Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ray Comfort's imagination

If there were any lingering question that Ray Comfort deserved the appellation of World's Dumbest Apologist, it would surely be put to rest by reading the exercise in vacuity that is his blog. Mr. Banana calls it "Ray Comfort Food," and that's a fairly apt title: perhaps tasty for undiscriminating people looking for a quick snack, but not healthy or nourishing in the least.

Ray's latest post typically reflects how little is going on between his ears at any given moment. In "The Atheist's Battle" (a puzzling title, as he never actually addresses what he thinks that is), Ray actually spends two out of three paragraphs simply restating Pascal's Wager. Yes, Pascal's Wager. Then, in his third paragraph he asserts that what allows Christianity to trump atheism is the Christian's willingness to confuse imagination with fact and entertain all manner of delusions.

Like many nowadays, John Lennon imagined only sky. His mind was limited. However, the Christian’s mind isn't closed. By the grace of God, he has expanded his horizon. For him, nothing is impossible.

Until, I suppose, the Christian tries to put that assumption to the test by standing on the roof of a 40-story building, flapping his arms with the intent to fly to the building across the street, and jumping off. In his final seconds of life, he will have an admittedly brief opportunity to contemplate that, whatever the religion you've chosen to embrace has told you, perhaps there are a few things that are impossible.

Like most people who've allowed delusion to guide their lives, Ray confuses mindless gullibility with being "open minded," and cares not a whit whether what he has chosen to believe is actually true as long as it provides "comfort food." What Ray lacks the ability to understand is that one's mind is not "limited" by adopting the intellectual integrity and honesty that enables you to distinguish fantasy from reality. The believer may feel all warm and fuzzy by thinking he has "expanded his horizons" to the point where delusion and reality are a blur. But he is still living in delusion. I'm sure I could follow Ray's advice, and choose to believe that when I die, I will go to Candyland on the Island of Misfit Toys and live in the Popsicle Palace for all eternity, and that anyone who doesn't share this belief has a "closed mind." But would that be sensible?

A common element I've heard from my fellow atheists, particularly those who were formerly Christian or otherwise religious, is that we all reached a point where we realized that it mattered whether or not what we believed was actually true, and not just comfort food. And the way you determine what's actually true is through the reliable methodologies of science.

When you read the sad prattlings of a guy like Ray Comfort, who has decided this distinction clearly doesn't matter, you realize that the "imagination" he so eagerly touts as the key to "open minded" thinking is really a feeble thing indeed. There's nothing in Ray's imagination, except the god Ray has made in his image and the fear of his own mortality he has disguised as eager anticipation of "eternity."

If he were even a smidgen less scientifically illiterate than he is, he'd quickly find that the wonders and majesty of the real universe that science reveals to us are immeasurably more awe-inspiring than the bereft and self-centered fantasies he has embraced. Ray just doesn't know much. He doesn't even know how limited his mind is. If he only had a brain. But there I go imagining again.


  1. But you know, what he's saying isn't any dumber than the rest of them, it's just how he says it. Certainly Craig argues to trust faith over reason and evidence. They all talk about the "limits" of reason and our senses and the "shifting sands" of science vs. the steady truthiness that comes from the gut.

    I suppose like the ability to tell a joke distinguishes a comedian from the average Joe, the ability to present this crap distinguishes between a Craig and a Comfort. Either way, both of these clowns make me laugh. :)

  2. So, he admits that God, heaven, hell, and eternal life is imaginary. I have to agree with him.

  3. I went to the thread so I could reply to a chap named Johannes, who had taken it upon himself to write the most absurdly patronizing post I've ever seen about "pop atheists" not understanding the subtle sophistication of Pascal's wager. My post is the next to last one on page for the moment, although you can easily find it by searching for "Kazim." (I wanted to log in with the identity "Poppa Atheist" as a way of teasing him, but it wouldn't let me use an ID other than my blogger one.)

