Stepping into a new (Ray) Comfort zone

Creationists on the University of Melbourne campus! Today! Handing out Ray Comfort’s “Special Edition” of On the Origin of Species!

I first knew something was up when, while waiting for a lecture to start, I saw a student holding a copy of the book. I asked her where she’d got it, and she said that people were handing them out near the university tram stop. Yep, it had to be them – Ray Comfort clones, doing what they do best – spreading ignorance through the medium of semi-persuasive and seemingly educational books.

After my lecture, I met up with Richard Hughes, and later Jason Ball, both of whom grabbed a copy of the book and started talking to the people handing them out. Richard wrote about it on his new blog Divisible By Pi – check that out, he goes into detail about his particular experiences with the whole thing.

Jason was also recording his conversation with one female creationist on his iPhone (which should be online soon, probably on the Young Australian Skeptics blog), but while this was happening I found that I didn’t have anything to do, so I just stood there, looking around at the five or so people handing out free books to unsuspecting university students and staff.

It was then that I was approached by two people, one with a camera and one with a microphone. I’d noticed them earlier, interviewing one of the creationists handing out the books, and assumed that they were from a university media organisation or something, as there were no obvious signs that they were creationists as well and related to the book giving-out scheme.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

They asked me, as I stood there, if they could get a few of my thoughts about what was happening. I said sure, and stated on camera that I wouldn’t mind being interviewed and that the recording could be put online and on DVD. The first couple of questions were immediately related to the event taking place: what did I think of what was happening; did I think that they should be allowed to give out these books, etc. I still thought they were secular, unbiased reporters. But suddenly I was asked a question about irreducible complexity, and then… then I really knew what I was dealing with.

The questions came thick and fast after that. “How do you know evolution is true? What about the eye? How do organisms know what to evolve? Where are the transitional forms? What came before the Big Bang?” – the types of questions that could only be asked by a Young Earth Creationist with an interviewing agenda to push. The man interviewing me didn’t even leave me enough time to effectively state my case – I was literally trying to educate him in evolutionary theory out of his biased perspective of Christian fundamentalism, and that takes more time than what he was allowing me.

In the end, he got to the classic Ray Comfort tactic that absolutely confirmed their association with the group handing out the books – the “Have you ever told a lie?” line of questioning, designed to make the person feel guilty for their sins against the Christian God. It really doesn’t work on an atheist, since you have to accept the premise that their God exists before you can feel guilty for going against Him. I made that clear to him, and he seemed to agree, but he still went ahead anyway.

And that’s where it ended, after about 30 to 40 minutes of questioning. Overall it was a very pleasant interview – I was surprised at how calm I was throughout, probably due to going into it thinking that they weren’t creationists and that initial relaxed attitude carrying on after I gradually learnt the truth.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the interview ends up, edited, on the Internet somewhere – they’ll use it for something, and probably quote-mine the hell out of what I said, distorting each line until my words sound completely illogical and uneducated. Jason recorded at least a little bit of them interviewing me on his iPhone, so that’ll be up on the Young Australian Skeptics blog soon enough for all to see.

It was actually all a lot of fun, really. I’ll keep you informed as more information and testimonies about the event surface.

11 thoughts on “Stepping into a new (Ray) Comfort zone

  1. It's a pity someone else did not get the entire interview on video. Then you could have published it in response to their edited version (which might make you look foolish). That would *really* show them.

  2. You should ask them for an enedited copy of the intereview as well for your own records. We all know Ray loves to edit the utter crap out of interviews to twist peoples statements to fit his own twisted immoral agenda!

  3. Hi J, It was a pleasure interviewing you today. It was great to interview someone who not only knew about Ray, but also had half thought out answers. Clearly I don't believe in evolution, and wasn't taken in by your view of things, but it was nice to have chat. I did let you talk for a very long time. The reason I started to cut your answers shorter was because the HD tape is only 63 minutes long, and with the other footage we took on that tape, we were cutting it thin. I did give you most of 39 minutes to explain your theories. Not very convincing, or scientific, but good chat none the less.
    God Bless.

