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Christian Urban Legends

Did "Einstein" prove that God exists?

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Sponsored link.


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Overview:

The following story attempts to prove the existence of God. It allegedly records a conversation between a humble, God-believing student and an arrogant Atheistic university professor. The text appears in hundreds of Christian web sites on the Internet. It is doubtful whether the conversation ever took place. But one can be certain that if the story describes a real event, Albert Einstein was not the university student involved.

It seems that the story had been circulating for some time before the summer of 2004 when it was first attributed to Einstein. It is probable that Einstein's name was chosen simply in order to lend credibility to the argument.

The story can be found in text form on many hundreds of locations on the Internet. One remarkable portrayal is by photographer Macel Cohen and is in a PowerPoint presentation. It combines the text with some incredibly beautiful photographs. It is well worth taking the effort to download a free PowerPoint viewer just to see the photographs. 5

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Did God create everything that exists? Does evil exist? Did God create evil?

A University professor at a well known institution of higher learning challenged his students with this question. "Did God create everything that exists?"

A student bravely replied, "Yes he did!"

"God created everything?" The professor asked.

"Yes sir, he certainly did," the student replied.

The professor answered, "If God created everything; then God created evil. And, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then we can assume God is evil."

The student became quiet and did not answer the professor's hypothetical definition. The professor, quite pleased with himself, boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, "May I ask you a question, professor?"

"Of course", replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"

"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?"

The other students snickered at the young man's question.

The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 F) is the total absence of heat; and all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat."

The student continued, "Professor, does darkness exist?"

The professor responded, "Of course it does."

The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color.

You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."

Finally the young man asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?"

Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course, as I have already said. We see it everyday. It is in the daily examples of man's Inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist, sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat, or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

The professor sat down.

The young man's name - Albert Einstein 7

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Indicators that Albert Einstein was not involved:

bulletIn his Autobiographical Notes, Einstein states that his "deep religiosity" as a Jewish child ended at the age of 12 when he developed a skeptical attitude towards a personal God that he continued throughout his life. 1
bulletOn 1954-MAR-24, Einstein answered a letter from a stranger stating:

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." 2

bulletThe Urban Legends Reference Pages comments that Einstein's name:

"... gets used in legends whose plots call for a smart person, one whom the audience will immediately recognize as such (e.g. modern tellings of an ancient legend about a learned rabbi who switches places with his servant feature Albert Einstein in the role of esteemed scholar). This venerated cultural icon has, at least in the world of contemporary lore, become a stock character to be tossed into the fray wherever the script calls for a genius. ..."

Likewise, "the atheist professor" is a figure common to a number of urban legends and anecdotes of the faithful he gets flung into the mix where there's a need for someone to play the role of Science Vanquished in Science-versus-Religion tales. ...

He's a stereotype, not an actual person. He exists to be knocked over by the persuasive arguments of the faithful in yarns about theology successfully defended. 3

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Comments on the "Einstein and the professor" story from Christian web sites:

The legend has received glowing reviews on many Christian web sites. Examples are:

bullet"Albert has shown unquestionable intelligence, I admired him."
bullet"Wow, this is a really great story. I'm going to copy this and put it on my space too..."
bullet"There is no debate. God has to exist in some form or another. There has to be a point where science has no place and only a divine cause is logical. The real debate is what form does God take?"
bullet"This is wonderful! This provides me with another in a long list of reasons why I adore Einstein!"
bullet"Where DID you find this? Awesome."
bullet"This is one of the most influential statements I have ever heard."
bullet"I was deeply moved by the fact that truth is right there in front of our faces all the time... too often we don't see it...."

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Does the "Einstein and the professor" story  prove that God exists?

The story is basically an attempt to solve the problem of theodicy: the coexistence of God and evil in the world. "Theodicy" comes from a Greek expression meaning the "justification of God." It is an attempt to explain how an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibeneficient, and omnipresent God could have created a world with so much suffering and evil present.

One example of the conflict is the hypothetical case of a child running onto a street into the path of an oncoming truck that is unable to stop in time to prevent the child's death. If an adult observes the scene and does nothing to try to stop the child, we would consider them profoundly evil. But the historical concept of God is that he is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all present. Yet in this scenario, God would do nothing to prevent the death of the child. He is either not all powerful, or not all present, or not all loving, or not all knowing. Rabbi Harold Kushner tackled this problem in his very popular book: "When bad things happen to good people." 7 He concluded that God cannot possess all four attributes simultaneously. He felt that we should drop God's omnipotence in order to retain the other three attributes. That is, God didn't save the life of the child because he cannot do so.

