An Imaginary Einstein and the Problem with Faith

If you’ve been on the internet before, you may have seen a story that’s been passed around for several years with titles like “Christian Student Humiliates Atheist Professor” or “Einstein Humiliates Atheist”. I’ve seen this story many times before, and was recently reminded that there are still people credulous enough to share it.

The version of the story I encountered is quite long, but here it is in its entirety for you to peruse:

TAKE TIME TO READ. It’s worth reading it. Trust me :)

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.

P.S.

I believe you have enjoyed the conversation. And if so, you’ll probably want your friends / colleagues to enjoy the same, won’t you?

Forward this to increase their knowledge … or FAITH.

By the way, that student was EINSTEIN.

For quite some time this story has been my go-to example of a straw man, and I think it’s a fascinating example of how fictional characters inherit their author’s ignorance and have their demonstrable intelligence bounded by the intelligence of their author.

Now, hopefully I don’t need to tell anyone that not only was Albert Einstein not involved, but this entire tale is all but certainly fictitious. Most absurdly of all, in my eyes, is the idea that the author of this felt the need to pick an recognisably intelligent person as their champion of Christianity, but they didn’t even bother to pick someone who happened to have been a Christian.

While these comments do much discredit the alleged non-fiction status of this story and highlight the credulity of those who have propagated it, I haven’t yet said anything about the arguments it puts forth.

I suppose the most obvious rebuttal to this story is that both characters (and, presumably, the author) share the same catastrophic misunderstanding of how science works. Science is simply not about the traditional “5 senses”. What is seen/heard/felt etc. is generally referred to as eyewitness testimony, and it is the absolute weakest form of evidence.

For example, we can only directly detect electromagnetic radiation within the relatively small realm of visible light and, to a lesser degree, infrared in the form of thermal radiation. However, the fact that no human has ever seen, heard, felt, tasted or smelt radio waves does not in any way imply that radio waves do not exist or that any form of faith is required to believe that they do exist. To imply otherwise is frankly moronic.

It is precisely because our own limited perceptions fail us so easily that we need a tool such as science. Based on such ubiquitous problems as imperfect memory and confirmation bias people commonly come to ridiculous conclusions. If we care about the truth, we cannot allow ourselves to rely on such things.

The obvious issue with drawing an equivalence between “darkness” being the absence of visible light and “cold” being the absence of heat and the idea that “evil” is the absence of a particular god has the obvious problem that it is exceedingly easy for us to measure visible light or heat, yet the presence of absence of any gods has never been measured or detected. This argument that “evil” is synonymous with the absence of a particular god is, more than anything, an attempt to simply define that god into existence.

Even if I were to accept the idea that “evil” is just a word used to represent the absence of a particular god, the only other properties of this god that are implied are that they are neither omnipresent nor evil. In fact, presumably such a god would be incapable of evil, denying as well the property of omnipotence. In my mind, this concept of being incapable of evil would completely disqualify the Christian god from this position, but that’s an argument for another day.

The imaginary student’s comment on death being simply the absence of life is also mistaken, as death and non-life are not synonymous. In biology, death is the aftermath of life – a cell can die but a rock is simply non-living, it is not dead. This is just a semantic issue, though, so I won’t spend any more time on it.

The mudslinging against evolution is also wrong. Not only has evolution been observed in the lab, but the evidence for evolution is mind-bogglingly vast and varied. The existing fossil or molecular evidence alone, for example, would be enough to all but prove evolution. Given how disturbing I find creationism, and how fascinating I find evolution, you can expect to see a post or two dedicated to this topic at some point.

Faith is the opposite of scepticism. Whereas scepticism is a cognitive tool that can allow you to believe only that which appears to be true, regardless of what you may want to believe, faith is a cognitive tool that can allow you to believe only that which you want to believe, regardless of what may appear to be true.

When examining an idea, there are essentially two potential scenarios in which you might find yourself – either you do have enough evidence to come to a conclusion, or you don’t.

If you do have enough evidence to come to a conclusion, then faith is utterly unnecessary. If you don’t have enough evidence to come to a conclusion, whatever that might mean in this particular case, then you simply don’t have a good reason to come to a conclusion and any faith would be entirely unwarranted.

