God Vs Science: a frustrating fable

The other day a friend sent me a link to a story entitled “God vs. Science,” which is supposedly a transcript of a conversation between an atheist professor and a religious student about the existence of an omnipotent God and the philosophy of evil. I won’t repost the story, as it is quite long, but you can find it here (there is one important difference between the version I was sent, and the one at that link: the version my friend sent me made the claim that the student was, in fact, one Mr. Albert Einstein). My friend said that reading the story made her “blood boil”, but she wasn’t sure exactly why it was so frustrating.

Below is the (unedited) response I sent, with thoughts on what the story gets wrong, and why it may be so frustrating for people who disagree with its intended lessons.

Wow, it sure is arrogant.

The professor (i.e. ‘science’) is a weak and desperate man who really isn’t using any science at all – his arguments are all bad philosophy and rhetoric. There’s a lot of messing with word definitions, as if the way the english language is set up has anything to do with reality (‘faith’ in brain ownership = ‘faith’ in Jesus? ‘existence’ of a concept = ‘existence’ of a physical object?). That’s one of my biggest frustrations with religious apologetics; so much of it seems deliberately confusing, with the same words being used in different ways without ever being strictly defined. Presenting the professor like that makes the assumption that science and religion are on the same intellectual level, which of course we know they aren’t, and that they both use the same kinds of arguments, which of course we know they don’t.

By the end of it, there isn’t really any logical argument or specific claim being made, so there’s no way to respond to it. The person who posts that story can sit back smugly, and the only thing you can really do is start arguing semantics, which isn’t very satisfying. Maybe that’s the source of the frustration? I guess you could say that a good God wouldn’t make a universe whose neutral state is evil, but that would be sinking down to their level and giving them undue credibility.

Of course, the line at the end about the student being Albert Einstein is just ridiculous. That claim alone forces the story to have happened at a specific university during a brief period of time. If it were true, we would be able to identify the exact professor! Not to mention that Einstein as a student was average at best, and wouldn’t have been going around challenging his teachers. The story would also have to have been told originally by one of a small number of classmates Einstein had, yet of course no sources are given. I wonder if the semantic arguments even make sense in German. Einstein was also Jewish (at least culturally – he was openly atheist as an adult), and the theology in the story is distinctly Christian.

I found this on Snopes, which discredits the Einstein connection, but also has some good points on why the story itself is appealing to the religious, and why it might be particularly maddening for the non-religious:

Can anyone else offer further insight into why the story might raise the temperature of one’s blood? Or perhaps I’ve made an error myself, and someone wants to defend the arguments of the apocryphal student?


~ by jbrydle on September 21, 2009.

10 Responses to “God Vs Science: a frustrating fable”

  1. The arguments made by the professor are strictly non-scientific. The moment he begins to make his “observation” line of reasoning, you know exactly what the rebuttal is going to be. Not to mention the fact that the professor doesn’t actually have an argument but mearly uses trite contradictions and taunts. He’s a straw man.

    Anyone who would be inclined to agree with the professor gets upset because the professor is misrepresenting him. That’s what’s frustrating. On the other hand, the student uses no real logic or reasoning, but he’s supposed to come off as wise and enlightened.

    And then there are the comments!

  2. My first issue was the inplausability of the “atheist science professor” who starts his science class by attacking religion in front of everyone. It’s a nasty caricature, and based on misconceptions. Even PZ Myers won’t talk religion in his classrooms – it just has no place there.

    After that, the religious student doesn’t really respond to some points the prof makes which have apologetic answers (maybe not good ones, but they exist), but he just sits dumbstruck in silence then goes pontificating.

    It’s a strawman/emotional sort of argument where the person who’s “winning” the argument at a particular point in time is characterized as stronger and enjoying himself, while the other remains silent and dumbstruck.

    I’m almost convinced that we have to start using emotional arguments (to defend rational positions) to get through to people.

