Burned by the stupid

>> Sunday, November 01, 2009

Taking a break from my NaNoWriMo work, I found myself reading a piece by creationist Ray Comfort defending his publication of a bowdlerized version of Darwin's On The Origin Of Species. For those who aren't aware of Comfort's project: Comfort has taken it upon himself to have several thousand edited copies of Origin printed up and distributed for free to college students, in the hopes that nobody will point out to them the missing chapters and/or that they're too naïve to notice from Comfort's introduction to the volume that Comfort is a moron. (No, really: this is the same guy who argues that the banana is proof of an intelligent creation because it's perfectly adapted to fit into the hand; given Comfort's religious beliefs, I have to wonder if he realizes the exact same argument is a brilliant justification for sodomy.)

In general, Comfort is hardly worth responding to. For one thing, there are plenty of bloggers, many of them actual scientists, who spend quite a fair bit of time rebutting Comfort at length. For another thing, there are other things I'd rather write about, including other morons who may actually be more dangerous than Comfort. But this sentence grabbed my attention and produced a derisive snort:

The Introduction also defines an atheist as someone who believes that nothing created everything—which is a scientific impossibility.


Do we have to point out the obvious? The origin of the word "atheist" is, per Dictionary.com "1565–75; < Gk áthe(os) godless + -ist," a fairly literal Greek transliteration; the negatory "a", "the" or "theos" for "god", "ist" for believer or follower. The word doesn't speak to what an atheist believes about the origin of the universe, if anything, and indeed there are religious individuals who are technically atheist in that they may believe in all sorts of metaphysical things, none of which are gods.

A more widespread notion of the word "atheist" contemplates somebody who is not merely godless but also someone without religion; I'm not sure that that notion is, for want of a better word, essential--there are plenty of New Age-ey types who are extremely religious atheists, and I've encountered plenty of atheists who have what can only be described as religious beliefs about consciousness, death, etc. But supposing for a moment we go with the common understanding--let's talk, then, about Comfort's idiocy about "creation" in general, the idea that "nothing creates something." Inherent in that is the requirement that nothing existed before something, which is hardly a necessary belief; i.e. it is certainly possible that the universe has always existed and always shall, or that a cyclical series of universes has always existed in perpetuity. Personally, I'm happy to accept a "Big Bang" model because it's nice and it seems to work for physicists, but the truth is I see no reason to worry too much about whether there was some period of nonexistence during which there was nothing; for all I know, the universe has always been here and always will be, and I have no personal need to think there was some creative force who started everything. Unlike Comfort, I have enough imagination to imagine something had no beginning at all, something that has no ending.

Or does he? The obvious question Comfort's God raises is: who created Him? I mean, if things like universes require creators to start, then surely something created God, or why didn't it. Comfort's own religious views require him to accept that "nothing created something," unless he believes God always existed (which I suspect is what he believes), in which case he concedes that things can exist without being created, which seems to make his God a bit unnecessary to the process, if you ask me.

Comfort's snarky definition of "atheist," then, isn't merely factually and etymologically wrong, it's also stupid. But I guess that's hardly surprising.


4 comments:

Janiece Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 4:13:00 PM EST  

This just in - Ray Comfort has no critical thinking skills, and advertises is daily!

What a tool.

Janiece Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 4:14:00 PM EST  

Um, that should have been, "advertises it daily."

Stupid fingers.

John the Scientist Monday, November 2, 2009 at 8:13:00 AM EST  

"have to wonder if he realizes the exact same argument is a brilliant justification for sodomy."

Or sodomy with a banana. o.O

Tom Monday, November 2, 2009 at 2:12:00 PM EST  

It's too bad the stupid only metaphorically burns. If it physically burned, there's enough of it about to replace coal and nuclear completely. Hmmm, imagine actually deriving some benefit from the stupid. There's an idea! "I've got an LHC nut, an anti-vaxer, and 2 creationists! They keep me warm in winter, and there's enough left over to run the A/C in summer! But I had to put in some extra insulation. Their ideas kept escaping and playing hell with the neighbors!"

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