  4. Wow. That was basically the good old Courtier's Argument as applied to Pascal's Wager, with a fantastic rebuttal.

  5. "Above us, only sky..."

    Yeah, go fuck yourself with a banana, Ray. My reality kicks your imagination's ass.

  6. Comfort is a cretin.

    This lie is persistent, though, that the Scullys of the world are flawed because we're "close minded" or lacking in imagination.

    If these people want to hold up their definition of open mindedness as a virtue, why do they deny anything imaginative, ever? With what faculty do they determine that they do not believe in Thor? Or chupacabra? Or Harry Potter? Or my magic toenail clipping? The whole claim is so fallacious I can't even grasp the attitude of someone who would adopt it. It's just weird.

  7. Ask a christian to imagine if they're wrong. They can't.

    Look, I'll grant them they have some imagination skills. Hell, most apologetics are amazingly imaginative. They can use their imagination to make themselves right, but they never seem able to entertain the possibility of being wrong.

  8. "If there were any lingering question that Ray Comfort deserved the appellation of World's Dumbest Apologist, it would surely be put to rest by reading the exercise in vacuity that is his..."

    new book.

  9. I'd heard that Ray was offering a free copy of his book to anyone who went to his blog and requested one, but I couldn't find the post announcing that (granted, I didn't look all that hard). I'm dying to read it! It cannot, at the very minimum, be any less pathetically stupid than D. James Kennedy's Skeptics Answered.

  10. Plus, you could always use another door stopper, right Martin?

  11. Somehow I don't think Ray's book will be that... substantial.

    When I think door-stopper, I think Les Miserables or War and Peace.

  12. Please quit trying to twist his words arounds. Do you people know what metaphors are? You know that you don't everything in life literally, especially when you're dealing with philosophy etc. Are you just jealous of him and his strength in his powerful belief? Pity for you..then

  13. Please quit trying to twist his words arounds. Do you people know what metaphors are?

    If Ray is using metaphors, they're pretty weak. His words seem pretty straightforward to us. He's essentially admitting that imagination is more important than fact, and he doesn't even seem to be aware that he's as much as admitted his beliefs are imaginary. I put this down to his being so stupid he doesn't know exactly what he's saying most of the time he's saying it.

    You know that you don't everything in life literally, especially when you're dealing with philosophy etc.

    Ray is pretty open about being a Biblical literalist...except, of course, when he isn't. It's all part of that irrationalism thing.

    Are you just jealous of him and his strength in his powerful belief?

    No, we're mocking him for the extreme silliness of his absurd beliefs. Quite a different thing.

    Stands to reason someone's defense of Ray would have no more substance or reason than Ray's blatherings themselves.

  14. Update: I've added another response to Johannes on Pascal's Wager at the original thread.

  15. Hi Kazim,

    I have responded to you on Ray's blog. If anything I've said piques your interest and you'd like to take the discussion elsewhere, I'd be happy to do so.


  16. Phillychief,

    I am curious as to why you think that Craig (I assume you mean Bill Craig) is a fideist.

    I think you are mistaken in you assertion that he "argues to trust faith over reason and evidence." Of course, Craig does seek to adduce reasons to believe that Christianity is true. So he seems, at first blush, to be rationally persuaded that it is true.

    On the other hand he has argued (in concert with Alvin Plantinga) that even if one lacked sound reasons for Christian believe, he may be epistemically warranted to believe in Christianity barring certain logical defeaters (of which he is aware).

    None of this is to say blithely that we must prefer "faith" (whatever one may mean by that) over our reasons. In fact, both Plantinga and Craig have argued it is impossible to trump our reasons with our wishes. One cannot be persuaded to believe something that one knows is false--with money or promises of happiness or anything else.

    So I think you'll find a fellow (critical) rationalist in Craig.

  17. So I think you'll find a fellow (critical) rationalist in Craig.

    Craig, what'syour response? - “The way that I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. This gives me a self authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.”

    Gosh, I think Craig disagrees with your assessment of him, and don't even get me started with Plantinga.

