Thanks for your question regarding how you should respond to the anti-Christian bias from your professor. I can sympathize with your desires to "not have it cost me an A in his class" and, as you comment, you will probably not convince the professor to change his views.

However, regardless of what your professor says in class, he is still a person created in God's image. So your attitude should be one of respect. Remember, your professor is not the enemy. He has been captured by false ideas and he needs your love and concern. On the other hand, we can try to point out the deception he has embraced.

In this regard, the Apostle Paul's directive to Timothy is instructive for us, also:

And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26, NIV)

So our motto at the Summit is: Respect people, Inspect ideas.

But just as importantly, I agree whole-heartedly that you have the opportunity for "planting seeds in the minds" of your classmates. You might consider the following as suggestions and use the ones that seem to best fit your personality and particular situation.

Let me emphasize, these suggestions are not a magic formula for success or a silver bullet that works in every case. Since no two people respond in the same way to a question or comment, our interaction with others becomes a dynamic process. But these guidelines can help you become a winsome, articulate bearer of truth.

So, here's my "short list" of some ways to be "salt and light" with your professors and fellow students.

  1. Get to know your professor. Every professor is encouraged to see a student who shows an interest in his course. The goal is for the professor to get to know you as someone who cares about him as a person and who is seeking to be a good student. As he gets to know you he will be less likely to attack you in class when you raise relevant questions. Here are a couple of ideas:
    1. Go by your professor's office for a friendly chat. In your conversation ask about his educational background, why he chose this area of study, questions about his family, etc. Then, ask what it takes to make a good grade in his class.
    2. Continue to drop by his office a few times during the semester to say hi or ask a follow-up question from class.
  2. Get to know your classmates. Your goal at this point is not to convince other students the professor is wrong or defend a biblical view. Your goal is to look for allies, like-minded students who may be open to joining with you in the future if/when the professor attacks Christianity again. Also, you will find out who are the non-Christians. This can open doors at a later time for conversations about a biblical worldview and their own spirituality. You might approach students after class by asking:
    1. "What do you think about the professor's comments on __________ (fill in the topic)?"
    2. "Do you agree with what he said?"
    3. "What was most compelling about what he said?"
    4. If your classmate agrees with the professor and asks what you think, you have two options:
      1. If you are prepared to defend the topic, then you can say that you think the professor is mistaken and give two or three reasons why you think so.
      2. Or, if you don't feel you're ready to defend a biblical view on the topic, you might simply say, "I'm still thinking about it and plan to look into it more." This response does two things. First, it does not bias your classmate against you, leaving the conversation open for further discussion. And second, it allows you time to research a well thought-out response.
  3. Do your homework twice. By this I mean you need to do the assignments given by the professor, but also you will need to do additional study into a biblical view of the subject. Your goal is to gain an understanding of the subject from a broader viewpoint. This gives you insight into what questions to ask in class or during your conversations in the professor's office.

The first place to start is by reading the chapters that relate to your class in David Noebel's Understanding the Times. Although there are no chapters specifically on anthropology, you will gain insights into that discipline by reading the chapters on biology for both Secular Humanism and Biblical Christianity.

Search Summit's website ( and click on "Resources" for articles related to your class. Also, locate the pertinent "Fact Sheets" on the topic. These provide key terms, pertinent quotes, and suggestions for further reading. In the instance of your anthropology class, the professor was talking about Intelligent Design. Summit's "Fact Sheet" on "Biology and Science" includes a section on ID.

Specifically related to Intelligent Design, I recommend the Discovery Institute. Their Center for Science and Culture offers a wealth of information on ID. Click on their "Frequently Asked Questions" link for an overview of the ID project and the controversy it has raised by revealing the naturalistic bias in today's public school classrooms.

Another great online resource is Leadership University. This website, hosted by Campus Crusade for Christ's Faculty Ministry, has over 8,000 articles (and growing) written by Christian professors. It's great for "one stop shopping" on a wide range of topics. Search on "Intelligent Design" and you will come up with over 200 articles!

Question Assumptions! As the semester progresses, you will find other opportunities in class to raise questions. When you do, don't try to be the expert. You should maintain a stance that you are the student and the professor is the expert. You are not trying to challenge his authority or knowledge. Instead, as the student, you are free to ask questions for clarification or for taking the topic to a deeper level. Think of these questions as part of the learning process between student and teacher.

In other words, your goal is to look for opportunities to point out the professor's bias by exposing his worldview assumptions. These are the hidden beliefs that are assumed to be true but never explicitly presented in class. Revealing the professor's bias will accomplish two things. First, it puts your professor on notice that he cannot get away with only presenting a biased view of Christianity. Second, your classmates will be alerted to the worldview bias that is being presented in class and will come to see there are rational approaches to understand this subject which acknowledge God in a positive way.

The following questions will get you started:

(Note: These questions are general in nature and can be asked in a number of different situations. The responses under #3 are more specific to the issue of Intelligent Design, which is the particular topic your professor addressed in class.)

  1. "Professor, I understand from what you are saying that this is a controversial issue. I appreciated hearing the side of the debate you presented in class. So that we can reach our own conclusions, I assume that you will be presenting the other side of the issue the next time we meet in class. Am I correct?"

  2. "Professor, I'd like to find out more on this topic. Since you have researched this area, what books would you recommend that give the other side to this debate?"

