Alright, it’s been a good five days since our blogs have come online, and I still haven’t found a novel way to detail my first three and half weeks here at MIT. So I’ll dive right into two arguments I’ve stumbled upon while on campus.
I spent a good chunk of time during rush with the brothers of Alpha Delta Phi. One of the rush activities was a pizza dinner at Uno’s near Harvard. Here, I got into a heated debate with Arun ’10 about the superiority or inferiority of crunchy peanut butter compared to creamy. Initial arguments centered around texture or lack thereof (looking at you, creamy). But Arun quickly turned the conversation towards much less tangible subjects, namely the homogeneity and isotropy of the universe. Being Course 8, he had an advantage over a mere frosh, but I had the powers of Course 16 in the form of Raul ’10 to back me up. Arun claimed that creamy style peanut butter much better fits with the universe around us. I disagreed, pointing out that the bits of whole peanuts represent galaxies floating in that universe, and also that this had nothing to do with peanut butter. Thirty minutes later we were still arguing. A thought experiment involving a bathtub full of the stuff brought the discussion to a close, and at the end of the day, we accomplished nothing. No argument, no matter how ridiculous, will change someone’s preference. Which brings us to a debate I witnessed this Friday.
During my one hour break between 5.111 and 8.01, I headed to the Student Center for some food. In front of the bike racks there were signs advertising a question and answer session later that night with Cliff Knechtle, a Christian author. The writer was actually there by the signs in the afternoon, and was in an intense argument with a heavily accented Australian man. The Aussie would always disclaim his sentences by saying “Now, I’m a raving atheist, but…,” to which Mr Knechtle would always reply, “Now, what if I slapped this man? This man right here. What if I slapped him?” The only thing the Australian man ever actually said was “I don’t need to believe in God to believe in absolute morals,” which he repeated about every three minutes. Mr Knechtle always—seriously, always—responded with “Now, listen. What if I slapped this man?” Except he said it as if he had just received this intense deep revelation; as if every time he said it, he had stumbled upon a brilliant observation. It was all a bit absurd, really. On my way to lunch, and two strangers, an evangelical Christan and an atheist Australian are almost coming to blows over moral relativism.
Eventually I got hungry and annoyed by these people who couldn’t argue so I bought a burrito, ate it, checked my email, and then went outside again. Same people. Same arguments.
As the conversation continued, Chi Alpha, the Christian group that brought Mr Knechtle here, was handing out business cards about his upcoming session that evening. There was a big picture of a pizza on it, so I attended. In a room in the student center, the organization had put about thirty chairs in a circle so that anyone could stop by and ask the author a question. I’d say that 28 of the people there were Christians, and that me and another freshman were the only skeptics in the audience. I asked some hard-hitting questions, and I was extremely pleasantly surprised when the leaders of Chi Alpha genuinely thanked me for coming and putting the questions on the table. It was a great experience, and in that room I saw the vast differences in personal Christian philosophies.
At the end of the program, there was a drawing for three gift cards. The other skeptic and I got the two of highest value (I walked away with the equivalent of 16.8539326 free donuts), which may be a hint…
So, the (relative or absolute?) moral of this roundabout story: Be prepared for a debate at MIT. Anytime, anywhere, any asinine argument.