Skepticism, Religion Archive

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ray Comfort & His Horrible "Scientific Proof" of a Creator

Ray Comfort was one of the reasons that originally inspired me to start this blog. A guy at a flea market gave my wife and I a Comfort CD, and when we listened to it, the arguments in it were so horrible, I just had to vent somewhere. So, I wrote one of my first blog entries. Well, over the past couple weeks, Comfort's been making waves in the blogosphere, so I thought I'd add my two cents.

To give a quick background - Ray Comfort and his (hmm, sidekick is too demeaning, but I don't think he's an equal partner, so maybe...) protege, Kirk Cameron, of Living Waters Ministries (and also The Way of the Master website), challenged the originators of the Blasphemy Challenge, the Rational Response Squad, to a debate, wherein, according to the Christian News Wire, Comfort and Cameron "offered to prove God's existence, absolutely, scientifically, without mentioning the Bible or faith." I was hoping it was going to be better than the argumentum ad bananum, but unfortunately, it wasn't (in either the humurous sense or the actually making a good argument sense).

The televised, edited version of the debate should air tonight on ABC's Nightline, but there's already a clip on YouTube. Admittedly, the clip was put together by people sympathetic to the Rational Response Squad, and not Comfort and Cameron, but after listening to Comfort on that CD I mentioned above, I doubt he had any better arguments than what that video shows. Anyway, the televised version will be aired tonight, so if Comfort & Cameron did put forth any better arguments, they'll be made public soon.

Basically, the "scientific" argument Comfort put forth in the debate boils down to this - paintings must have painters, buildings must have builders, etc, etc; therefore creation must have a creator, i.e. God. That's just a horrible analogy. For one thing, all he's doing is listing things with known intelligent agents directly responsible for them, then listing those intelligent agents, and then somehow makes the jump that the universe must therefore have been created by an intelligent agent. The problem is, not everything we see was directly created by an intelligent agent. Many things, even ordered structures such as snowflakes and other crystals, or structures that appear intentional, such as the Old Man of the Mountain, are certainly the direct result of natural, unintelligent processes. So from that aspect of it - no, not everything must have an intelligent creator.

Another problem with Comfort's analogy, is that even though the same word, "create," can be used for all the things he's describing, it really is describing a different concept in the human vs. divine cases. All the human examples he gave were the result of physical entities merely rearranging materials that they already have to work with from their environment, while the divine creation of the universe was a supernatural agent creating all matter out of nothing. It's a big jump to go from the first to the second, since they aren't really the same thing.

Thirdly, even if Comfort's analogy could somehow be taken as proof of a god, it does nothing to prove the existence of the God of the Bible - it could just as easily be applied to Zeus. And finally, by Comfort's reasoning of everything requiring a creator, you're left with the question of where God came from in the first place. (I know, I know - it's not turtles all the way down; God is infinite, and doesn't need a creator; or else, He created time, so it's meaningless to ask what came before Him.)

Anyway, whether you believe in God or not, Comfort & Cameron's argument was far from a proof, and certainly not a scientific proof, for any god, let alone a proof for the Christian God. Don't use their silly, simplistic arguments to try to convince anybody of anything.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Intelligent Design Conference in Dallas Follow Up

Well, I'm late in getting to this like just about all my other blog posts, but... About a month ago, I made an entry about a then upcoming Intelligent Design event in Dallas. Well, Zachary Moore of the blog, Goosing the Antithesis, attended the event and wrote a 6 part series about it. Apparently, it was as bad as I would have thought it to be. Here are the links to the entries:

Darwin vs. Design: Lee Strobel
Darwin vs. Design: Jay Richards
Darwin vs. Design: Stephen Meyer
Darwin vs. Design: Michael Behe
Darwin vs. Design: Questions and Answers
Darwin vs. Design: Final Thoughts

Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog attended the Darwin vs. Design conference in Knoxville, which was apparently very similar. He gives his take on the event in a two part series:

Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part One
Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part Two

Friday, May 4, 2007

Fairy Tales

The other day I wrote that my daughter no longer believes in the Easter Bunny, and this week she finally got around to admitting that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy aren't real, either. I guess I'll have to keep an eye on her the next few days to make sure she doesn't go on a murderous rampage.