The only case in which faith is useful in any way is when you need to bridge the gap between insufficient evidence and an unjustified conclusion. If you care about believing in things that are true as opposed to just whatever takes your fancy, then this is something you simply shouldn’t do.

To prove that faith can be used to believe untrue things, you need only to look at people. So many people in our world have religious faith, yet many of the conclusions reached by such faith are incompatible with one another, such as the Christian idea that Jesus is the son of their god and the Islamic idea that the same god had no son. I would also argue that conclusions reached by religious faith are also, practically without exception, incompatible with reality.

If you care about believing in things that are true, this is obviously a problem. Scientific scepticism is the best means we have by which we can ensure that we believe only things that are in accordance with reality.

Scepticism is the virtue here, not faith. Faith is abhorrent.

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4 thoughts on “An Imaginary Einstein and the Problem with Faith

  1. Yes, I saw the gaping flaws in the so-called Christian’s arguments, and I’m a Christian, and thought “surely any person with a modicum of scientific training will debunk the shallow arguments in their reasoning” – and a quick Google of some of the phrases in the polemic, and here we are :)

    I have an academic background, and became a Christian whilst at university, and taught Physics in a top independent school in the UK for nearly 16 years (leaving education eventually to start my own business).

    So often, it seems, Christians have been scared to really engage in the academic arena because they’re afraid they’ll encounter something that will really challenge their faith.

    ..so instead, they’ll try to attack empirical scientific ideas and theories with half-thought through arguments, that as you mentioned above, are severely flawed.

    I’ve never held the the view that Science as a discipline can either prove nor disprove God’s existence.

    For me, at least, Science as a realm of authority, is the most amazing tool we have to make rational sense of the world around us, and how it works.

    If Christians use the argument that there are just things that can never be understood, and so they must be “miraculous” or God’s doing, then that deluded reasoning, because much of what we see and understand now would be considered miraculous by people in recent history.

    So, on to the subject of “what is Faith?”

    (and I’m not here to debunk any of the author of this blog, by the way, instead I want to flag up a few things for all of us to consider – me included – and discuss, with respect and care).

    Here is a saying which I believe about faith:

    Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

    This is quite narrowly defined in one sense:

    “What we hope for”: renewal & transformation of Earth, resurrection from the dead, and eternal life (in the context of the Christian faith).

    “what we do not see”: we don’t yet have direct evidence of its appearance (& there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary – people die of horrible, incurable diseases, there’s untold suffering in the world and more, that we all know about).

    So the only thing I can say from the above, is that I’m either horribly deluded (& need rescuing by atheist friends), or that I have some kind of assurance for my so-called “crazy” beliefs.

    Obviously, I don’t reckon I’m deluded, so, what assurance can I possibly have?

    My own daily encounter with God’s Spirit on a daily basis.

    This isn’t an idea or belief, but the presence of God in me.

    So, how do I answer the accusations against God – the suffering, disease, injustice, death, and more…?

    My honest answer, will be disappointing to many, I know: I don’t fully have a reasonable explanation. But where I personally encounter suffering, and pain, I endeavour to bring blessing, healing, love and restoration.

    Do I always see success in this? No.

    Is that sometimes frustrating? Yes.

    Does God care? Yes, absolutely.

    Then why doesn’t He do something about it?

    I believe the answer to *that* question, is that he calls people from every tribe and nation to be His ambassadors on the Earth, to be His hands and feet, to be conduits of His power and love.

    All crazy, deluded stuff, right?

    I don’t believe so – because my experience is that God dwells by His presence in anyone who chooses to take assurance and confidence in Him, who accepts His love and forgiveness, and then passes it on to others.

    You may disagree with all of that. That’s your choice.

    For me, Science has a realm of authority in how it all works, whereas Faith is a realm associated with human connection with God’s love, and our love for one another, that transcends cultures and language barriers.

    I could go on, but would welcome anyone’s input, contrary on in agreement.

    Blessings,

    Dez.

