Review of Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God, Part II
This is the second part of my review of Ray Comfort's new movie, Evolution vs. God. Even though I embedded the video in Part I, I'm going to do so again here for anyone who's interested in watching it.
As stated at the end of Part I of this review, this portion picks up about halfway through the movie, just over 17 minutes into it. Comfort doesn't have much more to say about science. And if you thought that with a title like "Evolution vs. God", that the rest of the movie would focus on creationism or a Christian explanation for the diversity of life, then you're not familiar with Ray Comfort. The rest of the movie is almost purely religious, and mostly evangelism at that.
Here is one of the areas where Comfort pointed out a legitimate problem in the atheist community, though not a universal one. But even in pointing out a legitimate problem, Comfort's response was misleading.
Comfort asked people to name famous atheists. One person shown named Neil Degrasse Tyson, and another named Isaac Newton. And of course, Comfort pulled out quotes from these men to counter the idea that they were atheists. From Tyson, "I can't agree to the claims by atheists that I'm one of that community." And from Newton, "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."
Admittedly, Comfort was accurate when it came to Newton. Newton believed in a god of some sort, and even if there's a bit of controversy over just what exactly he believed (see Wikipedia), the consensus seems to be that he was an nontrinitarian monotheist - somebody who believed in God, but not that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were different manifestations of a single God.
However, when it comes to Neil Degrasse Tyson's religious views, Comfort's being a bit misleading. Consider Tyson's essay, Holy Wars. Here are a couple excerpts from that essay.
Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion.
But I do so knowing and accepting that if I propose a God beyond that horizon, one who graces our valley of collective ignorance, the day will come when our sphere of knowledge will have grown so large that I will have no need of that hypothesis.
Comfort's quote of Tyson is correct, but it's not implying that Tyson is religious. Rather, as he's said elsewhere, he prefers to be called an agnostic, if he's going to be categorized by religion at all. I don't know if Tyson doesn't like the implied certainty that goes along with the term 'atheism', or if perhaps it's the negative connotations, but there isn't really a huge difference between the two positions, and it's a bit like splitting hairs. Tyson could be included in the more 'umbrella' term of nonbeliever. (And of course, this assumes the more common uses of these words, not the more technically accurate definitions. For an explanation of why atheist and agnostic aren't mutually exclusive terms, see the article, Atheist vs. Agnostic.)
Comfort's next example was to show the poster below:
For those people still using Lynx, it's a picture of several famous people, with the caption, "Atheism: Good enough for these idiots". Unfortunately, most of the people shown weren't atheists. They included Earnest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sagan, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin. Hemingway is the only one in that group that would have called himself an atheist, while the others were agnostics, deists, or had beliefs that are a matter of debate.
But here's the first problem. Comfort's holding this poster up as an example of a popular atheist belief. Well, what about one of the most outspoken and infamous atheists on the Internet, PZ Myers? Here's his entry from a few years ago, An inspirational poster. His take:
I saw this poster and thought, "What? But most of these people weren't atheists!"
And that entry had a 500+ comment thread, with very few of the atheist commenters misrepresenting the beliefs of those on the poster. So, this poster is an example of isolated stupidity, not some universal problem.
Then there was Comfort's hair splitting over atheism and agnosticism. Perhaps the poster would have been more technically accurate if it said 'Non-belief in Gods' rather than 'Atheism', and dropped the deists from the picture.
But the worst was an especially despicable statement from Comfort, "Back in 1961, Hemingway quote 'pushed two shells into the 12 guage boss shotgun, put the end of the barrel into his mouth, pulled the trigger and blew out his brains' And there's your poster boy when it comes to atheism."
To be fair, Comfort at least pointed out that not all of those people were believers in the "one true God", and it is valid to call out the atheists that misrepresent the beliefs of famous and historical figures, but his presentation wasn't particularly representative, either.
Comfort's discussion on the atheist poster led directly to this ironic statement, "Then again, coming from those that claim morality is relative to each person, convenient dishonesty should not be a surprise." I think that 'convenient dishonesty' is something that Comfort is especially familiar with.
