High weirdness on a Turkish philosophy exam

This is almost untranslatable, but I’ll try. It’s the answer to a Turkish high school exam in a philosophy course, which made it to the Turkish media, and was apparently originally praised by Islamists as an example of a brave Muslim student standing up to an atheist teacher.

The question is: “Prove to me that this chair does not exist (100 points)”

Answer (my translation is artificially coherent): “I swear that there is no such chair—let God accurse me and let the Quran strike me down if there is a chair. Let my two eyes be put out if a chair is there, look. If I am lying let it not be given to me to be able to go from point A to point B. Look, I’ve sworn a great oath, but you philosophers tend to be atheists. Nietzshe etc. are all atheists. They beleeve in evolution. The don’t beleeve in God. But you believe me, teacher. There is no chair there; let my mother be my woman otherwise. I swear to God there is no chair. Bring the Quran and I will lay my hand on it, there is none. (45 ???? teacher)”


The grade is an 8, presumably out of 10.

It looks very much like a desperate student paper; it’s amusing but I wouldn’t read more into it.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12197516145154863792 Enkidu

    Since the paper says 100 points at the top(according to your translation), I would hope it was 8 out of 100.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10817974804323066290 shreddakj

    I feel like quoting from Billy Madison. Instead I think I'll just link to a youtube video with the relevant clip of the movie (27 seconds long)

    Billy Madison – Ultimate Insult (Academic Decathlon)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14214670191086964083 Torcant

    I'm Turkish. The student is having fun with philosophy in general and answering the question with ridicule and irony.

    Don't take it literally

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05962018593312392087 Leo

    Disgusting, I think the 'Billy' video says it as it is..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    The reactions I get from my students are more subtle. I teach a humanities survey course called "Basic Texts," where, as the name implies, we read some of the most important texts from the history of Western civilization (Eastern traditions are covered in a different course). One text I have them read is the Norton Critical Edition of the works of Darwin, which has generous selections from The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Some students have boycotted my class during the three weeks we read from Darwin. Others attend but complain in the end-of-term written evaluations that I treated their faith with disrespect.

    Now I specifically and explicitly address these issues in class before we start the readings. I tell the class that the works of Darwin have been important (an understatement indeed!) and need to be understood by all educated people, whatever their religious persuasions. I try to reassure them that the aim is not to debunk anyone's faith, but simply to acquaint them with writings of fundamental importance to our whole intellectual milieu.

    Despite my disclaimer, and despite every effort on my part to avoid even the appearance of putting down religion, I still get complaints. After one recent term, and after receiving two particularly bitter remonstrations, I saw a student who had taken the class who is an ordained and practicing Methodist minister. I asked him to please tell me frankly what I had said that was offensive to the Christian faith. The class was over and grades were in, so he had no motivation to dissemble. His reaction was one of complete surprise and he assured me that he had heard absolutely nothing that had rankled, and that, indeed that he thought that I had taken particular care not to offend.

    So, I am at a loss to say what I said that provoked the reaction. I guess that with True Believers, any attitude other than total deference is taken as opposition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07515414035373189099 Mellodee

    It is the typical defense mechanism of an indefensible position! "Don't make me question." "I believe what I believe because God said so." "My way or the highway." "If my beliefs say one thing, I will not expose myself to any possible interpretation or proof to the contrary." "La, la, la, I can't Hear you!" "You're wrong, you're wrong…even though I haven't heard your views."

    So many people walk through life with blinders on their tunnel vision! It's part of the pick and choose belief system whereby if you don't like something you can just ignore its existence or significance…strong in your belief that you are right no matter what.

    Makes me want to run in circles and scream out loud!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16795804426336852550 soku

    What, this student didn't know about mereological nihilism? ;D

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16275488047072609654 Baal

    Isn't that bit about:"….let the Quran strike me down if there is a chair.", dangerously close to idolatry?

    Or can you attribute such characteristics to the Quran, like the ability to judge and exact retribution and not cross over into idolatry in Islam?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis


    The student is presumably an ordinary believer, and as ordinary believers are wont to be, theologically incorrect.

    In popular Islam, sacred objects like the Quran are often imbued with magical power. Presumably you could even be more theologically correct and say that God acts through sacred objects. It doesn't change the belief that you don't fuck with the Quran if you don't want to attract a curse of some sort.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    The correct answer to 'Prove to me that this chair does not exist' is 'What chair?'

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