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Threatening to Burn Your Professor at the Stake
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This is a strange little tale of a student at Baylor University (where I went my first two years for undergrad) who reacted to another student's religiously-motivated e-mail by sending out a parody, and subsequently getting in trouble (including a police interrogation).

It all starts with a lecture in my Introduction to Neuroscience class. The professor, Dr. Patton, made a demonstration with two very important and influential books: The Bible and the Origin of Species. The lecture can be summarized in these four lines:

Holding up the Bible: “This is not a science book.”
Holding up the Origin of Species: “This is.”
Holding up the Bible again: “This is a book about relationships with God.”
Holding up the Origin of Species again: “This isn’t.”

This is a very basic idea that many people, unfortunately, do not yet grasp or are unwilling to understand. As Dr. Patton informally stated later: “The Bible says nothing about how I should repair my car. That’s not why it exists.”

Well yeah, okay. But what the hell is a professor in an Introduction to Neuroscience class doing bringing this stuff up anyway? I'm guessing that maybe Dr. Patton has run into objections by creationists in the class. Later on this student says the course is team-taught, so perhaps Patton covers evolutionary perspectives on neuroscience (this is all conjecture, by the way). Still, waving a bible around on the first day of class is a pretty stupid way to try to head things off at the pass, if that's what he was even doing.

Another explanation is that this is a pet peeve of Dr. Patton's and he's trying to stir the pot (which is what he succeeded in doing). Funny me, but if I were teaching a course on neuroscience, on the first day of class I'd, you know, talk about neuroscience.

Anyway, one of the more religious students in class walked out, and then sent an e-mail to everyone saying he was boycotting the rest of Dr. Patton's lectures. So another student sent a follow-up parody e-mail inviting other students to burn Dr. Patton at the stake.

Okay yeah it was kind of funny. And it was obviously satire.

Actually my favorite part of the story is the interview by the police:

We received two complaints from students in your neuroscience class about an email you sent to everyone.


You are aware that what you have done is a felony? You have committed a terrorist act.

-Have you read the original email?

No, we have not received any original email.

-My email is a parody. Christopher Stone wrote the original email and sent it to almost everybody in the class. I wrote a line-by-line parody.

Well we got messages from people who thought it was real. In this day and age you cannot do things like this. We have Columbines and 9/11’s all over the place, and we can’t risk this kind of thing.

-It’s a joke. I emailed the professor and told him that.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a joke. I myself figured it out, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is what’s written on the paper, and you said you were going to burn your professor.

-At the stake. It’s satire. I engaged in hyperbole to make a point. You need to read the original email.

We’ll get to that. You need to understand that this is no laughing matter. Smirk all you want, but what you’ve done isn’t a joke.

-In all honesty I did not think anyone would take it seriously. But some have, so I think I’ve learned a lesson here.

Let me get this straight, this is a parody, right?


Why didn’t you put a note at the bottom telling everyone it was a parody?

-In retrospect that would’ve been the smart thing to do.

The smart thing would have been not to send this stupid thing out in the first place. Now let me ask you a question: is this an English class?


So what are you doing writing stories?

-It’s not a story.

Yes it is. You said it was a short story parody.

-No I didn’t; I said it was a parody.

Well don’t you write that in English class?


But Patton was basically goading the class, and the response wasn't entirely unexpected. Rubbing salt on it with a parody was a pretty base and petty thing to do.

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