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The Education of Professor Pettigrew
The Education of Professor Pettigrew
Professor Pettigrew was feeling buoyant. He loved shaking up all those smug young freshmen with their unquestioning little beliefs. He had just blasted the very foundations of their world through a lively discussion of St Anslem’s Proof of the existence of God and then refuting it point by point with cogent arguments from Hume, Kant, Nietzsche and Russell. He watched their faces fall as their Sunday School beliefs crumbled to dust.
As the Adjunct Junior Professor of Philosophy for Adam Clayton Community College, Hayward R Pettigrew didn’t have much else to look forward to in the world of academia. Leaving young minds rudderless, shaken and adrift in a sea of doubt, skepticism and relativism was one of life’s few joys. He watched this class of 23 freshmen stagger out almost too stunned to speak and smiled. “Don’t forget you all have a paper due next Monday on Agnosticism. I expect to hear some interesting ideas.”
Sitting in his tiny office a few days later grading that very assignment and chuckling to himself, he was disturbed by a faint tapping at his door. “Enter,” he calls in a stentorian voice and the door opens to reveal a rather timid young woman. He vaguely recognized her from the sea of new faces that confront him each day. She is a lovely slip of a thing dressed in knee socks and a plaid skirt and a white blouse. She looked like a Catholic School student. He gestured for her to sit in the only other chair. Pettigrew looked at her over his glasses and said, “What can I do for you, my dear?”
The girl cleared her throat and began to speak in a thick Russian accent. “I am Natalia Rostov. I am student in your Tuesday morning class, Philosophy 101 (von oh von) and I have problem.”
“You have a problem with the class?”
“Nyet. I have problem with what you say in class. About proof of God.”
“What is the problem?” Professor Pettigrew sat back in his big chair and thought that this was going to be rich.
“In class you mention several proofs that God exists and then you shoot them down. Is right?”
“That is correct,” nods the professor.
“I have proof of God that you do not mention,” said Natalia in a soft voice.
The professor is puzzled and intrigued. This ought to be fun he thinks to himself. Aloud he says, “You’re saying that you have proof that God exists?”
“Da, is what I am saying,” Natalia replies.
“Can you explain this proof to me?”
“No,” says Natalia, “I show you.” and with that she stands up and pulls up her blouse to just below her bra revealing her bare stomach. On her soft white skin is a large birthmark which at first glance looks like a large horizontal blotch. Professor Pettigrew is both alarmed and embarrassed in equal measure and averts his eyes from this inappropriate display of female flesh. Natalia stands there, shirt up and says, “Look closer.” And she brings her birthmark closer to professor Pettigrew’s face.
Seeing no graceful way out of his predicament, the professor pushes up his glasses and takes a long hard look at the port wine stain a few short inches in front of his nose. Slowly, and with amazing clarity the stain resolves itself into a highly detailed likeness of Davinci’s Last Supper. Pettigrew can clearly make out the robed figure of Jesus at the banquet table and the expressions on the faces of all the disciples.
“That is most extraordinary, Miss Rostov.” Pettigrew sits back while Natalia pulls down her blouse. “But man’s ability to see patterns in random objects doesn’t really constitute proof of anything. It’s really quite commonplace. People are always finding Jesus or Mary or someone on pieces of toast, the moon and the sides of buildings. There’s even a name for it, it’s called pareidolia. And while your...er...birthmark is quite extraordinary, it has nothing to do with God or anything else. It’s more a quirk of our nervous system than a proof of anything.”
“Da, I agree,” said Natalia. That is what I always believed. But how then would you explain this?” Saying this she proceeds to turn her back on the professor and again lifts her blouse. Pettigrew gasps and faints dead away. What he sees shatters his smug complacency forever.
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