The Comfort Delusion

The North Texas Skeptics does not get involved in strictly religious matters. However, and this is crucial, when religious zealots, particularly creationists, make claims about scientific validity, they step into the purview of the NTS. That was the case ten years ago when creationists Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort elected to debate atheists on ABC Nightline:

Does God Exist? The Nightline Face-Off

“Proving the existence of God is actually a lot easier than you think,” said former child star Kirk Cameron, minutes before taking the stage for the “Nightline Face-Off.”

It was a warm Saturday night in New York City as a mixed crowd of atheists and Christians converged on Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan for the first “Nightline Face-Off.” And it wasn’t long before temperatures began to rise inside the auditorium.

The question for our debate was “Does God Exist?” and both sides went at the issue with a series of passionate declarations and critical attacks on the arguments of their opponents. It was a clean but unflinching contest.

Former child star Kirk Cameron and his evangelist colleague Ray Comfort had pledged to prove the existence of God, scientifically. Cameron and Comfort run an organization called the Way of the Master, which comprises a Web site and cable television show, all focused on preaching what they say is the truth of Christianity.

The atheists debating Cameron and Comfort were Brian Sapient and a woman identified only as “Kelly.” Kelly is Kelly O’Conner, and the two are members of The Rational Response Squad:

The Rational Response Squad, or RRS, is an atheist activist group that confronts what it considers to be irrational claims, made by theists, particularly Christians. The most visible member of RRS is co-founder Brian Sapient. The Rational Response Squad, along with the filmmaker Brian Flemming, made headlines in December 2006 with their Blasphemy Challenge.

Having been otherwise occupied ten years ago, I didn’t catch onto this until I came across a video on YouTube. There’s going to be a link at the end of this post.

So, Cameron made a short presentation, and then Comfort gave his spiel, and then Sapient gave a short critique and turned the argument over to O’Conner. She proceeded to counter Comfort’s points in turn, and there followed a session of questions and responses. That’s all I watched of the video, because it was the presentation by Comfort I found most astounding.  ABC News printed the text of Cameron’s introduction, which I’m reprinting here for your enjoyment:

Hi, I’m Kirk Cameron and my partner and I Ray Comfort come to you tonight not as molecular biologists or rocket scientists, but simply as an author and an actor, and we want to do two things that fly in the face of convention. One, we’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith. And secondly, as a former atheist myself — an evolutionist — I want to pull back the curtain and show that the number one reason that people don’t believe in God is not a lack in evidence, but because of a theory that many scientists today believe to be a fairytale for grownups.

That last bit about “a fairytale for grownups” should by now be familiar. It must be particularly noted that Cameron proposed, “We’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith.” I have highlighted the critical phrase.

Comfort than proceeded to demolish Cameron’s pledge. He started off with the typical argument from design. He held up a can of soda, Coca Cola. He gave what he considered the scientific argument for the creation of the can of soda. There was a big explosion and ultimately things fell into place, producing the can of soda. Voila! Ridiculous. The can of soda must have been created. Then he displayed a painting. If there is a painting, then scientist will all agree there must have been a painter. And so on. The logical conclusion, Comfort assures us, is if the Universe has been created, then there must have been a creator.

That seems to be Comfort’s critical flaw. We should not make the assumption the Universe was created. Just because it is here does not imply a physical act of creation. Readers might want to check out Lawrence Krauss’ book A Universe From Nothing, which I reviewed previously.

Unfortunately for Comfort, after he plays out the creation-creator argument, he veers sharply into a minefield. After arguing if you want something built you need to have faith in the builder, from the video:

The same applies with God. If I want God to do something for me, then I need to have faith in him.

Deep disappointment. Comfort has thrown away the promise to avoid introducing faith.

If you realize you need God’s forgiveness, and you seek his forgiveness through the Gospel, God, himself, will reveal himself…

The pro arguments concluded, Sapient addressed Comfort’s argument from design. If you want to see the creator of this church (Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan), then you can go see the builder. You can go to the city building records and see the documentation. When you want to see the creator of the Universe, who’re you gonna call? Besides, “If all creations need a creator, then who created God?”

