Monday 27 July 2009

Thoughts on the Thunderf00t - Ray Comfort discussion

After some ignominious shenanigans concerning his (surely not serious) request for a $100,000 honorarium (payable to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, no less), Ray Comfort took up Thunderf00t's offer of a recorded discussion. Here is the result - 90 minutes of YouTube video well worth watching.

(via The Atheist Blogger, from whom I also nicked the playlist embed code)

Some random thoughts after viewing:

Ray Comfort doesn't understand evolution - this is clear from his failure to engage in the basic concepts. He says he doesn't believe evolution is true (elsewhere he repeatedly describes it as "a fairy tale for grownups"), but if he doesn't understand it he's attacking a straw man - whatever he thinks evolution is, rather than what it actually is.

Given what he's said (and published), this isn't surprising, but it raises an interesting parallel with his own reasons for believing in God. During his discussion with Thunderf00t he mentioned that there was much in the Bible that he didn't understand until he accepted Jesus Christ into his heart as his personal Saviour. Relative to this he's previously stated that the evidence for the existence of God is available to everyone - all they need to do is do as he did: open their hearts to the Lord.

Atheists who have honestly tried this route, without the promised revelation, are told they're obviously doing it wrong. This is a self-fulfilling/defeating prophecy - just like the mediaeval dunking stool used to test witches. Any suspected witch who uses her craft to survive the test is proven guilty and shall not be suffered to live. If she drowns she was clearly innocent - no powers, no witch, and she will be set free to live her life in peace, unmolested. Unfortunately she's already dead.

With most atheists the "you're doing it wrong!" excuse understandably won't wash - it's a "heads I win/tails you lose" kind of reasoning.

Ray's argument in this part of the discussion also seemed equivalent (though with less sophistication) to the reasons given by theologians who object to Richard Dawkins' refutation of "simplistic" theism. A theologian will claim (with suitable snootiness) that the religion Dawkins attacks is "not my religion", and will then expound on some abstruse and intensely personal - but most importantly incomprehensible - faith (usually with profligate redefinition of terms), to the extent that the only other person who could share it is God. PZ Myers satirised this style of theology in his Courtier's Reply.

One could argue, however, that atheistic objections to theology are similar to creationists' simplistic objections to evolution. We complain that the likes of Ray Comfort have no real grasp of the principles of evolution, though they decry it as fictional. Conversely, many a theologian has complained that Richard Dawkins has no real grasp of theology, while at the same time he decries the subject as vacuous.

Of course, there is a crucial difference between the two disciplines. Evolution (by random genetic mutation and natural selection) is documented science that makes predictions (such as what we should expect to find in the fossil record) and so far its principles have not been disproved. In fact, each new discovery whether in genetics, paleontology or any other evolution-related field, has further confirmed evolutionary theory, to the extent that it is as near to a scientific fact as the theory of gravity. Theology, on the other hand, appears to be entirely made up. Theologians of a particular creed may agree on a core set of theological principles, but these result from consensus only, and cannot be falsified. This would be all fine and dandy for literary criticism, but for telling us anything at all about the real world, or the people in it, it's useless.

UPDATE 2009-08-02: A good summary of the discussion here:
Angry Astronomer: Ray Comfort vs. Thunderf00t


  1. I don't think Comfort is interested in understanding or learning about evolution. Comfort is in the business of selling snake oil, that is where his interests lie.

  2. Evil Burnee - I saw all the videos. Thunderfoot was a complete and utter disappointment.

    Yes Ray is an idiot. He does not know shit. He should not be allowed out in public alone, or to vote.

    Thunderfoot was way too kind. Way too easy. Where was his wit? Is he going to take those videos and cut up Ray. Then add his wit, because he had NONE on tape! The whole thing was a waste of time! Just like the WL Craig debate I saw. Idiot vs nice kind soft spoken atheist. Yes atheist was correct, but he did a horrible job debating. Just like Thunderfoot.

    Sorry discussion heh. Why didnt he pound him on the bible. Answering all his answers are in a bible. Is not answering. He doesn't know. Ray wants, likes and feels there is a God, but does not know.

    Where do morals come from? Come on. Did Thunderfoot not prepare? These are typical religious arguments. Good and evil? Please! The whole thing made me angry.

    Thunderfoot has produced a lot of slick videos, so I give him a pass. As smart as he is, he should have studied.

    My review would read "Totally Disappointed!"