Thursday, October 30, 2008

Liars, Lunatics, Lords, Legends and Lemmings...

I'm starting a bit of a tradition here. Whenever Ray Comfort posts about atheists (he's rather obsessed with us, some might claim it's to the point of protesting too much), I write a response and as he's not always keen about posting dissenting views, I copy it over here to our blog.

Ray's latest post is partially correct and partially incorrect - but it's worth offering some commentary. Give it a read and enjoy the response below...


I care very little about whether or not any of these individuals were atheists or not. The truth of a concept is not at all influenced by the number of people who accept it, nor their popularity, nor the strength of their conviction.

It's very telling, though, that you do seem to care - as if you're bound and determined to show the 'truth' of Psalm 14:1 (the second, lesser-quoted half of that verse, in particular).

I'm not surprised that you'd want to make veiled appeals to authority, but it seems very dishonest of you to point out reasons why these people weren't atheists when it is clear that they weren't believers in anything remotely resembling the God you believe in...which makes them atheists with respect to your God, just as you're an atheist with respect to Zeus.

That said, there is a slight bit of anachronism and selective quoting going on here. You seem to overlook many things, not the least of which is that a human life can't be summed up in a simple quote. People change. People represent themselves differently, at different times, to different people. People express ideas using the conventions of their contemporaries - and people, for various reasons are not always comfortable publicly expressing their most private thoughts. The common views about gods during the lives of the individuals you cite were very different from those of today and it is a disservice to misrepresent this.

For example, you may be able to find quotes from me from when I was a Christian. You may even be able to find people who knew me during that time, and quote their assessment of my thoughts and beliefs. That doesn't change the fact that I'm an atheist now. Additionally, I find it curiously hypocritical that you might claim that I was never "really" a Christian - as evidenced by my eventual apostasy - and yet you attempt to twist the views of the individuals above in order to make them appear less atheistic.

I have no reason to debate whether or not these individuals were atheists, agnostics, deists, Christians or whatever - because it doesn't matter. We can't know what was in their minds (or hearts, if you prefer), we can only take the information available and make a reasonable guess at what they believed, or disbelieved. By picking and choosing quotes from different eras of their lives, one could easily make a case for any number of beliefs.

I'm curious though, do you think any of these individuals were Christians when they did their greatest works? Do you think they believed in the 'one true God' you believe in? If so, how do you explain their clear contempt for Christianity and the God of the Bible? If not, what Biblical basis do you have for holding them in a significantly different light from atheists?

As far as I can tell, the Bible is pretty clear about which God is real and how Jews and Christians are expected to view the character of those who reject that God in favor of other gods or no gods.

If the individals in question are all, according to your belief, given over to a reprobate mind and destined for hell - why would you bother to attempt to venerate them and reclaim them from the 'atheist' label?

Despite that, here are some quotes and comments on the individuals above, just to stretch the point. I am not claiming these people as atheists, I am simply providing reported quotes that give us more information about what they did or didn't believe. Additionally, these quotes may not be correct as the internet (as evidenced by this blog source) is cluttered with good information and bad:

Thomas Edison:

"My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it."

"I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God."

"I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul.... No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life -- our desire to go on living -- our dread of coming to an end."

About Col. Ingersoll (The Great Agnostic), Thomas Edison wrote:

"I think that Ingersoll had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed. Judging from the past, I cannot help thinking that the intention of the Supreme Intelligence that rules the world is to ultimately make such a type of man universal."


Mark Twain:

"There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him--early."

"If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be--a Christian."

"The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive...but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born."

"I am plenty safe enough in his hands; I am not in any danger from that kind of a Diety. The one that I want to keep out of the reach of, is the caricature of him which one finds in the Bible. We (that one and I) could never respect each other, never get along together. I have met his superior a hundred times-- in fact I amount to that myself."


Robert Frost reportedly became more pious in his later years, although...

"Elinor Frost, his wife, thought he was, like her, an atheist. In 1920 (the couple had then been married twenty-five years) Frost confided to Louis Untermeyer:

'Elinor has just come out flat-footed against God conceived either as the fourth person seen with Shadrack, Meshack, and Tobedwego [sic] in the fiery furnace or without help by the Virgin Mary. How about as a Shelleyan principal or spirit coeternal with the rock part of creation, I ask. Nonsense and you know it’s nonsense Rob Frost, only you’re afraid you’ll have bad luck or lose your standing in the community if you speak your mind.'"


