This post is going to be extremely long. First I’m going to post an easily discreditable story that Christians commonly use to reinforce their faith. Then I’m going to show how unfair and inaccurate the story is. My hope is that three things will happen.
1. Christians everywhere will see what a sloppy piece of work this story is and stop using it forever.
2. Both Christians and non-Christians will learn to think a bit more clearly.
3. Christians will understand that I do not mean to insult them. I just think both sides should play fair. I have criticized a lot of atheist arguments on this blog, and now it’s time that I criticize a Christian one. The point is not scoring points for our side, the point is sticking by the truth wherever it is found.
Here’s a reprint of the story:
A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, “Let me explain the problem science has with religion.” The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.
“You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?”
“Yes sir,” the student says.
“So you believe in God?”
“Is God good?”
“Sure! God’s good.”
“Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?”
“Are you good or evil?”
“The Bible says I’m evil.”
The professor grins knowingly. “Aha! The Bible!” He considers for a moment. “Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?”
“Yes sir, I would.”
“So you’re good…!”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.”
The student does not answer, so the professor continues. “He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?”
The student remains silent.
“No, you can’t, can you?” the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.
“Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?”
“Er…yes,” the student says.
“Is Satan good?”
The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. “No.”
“Then where does Satan come from?”
The student falters. “From God”
“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”
“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?”
“So who created evil?” The professor continued, “If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.”
Again, the student has no answer. “Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?”
The student squirms on his feet. “Yes.”
“So who created them?”
The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. “Who created them?” There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. “Tell me,” he continues onto another student. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”
The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. “Yes, professor, I do.”
The old man stops pacing. “Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?”
“No sir. I’ve never seen Him.”
“Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?”
“No, sir, I have not.”
“Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?”
“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“Yet you still believe in him?”
“According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?”
“Nothing,” the student replies. “I only have my faith.”
“Yes, faith,” the professor repeats. “And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.”
The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of His own. “Professor, is there such thing as heat?”
“Yes,” the professor replies. “There’s heat.”
“And is there such a thing as cold?”
“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”
“No sir, there isn’t.”
The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees.”
“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 (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.”
Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.
“What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?”
“Yes,” the professor replies without hesitation. “What is night if it isn’t darkness?”
“You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it 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 it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word.”
“In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?”
The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. “So what point are you making, young man?”
“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.”
The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. “Flawed? Can you explain how?”
“You are working on the premise of duality,” the student explains. “You argue that there is life and then there’s 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?”
“If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.”
“Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?”
The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.
“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 now not a scientist, but a preacher?”
The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.
“To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.”
The student looks around the room. “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?” The class breaks out into laughter.
“Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain? 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, with all due respect, sir.”
“So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?”
Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. “I guess you’ll have to take them on faith.”
“Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,” the student continues. “Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?”
Now uncertain, the professor responds, “Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example 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 student was Albert Einstein.
And now my response:
First — FALSE. Einstein never did this. [Snopes.com]
There are good arguments for the existence of God. Unfortunately, this story that circulates so often around the Internet doesn’t contain them. I know it has an appearance of validity, and I think it has a way of making Christians feel good, and it does manage to get some good points in here and there, but it’s intellectually a bit dishonest. This is not to say that the Christians who use it are dishonest. Usually they are just mistaken in believing that these arguments carry any weight. On to the problems.
The story has the professor fall into the “Is there darkness” trap immediately after he fell into the “Is there cold” trap. No thinking person would fall into that same trap twice. This is a ploy in the story to allow the student to further make his point (the point itself isn’t bad), and set the big, bad, evil, atheist professor up as a buffoon. “Hey gang! It’s a full-fledged atheist smack-down! Come here, you gotta see this!” The problem is, it’s not. And of course even if it’s is, smack-downs are not Christian. Either way, we have a problem.
The thing about science saying “you have no brain”since the brain is not observable is absurd, and is enough in itself to give reason why this story should have died years ago. We have instruments that can see the brain. Even before that, the skull of every human being who had ever lived was available in which to locate a brain. It is precisely because the brain has been so available for us to see (and in the last 100 years to test and measure in various ways) that we believe in, and understand, the brain.
Next, a key Christian understanding of evil is that it IS more than the absence of God. That is the idea behind “Satan,” or “the devil” – that there is a personal force for evil. That’s not to say ALL evil is caused by a personal being, but we definitely believe evil is more than just the absence of God.
Next, the Christian replies, “I have only my faith,” as if there are not actual reasons to believe. This is false. There are many very good reasons to believe. The Reason for God, by Tim Keller, deals honestly with those reasons. Faith is often defined as believing something when there’s no reason for believing it, but it is impossible to have faith in something without reason. I have faith in my wife that she will be faithful to me, but this faith is based on reasons — lots of reasons. ALL faith is based on reasons. If you are reading this post right now it’s because you care about this topic, and if you care about this topic there is nothing you need to know more than that faith is based on reasons. Faith is NOT believing in something without reasons. Believing in something without reasons is called irrationality and stupidity.
Bringing in the evolution thing further discredits this story. When Christians react against evolution, we’re seen as being like people long ago who insisted that the earth was flat. We have no reason to reject what science tells us about earth’s origins and development. Of course it’s a theory and can always be disproved or modified in light of new evidence, but either way it’s not something we need to worry about. Whether God knocks over Domino Z directly or whether he does it by knocking over A, which knocks over B, which knocks over C until you get to Z, makes no difference. God started it, God willed it, and God accomplished it. To be Christian is simply to believe that God is behind this thing and it’s purposeful rather than random.
In order to fit together the “arguments” in this note, the person who formulated it would have been able to think well enough to see through its holes and fallacies. He/she knew it was dishonest when it was written. Unclear thinking is forgivable. Dishonesty, too is forgivable, but we should be able to clearly recognize both.
Though I’ve seen this story pop up in my inbox a thousand times, I have only recently begun to respond to it. Most people aren’t that interested in truth, they just want something that seems to make their point and makes them feel good – and if it also makes atheists look pathetic and stupid, so much the better (“Smack-down everybody!”). And many Christians simply don’t realize that the story is shallow and intellectually dishonest.
God-seekers must be first of all rooted in truth, since God IS truth. The truth is that this story, rather than showing the superiority of Christian thinking, actually shows the Christian in the story to look foolish.
Part of my work at my church is ministry to people on the deeper levels of thinking. I want to create a community of people who aren’t afraid to think deeply on things and to base their understanding of Christ on those deep things. Christians must realize we have nothing to fear from the truth, and we should seek always to be absolutely ruthless in search of it.
In the middle ages, monasteries were the centers of knowledge. The church has much work to do to reclaim our rightful place as centers of knowledge, and I think it begins with a few Christians who will think deeply about things like this, teaching others to do the same, and getting firmly on the side of knowledge and truth. To do this would necessitate active rejection of dubious posts like the above. Rather than embrace it for whatever good we think is there, we should distance ourselves from it.
There are so many things that have the appearance of knowledge but are actually dishonest and untruthful. This story is one of them. The more Christians who know that, the better, so we can seek truth and avoid being associated with this kind of thing.