This transition to morality went on to discussing 'moral absolutes'. Comfort got into a discussion with PZ Myers on rape, and asked if it was "always wrong". He got Myers to say that it was, and then Comfort claimed that there were moral absolutes as if he had won that little debate. But let me give an absurd thought experiment. What if a sadistic madman had you and another person taken prisoner, and threatened to put poison into a city's water supply if you didn't rape the other person. And just to make it worse, the poison was of some type that would cause horrible, horrible suffering before finally resulting in death. Now, I'm not saying that this would be an easy decision to make, but (I'm shuddering as I write this because of how callous it sounds) would it be better to rape a single person or let an entire city of millions of people suffer agonizing deaths? i.e. There may be instances where even something as horrible as rape might be the preferable option. And in that sense, it wouldn't be 'wrong'.
As a sort of tangential consideration, if morals are supposedly absolute, is rape always wrong when other animals do it. There are several different types of insects, such as the Acilius genus of water beetles, that reproduce only through the males raping the females (more info: Wikipedia). Or take a look at this article on Cracked. Rape of guppy females is so problematic that the females will actively seek out predators to be near to deter males from approaching them. Female guppies will also seek out more attractive females, 'hoping' the males will go to the more attractive females. And for a few more examples, consider the following articles, Deep Sea News - A great day for a little Traumatic Insemination which focuses mainly on bed bugs, Spiegel - An Undersea Kama Sutra: The Disturbing Sex Lives of Deep Sea Squid which discusses multiple mating strategies in squid, or Wikipedia - Traumatic insemination which discusses traumatic insemination in multiple animals. Now, I can imagine Comfort saying that these are merely animals, not human beings, so they're not held to the same moral standards. But consider Comfort's common line that creation requires a creator, and that the existence of the creator is obvious just from looking at the world around you - what type of creator would intentionally create such horrid mating strategies.
Comfort quoted Richard Dawkins saying, "Evolution in its rawest is incredibly cruel," and used that to segue into a discussion of Hitler (of course), implying that Hitler was just practicing 'survival of the fittest'. Aside from the 'is vs. ought' fallacy (I don't go around pushing people off buildings because of Newton), the obvious reply is that Hitler was copying breeding practices that had been known for centuries, not natural selection. And it's not as if pogroms were an invention of Hitler. As horrible as the Holocaust was, it was carrying on an old tradition.
Comfort then began asking people if they had dogs, and presented them with a moral dilemma - if their dog and another person were drowning, who would they rescue. And he showed the handful of people who either hesitated or chose the dog (four people in total). A few of them mentioned that we were just animals. Comfort even got a couple of them to agree that it was 'survival of the fittest'. Now, this was a bit weird and uncomfortable that people would think that way, but it was only a few people, and you have to wonder about their motivation after spending a while talking with Comfort (were they just trying to get a rise out of him?).
Comfort took another dig at Dawkins, quoting him as saying, "Any fetus is less human than an adult pig." I'm sure Comfort was using this quote to try to make Dawkins look callous, but I think Comfort's looking at it in the wrong way. Comfort thinks it's so damning because he thinks so little of non-human animals. But considering that humans are just one branch of the grand family tree, it's clear that we're similar to the other animals in many ways. Something as intelligent as a pig actually has a pretty complex set of thoughts and emotions, even if they're not quite as smart as us. Dawkins' statement points out the hypocrisy in placing some mythical importance in an undeveloped cluster of cells simply because they have human DNA, while not thinking twice about slaughtering fully developed thinking feeling organisms.
Atheism & The Afterlife
Comfort moved on to discussing atheism, and showed one kid mentioning that when you die that's it. Comfort asked him, "How do you know?" He tried to tell the kid that he wasn't just a mechanical system because he had "life" in him, and that this was the soul. I'd like to see someone ask Comfort the same question he'd just asked that kid - "How do you know?" Where's Comfort's evidence for a soul?
Are You a Good Person?
Now ,just over 24 minutes in, Comfort got into his 'Are you a good person' schtick. "How many lies have you told in your whole life?" - therefore you're a liar. "Have you ever stolen something in your own life, even if it's small?" That's called theft, so what are you?" "Have you ever used God's name in vain?" "That's called blasphemy. It's very serious to use God's name as a cuss word."