With regard to Susan B. Anthony, I have no reason to doubt that she was a deist. Her continual references to Providence and the God of Providence represent the common language of deists in her time.


Finally, it's curious that you acknowledge Hemmingway's atheism only to use it as a tool to imply that this is a testimony to the truth of the words of Jesus and the perils one finds in a life lived without a personal relationship with Jesus - yet, you just finished pointing out that these others were also lacking this personal relationship, yet they didn't suffer the sad fate of Hemmingway.

You go from implying that belief in some sort of deistic god is enough to justify good works, and then spin the final assessment as testimony to the futility of a life without Jesus.

This is the grand lie. This is hypocrisy at its finest. It's this self-righteous, selective thinking that you engage in to malign those who don't share your views. It's transparent and pathetic. And while you may not print this, it doesn't change the fact that while some atheists may have misrepresented these historical figures as atheists (a charge that may or may not be accurate depending on the quotes used and the definitions involved), you've made an accusation of intentional falsehoods - while presenting a convoluted mess of misrepresentations that either represent the grandest lie or an intellectual laziness of staggering proportions.

Which is it?


  1. Quick note - obviously the 'this blog' comment refers to Ray's blog, where my response was originally submitted. :)

  2. Nice. I wish I could be that forceful in my replies.

  3. One bit of credit (a very minor one) that I will give to Ray's blog, is that he does seem to allow some atheist posts to make it to the comments page. He could have done much better by not making it moderated, so I'm not going to do the happy dance around him.

    However, when I was in the Navy, one very telling phrase always reminded us to try to never screw up: "One 'Oh shit' wipes out a thousand 'attaboys'." Ray's "Oh shit"? Starting off his blog by Quote Mining Einstein and Hawking. (Ok, that's 2 "oh shit"s, so he's got 1999 more attaboys to make up for it. I don't think he'll get there)

    I posted a comment on his previous post, which was quote mining Dawkins, of all people. We'll see if he posts it. (I was very nice and polite. It may get under his radar)

    Somebody pass me a humanly genetically engineered banana.

  4. Matt, your comment made it. I just fail at figuring out how to link right to your comment.

  5. Ray doesn't always block my comments, in fact I'm not sure that he's ever blocked mine - I'm usually careful to either keep it unobjectionable or include some comment that will force him to look more hypocritical if he refuses to post it.

    I can't say that I've ever seen him respond to any of my comments directly, he hasn't acknowledged the deconstruction of his Way of the Master episodes and while I'd love to debate him (sort of...I'd actually prefer someone a bit more difficult), there's no way I'm going to pay him to debate - so it probably won't happen.


  6. I can't say that I've ever seen him respond to any of my comments directly,

    I checked again, and not only did he respond to you....he didn't address anything you posted.

    Instead, he doubts you were ever a real scotsman.. I mean Christian.

    "Matt...your lack or theological understanding is revealing. You were never a Christian "

    Which I find humorous, as I've listened to a number of AE/Non Prophet's podcasts, and if there is one thing very apparent, is that you have a great deal of theological understanding. You just happened to spit out the kool aid in time. (which is Ray's apparent objection).

  7. And, of course, he responds to me directly while I'm not looking. (It happened before my comment here, I just missed it.)

    Here's my response to his response (and I'll stop doing this after this one)..


    I thought that this comment in my initial response:

    "Additionally, I find it curiously hypocritical that you might claim that I was never "really" a Christian"

    ...would serve as a preemptive acknowledgment that I actually do understand your position and anticipated your claim that I was a pretender.

    I've noted many times that you're entitled to your view and that by your definition I was a false convert. In fact, I happen to agree with you - I was a false convert...but the reason I agree with you is because I think all conversions are false based on that definition. In addition to the fact that I don't think there's any God to do the calling or redeeming, the definition is circular: 'true' Christians are always true Christians and they couldn't possibly stop believing.

    I wonder where doubt fits in that definition?

    However, under the more conventional understanding of Christianity which is rooted in sincere belief in the existence, power, majesty, divinity and authority of Jesus accompanied by a sincere repentance of sins and a sincere desire to live a Christ-like life, following his teachings, developing a personal relationship, fulfilling the obligation of 1 Peter 3:15 to defend the faith and act as a conduit for the Holy Spirit to win souls to Christ....I was, most certainly a Christian.

