Monday, September 23, 2013

Faith Like Einstein

Browsing along my Facebook feed I came across this story.  It reads:

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.
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.

On the surface this appears to be a pretty typical, internet, Christian-gets-the-better-of-an-Atheist-professor story.  Sadly, as with Amish housewives and sparkling vampires, these types of internet stories seem to qualify as their own literary genre and possibly even warrant a shelf at Barnes & Noble, if they were to ever make it to a printed form.

But what makes this urban myth all the more unique is the last line.  Almost like a parting shot, this addendum warns the reader: “You may want to ignore the story, or question parts of it, but what if I told you the student was not just Joe Freshman off the street?  What if I told you he was Albert J. (“J” for Jenius) Einstein?  That's right. Boom!  Can't ignore it now!”

Granted, I might be paraphrasing a bit.  But I think we can agree that the intent of the original author, while probably not this verbatim, was definitely along those lines.  Einstein is mentioned at the end as a sort of an, “Oh by the way”.  His figure lends credibility to the argument and the author, or possibly editor, felt the story would benefit from a cameo from the greatest mind of the 20th century.  His name is synonymous with “genius” for a reason.

It seems as if I have exposed one of my presuppositions in regards to this story.  I believe wholeheartedly that this is an apocryphal story that bears little resemblance to actual least in regards to Einstein.  Could this encounter have occurred on a college campus?  Sure.  I feel confident that there have been numerous interactions like this on college campuses.  And I am thrilled about that.  The university exists to debate and exchange ideas and I would hope that there are constantly these types of interactions occurring, in lecture halls, dorm rooms, coffee shops and cafes. 

But this interchange did not occur in the life of Albert Einstein. Why am I so certain about this.  2 reasons.  First, this exchange does not find itself in any biography of Einstein.  Such a seemingly interesting and shaping confrontation would seem to warrant at least a mention in at least one of the many biographies written about this man.  Secondly, the religious views clearly articulated by Einstein himself would prohibit such an exchange. Einstein was an ethnic Jew who seems to have been a deist or a pantheist, clearly rejecting the term atheist but also and equally rejecting the idea of a personal god.  He most certainly never claimed anything resembling Biblical faith in Jesus Christ.
“So what?” you may ask.  Is this a problem?  Is there any reason to be concerned?  Why does it matter that the actual student was not Albert Einstein?  Why should we consider this an issue that would cause concern and need to be addressed as it regards the spreading of the above story?  I feel the problem here is manifold. 

The first problem is the appeal to Albert Einstein for a credibility boost.  The parable author, or editor, did not feel the story itself was sufficient to make a point.  To bolster the argument made in the parable, the author commits the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority.  Rather than allowing the argument to stand or fall on its own merit, Einstein gets thrown in as an authority.  The bigger issue is that this is a philosophical argument that the author then makes an appeal using the authority of Einstein.  In reality, this is an appeal to celebrity.  And this is the temptation faced by Christians in many cases(just think of the last quarterback/homerun hitter/movie star/politician/ musical star who thanked God for his Grammy award winning murder/sex CD, etc…)

We often feel the need to validate our own faith.  We feel if a certain leader, a certain thinker, a certain athlete or musician, if they agree with us and embrace our faith, then we must be on to something.  Not only that, but we feel if that certain somebody would embrace the faith, then that would do it.  That would make it possible for God to REALLY accomplish something.  Our pragmatism overtakes our trust in God and we look for all sorts of ways that we can “make it work”. 

But why do we feel the Gospel needs a boost from some man's credibility?  Why do we feel that the points made in the parable would have greater impact or would somehow be more credible coming from Einstein as opposed to “Joe Freshman off the street”?

This parable also points out a flaw in our thinking and in our affections.  We have a desire to be vindicated in the eyes of the world.  We want all those people who have mocked us for our faith or our lack of conformity to the world to have that moment where they say, “So-and-so was right all along.  I should have believed them.”  Oftentimes this is not a sincere desire for someone to come to repentance and faith and be made right with God but rather that they would repent of the wrong they have done to us and become convinced that they were wrong and we were right.  Our desire is self-centered and it is the restoration and elevation of our reputation.  We need that atheist professor who questioned our intelligence to know he was wrong.  Not so that he comes to faith but so that he thinks better of us.  We need that neighbor who mocked our decisions, that family member who gossiped about us, that friend of a friend of a friend who looked at us funny; we need them to know that we were right.  Not so that they will love Jesus and praise His name, but so that our reputation will be restored to its “proper” place.  This story shows a heart issue that many of us struggle with mightily.

But when it comes down to it, the main problem with the parable above is that it is simply dishonest.  Regardless of reasoning and regardless of results, the author/editor who put Einstein's name on this parable was lying.  Either intentionally or carelessly, the author perpetuated a falsehood.  What is sadder than this is the fact that I saw it.  And many, many people have seen it.  Google a few lines from the story and see all the hits you get in return.  It is viral.  Why is this sad?  This means that many, many people (presumably Christians) have forwarded this as an email or posted it on social networking sites and/or discussion boards.  It is not simply that the author/editor has been dishonest, but so have many, many believers. 

Why have so many been dishonest?  I think most are careless and see no reason to research things like this.  But we need to work on fostering a discerning spirit and ensuring that our “yes be yes”, even if any dishonesty exists by simple, careless mistakes.  Another reason so many have been dishonest in this way is because they genuinely want it to be true.  For the reasons listed before and for countless other reasons I'm sure, we as believers genuinely desire this to be a true story.  And we want it to be a true story about Albert Einstein.  But our desire for it to be true has blinded us to the danger of presenting a myth as fact.  What if unbelievers began to believe that this is how Christians operate on all levels, myth and fact intermingled to simply make a point? 

What is the danger of this type of careless dishonesty?  Critics of Christianity from its onset have attacked the Christian faith as revisionist history.  They have gone after Christianity as a myth that presents itself as truth in order to present some sort of moral teaching and civic guidelines.  The historicity of the key tenets of Christianity have been doubted, attacked and mocked from as early as the day of the Resurrection.  The charges are abundant.  Christians made up the Resurrection, put words in the mouth of Jesus, fabricated fulfilled prophecies, eliminated works that exposed an alternative history of the Christian movement, et al. 

So the danger of using revisionist history then to support our truth claim should be obvious.  “If modern-Christians play so fast and loose with facts that are quite simple to research and verify, why should we believe them on an issue like the Resurrection?”  Our integrity is imperative.  The message of Christianity is foolish and offensive on its own, we would do well not to add stumbling blocks of our own on the road to faith. 

If nothing else we should heed the words of President Abraham Lincoln when he said, “You cannot believe everything you read on the internet.”  Come to think of it, that may not have been him who said that.