|In 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|
|On 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
|The 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
The legend has received glowing reviews on many Christian web sites. Examples are:
|“Albert has shown unquestionable intelligence, I admired him.”|
|“Wow, this is a really great story. I’m going to copy this and put it on my space too…”|
|“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?”|
|“This is wonderful! This provides me with another in a long list of reasons why I adore Einstein!”|
|“Where DID you find this? Awesome.”|
|“This is one of the most influential statements I have ever heard.”|
|“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….”|
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:
|In 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.|
|The story attempts to prove God’s existence as follows:
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.
|Another approach would be to realize that no consensus exists over what is good and evil in a given situation.|
|Some 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.|
|Some 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.|
|The 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.|
|Some 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.|
|There 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.|
One blog added a second layer of urban legend to this legend. They wrote 26 “funny facts” including:
|Item 1: “It is impossible to lick your elbow.”|
|Item 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