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There are quite a few variations of this story about Einstein beating his atheist philosophy professor in a philosophical argument. Here is one variation of the story. I’ll add my own thoughts after it. My commentary and counter arguments are rather extensive and I apologize for the length of this post. I do hope it clears up some of the myth surrounding this story.

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?
Student : Yes, sir.
Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?
Student : Absolutely, sir.
Professor : Is GOD good ?
Student : Sure.
Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?
Student : Yes.
Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?
(Student was silent.)
Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?
Student : Yes.
Professor: Is satan good ?
Student : No.
Professor: Where does satan come from ?
Student : From … GOD …
Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?
Student : Yes.
Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?
Student : Yes.
Professor: So who created evil ?
(Student did not answer.)
Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?
Student : Yes, sir.
Professor: So, who created them ?
(Student had no answer.)
Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?
Student : No, sir.
Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?
Student : No , sir.
Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?
Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.
Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?
Student : Yes.
Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?
Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.
Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.
Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?
Professor: Yes.
Student : And is there such a thing as cold?
Professor: Yes.
Student : No, sir. There isn’t.
(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)
Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.
(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)
Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?
Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?
Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?
Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?
Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.
Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?
Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.
Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?
Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.
Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?
(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)
Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?
(The class was in uproar.)
Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?
(The class broke out into laughter. )
Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?
(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)
Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.
Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.
By the way, that student was EINSTEIN.

I have a lot of things to say about this tale, so many, in fact, that I’m going to break it up into parts and sub-parts. First, I’m going to critique the presentation, and then I’ll critique the philosophical arguments.

The Presentation

Historically False

This was not Einstein, that’s a myth. This is a tale that has been making its rounds on the internet for quite a few years. Over the years, parts of it change but the overall idea is still the same – Einstein trumps an atheist professor’s philosophical argument for disproof of God.

See: http://www.snopes.com/religion/einstein.asp

There is another historically false claim – that Einstein was a Christian. That is just wishful thinking.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein%27s_religious_views

Fallacious Appeals to Authority

Whoever invented this tale used Einstein’s name in an attempt to add intellectual authority to the tale. An appeal to authority can be a valid argument tactic but in this case it is fallacious because a consensus does not exist among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion. Even if the story actually was true (it has been established that it is not) this appeal to authority would be a fallacious tactic.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

The appeal to authority that I’m referring to above is the idea that Einstein would endorse the specific arguments put forth in the tale. There is also another implicit appeal to authority – that Einstein endorsed Christianity. This is fallacious for the simple reason that it is historically false as has been established earlier.

Psychological Manipulation Tactics

This tale portrays the atheist philosophy professor as being ignorant and easy to trap in philosophical arguments. No professor of philosophy (atheist or Christian) is as dumb as the one portrayed here.

The tale-writer is a psychological manipulator that utilizes the human tendency for conformity (See Bandwagon effect). Notice how the tale-writer has included an entire group of people (a classroom) and notice their reactions during the dialogue between student and professor;

  • “The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.”
  • “There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.”
  • “The class was in uproar.”
  • “The class broke out into laughter.”
  • “The room was silent…”

It is obvious that the tale-writer used the “crowd” as a conformity tactic. I mean, who doesn’t want to agree with the majority?

These psychological manipulation tactics employed by the tale-writer are intended to persuade a reader to take the side of the student. Such persuasion tactics go beyond that which an objective presenter of the philosophical arguments would use. The tale-writer did not present the philosophical arguments in an objective manner, but rather, lies about the origin of the tale, makes fallacious appeals to authority, and attempts to psychologically manipulate the reader.

The Philosophical Arguments

The major points of this tale are its two philosophical claims;

  • Evil was not so much created by God as it is an example of an absence of God
  • Even scientists have faith

Unjustified Claim: Evil is the Absence of God

On the surface, the argument that evil is just the absence of God seems to be compelling based on the given analogies. However, let us look closer…

Arguing that cold is just the absence of heat, and darkness is just the absence of light, is an argument of semantics. It is not how we think of our world in our day to day lives.

When we think about temperature, we think of a spectrum ranging from low temperature (cold) to high temperature (hot). To argue that heat is just the absence of cold is to disregard the definition of the two as they are used in natural language.

When we think about light, we think of a spectrum ranging from bright light (light) to low light (dark). To argue that darkness is just the absence of light is to disregard the definition of the two as they are used in natural language.

Despite the two arguments about cold/heat and light/darkness being just arguments of semantics – they are logically valid if we all agree to constrain our normal definitions of the terms.

They are valid because temperature and light are physical, quantifiable, phenomena in our universe. Temperature is a quantifiable property of matter that can be precisely measured with scientific instruments. Light is electromagnetic radiation that can be detected with scientific instruments, and many of its properties can be measured with precision. The point is – these are real, physical, and measurable phenomena of our universe.

Good and evil are not. Good and evil cannot be detected with scientific instruments. Good and evil cannot be quantified with scientific instruments.

It is my counter claim that good and evil are not physical phenomena. Rather, they are our subjective assessments of the effects of certain events. It makes no more sense to claim that evil is the absence of good than it does to make the claim that good is the absence of evil.

Overall, this is a specious argument that benefits neither side of the debate.

Unjustified Claim: Everybody has Faith

Here I will not attempt to disprove the existence of God but merely to demonstrate the difference between religious faith and rationally justified beliefs, thereby showing the final claim of this tale to be unjustified as well.

To make the claim that religious faith has the same epistemological value as rationally justified beliefs demonstrates a complete ignorance of the scientific method.

The belief that persons have brains is supported by the following scientific evidence:

1) The fact that every person that has ever been scientifically examined in the necessary manner has been found to have a brain.

2) The brain is the only known object that can cause the complex behavior of persons.

3) There is no evidence to suggest that there are persons with no brains.

While these facts do not deductively prove that any specific person (that has not been scientifically examined) does have a brain, it does constitute a rationally justified belief that is fully supported by Occam’s razor.

Religious faith, on the other hand, is a set of beliefs that is not supported by scientific evidence.

To equate religious faith with scientific beliefs is to blatantly redefine our commonly accepted definitions of these terms and it is an insult to intelligent beings everywhere.