    Have a nice day.

  18. Phillychief,

    I see what you're saying. Yes, he's talking about how he personally knows that Christianity it true. If the Holy Spirit actually did affirm the truth of the Christian message to him, then he would be epistemically justified in believing that it is true. It is a form of belief grounded in testimony. (Like believing that your parents are your parents because they've told you they are. This is a warranted belief for a child.)

    Now you, of course, don't believe this for a second. It is utterly implausible to you that anyone should know anything by the witness of the Holy Spirit. So you won't take the claim seriously.

    Craig makes a distinction between "knowing" and "showing" that Christianity it true. He believes that Christian faith is rationally grounded, that is why he makes rational arguments for theism and the historical argument for the resurrection for Christian theism.

    So he is saying that for him, his primary reason for knowing is God's direct work in his life but for those who do not have the personal witness of the Holy Spirit, there are persuasive reasons for thinking that Christianity is true.

    It should be noted, however, that Craig's knowing anything based on the witness of Holy Spirit is not irrational. It just doesn't ground anything for you. So his "knowing" is just a personal report; his "showing" is his reasoned account.

    (And by all means I think it would be fine if you did start on Plantinga. I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

  19. If you want to paint with the broadest brush possible than yes, Craig is rational in that his decision making is logically valid.
    1. Believe the bible is the inerrant word of god
    2. Bible leads to determining the world is 6000 years old
    3. Therefore, evidence that world is older than 6,000 years old is wrong and should be ignored.

    Likewise, this would be equally rational:
    1. Believe that you can know the future through astrology
    2. Have a horoscope that urges you to make a fundamental change in your life
    3. You quit your job
    1. Believe today is your lucky day
    2. Realize you can make money quicker with a big blackjack win than a lifetime of investing
    3. You then go to Las Vegas with your life savings looking for a blackjack table

    However, "rationality" is generally understood as decisions based on probability and expectation which come from trusting empirical evidence and experience. This is how we all live our lives. It's generally considered rational to save your money for retirement and irrational to gamble it at the blackjack table. The premises of the arguments for our decisions need to be as sound as possible in order to make proper, rational decisions. On those grounds, which are the grounds on which we almost all agree on to live our lives every hour of every day, Craig is irrational.

    You can't simply say ignoring evidence because you "know" otherwise is rational therefore you're rational. That's absurd. I can call this monitor in front of me a chicken and likewise assert it is a chicken but that doesn't make it a chicken.

    Btw, your child/parents analogy doesn't work because the parents are REAL.

  20. Phillychief,

    I'm not sure I'm following your points.

    It is true that, for many things, in order to be justified in believing them the premises that we base our beliefs on should be more plausible than their negation. Neither I nor Craig (who is a professional philosopher and would be aware of this very basic logical truism) deny that.

    The arguments you adduce are (maybe) valid but, I think we agree, that none are sound. I think the first argument about the Bible and the age of the earth is invalid (that's not to say it's wrong, just that it's logic form doesn't yield its conclusion--a valid argument can be unsound but an invalid argument is certainly unsound). Anyway, this argument could, perhaps, be given a valid form.

    In that case I think most people would reject the premise #2 (certainly both I and Craig do). So we can judge the soundness of these arguments. I should repeat, however, I'm not entirely sure what the point is. If one has good evidence that #2 is wrong then we certainly have an internal defeater for the argument. If we also have very good evidence that the universe is much older (which we do have) then we have an external defeater.

    Now the external defeater does not show that the argument is unsound (as the internal defeater would) but it would reduce the plausibility of the argument. It may end up that the rational person, in the end, cannot support the argument because it ends up being wholly implausible.

    I think that, instead of casting aspersions at people who advocate ideas we don't like and implying that they're dishonest or stupid, we should trust that they are doing the best they can by their lights and seeking to be rational; we'd want to understand them charitably.