That last one on blasphemy struck me as particularly odd since it wouldn't even be a moral consideration for anyone who's not a Christian, let alone atheists. Someone brought up basically that very objection, and Comfort responded, basically, that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
Comfort went on to discuss lust, and Jesus's statement that even by looking at a woman with lust, you've committed adultery in your heart. This is stupid. Ask your husband or wife which would upset them more - that you looked at a person and momentarily lusted for them, or that you approached the person, talked to them long enough to form a relationship, possibly with several days, weeks, or even months of covert meet-ups and dating, took them back to a discrete location, took them to a bed, undressed them, undressed yourself, and had sex with them (compounded by the fact that you've probably been lying about it if it was an ongoing affair). Is lusting really comparable to adultery in any real sense?
Hell, Get Out of Jail Free
As if Comfort's tactics as described above weren't bad enough, this part gets to be just downright insulting. The examples below include scare tactics, attempted emotional manipulation, and Comfort blatantly telling people that he knows what they're really thinking about God, and it hasn't been what they've been saying out loud.
At one point, he made the statement, "Just not believing in Hell doesn't make it go away. A judge must see that justice is done if he's a good judge, and it's the same with God." Talking to a girl, he said "If you died in your sins and God gave you justice because he's holy and perfect morally, you'd end up in Hell and I'd hate that to happen to you." Really? Just consider those statements. Should 'holy and perfect' entail punishing people for eternity for finite sins? Is it really just to make someone burn in hellfire forever and ever just because they're skeptical of something that happened 2000 years ago and is only attested to in a book of questionable credibility?
Here was something Comfort actually told somebody.
Now let me tell you something you know intuitively. You know that creation is proof of the creator... I have an inside story. I have a whistle blower, and it tells me that you know God exists, and the reason you choose evolution is it gets rid of moral accountability.
The expression on the kid's face that he's talking to at this point is classic - like he can't believe this crazy guy is saying the things he's saying. But really, this is basically accusing atheists of being liars. Comfort is insisting that everybody knows deep down that God is real, and it's only because we want to be immoral that we choose to reject him. That's quite an insulting accusation. Speaking for myself, not only am I sincere in my belief that there are no gods, but I also strive to be a moral person, and struggle to determine the best course of action in tough situations.
Just a bit later, Comfort made a similar accusation to a different person.
Your struggle at the moment is because of your love of sin, because of the pleasure sin gives you and you don't want to give it up.
What an !#@%!#%. Does Comfort really think people are so shallow that they really do believe in this all-powerful being who can punish them in hellfire for all eternity, and they're just going to ignore that for the sake of a bit of carnal pleasure? Now, as I wrote in another essay, The Benevolent Dictator, there would be very real reasons to withhold worship from a deity like Yahweh if he were to exist, but temporary pleasure is not one of them.
And you know what God did for guilty sinners so we wouldn't have to go to Hell? Any idea?
Of course you do.
He suffered and died on the cross taking the punishment for the sin of the world.
Because that's how justice works. If one person commits a crime, it's just fine if somebody else goes to jail for them. I mean, as long as somebody gets punished, right? And of course, if you stole even one piece of penny candy when you were a kid and told your mom that you didn't, then you're a lying thief who deserves to rot in jail for the rest of your life with no possibility of parole. Only with God, it's even worse. The punishment lasts forever.
Then we got the Christian 'get out of jail free card'.
And then what God can now do is clothe us in the righteousness of Christ so that on Judgment Day, you're safe from God's wrath and his justice.
So because our fine was paid by another, God can legally dismiss your case.
This part of Christianity is one of the parts that bothers me the most now that I've left it behind. I realize that most Christians are still good people and don't see this aspect of their religion in the way I'm about to describe, but this aspect removes all moral accountability. It doesn't matter if you struggle your whole life to be the best person you can be, or if you're a lying murderous thug. The only action in your whole life that affects your eternal afterlife is a decision on whether or not you believe Jesus died for your sins.
The Bible says God is love, you know, and is kind and generous and merciful, and in his great kindness, he became a human being and suffered for us. Does that make sense?
No! It makes no sense at all. Scape goats are not a reasonable way to transfer guilt. A 'loving' god wouldn't threaten eternal punishment for finite sins. And an omnipotent god sure as hell wouldn't have to go through such a convoluted process to forgive people.
