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I read the text version of this story in forums and via hearsay, but I just discovered that apparently the Macedonian Ministry of Education used this story in an ad promoting religious studies in schools (see the linked video).

Is this story supported by factual evidence or is it merely an anecdote to exemplify a point?

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Relatedly: I've always thought it an interesting compromise to allow a 'teach the controversy' evo/creation program into schools; provided the controversy is taught as part of a critical thought/debate course where students must argue the opposite opinion than what they believe. –  DampeS8N Apr 6 '11 at 14:12
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@DampeS8N What controversy? Among the people who should know, i.e., biologists, there is no controversy. –  Lagerbaer Apr 6 '11 at 14:18
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@Lagerbaer: Correct, which is exactly what everyone will realize if put to the above, properly structured and well researched, debate. However, the people who 'should know' are everyone. Hence the emphasis on debate/critical thinking. –  DampeS8N Apr 6 '11 at 14:34
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The problem with debates is that it is much easier to make up nonsense than it is to dispel it. The recent debate of William Craig with Lawrence Krauss is an excellent example for this. –  Lagerbaer Apr 6 '11 at 14:57
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I am Macedonian, and can confirm, that this indeed was used in a Ministry of Education campaign. The campaign however, was not in any way connected with religion, it was a general campaign that promotes learning. –  SWeko Apr 6 '11 at 16:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 35 down vote accepted

The fact that this very same debate, or with slight modifications, is found all over the internet but with different protagonists (e.g. atheist professor, Muslim student http://www.myiwc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-3067.html) should be strong evidence that this is a myth.

If you do a quick google search on "Atheist Professor", you will get countless variations of the same theme: Smug, arrogant atheist professor is humiliated by Einstein/Evangelical Christian/Muslim scholar.

The Einstein version was debunked by Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/religion/einstein.asp

Although 2004 tellings of the legend name Albert Einstein as the faith-driven student, there is no reason to suppose the renowned physicist had anything to do with the fictive incident. Biographies of the man are silent on his having dealt one of his teachers such a comeuppance. Moreover, this famous scientist gets used in legends whose plots call for a smart person, one whom the audience will immediately recognize as such (i.e., 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. (Thankfully, contemporary lore has other uses for him too. In a legend of entirely different character, Albert Einstein was rumored to have made a guest appearance on the television western Gunsmoke.)

EDIT: Doing a Google search for each year since 1990 individually, the first hit I got was in 1997. It tells the story, but does not name Einstein: "Things on Which to Reflect" This, of course, still does not prove that the story is wrong, but, if Einstein genuinely said this, there should be an earlier reference, given that he died in 1955. Add to this that the only sites that mention this have a clear religious intention and do not cite a source for their claim. I believe this is more than sufficient to demand evidence from the other side, and, lacking this, refusing to believe that Einstein really said this.

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No. That is not enough proof. It may still be the case that one of them is true, and the rest are mis-attribution. –  Fitri Apr 6 '11 at 14:22
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But the normal way is to embellish your myth by including famous persons, not the other way round. –  Lagerbaer Apr 6 '11 at 14:51
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@Fitri But what is the source of the Einstein story? A biography? A contemporary news account? An interview with the man himself? Apparently not. If there's no verifiable source for the story, it's up to people to prove that the story really happened, not that it didn't. Add to that the fact that the version with a generic student humiliating the professor has been documented 5 years before the Einstein version, and I think it's safe to say it's just a glurgey story with a famous person retroactively attached. –  Scott Hamilton Apr 6 '11 at 19:58
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Exactly. I could attribute any conversation to any person. But the burden of proof would be on me. A 100% percent proof that it didn't happen is impossible. –  Lagerbaer Apr 7 '11 at 3:29
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Impossible for a Gymnasium Teacher (in Bavaria "Studienprofessor") in Germany at that time to teach atheism openly. There were some atheist teachers8more in Universities), but teaching that in Gymnasium would have been professional suicide. Especially in Bavaria at that time the catholic Zentrum Party (Ultramontanists) sniffed around at schools to supress teachers. What I liked to know: who produced that nonsense? (BTW at the age of 17 Einstein abandoned Jewish religion) –  No longer here Apr 7 '11 at 20:46

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.

This is quote from: letter to an atheist (1954) as quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1982) edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman ISBN 0-691-02368-9 (wikipedia)

Since Einstein did not believe in supernatural god it was not possible he would argue in favour of a supernatural god .

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I really like your evidence, but I don't agree with your conclusion. The person in this story doesn't defend Christianity/Religion so much as disprove a professor's bad argument. –  ProdigySim May 2 '11 at 20:15
    
@ProdigySim edited the conclusion . –  Alaukik May 3 '11 at 15:40
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Now you might argue that Einstein believed in god when he was a student. I certainly do not stand behind a lot of things I said and did in high school any more. –  Lagerbaer May 3 '11 at 18:36
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@Lagerbaer: Einstein was a rabid atheist as a teenager, as is recounted in his autobiographical quotes. "Discovering science at the age of (13-15) led to an explosion of freethinking in me, in which I was convinced that youth was systematically being lied to by elders." He was the least religious youth you could find. His Deist religious instincts came much later in life, but he never believed in a meddlesome sort of God. –  Ron Maimon Mar 28 '12 at 16:17

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