    So if someone were to advocate a valid form of the first argument then they'd have to answer serious objections that arise from the deliverances of contemporary cosmology and Biblical exegesis. Most of us would agree that they'd have a tough road of it and would opt to simply reject that argument. That's what most rational people would do, I suspect.

    Now I don't see how any of this is out of step with how people like Craig reason. I can't see how he's a fideist or "unpersuadable" or anything of that sort. Most professional philosophers do change their views on things over time and (knowing Craig personally) I know he's changed a number of views as have I. I think we are making rational decisions based on the best evidence we are aware of.

  21. Sorry, I neglected to mention this in my previous (long-winded... I apologize) response: rationality really doesn't have anything to do with trusting empirical evidence. I don't think that rationality is reducible to empirical data; it is much broader than that.

    The basic logical axioms, for example, are not empirically known. The principle of identity and the law of non-contradiction are rationally apprehended in an a priori way, their truth doesn't spring out of a test tube.

    In fact, drawing conclusions from empirical data is an inductive act which presupposes rationality, so rationality cannot depend upon empirical evidence. (If you are affirming that only those that are empirically demonstrable are rational then I'd like to introduce you to the Vienna Circle and utter irrelevance!)

    Consider the following affirmation, for example: "However, 'rationality' is generally understood as decisions based on probability and expectation which come from trusting empirical evidence and experience." I can't see how this sentence can be empirically verified. It is a pre-scientific (and I think unsound) assertion.

    But some pre-scientific assertions about science must be, in fact, true in order for us to draw empirical conclusions. For example, we would probably need to assume that there is a real world about us that we can reliably know through the human senses (that is we should probably accept scientific realism and some sort of credulity principle with regard to sensory experience). These things, however, are not the products of empirical inquiry.

  22. I don't know if Craig is a YEC or not, but that doesn't matter. There are those who agree with premise #2 and in the face of evidence to the contrary, reject that evidence because according to THEIR witness of the holy spirit, they "know" their reading of the bible is right. This would be the "self authenticating means of knowing" that Craig advocates which you may find all well and good if it happens to advocate what you want, but it should be plain as day once applied to something you disagree with (although I can't understand why it wouldn't be recognized before having to do this).

    The very clear point I was making was this notion of "self authenticating knowledge" trumping evidence is rather absurd, at least as Craig is promoting it. Now you assert he's a professional philosopher (asserting competency) and you assert he's doing the best he can to be rational. I find those assertions in light of what he puts forth at odds. I think a professional philosopher would see the flaws in this truthiness trumps evidence stuff so the fact that he promotes it seems dishonest. If however he fails to see the flaws, then he's not very good at his job. So that's my charitable interpretation.

    And yes, he is a fideist. Dressing up faith as this magical "knowing" doesn't make it stop being faith.

    Have a nice day, and tell Craig I said, "hi". :)

  23. You make some good points Phillychief.

    I guess I can't speak for Craig, but I tend to agree on the "knowing" vs. "showing" approach to the truth of the Christian message.

    So, for myself, I would agree that the attestation of the Holy Spirit is defeasible. I think that I know that the Christian message is true because the Spirit has testified of that to me but, I will admit that this is a very unique thing that I am possibly mistaken about. (And I certainly don't expect you to draw any conclusions about the truth or falsity of Christianity based on that. understand if you just think that's plain weird or deluded.)

    So this is to say that the attestation of the Spirit would not necessarily defeat evidence contrary to Christianity for me. If I were given good reasons to think that God does not exist, and also find that my rational reasons for believing that he does exist are unfounded (or have a far lower probability than I once thought), then I certainly reject Christianity.

    I guess that in the end the evidence of the Spirit is some evidence but it is weighed against other evidences. It's certainly not insuperable. So I'm certainly not saying that "God has revealed the truth of Christianity to me. Let all other considerations be damned."

    I think the only reason that Christians even raise the issue is that we claim to, not merely know something about God, but to actually know him. I think that people like Craig don't want to lose sight of that (and if our message is authentic then we should be honest about that even though, admittedly it sounds weird or even arrogant for one to say he knows God or that God revealed something to him).