Comfort presented the following series of questions and statements to a girl - "How old are you?" "When are you going to die?" "Well God knows exactly the moment of your death. And it could be tonight, it could be tomorrow. I'm not using scare tactics. This is just straight reality." No, that's not a scare tactic at all. You're just reminding someone that they're going to die before trying to promote your point of view.
Comfort began asking people if they had Bibles, and started preaching some more, especially the part about grace over works.
I've been reading the Bible every day for more than forty years. There's no mistakes in it, mate. Any mistakes that we think are in it are our mistakes.
I'm reading the Bible right now myself. You can follow along in my Friday Bible Blogging series. If there aren't any mistakes, then God sure has a weird way of inspiring people - contradicting details in different tellings of stories, breaks in continuity, stories that contradict each other. Really, if Comfort has been reading the Bible every day for forty years, it makes me further question his honesty to make a statement like the one above.
He went on to say, "and you can trust God's word. Think of how you trust professors and science books that tell you you're a, you're a primate." That word, 'primate' was practically dripping with condescension. I mean, that's a pretty uncontroversial fact. Even Linnaeus, a Christian who didn't accept evolution, classified humans as primates. We're mammals, too. Why would anyone doubt that?
Comfort pulled a little trick where he asked people to spell the word, 'shop', a few times, and then asked them what you do at a green light. When they answered with 'stop', he used that as an example to show how fallible we are, and by extension, that us evolutionists could be wrong.
We're all fallible. We make mistakes. So imagine if you can make a mistake when you say this whole of creation came together because some explosion of nothing that produced everything...
It's true that we're all fallible and can be mistaken. But what about when the tables are turned? Here's a conversation that took place that really illustrates Comfort's mindset.
Comfort: Peter, could you be wrong about God's existence?
Peter: Yes, and could you be wrong about God's existence?
Peter: Well, then. I think you're rather close minded.
Comfort tried to defend his position with some explanation about knowing your wife and being positive about her existence, and that's how Comfort knows of God's existence. But it should be clear to anybody that these aren't comparable. Comfort's wife is physical and tangible. He can talk to her directly, and get real, spoken responses. Nobody interacts with God in that way (because he's not there). It's a silly comparison.
Nearing the end of the movie, Comfort showed a woman saying, "You know, the problem with those who are unable to see evolution - I think it's they don't have imaginations." He then showed a series of headlines, presumably to show the 'imaginative' nature of evolution - "Anatomical clues to human evolution from fish", "Human ears evolved from ancient fish gills", "Heavier dinosaur arms led evolution to birds", "Proof that fearsome T-rex evolved into a chicken", "When whales walked the land". While a few of those headlines are a bit misleading, they're not hugely off the mark. The fact that Comfort showed them in an attempt to discredit evolution reveals more about Comfort's own ignorance than any problems in evolutionary theory.
The movie ended with the following monologue from Mr. Comfort.
Darwinian evolution rests on faith, and once again, according to Richard Dawkins, 'Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think, and evaluate evidence. Darwinian evolution requires great faith. The knowledge of God, however, is clearly seen by all mankind. But since the creation of the world and its invisible attributes are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made, even as eternal power and godhead, so as thou are without excuse because although they knew god, they did not glorify him as god, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.
And with that, the movie closed by fading out on an image of a chimp. But even that final scene reveals a couple major problems in Comfort's position. From what he says, at least, it seems that he really does believe that God is clear to everybody, and that deep down, everybody does believe in him. It seems beyond Comfort's comprehension that people really don't believe in God. And by closing with a picture of a chimp, Comfort seemed to be making an emotional appeal - as if his problem with evolution is that it suggests that we're related to those damned dirty apes.
The remainder of the video was a commercial for LivingWaters.com and many of Ray Comfort's various products.
So, I managed to make it through the whole video, and it wasn't very good. I know that I probably shouldn't have expected any better, but Comfort really did a horrible job in trying to discredit evolution. And it was especially odd that in a movie titled "Evolution vs. God", that only about half of the movie was about evolution and the history of life on this planet, while the rest was pure evangelism. Oh well, that takes care of my obligatory coverage of Ray Comfort for a while, so I can ignore him until his next big stunt.