    The professor may not agree to present the other side or recommend books contrary to his opinion, or he may say that he is right and the other side is wrong, or possibly there are no authorities representing the other side.

    In each of these cases, you could respond, "Would you allow me to research this further and present to the other students a reading list of scholars who defend the other side of the issue?"

    If he agrees, go to your Summit Notebook or Summit's "Fact Sheets" mentioned above to gain a better understanding of the issue. Then, do a little checking online to find out the qualifications of some of the authors listed and use these scholars and their books for your reading list to hand out in class.

    If the professor does not agree to let you hand out an alternative reading list in class, then you are still free to pass out the list to your fellow students in the hall after class.

  3. "Professor, I came to this university anticipating a well-rounded educational experience, one that is tolerant and respectful of various viewpoints. Can you help me understand why we are only being presented with one side of this subject? Isn't that being intolerant of other's views?"

    Your professor may reply that he is not being intolerant. He is claiming that ID is pseudo-science and religious in character, and this is a course based on science, not religion.

    Your question is, "Professor, are you defining science as naturalism?" Here, the professor is assuming that what counts as science must only include sensory observations of the natural universe. But there are at least two problems with defining science as naturalism:

    • First, a naturalistic definition of science begs the question by assuming naturalism is true. This is a ploy where the possibility of God is ruled out of bounds because of how science is defined. Buy why should we assume naturalism is true? Of course, any definition of science comes from one's philosophy, not from any experiment in the laboratory. Therefore, the professor is expressing a naturalistic definition of science based on a bias of atheism.

    • Second, naturalism assumes the universe and life developed from random processes that "just happen" to be this way. There is no plan or purpose. In fact, the processes of nature could have turned out differently, but because they are the way they are, life exists. However, on this assumption, "modern science" (defined as the experimental method) would never have developed. That's because the early modern scientists believed in an ordered, lawful universe based on the assumption that God created the laws of nature. They made it clear that they were "thinking God's thoughts after Him." For example, Sir Isaac Newton wrote, "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being." (From Principia, Book III; cited in Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42, ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, 1953.)

If the professor admits to a commitment to naturalism, a follow-up question you might ask would be: "In a pluralistic society, where the majority of people believe in a Supreme Being, why are we only using a definition of science based on naturalism, which assumes atheism? Shouldn't we also be open to theistic interpretations of the data we observe in nature?"

The professor may state that because ID scientists do not publish their results in peer-reviewed journals, ID is pseudo-science. A question you can ask is, "Charles Darwin never published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal. He wrote a book instead. So should we not consider his theory of natural selection scientific? If I can show you peer-reviewed articles on ID, would you then agree that is has a legitimate place in our class discussions?"

See "Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design" on the Discovery Institute website.

And for a summary of the attempts of Darwinian scientists to keep ID articles from being published, see "Intelligent Design in Biology: The Current Situation and Future Prospects," by Phillip Johnson, professor of law at UC Berkley.

The professor may claim the he is only presenting the majority view of scientists today and that ID is the minority view. Therefore class discussion will focus on the majority view.

Your question might be: "Professor, isn't it true that at one time in history, the geocentric view of the solar system was the majority view and Galileo's heliocentric view was in the minority. The same is true with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and the introduction of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe in the late 1920s. Both were minority viewpoints when they first came out, but now are considered supported by observations. So just because a view has a minority status does that mean it is not worthy of discussion or may be demonstrated at a later time?"

Also, you can ask, "Just because other scientists disagree with your interpretation does not mean that they are wrong. Since there are scientists with Ph.D.s and teaching at well-known universities who disagree with you, shouldn't we be exposed to what these other scientists are actually saying regarding this topic?"

For lists of current scientists who oppose Darwinian evolution (not micro-evolution), see the following:

  1. "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" on the Discovery Institute website.
  2. A List of Creation Scientists on the ICR website.

In addition, you could ask, "The scientific enterprise is a constantly growing research program and as new information is gathered, what is considered 'scientific' today may not be considered 'scientific' tomorrow. Therefore, shouldn't we be open to investigating the latest research in information theory and newly discovered evidence for biological design in nature?"

The book, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, by professor of biochemistry Michael Behe, details the latest developments in microbiology and the discovery of incredibly complex "molecular" machines housed within microscopic cells.

Or, for a shorter summary, read Behe's online article, "Molecular Machines: Experimental Support For The Design Inference."

If the professor continues to rebut your comments, you can defuse the discussion by saying, "Thank you for clarifying your point of view. I won't take up any more of your time in class today."

Remember, you are not trying to win an argument. You are simply trying to reveal to the other students the professor's atheistic bias and provide awareness of a viable alternative based on biblical theism.

One last thing. If the professor tries to draw you out by saying, "Why do you ask?" or asks if you are a Christian, don't fall for it. He is trying to take the heat off himself by placing the burden of proof onto you. (It's called a "Red Herring" fallacy and is a sneaky way of changing the subject.)

To this ploy, simply reply that you are just a student who is trying to learn all you can about this subject, and you were simply wondering if this class was going to be conducted with an open mind when it comes to issues where there is more than one viewpoint.

To summarize, every professor has an underlying worldview being presented in class. Your task is to alert your fellow students to the professor's hidden assumptions, thus exposing his worldview bias. This usually leads to fruitful discussions with students outside of class where you can look for opportunities to present a biblical worldview alternative!

I hope this helps. Practice some of these ideas with your friends and let me know how you do.

In Christ,
Chuck Edwards

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