Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Flat tire urban legend redux

Jay, Mark, Mateo and Lucas - everybody called Lucas "LT" because those were his initials and he sort of resembled a certain Giants linebacker - all met each other freshman year while attending Liberty University and became good friends. Often they would try to register for the same classes when convenient, given their majors. One semester they were all taking the same Chemistry class and had all done pretty well on all the material up to that point. Going into the final all four had a solid A in the class. In fact, the four were so confident going into the final that they decided to head over to Virginia Beach and party with some friends on the weekend, even though the final was on Monday. They had a great time, but they overslept and didn't make it back to Lynchburg until early Monday morning.

Rather than taking the final then, they instead spoke with the professor afterward and explained to him why they missed it. They told him that they had gone over to Virginia Beach for the weekend, and had planned to come back in time to study, but had a flat tire on the way back and didn't have a spare. They couldn't get help for a long time and so they were late getting back to the campus. The professor thought this over and then agreed that they could make up the final on the following day. The four friends were elated and relieved.

They studied that night and went in the next day to take the exam. The professor placed them in separate rooms and handed each of them a test booklet and told them to begin. They looked at the first problem. It was something simple about morality and solutions and was worth 5 points. "Cool" they thought, "this is going to be easy." Next they turned the page. They were unprepared, however, for what they saw. All that was written there was: (95 points) Which tire?

Knowing they had been outsmarted and with a sinking feeling in their guts, they all answered the question anyway on the outside chance that they might give the same answer. The professor collected the booklets, smug in his cleverness, and headed to the faculty lounge to “grade” the papers and share with the other faculty members his triumph over these students who had tried to pull one over one him. He sat amidst a group of professors from another department and began to tell them about what had happened. They were all curious about the outcome and wanted to see how the students had answered.

The Chemistry professor opened the booklets. Just as he suspected, the four answers did not match. While Marcus and Mateo had answered that it was the front driver’s side tire, LT put down that it was the right front tire and oddball Jay had answered that it was the back driver’s side tire. “Ha!” the professor exclaimed. “I got ‘em!”

“Wait a second there,” one of the other professors said. “Are you certain those accounts conflict with each other?”

“Of course they do,” said the Chemistry professor. “Two of them gave completely different answers from the other two.”

“Well, yes,” said another. “But just because their stories are slightly different doesn’t make them contradictory.”

“Excuse me?” said the Chemistry professor. "Slightly different?"

“Look, the one who wrote that it was the right front tire may have just been looking at the car from the front, which from that perspective would’ve meant that the driver’s side was on the right. So his account could match two of the others from that perspective. You know, it's sort of like when you have multiple eye-witness accounts of the same crime.”

“OK, that’s stretching things a bit,” said the Chemistry professor. “The only crime these guys are bearing witness to is their own lying. Positions on a car are almost always given from the perspective of sitting in the driver's seat. But even if I grant that, what about Jay, who said the flat tire was the back driver’s side?”

“Simple,” said another professor at the table. “They actually had two flat tires.” The others nodded in agreement.

The Chemistry professor was dumbfounded. “You all can’t be serious. Isn’t it obvious that these guys are making stuff up? Sure, maybe they really did go to Virginia Beach over the weekend. That part of the story is slightly embarrassing for them to admit. However, the only other common element in their story is a flat tire and given their inability to correctly identify which one, why should I assume it ever happened to begin with? Why wouldn’t they have said they had two flat tires if that’s what really happened? This is nonsense. I should fail them all for fabricating this story and then they should thank me for not bringing them before a disciplinary board. Are you all actually suggesting that their differing accounts don’t clearly incriminate them?”

The other faculty members looked at each other. “Yeah, that’s right,” one spoke up. “You have to assume they’re all telling the truth here. Your argument that there is a contradiction in their stories simply won’t hold up.”

The Chemistry professor couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was obvious to him that these four students had made up this story and yet these guys were telling him otherwise. Then it dawned on him. “What department do you guys teach in?” he asked.

“Biblical Studies,” they answered. “Yeah, we teach Apologetics.”

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