I received an email response to one of my videos that included a story of a supposed discussion between a student (Einstein) and his school teacher about the existence of God. This story has been circulating for some time. In any case, I did enjoy the story (made into the commercial below) though it was a bit painful to read in places! The teacher seemed uncouth to be haranguing his students on their beliefs and I doubted there were many such examples even then.
The young Mr. Einstein defended his position very well, though his answers while correct and enlightening only served to rebut the teacher’s flawed reasoning, not to bolster a creationist worldview. The arguments presented and refuted were long abandoned even then and if used today would put the questioner up to ridicule!
“Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God.” This is a ridiculous leap to make (and self-contradictory to boot) though it can be condoned because of the age of the speaker! If “evil does not exist” then saying “evil is the absence of God” can have no real meaning. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.” It also begs the further question of where you could go in the universe to be absent from God? ie: does He allow certain areas to be free of his presence so that evil can exist there?
Young Einstein asks, “Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?” to which the teacher replies, “…Yes, of course I do.” This is a gross misrepresentation of what Evolution teaches us! I’m willing to put this aside for now, but I feel it must be said that humans did not evolve from monkeys! Humans and monkeys share a common ancestor, one that looked like neither species but almost certainly looked more monkey-like than human-like.
The Teacher is a straw-man in this story. He epitomizes the simplistic view of an intolerant Atheist, challenging his students to “throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.” His arguments are not very good to begin with, though they sound as though they are superficially. For example, he proposes Empiricism – “all knowledge derives from the senses” – as the correct way to look at the world. Well, we’ve seen that that can’t be true. The idea itself did seem to help by promoting observation and experiment, but from the outset it became obvious even to it’s proponents that there was something seriously wrong with it.
David Deutsch sums this up nicely:
Empiricism is inadequate. Scientific theories explain the seen in terms of the unseen. The unseen doesn’t come to us through the senses. We don’t see nuclear reactions in stars. We don’t see the origin of species. We don’t see the curvature of space-time and other universes. But we know about those things. How? Well, the classic empiricist answer is induction – the unseen resembles the seen. But it doesn’t! The clinching evidence that space-time is curved was a photograph – not of space-time, but of an eclipse with a dot there, rather than over there! And the evidence for evolution? Some rocks and some finches. And parallel universes? Again, dots there rather than there on a screen. What we see in all these cases bears no resemblance to the reality that we conclude is responsible – only a long chain of theoretical reasoning and interpretation connects them.
The title of the email attachment, “God VS Science” was the wrong way to look at it. It’s “Religion VS Science” as far as most Atheists are concerned. The teacher in this story was attempting through logic to refute an illogical proposition and the young Mr. Einstein simply rose to the challenge and responded in kind. Science doesn’t really come into the argument at all, being used alternately by both combatants as it suited their purpose but at no time standing up for itself. Perhaps an even better title would be “Albert Einstein VS The Science Teacher.” That would certainly be more accurate to the content.
Finally, it should be pointed out that Einstein admitted to being a mediocre student and did not become famous until quite some time after finishing his studies. Moreover, in his Autobiographical Notes Einstein stated that his “deep religiosity” as a Jewish child (not a Christian, as the story portrays him!) ended at the age of 12 when he developed a skeptical attitude towards God. I think it’s funny that the religious still trot out Albert Einstein’s so-called religiosity despite the common fact that he was not a believer.
Here’s an interesting article written by Einstein in the New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930, titled “Religion and Science“
Remember: It’s only when an explanation is good that it even matters whether it’s testable or not!