Einstein considered a bigger hero than Jesus, says study

Research conducted among almost 7,000 university students worldwide sees science take top spot. Among villains, however, George W. Bush came above Stalin and Mao.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Bigger than Jesus? Geobeats/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Science has been on a bit of a run lately.

Movies about science have spawned Oscar winners. Nerdy scientist-types have taken over the world. Why, even the New England Patriots relied on science, before abjectly capitulating to the Big Brother that is the NFL.

Science, indeed, wants to prove that there's no God. I can therefore offer encouragement in the idea that the world's students revere Albert Einstein more than Jesus Christ (or Paul Revere).

I confidently state this on the basis of a study performed by the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country. These scientists asked 6,902 students from all over the world about their heroes. (They also asked them about whom they see as the most villainous beings in history, but we'll come to that).

It seems that the biggest hero in the world is Einstein. As Phys.org reports, he's bigger than Mother Teresa. He's bigger than Martin Luther King Jr. He's bigger than Jesus Christ (he came in sixth).

I know what you're thinking. This must mean he's actually bigger than Bono, who didn't even make the top 10.

However, other scientific figures did. Isaac Newton also came in above Jesus. He was fifth. That must make up a little for having a failed Apple product named after him. Thomas Edison came in eighth. Yes, above Abraham Lincoln and Buddha.

Could there possibly have been a more positive sign for science? Only if one of the "Mythbusters" presenters had streaked past Jesus.

The students who responded to this survey were, on average, 23 years old. They came from 37 countries. They all had quite similar notions of who their heroes were. They had very different notions about their villains.

In some parts of the world, Osama Bin Laden is viewed as not such a bad human. However, the consensus was that Adolf Hitler was the worst human that ever lived. Bin Laden, despite some regional differences, still came in second, while his non co-conspirator Saddam Hussein came third. Fourth, strangely, was George W. Bush, whom these students deemed worse than Stalin, Mao, Lenin and Genghis Khan.

I worry about these students. They seem to enjoy too much contemporary navel-gazing and have little regard for the people who lived long before -- and perpetrated far worse -- than any contemporary figure.

How is it, though, that scientific figures rated so highly (and didn't figure at all among the villains)? I fancy that relatively few respondents would even know what Einstein thought, did or contributed.

The study author, lecturer Dario Paez, offered: "When the surveyees were asked to respond spontaneously about who the most important figures in history were, names of political or military leaders were given because the things that occurred to the students were wars, conflicts and power struggles. But when the questions were closed ones and they sat down to think about them, the same students attached greater importance to scientists and other humanitarian figures."

So we need to be made to think about it in order to consider the contribution of scientists. This is understandable. Science isn't all that interesting when compared with wars and Kardashians.

Paez did note that in certain cultures, Asian ones for example, villains tended to be forgiven because they'd been successful in their quest for power.

There's been an increasing tension between religion and science, especially in the US. It's even spilled over into sports.

It's instructive, therefore, that in the wide world, students seem to place scientists in higher regard than religious figures. Or perhaps they think they should.