Okay guys, this one’s a doozy. Undoubtedly my longest post to date. Get settled in and prepare to read.
Last week I was challenged by a Facebook friend of mine to watch a video called “Evolution vs. God.” It’s a You Tube video by Ray Comfort, who is described by Wikipedia as “a New Zealand-born Christian minister and evangelist. Comfort started Living Waters Publications and The Way of the Master in Bellflower, California and has written a number of books.” Comfort is a well-known guy in atheist circles, mainly for his assertion that the banana is proof of God, because the banana is so perfectly created to fit into the hand of a human. He is also a close associate of another atheist favorite, Kirk Cameron.
Always up for a good challenge, I watched the video and reported back to my Facebook friend.
I told him that I had so very many thoughts on this video, that I couldn’t possibly put them all into a single Facebook comment, so I decided to make a blog post out of them instead (I’m always looking for good blog material).
If you want to watch the video before reading this, you can find it here. I’ll warn you though, it was very hard for me to not shut it off after about 7 minutes of watching the same thing over and over again, but I muddled through. However, I just can’t bring myself to watch it again. I’m already dealing with a kid who has pink-eye, so I’ve taken enough grief for one day. Therefore, my writing probably won’t match up chronologically with the video as I’m going on sheer memory here. I’m probably going to be all over the place. With that said, here are my thoughts:
Thought #1: The magic of editing.
This is clearly a carefully edited video. It is essentially a collection of “man-on-the-street” type interviews with people who the audience is supposed to assume are “typical” defenders of evolution (see thought #2). Naturally, we rarely get to see the “intelligent” answers. In fact, many of the answers I desperately wanted to see were cut out. And I really question why some of the interviewees were given more time than others. However, editing is a common thing and I can’t really fault Comfort for wanting to get his point across by using what he thought were the statements that best proved his point. I can be annoyed by it though.
Thought #2: Not all students of science are evolutionary biologists.
Much of the video is spent randomly interviewing science students at a university (not sure which one – UCLA maybe?). Most of them were studying fields such as chemistry, physics, geology, etc. Just because someone is in college and is studying science, they do not automatically have a vast and thorough knowledge of evolution, especially since we were never told what year of college these students were in. From the looks of it, most of them were straight out of high school. People study for years to understand this stuff, so to expect people who are not experts to answer your random questions coherently is really pretty naïve. I myself would never claim to be an expert on the subject, as science has just never been my particular forte and I’ve never been interested enough to study evolution in depth. If he really wanted to prove his point, the video should have relied more heavily on actual experts and less so on first-year students who were plucked off the sidewalk on their way to class.
Thought #3: Atheists do not claim to “know” that there is no God.
At one point, a woman who is interviewed says that she is not an atheist because she can’t be so arrogant as to claim that there definitely is no God. There is also a famous Neil deGrasse Tyson quote used at some point in which Tyson basically says the same thing. But that is NOT the claim of atheism. This is a pet peeve of mine. Atheists are simply claiming that we haven’t seen enough evidence to believe that your particular god is real. Christians are making the claim that a very specific god exists, and we aren’t buying it until we see some proof. That’s it. We aren’t claiming that we know for certain there is no god. Sure, anyone can find some crackpot to tell you that there is definitely, without a doubt, no god, but that claim does not represent atheism as a whole or even most atheists. “Agnosticism” simply means we don’t know if there is a god or not. “Atheism” means we don’t believe there is one. Those are two different things, therefore most atheists, including myself, would classify themselves as “agnostic atheists.”
Thought #4: There is no such thing as “Darwinian Evolution.”
The term “Darwinian evolution” is used constantly throughout this video. It’s a term creationists often use, probably because it limits evolution to Darwin’s research and ideas. Yes, Darwin was the first prominent person to put forth the theory of evolution, but a lot of work has been accomplished in the field since then. So just to deny all of the other research that’s been done and assume that there was this one guy, Charles Darwin, who was solely responsible for “making up” evolution is just nonsense. Comfort seems to think that “regular evolution” is just adaptation and survival of the fittest, and that “Darwinian evolution” makes the claim that one day a human baby was born to a monkey mother. No one is making that claim. Again, it’s nonsense.
Thought #5: No, you did not “stump” the experts.
There are many shots of biology experts being supposedly “stumped” by Comfort. One notable example is P.Z. Myers, Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota. I saw Myers speak a couple of weeks ago at the Minnesota Atheists Conference, and I’m pretty sure nothing stumps him. There are several instances in the video where Myers is asked a question and then sits there with a bewildered look on his face. In many of these instances, we don’t get to hear his response, or at least all of it. But from my knowledge of Myers, I would guess that his bewildered look was due to his puzzlement at how such ridiculous questions could seriously be asked of him, and a realization that Comfort was not going to fully understand or accept his answer anyway. You cannot simply say magic words and expect someone to suddenly have a comprehension of biology; especially someone who is not genuinely interested in learning, but is instead just trying to catch you with a stupid look on your face for their own purposes.
Thought #6: Famous atheists have nothing to do with the validity of evolution.
There is a lengthy section in the video that questions the existence of “famous” atheists. The list they give leaves out most of the atheists I’ve ever heard of, and instead focuses on several well-known scientists and historical figures (such as Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein) who we speculate may have been atheists. It then takes a single quote from each one and declares them theists, disregarding any other quote they may have ever said about the existence or not of a god. This focus on atheism really has nothing to do with evolutionary biology, and I fail to see how making sure that these guys weren’t really atheists has anything to do with the subject at hand. The fame level of a person doesn’t make their ideas any more or less valid. Where are all of the “famous” Creationists? I don’t know and I don’t care. It has nothing to do with anything.
