Thursday, 19 February 2009

a bitter ray of comfort

You may have come across Ray Comfort before. He's the guy who claims that evolution is false because bananas are so well designed for being eaten by humans. Presumably he doesn't know (or doesn't care) that the bananas we buy in the shops are - like most other things people eat - bred by humans for the very traits he mentions. Wild bananas are very different indeed and not nearly as convenient or palatable. This is just one example of Ray's particular affliction. You'll find countless others if you look.

In this video, Ray cajoles, bullies and generally creeps out two teenagers who plainly know nothing at all about evolution. Eventually, they say something he deems laughable so he ridicules them. It's a familiar tactic with this kind of evangelist and noticeably the precise opposite of what a responsible teacher would do. Ray then uses these highly edited videos to illustrate the ridiculousness of evolution and the stupidity of the people that believe in it.

That's right: Ray misrepresents the poorly-informed opinions of ill-educated children to make his point. If he'd had an actual point, he could have asked a biologist or even a teenager who understands evolution and played the interview in full, then systematically point out the errors. Better still, he could have discussed his views with the biologist: if the problems with evolution are so obvious and glaring as he says, he'd have run logical rings around the biologist, right? Well this is why he took the cowardly option of using rather ignorant children instead.

Ray claims that god made us with six senses, the sixth being 'common sense' (you see what he did there?) Regardless of the fact that humans have far more than six senses (temperature? pressure? time?) atheists are apparently born without this sixth sense and that's why we believe in evolution. Of course, belief in evolution is equivalent to atheism in Ray's mind and atheism is equivalent to immorality. It's important to bear this in mind as we consider the two arguments he makes against evolution:

1. Nothing 'just happens'. Everything has a creator. Show me a building without a builder, a painting without a painter etc. This weak argument fails on purely logical grounds right out of the trap. Ray himself believes in a creator without a creator. So much for that argument. But it fails on numerous other grounds too. I'll only go into one of these here. Ray's argument hinges on the erroneous idea that evolution 'just happens' - that organisms spontaneously pop into existence fully formed or that they spontaneously and randomly evolve from, say a crocodile into, say a duck. If you think I'm exaggerating or mischaracterising Ray's stance, don't forget the crocoduck. This position is obviously false: no organism is significantly different from either its parents or its offspring. Evolution is defined as a gradual change in the frequency of genes in a gene pool. Over time, this results in changes in the members of that population. Evolution doesn't 'just happen', it is a matter of differential survival of genes.

2. When an organism evolves, it needs a mate. The mate has to be in the same place at the same time and be behaviourally and biologically compatible. His assertion is that (since he claims evolution states that new organisms somehow pop into existence spontaneously) this is very unlikely. A dog is born to parents who are presumably nothing like dogs and needs a mate that is also a dog, happens to be of the opposite sex and also presumably born to parents who are nothing like dogs. This is indeed rather more than unlikely, but once again is not at all the way evolution works. Once again, Ray cannot get past the idea that species are not fixed entities but something we humans decided upon by convention. There is nothing special or magical about a species, it's just a convenient label. Something only becomes a new species when we decide to call it one and the problem Ray highlights simply doesn't exist.

I find it almost impossible to accept that someone like Ray, who spends so much time talking about evolution, is genuinely so ignorant of it. The points he makes are more than laughable and are easily and simply refuted. It is literally unbelievable that he could continue to genuinely hold these views after all these years and I don't buy it. As I said earlier, Ray thinks he's on a mission from god in a war against atheists, who he believes are evil (regardless of the statistics, which show unequivocally that atheists are no less moral than anyone else). In his mind, belief in evolution leads to atheism, so lying for Jesus is a means that is justified by the end. How he squares this with his criticism of atheists as liars is not clear, but I daresay there's a tortured chain of 'logic' in there somewhere.

Pat Robertson, needless to say, laps this up like a dog returning to its vomit.

Have a little class, Ray. Stop bullying children and misrepresenting the truth. If there's really something wrong with evolution, why do you need to hide behind children? Why are you so afraid to engage experts on their own ground? I'm sure most would be delighted to sit down with you in a spirit of friendly discussion and explain how evolution really works.

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