    Ultimately, we can put that attestation of the Spirit stuff aside. If your reasons against God are good I will certainly consider them and change my views. Certain metaphysical considerations, for example, have certainly encouraged me to reject some traditional (Thomistic) ascriptions of God as incoherent.

    It wouldn't matter that much to me if I really believe that God attested to me that he was atemporal and simple, for example. I just can't make rational sense of those notions so I would assume that I was misguided in thinking I had received knowledge from the Spirit that said otherwise.

  24. Also, I know you said you didn't really care but I'll just mention that Craig is not at YEC. (Nor are the vast majority of knowledgeable evangelicals. I assure you that people like Ray Comfort and Kent Hovind do not represent the the vast majority of college educated evangelicals and Catholics.)

    In fact, he uses the Big Bang cosmology as a posteriori evidence for the second premise of his Kalam argument. (I don't mean to sound snooty here but I'd think that anyone who was able to draw such final conclusions about Craig's views would know this. But I don't really expect his or my view to get a fully fair hearing on this forum. Still, being fair and being informed are not altogether exclusive.)

    Take care.

  25. I've read transcripts of some of Craig's debates as well as comments like I referred to already and his snarky "the shifting sands of evidence" which I find are enough to form an opinion of him so no, I don't find it necessary to research whether he's a YEC or to listen to his Kalam argument. If you think that's unfair, so be it.

    As to the rest, I'm not a proselytizer so I'm not going to tell you why you shouldn't believe that god stuff. I won't try to persuade. You can believe what you want, as long as you don't try pushing it on me or use it to justify and make attacks on me, even if they're as silly as Ray questioning my imagination skills.

    Btw, I don't see how you can be upset with the label fideist in light of your username, oh ye knight of faith. ;)

  26. Ha... good point about the user name.

    I don't know if Kierkegaard was a fideist or not. He's actually pretty hard to figure out.

    I think he was a smart but real strange cat. I like how he makes up names and characters so when asked me for a user name it was the first thing that popped into my head. It was either that or "Intellectually Vacuous Bible Thumper." I decided to go with my first thought.

  27. Been following this discussion with interest. Nice to have someone discussing these matters here intelligently, as opposed to the emotional tirades and indignant name calling we get from guys like Rhology.

    As for the impossibility of persuading people to believe claims they know are false: bingo, except for one small detail. Most Christian believers and apologists of my acquaintance make the common mistake of conflating knowledge and belief. Moreover, many of them have this idea that the more passionately they believe their beliefs, the more verified they are as truths. They call this process "faith."

    So I think Christians have a fundamental problem in that their beliefs don't provide them with the epistemological tools to distinguish what they know from what they just believe, however devoutly.

    Anyway, welcome to the comments, Johannes.

  28. I'd argue Martin that they don't call it faith. They esteem it's knowledge or evidence. We call it faith, and therefore see them all as fideists, and that seems to ruffle their feathers. I don't quite understand why though. To try and claim faith isn't faith, it seems to me evident that their faith is tenuous. They need to pretend it's more than just that to justify it. Faith may be hailed as a virtue, but in this day and age, I think people more and more need a reason to have and maintain faith. It's not so cheaply bought and kept up as it was in earlier ages, and I see programs in this country such as undermining the Education systems as a way to lower the costs for faith.

  29. Well, I have heard some of them call what they claim to be knowledge "faith," thinking they're synonymous. But you bring up an interesting point in the way believers have to wrestle with the cognitive dissonance that accompanies a life in which belief and fact are more or less constantly at war in their minds. Believers, especially of the fundamentalist stripe, disdain science on the one hand because it supports ungodly ideas like evolution. But on the other hand, they recognize they live in a culture in which reason is valued, and that science is the agent of prestige in a rational culture.