    I almost wish you'd have known me at that time, perhaps you'd have been able to tell me then, that I was a pretender - although many of my beliefs and understandings mirrored your own.

    You're free to dismiss that, but as that seems to place you in the curiously un-Christian position of claiming who is/was isn't/wasn't a 'true' Christian. You've placed yourself in a position where it's impossible that you could be mistaken in your understanding of the subject.

    How very humble of you.

    I wonder if you'd be kind enough to make a list of "true" Christians for us.

  8. I will be surprised if he posts that Matt, but you never know. both comments are great.

  9. The "list of true Christians" would be something! If any of them ever stopped believing--that would have deep implications.

  10. There are a lot of great responses to the original blog and your response to it. Fantastic!

  11. maddogdelta said...
    "I checked again, and not only did he respond to you....he didn't address anything you posted."

    He will *never* respond to this type of content, it challenges the fundamental basis of his belief system to think on or attempt to address such questions. Instead he will do the regular "evade, duck, kick them when they're not looking" Christian technique. It's his psychological protection mechanism.

  12. Ray's whole enterprise smacks of religious opportunism, pure and simple. He uses the ad populum fallacy when it suits him by, as has been pointed out, quote mining and distilling their achievements into a few paragraphs, as if any of this had any bearing on the existence of God. I think we're all pretty confident he'd abandon them and castigate them as infidels if it suited him. You can't argue logic with someone like that. He abandoned it long ago for deceitful politicking on behalf of his Christian agenda.

  13. Your second post went through also. No reply this time from Ray, shocking....

  14. "You were never a Christian."

    If I follow the logic correctly here, anyone who deconverts from Christianity must not have ever been a Christian to begin with. If true, then the definition of a Christian is someone who never deconverts.

    By that logic, until a person dies without deconverting, it is premature to call him or her a Christian.

    Therefore, Ray Comfort is not a Christian.

    Incidentally, why is it when someone says that she's a Christian, people like Ray Comfort accept it without question? Whereas if someone says they used to be a Christian, he has to whip out a resume and a pedigree, proving that they were an ELITE Christian? Every time Matt mentions his deconversion, he has to 'qualify' it by citing his ministry training, etc.

  15. I've posted over there, too.

    I bet mine won't make it, though.

    AllFiredUp said...


    I have news for you.

    Of course the Bible is man made.


    It seems atheists think that God was sitting at a desk writing the Bible. I mean is this the level of immaturity in atheists?

    No, for the last time, God USED MEN to write what we call the Bible.

    Just like you use a pen to write a letter.

    Godly men were inspired by the Holy Spirit (God) to compile and write what we have in our hands, known as the Bible.

    Please atheists, you are not surprising us with your "Man wrote the bible" argument. This has been dealt with so many times, it's amazing that atheists keep bringing it up.

    God wrote with his own hand, the Law the 10 commandments, He also spoke to Moses and the Israelites about the Levitical and Sacrificial Laws - these were written down by Moses.

    God told Ezekiel and a host of other prophets to write down what God was saying.

    God told John the Apostle to write down what he was seeing and what God was saying.

    Godly men were writing the Chronicles of Kings, and the history of Israel.

    Through men God wrote what we have in our hands - the Bible.

    Sorry I have to ask, are atheists normally this dense?

    No. We know that you people believe that your "God" dictated or somehow gave the words of the bible to people. For you to think that we believe otherwise only shows how dense you are.

    When atheists say that the bible is "man-made" we mean that it was thought up and written entirely by people, with no input from any supernatural source.

    Does that help your understanding any?

    Try to think a little bit before you run around calling other people "immature" or "dense".

    Thanks for playing.

  16. I like dealing with that idiot, Jinx.

    I'm surprised they let my comment slide, especially since I made note of how idiotic he acted on TheologyWeb, a xian site.

    There's one guy, Dani'El who's a real nut job, as is detailed here. Don't know if anyone's taken notice of him yet, but when 2009 ends without his predictions coming true, what do you think will happen?


PLEASE NOTE: The Atheist Experience has moved to a new location, and this blog is now closed to comments. To participate in future discussions, please visit

This blog encourages believers who disagree with us to comment. However, anonymous comments are disallowed to weed out cowardly flamers who hide behind anonymity. Commenters will only be banned when they've demonstrated they're nothing more than trolls whose behavior is intentionally offensive to the blog's readership.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.