Richard Harvey, Dr. Lee, a flask and supernatural prayer


(image courtesy Open Clip Art Library)

By Spencer D Gear

Is prayer a necessary discipline of the Christian life? Does God answer prayer? Richard H. Harvey tells a true story of what happened in his life when at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, USA. This is how the story goes:

The Flask Story[1]

“… if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).

The college experience I am about to tell now has left the most lasting impression upon me of any. I have told it over the world for more than forty years. Suddenly it began to appear in print in many magazines, in different languages and under various titles, sometimes under my name, sometimes not.

Probably the most popular class at the college was the first-year chemistry class. It was definitely the largest. Most every student took the class sometime during his four years regardless of his major. But since it was a first-year subject, most took it their freshman year.

Dr. Lee[2] was the most noted and honoured professor in the college. He had had many honors bestowed on him from numerous scientific societies around the world. His influence carried more weight than that of any of the other teachers. He insisted that he believed in God as the creator of an original mass that was thrown into space and that God had set a group of laws to govern it. He also believed that God no longer paid any special attention to the earth as far as man was concerned. He believed it was useless for man to try to get God’s attention, much less His intervention.[3]

Among many involved themes in his lectures, Dr. Lee chose the subject of prayer—a series of three lectures given annually the week before the Thanksgiving recess. The second lecture emphasized the thought that there was no such thing as a miracle. After that class when some of the students were gathered around him I asked, “Dr. Lee, I have proof of a miracle. I know a man named Jerry Sproul whose vocal cords were destroyed by gas in World War I. He was declared incurable by three army hospitals and thus given an irrevocable pension. He is well known by all the officials of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania City Hall and reporters of that city. After he was prayed for, he received new vocal cords. His medical records are obtainable and I will be glad to obtain them for you.”

Dr. Lee’s answer was, “I don’t believe in any such thing. If there is such an unusual circumstance as you describe, it must have some scientific explanation.” And he turned aside.

Dr. Lee’s third lecture was on the subject of the impossibility of an objective answer to prayer. He said he would prove his contention. At the end of his lecture he announced that he would step down from his platform onto the concrete floor. Then he would challenge, “Is there anybody here who still believes in prayer?” And he would say, “Before you answer, let me tell you what I am going to do and what I am going to ask you to do. I will turn around, take a glass flask and hold it at arm’s length.” Then he would continue, “If you believe that God answers prayer, I want you to stand and pray that when I drop this flask, it won’t break. I want you to know that your prayers and the prayers of your parents and Sunday School teachers, and even the prayers of your own pastor cannot prevent this flask from breaking. If you wish to have them here, we will put this off until you return after the Thanksgiving recess.”

No one had ever accepted Dr. Lee’s challenge.

But one year a certain freshman learned about Dr. Lee’s dare. And decided prayerfully that he would accept the challenge. He believed that God had given him the promise, “… if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father, who is in heaven.” Then the young man sought out another Christian to stand with him in prayer for courage and faith and they believed together that God would keep the flask from breaking.

The day came. At the end of the final lecture on prayer, the annual challenge was put forth as it had been for twelve years. As soon as Dr. Lee asked, “Is there anyone here who believes God answers prayer?” the young man stepped into the aisle and raised his hand and said, “Dr. Lee, I do.”

“Well, this is most interesting. But young man, you had better let me explain what I am going to do and then we’ll see if you still desire to pray. I wouldn’t want you to be embarrassed before this class.”

The professor then took the glass flask and held it out in front of him over the cement floor. “Now I ask you to pray—if you still want to do it—that this flask won’t break. After you pray, I’ll drop it and I can assure you that it will hit the cement floor and break into hundreds of pieces, and that no prayer can prevent it. Do you still want to pray?”

“Yes, Dr. Lee, I do.”

“Well,” said the professor, “this is most interesting.” And turning to the class he said sarcastically, “Now we will be most reverent while this young man prays.” Then he turned to the young man, “Now you may pray.”

The freshman just lifted his countenance toward heaven and prayed, “God, I know that you hear me. Please honor the name of your son, Jesus Christ, and honor me, your servant. Don’t let the flask break. Amen.”

Dr. Lee stretched his arm out as far as he could, opened his hand and let the flask fall. It fell in an arc, hit the toe of Dr. Lee’s shoe, rolled over and did not break. There was no movement of air and there were no open windows. The class whistled, clapped and shouted. And Dr. Lee ceased his annual lectures against prayer.

Just a few years ago at a Bible conference in Ontario, Canada, I related this story briefly. After the service, a woman said to me, “Dr. Harvey, I too was a freshman in Dr. Lee’s class and heard him make that challenge. What you say is all true.”