  4. I'm jealous. We did not get any free copies of Comfort's book at our small, liberal arts campus in rural Ohio. We apparently fly below the radar. It sounds like you did a great job.
    You might like to read Todd Oakley's account of his interactions with the book handout at UCSB – http://evolutionarynovelty.blogspot.com/2009/11/d

  5. Interesting reading…

    Dawkins‘ defence of atheism produced his best-seller to date, The God Delusion (2006), with 1.5 million copies sold. Many high-profile atheists praised it, and naturally Christians criticized it. For example, Philip Bell, M.Sc. and former cancer researcher, published a detailed review, and there are other books responding to it. However, leading logician and Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga (1932– ), currently “John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame”, was not impressed with Dawkins‘ excursions outside biology into philosophy, claiming that they could be called sophomoric were it not a grave insult to most sophomores.

    Prof. McGrath himself responded to the book (co-authored with his wife). This also revealed that Dawkins‘ support among atheists was not universal—famous evolutionary philosopher Michael Ruse writes in the blurb, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.” Ruse also said that the “new atheists” led by Dawkins are “a bloody disaster”, and said the following about the book:

    “Question: What do you think of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins? Your approach is a lot milder? (The book lays open on his bed in the hotel room in Amsterdam where Ruse is interviewed.)

    “Answer: I am just as critical of this book as of the work of Intelligent Design authors like Michael Behe, despite the fact that I, as an agnostic, am closer to Dawkins, and am 99% in agreement with his conclusions. But this book is stupid, politically disastrous and bad academics. If someone spoke about biology and evolution as he does on theology, Dawkins would react without mercy.

    “A good academic will inform himself in depth in a subject he is writing about. Dawkins did not. He is neither a philosopher nor a theologian. I am not a biologist myself, but at least I study the subject in depth before I write about it. And that arrogance and that pedantic attitude of his. …

    “Dawkins‘ book confirms my analysis of evolution as pseudo-religion. His secular humanism has quasi-religious characteristics.”

    Another atheist, Terry Eagleton, Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland, Galway, began his review of The God Delusion with these words:

    “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

    Eagleton continues:

    “ … does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right.”

    Dawkins publicly debated his book with John Carson Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford. Lennox is also a Christian apologist and Intelligent Design supporter, and teacher of Science and Religion at Oxford, and the author of several books on the relations of science with religion and ethics. This debate did not cover evolution, but the wider Christianity vs atheism topics covered in The God Delusion. Dawkins seemed quite red-faced and uncomfortable during the debate.

    However, Dawkins refuses to debate best-selling author Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great about Christianity among others, even though D’Souza is a theistic evolutionist not a creationist. Yet many of Dawkins‘ fellow ‘new atheists’ such as Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have been willing. In an open letter, D’Souza contrasted Dawkins‘ eagerness to entrap non-scientist Christians on his TV shows with a refusal to debate a strong opponent on level terms:

    “To be honest, I find your behaviour extremely bizarre. You go halfway around the world to chase down televangelists to outsmart them in an interview format that you control, but given several opportunities to engage the issues you profess to care about in a true spirit of open debate and inquiry, you duck and dodge and run away. …

    “ If you are so confident that your position is right, and that belief in God is an obvious delusion, surely you should be willing to vindicate that position not only against Bible-toting pastors but also against a fellow scholar and informed critic like me!

    “If not, you are nothing but a showman who takes on unprepared and unsuspecting opponents when you yourself control the editing, but when a strong opponent shows up you manufacture reasons to avoid him.” http://www.theGreatestHoaxOnEarth.com

  6. [...] about, see my article on the shenanigans here, and read about Jack Scanlan’s experience here. Details of the event and official announcement below the [...]

  7. [...] talking about, see my article on the shenanigans here, and read about Jack Scanlan’s experience here. Details of the event and official announcement below [...]

  8. [...] can read about the incident over at Homologous Legs and Divisible By Pi, both blogs from members of the Secular Society who managed to talk with the [...]

  9. I saw people handing out copies of the book as I entered the Parkville campus. I learnt about Darwin and 'The Origin of Species' in one of my subjects last year, so I was happy to receive a free copy. I asked who was responsible for providing them and was informed it was the author "Ray Comfort".
    "What a nice guy" I replied as I went on my way to class.

    Luckily I am also a member of the UMSS and am now fully aware of the hidden agenda of this free book handout. I don't oppose free speech but at least have the decency to be honest about where you're coming from.

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