Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Bozo Goes to College

In another sign of the coming Apocalypse, there is an actual indication that Ray Comfort can learn ... or else yet another creationist is lying through his teeth depending on what audience he is speaking to, which would be a sign that everything is normal.

Last February 12th, Comfort appeared on Pat Robertson's delusion-fest and had this to say (starting at around 1:52):

Robertson: Tell me about the essentials of Darwinism. What have you understood that Darwin taught.

Comfort: Well, Darwin was a very bitter man, who went into the ministry ... fell away ... never knew the Lord ... and lost his daughter at the age of 12 ... she was 12 ... and became very bitter at God and then denied his faith and came up with this fairy tale for grown ups.

Darwin never went into the ministry, though he studied for it at Cambridge. Moreover, Annie died in 1851. Darwin had already written a "sketch" of his theory in 1842 and a considerable "essay" setting it forth in 1844, well before Annie's death. The sketch and essay can be found here. In addition, we can trace his ideas on the transmutation of species through his notebooks going back to 1837. Thus, the claim that Darwin devised his theory out of bitterness at God because of Annie's death is evidence only of Comfort's massive obliviousness about Darwin, his life and his science.

In fact, as Darwin remembered it in his Autobiography:

Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.

I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.

There is much ignorant babble in the video after that, starting with Comfort's "idea" that a male dog had to evolve first and, unless a female dog just happened to evolve at the same time, he'd be "a dead dog." Frankly, I couldn't sit through it but Jerry Coyne's deconstruction of Comfort's Introduction to the copy of the Origin of Species he will be giving away soon should give anyone as squeamish at the sight of an intellectual pileup as I am a taste of the insanity.

So now we come to Comfort's latest press release about his Darwin giveaway:

Comfort cites a recent Wall Street Journal article, titled "Man vs. God" that pits atheism against God, and wrongly depicts Darwin as going head-to-head with God.

Comfort says of the common gaffe, "The newspaper is free to publish anything they wish, but they are revealing either ignorance or a strong bias. Darwin wasn't anti-God at all. In his famous book Origin of Species, Darwin refers to creation as the 'works of God,' and calls Him the 'Creator' an amazing seven times!"

Just a mere seven months ago Comfort was saying that Darwin "never knew the Lord" and concocted his theory only because of bitterness toward God but Comfort is now chiding others for their "ignorance" and "bias" for thinking that Darwin was against God! What an amazing turnaround!

Of course, being Comfort, he has to embellish and, in the process, reveal his ongoing unfamiliarity with the subject he is so confidently pontificating about. Before he went on in such glowing terms about Darwin's use of the term "Creator," he might have learned about what Darwin later said about it:

But I have long regretted that I truckled to public opinion, and used the Pentateuchal term of creation, by which I really meant 'appeared' by some wholly unknown process. It is mere rubbish, thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.

But, hey! Then he wouldn't be the clown known as Ray Comfort!

Ray Comfort: liar or bullshitter?

FWIW, my vote is on the latter. There are people who seem to be so unselfconcious that they really don't notice when they reverse their stated position. Whatever sounds like a good argument at the time they are speaking, that's what they go with.
I tend to agree, in part. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it doesn't even occur to Comfort that he has completely reversed course. On the other, I'm also sure that he is fully aware that he is making different arguments to the faithful than he makes to the "godless atheists" but thinks that's okay because, after all, they are godless atheists and can't be expected to "see the light."
I've come to think that a big part of the problem with Comfort is that he doesn't see how agnosticism could be a live option. He doesn't see it as something that could be existentially viable.

Darwin's agnosticism is grounded, much as Hume's is, in a sense of the limitations of the human mind. Darwin seems to think that if our cognitive apparatus has been formed through natural selection, it is very unlikely that it has the capacity to apprehend ultimate reality.

The best we can do is build upon the mechanisms of primitive induction that are part of our mammalian heritage, revise our inductions here and there, and where possible, proceed hypothetico-deductively. Thus, there is scientific knowledge, however fallible and provisional, but there is no metaphysical knowledge.

Comfort, I would say, has such a deep need for metaphysical knowledge -- the comforts of certitude, if you will -- that he cannot imagine how someone could live without them. This is why he has to twist Darwin into either a crypto-atheist or a crypt-theist -- because genuine agnosticism, in the sense of living without certainty, isn't something Comfort can so much as acknowledge as an existential option.

One can only wonder what he would make of "Apathetic Agnostics"!
Thus, there is scientific knowledge, however fallible and provisional, but there is no metaphysical knowledge. Comfort, I would say, has such a deep need for metaphysical knowledge....

Having just attended a pair of local debates (here and here, where the Christian side argued (at some length, repeatedly) for the necessity of God to "anchor" notions of truth, rationality, etc, I would say this is an important theme in current apologetics. And it's an important one to address, as I think most people hold the sort of Platonist view (at least naively) that this argument appeals to. Sorry folks, but we can't have TRVTH. However we can have ordinary, works-most-of-the-time knowledge, and it turns out that that's quite adequate for leading a happy, meaningful life.
Comfort, I would say, has such a deep need for metaphysical knowledge -- the comforts of certitude, if you will -- that he cannot imagine how someone could live without them.

I'm not sure he is alone in that. At least some atheists have the same impulse. Thus there are assertions that there are only the deluded and those who support their delusion (the "faithiests") and no middle ground. It may play out differently in the details but the impetus is the same.
I once made the mistake of trying to engage Comfort on his blog. It's like trying to build on floating seaweed.

After being a Christian for many years, the hardest thing for me to abandon was metaphysical "knowledge". But in the end, it can't be anything more than metaphysical supposition, or speculation, stories about angels dancing on the head of a pin. If the material world is what we know, then let's get on with it and build on what we actually know.
If the material world is what we know, then let's get on with it and build on what we actually know.

I certainly agree with that, though thinking about metaphysics is a worthwhile and even useful activity. As is so often the case, it is the certainty that you're right and that anyone who doesn't agree with you is wrong that causes the problems.
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