  3. Ian, wouldn’t that be employing the same tactics we criticize other for using? If the strength of the rational position (i.e. the reason you believe it) is in it’s logical rationality, then shouldn’t that be the focus? To use any means necessary to essentially trick people into believing what we think is best for them to believe strikes me as disrespectful to their humanity. If it’s not important to me how I convince someone of my arguments, then I don’t see why it’s important to convince them at all.

  4. I find the story frustrating for two reasons. 1a) Neither side proves or disproves God. They both use weak arguments based on backwards philosophical logic masqueraded as science in order to be smug assholes and one up each other. I’m tired of this. I don’t really want to hear these sorts of debates anymore because they are always the same. Two jackasses mock each other back and forth and eventually they stop talking and everyone goes home.

    2)The use of Albert Einstein’s name because it means it will automatically be used by anyone arguing for God because it gives their argument celebrity and “intellectual” credit. They can say “Albert Einstein was a genius, one of the smartest men of all time and he believed in God and proved it, therefore you should believe in God because you are not as smart as him and if he believed in it then so should you.” It’s the same thing that religious people do when they say that Darwin believed in God all his life and had doubts about evolution or how he converted on his death bed. It’s an attempt to undermine non-belief by using hero’s of science and I’m very tired of it. It doesn’t prove anything, and it is, in most cases, a big fat dirty lie.

    And, while this has nothing to do with this post, what the fuck is a crocoduck and why is Kirk Cameron so fucking obsessed with it?

  5. Interesting post, I’ve bookmarked it to read again. This post was really a worthwhile find.

  6. I agree with killbotrix. I am tired of the childish and one sided approach to either science or religon. On one hand you have so called scientists misrepresenting what my religon says and you have religons misrepresenting science and scientists. The fact is that both pure religon and pure science have a duty to be a “witness to the truth”. When you stop doing that you begin to find fault in everyone else and their beliefs. If there is a disagreement then that is when peaceful respectful dialog MUST occur.

    There are countless tales in history of religons crushing new scientific theories not because of lack of substance in the theory, but because of power and control. We have the exact same thing happening with science today. Religious beliefs are being targetted for not being “scientific” and being expelled from the schools/discussion.

    There has got to be middle ground where discussion can occur.

  7. Nice theory. I love it. Thanks for sharing

  8. I just had this printed off and handed to me, and I was immediately aware that it was not Einstein. I had come across einstein’s religious views previously, but my memory could be faulty so i had to verify. Yep, einstein was certainly _not_ a christian or religious-jew. He went out of his way to make it known that he was something of a pantheist, though he even rejected that label. People seem to kind of dismiss the misapplied speaker as added later, and not core to the point. But i think it’s everything.

    The first person who told this knew as clear as glass that it was fabricated, and since there is no actual content in the argument, its just a large argument from authority. If you remove the authority, its not even a logical fallacy. Its just words scribbled by a liar, and goes to the credibility, and credulity of theists in general.

    It was assumed by the author that nobody would fact check, so the best way to prove his/her beliefs to be true, is to construct an easily refutable totally fake story, slap on a sciencey name and call it a day. what a joke đŸ™‚

  9. Well as far as your friends letter goes, I dont think it is worth getting so worked up over. I am a christian and I did enjoy reading the letter, but if you aren’t it doesnt mean you have to immediately hate it. Also, the examples about the established empirical, stable, demonstrable protocal, he was not saying that because the professor couldn’t prove he had a brain, that God automatically exists. He was demonstrating that there are flaws, and just because an object or force doesn’t subscribe to the protocol doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the statement about the professor teaching his opinion is quite accurate. No one can prove evolution does or doesn’t exist, so your opinion on the matter is all that counts. An opinion, which often stems from your religious viewpoint.

  10. Riley – Do some fact checking yourself. I said FACT checking. There is so much evidence in favor of evolution, that arguing against it is like denying there is a moon in the sky.

    Speciation, the formation of a new species from an ancestor species, takes a very long time yet there are evolutionary steps which can be observed even in a short human timeframe. Some of the examples are; viruses, bacteria like E. coli, fruit flies, moths, fish and frogs to name a few. These findings are fascinating and worth scrutiny.

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