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Did Einstein Prove that God Exists?

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Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

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Albert Einstein
Central Press / Stringer / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

In this viral anecdote of unknown origin, a university student named Albert Einstein humiliates his atheist professor by proving that God exists.

Description: Urban legend
Circulating since: 2004 (this version)
Status: False (see details below)

Email contributed by Wilma C., June 23, 2004:

The professor of a university challenged his students with this question. "Did God create everything that exists?" A student answered bravely, "Yes, he did".

The professor then asked, "If God created everything, then he created evil. Since evil exists (as noticed by our own actions), so God is evil. The student couldn't respond to that statement causing the professor to conclude that he had "proved" that "belief in God" was a fairy tale, and therefore worthless.

Another student raised his hand and asked the professor, "May I pose a question? " "Of course" answered the professor.

The young student stood up and asked : "Professor does Cold exists?"

The professor answered, "What kind of question is that? ...Of course the cold exists... haven't you ever been cold?"

The young student answered, "In fact sir, Cold does not exist. According to the laws of Physics, what we consider cold, in fact is the absence of heat. Anything is able to be studied as long as it transmits energy (heat). Absolute Zero is the total absence of heat, but cold does not exist. What we have done is create a term to describe how we feel if we don't have body heat or we are not hot."

"And, does Dark exist?", he continued. The professor answered "Of course". This time the student responded, "Again you're wrong, Sir. Darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in fact simply the absence of light. Light can be studied, darkness can not. Darkness cannot be broken down. A simple ray of light tears the darkness and illuminates the surface where the light beam finishes. Dark is a term that we humans have created to describe what happens when there's lack of light."

Finally, the student asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?" The professor replied, "Of course it exists, as I mentioned at the beginning, we see violations, crimes and violence anywhere in the world, and those things are evil."

The student responded, "Sir, Evil does not exist. Just as in the previous cases, Evil is a term which man has created to describe the result of the absence of God's presence in the hearts of man."

After this, the professor bowed down his head, and didn't answer back.

The young man's name was ALBERT EINSTEIN.

Analysis: This apocryphal tale of a college-age Albert Einstein proving the existence of God to his atheist professor first began circulating in 2004. One reason we know it isn't true is that a more elaborate version of the same story was already making the rounds five years before that with no mention of Einstein in it at all.

Another reason we know it isn't true is that Einstein was a self-described agnostic who didn't believe in what he called a "personal God." He wrote: "[T]he word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."

And, finally, we know it isn't true because Einstein was a careful thinker who wouldn't have abided the specious logic attributed to him here. As written, the argument neither disproves the existence of evil nor proves the existence of God.

(Note: None of what follows is intended to disprove the existence of God, nor suffices to do so.)

Specious logic

The claim that cold "doesn't exist" because according to the laws of physics it's merely "the absence of heat" amounts to nothing more than semantic game-playing. Heat is a noun, the name of a physical phenomenon, a form of energy. Cold is an adjective describing a relative lack of heat. To say that something is cold, or that we feel cold, or even that we're going out in "the cold," is not to assert that cold "exists." We're simply reporting the temperature. (It's helpful to recognize that the antonym of cold isn't heat; it's hot.)

The same applies to light (in this context a noun denoting a form of energy), and dark (an adjective). It's true that when we say, "It's dark outside," the phenomenon we're actually describing is a relative absence of light, but that doesn't mean that by speaking of "the dark" we mistake it for a thing that "exists" in the same sense that light does. We're simply describing the degree of illumination we perceive.

Thus, it's a philosophical parlor trick to posit heat and cold (or light and dark) as a pair of opposite entities only to "reveal" that the second term doesn't really refer to an entity at all, but merely the absence of the first.

The young Einstein would have known better, and so would his professor.

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