Man, after reading that and a few other of Jack Chick's tracts, it's scary to think there's somebody so demented to come up with that stuff, and even scarier to think of the number of people who buy his products.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Moral Absolutism vs. Relativism

Reading a recent entry on Pharyngula, I came across a quote from Kirk Cameron that struck me (not because it was Kirk Cameron saying it, but because the topic is a typical view), "Atheism has become very popular in universities--where it's taught that we evolved from animals and that there are no moral absolutes. So we shouldn't be surprised when there are school shootings." Well, the school shooting part's a complete non-sequitir. But I do want to take a look at the moral absolute parts in a bit more detail. There seems to be a sense among many Christians in this country that morals are absolute, and moral relativism is a bad, bad thing.

Now, I'll admit right up front that philosophy isn't my area of expertise, so perhaps my Wikipedia informed definitions of moral absolutism and moral relativism is leading me astray, but it certainly seems to me that most of our morals are relative, and not absolute. Even for Christians, when you look at the 10 commandments, the ones that deal with how to treat other people can all be looked at on a relative basis.

Honor your father and your mother.
What about if your parents tell you to worship Ganesh? What if your parents snap, and go on a murderous rampage - should you try to stop them, or honor their wishes and let them kill more people?
You shall not kill [sometimes translated as murder].
Is it okay to kill someone in self defense? Execute a convicted murderer? Kill people in war? Shoot a person on a murderous rampage?
You shall not commit adultery.
Well - from the Christian perspective, there's not much to argue with in this one, but what about cultures where it's okay for spouses to have sex outside marriage, as long as neither spouse has a problem with it?
You shall not steal.
Is it wrong to steal food to feed your starving children? Is it bad to steal a gun from a murderer so that he can't shoot anybody else?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Is it okay to lie to a murderer so that he can't find his next victim?
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.
Well, this doesn't exactly cover directly dealing with other people. It's just good advice not to be jealous.

I guess Christians could still argue that certain actions besides those listed above are inherently good or bad, but the Christian basis for good or bad a lot of times simply boils down to "God said so," but this doesn't say that the actions themselves are inherently good or bad. For a popular example, look at eating kosher foods. Before Jesus, it was apparently immoral to eat non-Kosher foods, but now, because of the New Covenant, non-Kosher foods (like shrimp) are on the menu. So, there was nothing inherent in the action that was moral or immoral, just whether or not God said it was okay. To insist on moral relativism absolutism, when it seems that even God himself can change his mind, seems like a pretty strong stance to take.

A lot of Christians in this country today argue that morals are absolute, but it seems to me that the morality of an action really must be determined in context, and that most people usually do judge actions that way. To insist on complete moral absolutism seems a bit silly.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Intelligent Design Event in Dallas

I was a little late in hearing about this, and then it took me a little while to blog about it, but I recently learned that there's going to be an Intelligent Design event not too far from me at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Not too surprisingly, the anthropology, geology, and biology departments at the university weren't too happy about it, and all sent letters to the school administrators expressing their dismay. The administrators responded with their own statement, part of which said, "Although SMU makes its facilities available as a community service, and in support of the free marketplace of ideas, providing facilities for those programs does not imply SMU's endorsement of the presenters' views."

For now, I'll just take that statement at face value, and assume that SMU would also lend its facilities to the KKK, holocaust deniers, or flat-earthers. After all, it's in the interest of the "free marketplace of ideas," right? What I'd rather focus on in this entry is the response by William Dembski. For anyone who's followed Intelligent Design (ID) at all, Dembski's name should be very familiar - he's one of the main ID "theorists," a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and has become infamous for his use of information theory to try to support intelligent design.

Part of Dembski's response was, "Doesn’t the 'M' in SMU refer to 'Methodist' and aren't Methodists believers in God? Is SMU's anthropology department committed to hiring anti-God faculty?" Okay, I know that for most, ID really is religiously motivated, and I've heard that proponents had been slipping more recently, but isn't the standard line still supposed to be that ID is a purely scientific concept (oops, I mean, "theory"), and that the identity/intentions of "the designer" are irrelevant to detecting design. I mean, haven't people (like Dembski himself) even said that the designer could be sufficiently advanced aliens? Nice to see that they're finally dropping the facade and just coming right out and saying that it's religious. I'd be willing to bet, though, that all those believers in theistic evolution would be a little upset at being called "anti-God."

Anyway, I'm tempted to actually go see this conference, just to see what it's like (in a slowing down to see a car wreck kind of way), but two hours away is just a little too far to go. Plus the fact that they're actually charging for tickets, and there's no way I'd ever give any money to support these hucksters.

Addendum: I forgot to mention this originally, but I just wanted to make it clear. Even if you ignore that ID is religiously motivated and just look at it scientifically, it still has no real evidence to back it up, and shouldn't be taken seriously. Just go browse Talk Origins for some of the evidence for evolution, or better yet, just go read some science magazines.

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