Francis Einstein? Albert Bacon?

Francis Einstein? Albert Bacon? April 16, 2011

You may have been reading about the new bill passed by the Tennessee legislature intended to allow Tennessee schools to “teach the controversy” about a number of hot button issues: evolution, abiogenesis, global warming and human cloning.

One of the bill’s supporters, Rep. Frank Nicely, called upon the memory of a certain famous dead scientist:

I think that if there’s one thing that everyone in this room could agree on, that would be that Albert Einstein was a critical thinker. He was a scientist. I think that we probably could agree that Albert Einstein was smarter than any of our science teachers in our high schools or colleges. And Albert Einstein said that a little knowledge would turn your head toward atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head toward Christianity.

No one knows what Nicely was thinking or where he got that quote. Best guess is that it’s a mangled quote from Francis Bacon, “… a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

Over at Balloon Juice, Tom Levenson, author of Einstein in Berlin, speaks up in memory of Einstein.

So, a couple of things. First: Einstein himself was [a] high school and college science teacher. He taught secondary school briefly during the years between his graduation from Zurich’s ETH (1900) and the start of his job at the Swiss Patent Office (1902), tutoring a private student or two as well. He became a university professor in 1908, and taught at that level until his move to Berlin in 1914. He’s part of the set that the Representative—perhaps stunned by a too-prolonged exposure to tangerine skies—would seek to diss.

But the real howler, the grotesque lie, comes with the claim that Albert Einstein, famously Jewish and equally so an atheist by most senses of the word, would suggest that deep learning and understanding would make a person a Christian.

So Nicely altered the quote, misattributed the quote and even misattributed it to someone who was not Christian. Making that many mistakes in one soundbite is quite an accomplishment.

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