    Hence the attempts to claim "scientific" evidence for all manner of insupportable nonsense. But they fundamentally just do not know how science works, and they think it comes down to the same criteria as belief. Which is why you constantly see them thrown into utter confusion as to why creationism can't be taught in science classes as an "alternate theory" to evolution. Okay, scientists "believe in" evolution, but lots of other people believe in a creator, so aren't the two "beliefs" deserving of "equal time"? They don't understand the process by which scientific knowledge is acquired, and they define the word "theory" in its vernacular way, as to mean "We're just guessing here," which is absolutely not what theory means in science.

    You see this ignorance on boldest display in the Creation "Museum," in which a video is presented where a creationist talks about how conventional science and creationism tries to pursue the same answers, they just come from different "starting points." Right away the believer is confused into thinking religion and science are equally valid methods for investigating and substantiating truth claims about the natural world. Thus you get creationists and believers calling evolution and science "just another religion." Creationism implants the lie in their heads that it's all the same, and questions such as how evidence is examined and theories are actually formed in legitimate science are never addressed. The result is that you have a population primed to accept the notion that truths come down to popular vote.

    It's all part and parcel of the way religion fails to give its believers the tools to distinguish what they believe from what can be known. The way to defuse science's threat to belief while at the same time laying claim to its street cred in a rationalist culture is to just equivocate science with belief, and blur the line between verifiable facts and passionately held faith.

  30. Martin and Phillychief,

    You are talking about the nature of faith and I think the blame for any confusion that typically arises when people use this term resides with Christians.

    Your average lay Christian is not an epistemologist and he doesn't quite grasp the intricacies of the issues that have been raised. (And this goes for the vast majority of non-academic persons who raise issues relevant to belief and knowledge, not just Christians.)

    The problem is that we Christians talk about faith as if it's a meaningful term but, unfortunately, most of us (those of use who talk about it, anyway) are wildly confused.

    Phillychief, as you note, if one truly is a fideist he shouldn't really be all that bothered that anyone should purport to have evidence that the Christian message is false or contains false claims. He simply isn't interested in the stuff. I think you're right but I'm not convinced that there are many real fideists around. To be a consistent fideist one must be rather intelligent about it and, ironically, have a robust epistemology. Any lay individual you may encounter probably mixes fideism (or at least fideist statements), with evidentialism, with rationalism as he goes. If you throw a softball he's got solid evidence, if you throw a hardball he's got faith... but that's simply not a fair way to play the game.

    Incidentally, it is also ironic that the average Christian's view of science is typically modernist. I'm sure you'd be tempted to think that it's pre-modern but I think you'd be mistaken. Most people are just so inculcated by modernist sentiments that they couldn't possibly have an Christian view of science if a Christian view entails the rejection of modernism. (I am far more pre-modern in my views than the typical Christian and I'm actually trained in philosophy of science... you can imagine how confused your man on the street would be.)

    So when one approaches these questions with such a hodge-podge view of knowledge (not to mention the pall of post modernism that seems to hang over everything in popular discourse) it's no wonder that the categories of knowledge, belief, and faith are so abused.

    I don't take faith to be mere "fingers in my ears" belief. Faith, as I understand it, is knowledge with fiduciary content. That means, if I claim to have faith in God I'm not saying that I merely believe he exists, or even merely know he exists; I am saying that I trust him.

    This use of the word "faith" is just what we mean when we say to someone, "I have faith in you." It doesn't mean just that we believe that they are; that goes without saying. Rather we believe that they are able to do what they purpose to do. We are also expressing a personal affection for that individual.

    You may have a distaste for this sort of language about God but I agree with you guys that "faith" should not be used as a bludgeon to stop conversations about important philosophical ideas. Faith is not a stop-gap for knowledge. It is a disposition towards something that is known.

    So any search of answers will involve the standard inductive methods that we're all accustomed to. If anyone tells you that you are unable to understand because you don't have faith, I think they're wrong. You are able to understand all the same things, of course, but may have radically different dispositions towards those things. I guess this is to say that faith does not confer secret knowledge, it's not magic, and Christianity is not gnosticism.


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