    1. Hi Dez, thanks for commenting. It’s nice to get the opportunity to have some discussion on one of my older posts. We clearly have different points of view on this, so it should be a good opportunity for us each to better understand a different perspective :)

      The definition of faith that you’ve put forward reads a lot to me like how I might define hope. Though it’s interesting that the two words aren’t generally used in the same way. Last night, I was driving home from my holiday and I hoped that I’d have a safe trip and that my flatmate and cat would be happy to see me when I got home. But I wouldn’t say I had faith in those things.

      Likewise, when someone says they have faith that a god (such as the Christian god you believe in) exists, I don’t think they mean to say that they hope it exists. Usually, I find that “faith” is used more as a synonym to “belief” than it is to “hope”. Is that not the case for you?

      I try to always examine the reasons behind my beliefs. I think it’s one way I can help keep myself from believing things that aren’t true, which is something I want to avoid. I’m sure I haven’t yet weeded out all of my unjustified beliefs yet but hey, we’re all works in progress right?

      I think it’s interesting that your belief seems to be based on, as you put it, “the presence of God in me”. It makes me wonder, how are you sure that’s what it is that you’re experiencing?

      In the past, I’ve found myself entertaining different personas in my thoughts as a way to help me think through difficult decisions. Often they’ve been based on characters from my favourite stories, sort of like a “What would X do?” internal roleplay. I find it really interesting how they can start to feel quite distinct from myself if I keep them around for long enough, almost like they’ll contribute to my internal dialogue on their own. Does that sound like it might be similar to what you experience?

      1. It’s interesting how we all use words differently to mean similar things, or not.

        I have to admit: for me, it would be 100 times more enjoyable to have a face-to-face conversation with you, rather than using the limitations of the written word – but that’s just my preference!

        Some people prefer *this* slower approach I guess, because it gives you a chance to reflect on what you’re thinking – and you can always change your mind. Also, I’ve noticed, some people use language more precisely that others – on a spectrum scale from 1 to 10 (where 10 is impeccable precision & accuracy ot language – if there is such a thing!!), I’m about a 6 or 7 most of the time (when I gave definitions to students in Physics lessons, that number went up where needed).

        Anyway – that all might be irrelevant (but I guess I believe it’s worth mentioning) to exploring “faith”, “hope” and so on.

        On to the other thing you mention – it reminds me of Jung’s archetypes idea of the human mind/psyche, and that could be a good way to understand spiritual experiences from a rationalist perspective I guess.

        When I experience the God’s Spirit in my body, I tend to find different sensations in different parts of the body, which on the whole bypass the sensations associated with cognitive thought.

        My own thinking for example, is a sensation somewhere behind my nose, in the upper middle of my head – other times, I can sense the thinking higher up, almost as if my neurological system is somehow attuned to cognition – which is very cool!

        Sensations from God’s Spirit tend to happen in other parts of my body – but sometimes the head (usually not, though), and they tend to me more associated with a sense of calm, or energy, sometimes a mixture of both, sometimes a powerful emotion. Interestingly, praying in tongues sometimes triggers an tingling energy in various parts of the body, other times not.

        Parts of the body include back of the shoulder, back, sometimes hands (which can get warm or even hot on those occasions, particularly when I sense the power of God is there to bring physical healing to other peoples’ bodies).

        Also, when I sense God speaking to me, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from my head at all, but somewhere else – more in the middle of the upper body core. When I pray in tongues, there can be no reaction physically, a mild, or occasionally strong reaction.

        Once, when praying with sometone for a friend (in absentia) who is suffering from terminal cancer, my whole body flooded with what I can best describe as energy – almost like being electrocuted, but rather than it being painful, I was overwhelmed physically and emotionally by an intense sensation of love.

        I’m sure neuroscientists could easily explain these sensations from a purely biological and psychological perspective, so I’m not trying to prove or disprove anything here – just trying to convey things using written language. I’m also very aware than many, if not all the above physical reactions have been sensed by people throughout the millennia, in many different religions around the world, and the sensations neither prove or disprove anything.

        It would be genuinely interesting to know what academic research is being done on the above experiences, and I’m sure it would be a fascinating study.

        Best regards,

        Dez.

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