What have been some of the responses to this story on the Internet?

When this type of story makes it to the Internet, there are some positive and some cynical responses. This is but a sample of the sceptical, blasphemous nature of antagonism to the supernatural of this true event as told by Richard Harvey:

1. “I’m thinking there has to be a gullibility gene. Maybe it helps the species propagate”.[4]

2. This story made it under the headline, “There is no such thing as miracles. Do you agree”.[5]

3. It is incorporated under the heading, “If you don’t believe in god, watch this”.[6]

4. A comment about Harvey’s story of Dr Lee: “What a pile of steaming shit!?”[7]

5. It was placed under the heading, “Atheism in Academia” in Conservapedia.[8]

God’s view is radically different: And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith (Matt. 21:22 ESV)

Prayer Shield

This does require a committed, supernatural faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The God revealed in Scripture is supernatural by nature and not naturalistic as with deism.

This story that Richard Harvey relates has grown wings and flourished on the www. Let’s check out one of the sites that checks out possible hoaxes, “TruthOrFiction“, to find the truth vs fiction of whether this is a hoax. Here it is:

Appendix A

The Atheist Professor At USC Who Encountered God Through a Piece of Chalk-Fiction![9]

clip_image001 Summary of Rumor
A notorious atheist professor at the University of Southern California [USC] is known for challenging students about their faith.  He dramatically drops a piece of chalk to the floor saying that if God existed, he could prevent the chalk from breaking.  This happens year after year until a particular Christian student becomes a part of the class.  This time, when the professor drops the chalk, it bounces off his clothing and ends up harmlessly on the floor.  The stunned professor runs from the room in shame and the student preaches the Gospel to the remaining class members.
clip_image001[1] The Truth
This has been one of the most commonly circulated inspirational stories on the Internet and one of the most commonly asked-about at’ve never found any evidence that an incident of this nature has taken place involving a piece of chalk, but there is a first-hand source of a similar, older story, which the chalk tale may be based upon.
First, the University of Southern California has officially denied that this ever happened there.  Dr. Dallas Willard, a philosophy professor at USC, has told that he’s never heard of it happening in his more than 30 years at the school.

There is a related story, however, told by author Richard H. Harvey in his book 70 YEARS OF MIRACLES.  It’s a first-hand account of his experience in a Chemistry class at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania in the 1920’s.  Harvey says the professor, a Dr. Lee, was a deist who annually lectured against prayer.   In one of the class sessions, Dr. Lee said he was going to drop a glass flask on the floor and asked if anyone would like to pray first that the flask would not break, therefore demonstrating the reality of prayer.  Richard Harvey volunteered and prayed.  The professor dropped the flask and it rolled off his shoe to the floor without damage.  The class cheered and the professor stopped his annual lectures against prayer. has confirmed with Allegheny college that Richard Harvey was a student there and that Dr. Lee was a professor.  Richard Harvey’s son, Rev. John Harvey, a minister in Toccoa, Georgia, says this all happened before he was born, but confirms that the story was told by his father.

Updated 18 February 2001


[1] “The Flask  Story” is a copy of the entire chapter by Richard H. Harvey 1977. 70 Years of Miracles. Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada: Horizon House Publishers, chapter 11, pp. 63-66. Horizon House Publishers is no longer in existence, so I could not obtain permission to publish.

[2] His obituary, “Dr Richard Lee, Local Man’s Son, Passes in North”, was in the Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, Friday, January 31, 1936, and stated that his full name was Richard Edwin Lee, late head of the department of chemistry, Allegheny College. He was aged 59 at his death. Available at:,5184628 (Accessed 20 December 2011). A Richard Edwin Lee scholarship is offered at Allegheny College to a deserving student who is majoring in chemistry. See: (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[3] I note that this is a deist view of God. What is deism? Matt Slick of CARM in, “What is deism?”, has defined deism as “the teaching that God exists, that he created the universe and everything in it, but that he stopped being involved in the universe and in people’s lives after he made the universe. Another way of looking at it is to say that God created the universe with everything in it and is letting everything go its natural course without any further intervention on his part. Deism teaches that there are no more miracles, and that the Bible is not inspired of God”. Available at: (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[4] “Is there a gullibility gene that gets activated by religion?” available at: (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[5] See: (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[6] Available at: (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[7] YouTube, available at: (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[8] The article was titled, “Conservapedia:Atheism/torfute”, available at: (Accessed 20 December 2011).

[9] “The Atheist and the chalk”, TruthOrFiction, available at: (Accessed 20 December 2011).


Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 September 2016.