Thought #7: I don’t think “evidence” means what you think it means.
Comfort spends a lot of time asking random people for “evidence” of evolution. He explains that the only “evidence” he will accept is something he can personally witness. He doesn’t “believe” in fossil records or really any kind of scientific evidence, so what is he expecting to get? And besides that, why is his burden of proof set so very high for scientific concepts, but not for God? He’s perfectly willing to accept that God is real without any such “evidence.” And he’s willing to accept creationism without witnessing it firsthand. Why the double standard? No, none of us were there a million years ago to “prove” evolution is true, but neither was Comfort there when Adam and Eve popped into existence.
Thought #8: Science is not a “belief system.”
The main argument of this video seems to be that science is just another thing you have to have “faith” in. After all, aren’t you just having faith in scientists instead of God when you “believe in” evolution? The problem with that oft quoted line is that it is not the scientists themselves we choose to have “faith” in, nor is it the books they write. It is the scientific method itself. When using the scientific method, there are specific guidelines one must follow in order to make a claim. This claim must be tested and then confirmed or refuted by other scientists (what we call the “peer review” process). No single scientist can make a claim and expect people to just take their word for it. Many other scientists have to test and agree on the same claim for it to be considered valid. This is one of the many reasons “Darwinian evolution” is an incorrect term. So when we say we have “faith” in science, what we really mean is that we have “confidence” in the scientific method to tell us what’s true about the world. True “faith” is reading a book written in the Bronze Age and believing everything it says because it’s right there in the book.
Thought #9: You can’t pick & choose which science you like.
At another point during the film, Comfort discusses the appendix and the vestigial tail, claiming that science has actually found a use for them, therefore they are not “pointless” body parts (furthering the idea of an “intelligent designer” – the same one who gave men nipples). That may or may not be true, but what astonishes me is that he looks to science to make that claim. After spending the entirety of the video knocking science as nothing more than a “belief system,” he uses the very thing he doesn’t believe in to prove his point. What? Christians seem to use this tactic a lot; claiming that science is useless and then using it to back up their already held belief. But that tactic gets to the very heart of the difference between “belief” and “science.” With belief, you start with an answer and look for things to confirm that answer (ie, intelligent design is true, so let’s look for the evidence to prove it). In science, it’s the other way around. You start with a question and look for an answer. There is no “cost” to finding a different answer than the one you started out with. If evolution turns out to be incorrect, then it’s incorrect and we’ll move on and look for a different answer. If creationism is incorrect, well, that’s not really an option is it?
Thought #10: Of course rape is wrong (unless it’s in the Bible).
At some point, the video circles around to objective morality, as all religious discussions must. Although I can’t see what the discussion of rape has to do with evolution, Comfort goes there anyway. He asks several of the people, including P.Z. Myers, if rape is always wrong. Most of the people agree that yes, rape is always wrong, with the exception of Myers who tries to explain rape in the context of culture (which seems pretty pointless to me when you’re talking to Ray Comfort). But of course, what Comfort is trying to point out is that we heathen atheists can’t possibly have any real sense of morality when we seem to think that the whole world is just a product of animal instinct and “survival of the fittest.” Well, here’s the thing: since atheists don’t have a book to tell them what’s “right” and “wrong,” we tend to live by a simple rule. And that rule is this: don’t cause harm to other people. That’s what “humanism” is. We try to live by a code of ethics which, at its center, prevents us from harming others. What is harm? Something that hurts (physically or otherwise) another person. We can generally judge harm by what other people tell us hurts them, or by what we know hurts ourselves. It’s not a perfect system, but it works for us. The general theory is that (through evolution) we developed a sense of empathy from learning that we survive better as a species when we take care of one another. But that’s a broad topic for another day. The basic answer is that rape being wrong really has nothing to do with the question of evolution. I would however point out that in the Bible, rape is mentioned several times in the context of how to do it correctly (you can rape your slaves for example). Again, another topic for another day.
Thought #11: Just because science can’t answer everything, that doesn’t make it all wrong.
One of the main sticking points creationists seem to have with evolution is the “missing link” conundrum, which I believe is brought up in this video (although it’s been a week since I watched it so now things are getting a little fuzzy. . .). Creationists like to contend that since there are “gaps” in scientific theories, then the whole theory should be thrown out. But science isn’t a static thing. It’s an ongoing process to learn the truth about the world around us. It doesn’t have all of the answers, but it does have a lot of them, and the things that haven’t yet been discovered do not negate all of the things that have been discovered. That’s why scientific research never ends. Scientists are constantly looking for more answers and more refined and specific answers than the ones they had before.
Thought #12: In conclusion
It is simply human nature to wonder why we’re here and what it all means. Ray Comfort is trying to answer those questions and so are scientists. My view is that even if our existence here is the product of billions of years of evolution (which is the answer that science currently points to), it doesn’t make life any less amazing and dare I say, “magical.” The Earth is still amazing, love is still amazing, our children are still amazing, and our experiences are still amazing. Atheists don’t suffer from a lack of wonderment simply because we don’t believe there is a god guiding everything. In fact, I think we see life as even more remarkable because of the fact that it all happened by chance, not in spite of it. And Ray Comfort telling me I’m going to go to hell for using the mind God supposedly gave me doesn’t convince me of his position in the slightest. Sorry Charlie, no sale.