I’m currently staring at the most disgraceful version of one of the most outstanding books ever published. Apparently, Christians (I’m not sure if they were students) at Griffith’s Logan campus were handing out copies of the Ray Comfort edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It’s a modified version, with a 50-page preface, added by Comfort, which is an intellectual wasteland. Comfort financed the distribution of tens of thousands of copies of this version of Origin at campuses across the globe (presumably because no-one would buy it).
Let’s start with the first 3 pages, which detail a basic biography of Darwin’s life. They seem fairly well written and reasonable, unlike the remainder of the preface… almost as if they weren’t written by the same person. Which they weren’t. They were blatantly plagiarised by Comfort from a professor named Stan Guffey.
Ray follows up this stellar start by trying to undermine evolutionary theory, using a series of logically lacking, poorly presented arguments which continually do the creationist rounds. Complexity is held up as evidence of God, the fossil record is denied and evolution as a whole is completely misunderstood. For example, on the fossil record, Comfort quotes Darwin himself:
“Why, if species have escended from other species by fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion, instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined? … As by this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the Earth?”
Comfort uses this quote to lend support to his claims that there are no transitional fossils in the record, among other misrepresentations. But that’s what Darwin’s quote seems to say, right? Well, no. Darwin spent several chapters (VI-IX) of Origin explaining potential criticisms of evolution, then addressing them in detail. He usually posed the criticism at the start of the chapter: playing his own devil’s advocate. That’s what Comfort has quoted! It’s gross intellectual dishonesty; sadly, I’m not surprised. For such material to be distributed at a place of learning is appalling.
Fortunately, if readers then go to chapter IX of the book, they’ll find a detailed rebuttal of the above paragraph by Darwin. Further, Darwin’s explanation of the fossil record has been bolstered in the last 150 years by hundreds of thousands more fossils which support evolutionary theory, and damningly, not a single one that rebuts it. Of course, these aren’t mentioned by Comfort: he focuses on two cases of fraudulent fossils from the past 100 years, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was scientists who discovered the fraud and denounced the fossils.
Comfort is well known for making mountains out of molehills of his own misunderstanding. Here’s one of his best:
“Darwin theorized that mankind (both male and female) evolved in their pre-human state alongside each other over millions of years, both reproducing after their own kind before the ability to physically have sex evolved.” – Ray Comfort
Not only is that a lie (of course Darwin never said anything so preposterous), it’s blindingly idiotic. It’s not like Comfort hasn’t had his errors pointed out to him, though; he has, many times, in live debates and in writing. He just tenaciously keeps repeating the same old lies (and, when pressed, inventing new ones) to justify his position. So what could possibly drive such anti-intellectualism? Why, it’s Christianity, of course!
“The Law of God shows us that the best of us is nothing but a wicked criminal, standing guilty and condemed before the throne of a perfect and holy Judge. When that is understood, then our “righteous deeds” are actually seen as an attempt to bribe the Judge of the Universe. The Bible says that because of our guilt, anything we offer God for our justification (our acquittal from His courtroom) is an abomination to Him, and only adds to our crimes.” – Ray Comfort
Wow. Just wow. According to Ray’s version of religion, doing good deeds adds to our crimes. However, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you worship Jesus.
And he says atheists have “no moral responsibility.”
Julie Bishop and Tony Burke, Australian politicians on Q and A a fortnight ago, criticised Richard Dawkins for his manner towards religion:
“Let’s show some respect for different people’s views and then I think the debate will be perhaps much more pleasant.” – Julie Bishop
“I don’t think your ridicule of people’s faith is much better than what you’re criticising. I really don’t.” – Tony Burke
They’re wrong. Religion is illogical, and in extreme cases like that of Ray Comfort (and the millions of people who look up to him), it is close to mental illness, which convinces them that lying and misrepresenting others is OK, and that good deeds are an attempt to bribe God into forgiveness. While there are many moderate religious people who I get along with fantastically well with, share values with, and respect, I do that despite their faith. Praising faith and holding it up as a virtue which deserves exemption from normal criticism is anti-intellectual and irrational. If the Comforts of the world want to push their religion in the public sphere, ridicule may be the only answer – rational, polite discussion has failed.
It’s sadder still that Comfort and his contemporaries crave the authority and evidence of the scientific method. Their attempts to gain credibility for their religion by sycophantic appeals to authority – to the point of misrepresenting Darwin in a reprint of his own book – indicates to me that there’s a deep feeling of inadequacy underlying their religious belief. Of course, that’s no surprise – religion as a natural explanation for anything other than human social phenomena has failed dismally.
If you doubt the fact of evolution, or would like to learn more about evolutionary theory in an entertaining and readable way, I’d highly recommend reading The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins or Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. If you want more specific evidence and refutations of creatonist arguments, hit talkorigins.org. Or, you could get a free copy of Comfort’s Origin, ignore/laugh at the first 50 pages, and enjoy Darwin’s own take on the subject, as I intend to.