Theologians and philosophers have attempted to harmonize the presence of evil and the historical attributes of God for centuries without success. So it is doubtful that this story will accomplish that goal.

Analyzing the story:

bulletIn the third last paragraph, "Einstein" says: "Evil is simply the absence of God." Note that "Einstein" first assumes the existence of God in order to prove the existence of God. He is saying that God exists and thus God exists. This is circular reasoning, and makes his analysis meaningless.
bulletThe story attempts to prove God's existence as follows:
bullet"Einstein" asserts: "Evil is simply the absence of God."
bulletBy implication, good is the presence of God.
bulletGood and evil exist in the world.
bulletThus God must also exist.

However, an alternate initial statement would be that "Evil is simply the absence of good." I suspect that if you asked many people what the antonym of "evil" is, the vast majority would respond "good." Very few would respond "God."

By substituting "good" for "God," the argument collapses.

bulletAnother approach would be to realize that no consensus exists over what is good and evil in a given situation.
bulletSome people believe that capital punishment is evil because it terminates a person's life prematurely usually without the person's consent. Other feel that it is good because its use lowers the area's homicide rate.
bulletSome believe that spanking children is good because it is mandated by the God's Word, the Bible, and because it is the only effective method of disciplining children. Others feel that spanking is evil because they feel it terrorizes children and realize that it causes higher rates of depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and drug abuse among adults who were spanked as children.
bulletThe leaders of Nazi Germany felt that the Jewish Holocaust was a noble calling that would make a major contribution to the betterment of European society by making the area Juden-Frei (free of Jews). Essentially everyone today condemns the Holocaust and all other forms of genocide as the most serious evil possible.
bulletSome feel that same-sex marriage is a profound evil because if it becomes widely available, more people will choose to become homosexual, and because it will damage or destroy the institution of marriage. Others feel that same-sex marriage is good because it extends all of the advantages of marriage to persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation, and would lower the level of anti-gay bigotry.
bulletThere are obviously very different views of good and evil in the world. Most individuals probably believe that absolute truth exists for them, and perhaps even for their culture and religious denomination or tradition. But when comparing the absolute truths as claimed by different individuals, cultures, and denominations, we observe great diversity and much mutual exclusivity. There is no agreement on what is good and what is evil.

If we equate goodness with God, as was done in this story, then it is obvious that a multiplicity of Gods would have to exist. This would not be difficult during ancient times when different Gods and Goddesses were assumed to be in charge of different cultures. However, the argument collapses if one is trying to prove that only a single deity exists.

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A legend on top of a legend:

One blog added a second layer of urban legend to this legend. They wrote 26 "funny facts" including:

bulletItem 1: "It is impossible to lick your elbow."
bulletItem 26: "Over 75% of people who read this will try to lick their elbow." This was followed by one version of the Einstein story.

I have personally verified item 1 by testing my tongue on my own elbow. But I cannot prove that it is true for everyone.

Item 2 could not be verified without a large study. But I seriously doubt that it is true. 4

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References:

  1. "Einstein Proves That God Exists in a Confrontation with a Professor-Fiction!" Truth of Fiction, 2004-AUG-25, at: http://www.truthorfiction.com/
  2. "Einstein the agnostic," California Skeptics, at: http://skeptically.org/
  3. Barbara Mikkelson, "Malice of Absence," Urban Legends Reference Pages, 2004-JUN-29, at: http://www.snopes.com/
  4. "Repository Blog of a w3bd3sign3r," at: http://w3bd3sign3r.wordpress.com/
  5. Marcel Cohen "Marcel Cohen presents his art of photography," at http://www.good-will.ch/ This is a PowerPoint file that requires software to show. A free PowerPoint Viewer 2003 can be downloaded from: http://www.microsoft.com/
  6. "Does Evil Exist?" Harvey Bingham's personal web site, at: http://www.hbingham.com/
  7. Harold S. Kushner, "When bad things happen to good people," Anchor, (Reprinted 2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright 2007 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-APR-06
Latest update: 2007-APR-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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