O’Conner took the podium and reminded that we are all atheists, including Cameron and Comfort. Neither does Sapient nor O’Conner, nor Cameron, nor Comfort believe in Zeus, Apollo, Thor, and a host of other gods. Until the creationists can show us the Universe factory, then creationism exists only in the imagination and is not science. She further pointed out that postulation of evidence for a creator has no bearing on the existence of the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus. Any imaginary god could have created the Universe, if indeed it was created.

And that about concludes the meat of the debate. View the debate on YouTube, and look around at the associated videos. There is a shorthand version of the debate, and there are multiple videos of Cameron and Comfort. It’s good instruction for skeptics, besides being entertaining. Bring some popcorn.

See the video on YouTube.

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Exe Jesus

One of a series

Note: I am writing this in May while the movie is still fresh. You are seeing it posted on Christmas day through the magic of Word Press scheduling.

Yes, this really is the Bad Movie of the Week. However, I could not resist using that title, because the new title is what this movie is all about, exegesis. All right, I misspelled it. So shoot me.

Kirk Cameron made it big as a little kid in Growing Pains. More recently he teamed with New Zealand creationist and evangelical wack job Ray Comfort. Need I say more? In fact, I have:

People like Cameron and Comfort tend to align themselves with the conservative element of society. And that’s unfortunate for American conservatism.

I also find this situation so ironic in my own experience. Once in a discussion with a conservative friend I noted that the American voters did not find much favor with presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The response I received was that the voters were sheep. And that’s worth examining.

There are two popular ways to get sheep to go where you want them. One is Kirk Cameron’s way, with a sheep dog behind them. The other is with a trained sheep that the others blindly follow. Both cases do not involve initiative and understanding on the part of the sheep.

Anyhow, forget about Ray Comfort for a while. This appears to be an enterprise entirely from Cameron. And Liberty University. Here’s the opening image from the movie.

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It’s Saving Christmas, and it features Kirk Cameron as part actor – part narrator. And if you think it’s about saving Christmas, you need to take another look. Here’s Cameron telling what he likes so much about Christmas, and a big part is the hot chocolate.

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Forget the plot. This is a message, not a drama. Cameron is over at the house of his sister, whose husband is getting a little fed up with Christmas. Did I mention, this is a Christmas party? The BiL becomes so despondent he goes outside to sulk in his car. Cameron joins him, and explains why all his delusions about Christmas are just that.

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The BiL finds modern Christmas over-commercialized. Don’t we all? The symbols are all wrong. Jesus was most surely not born in December, much less the 25th. Nothing about modern Christmas can be traced to the biblical account of the birth and life of Jesus. The Christmas tree is a hold over from a pagan European celebration, for example:

While it is clear that the modern Christmas tree originated during the Renaissance of early modern Germany, there are a number of speculative theories as to its ultimate origin. Its 16th-century origins are sometimes associated with Protestant Christian reformer Martin Luther who is said to have first added lighted candles to an evergreen tree.

It is frequently traced to the symbolism of trees in pre-Christian winter rites, in particular through the story of Donar’s Oak and the popularized story of Saint Boniface and the conversion of the German pagans, in which Saint Boniface cuts down an oak tree that the German pagans worshipped, and replaces it with an evergreen tree, telling them about how its triangular shape reminds humanity of the Trinity and how it points to heaven.

Cameron explains to the BiL how the modern Christmas tree evokes the cross on which Jesus was tortured and killed. Exegesis.

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Another thing that troubles the BiL is the presence of soldiers among the Christmas toys. Pictured is a toy that looks for all the world like the nutcracker from the Tchaikovsky ballet. This is another example of Cameron’s solicitous exegesis.

The soldiers, Cameron explains, represent the Roman soldiers sent by King Herod to kill Jesus and all other Jewish babies in Bethlehem. The problem with Cameron’s exegesis is that Herod (according to Matthew and nobody else) sent the soldiers only after Jesus was born, so it’s hardly possible they were present at the birth.

To appreciate Kirk Cameron’s elaborate foray into exegesis you need to see the movie for yourself. I watched it for free on Amazon Prime Video. A subscription is required, but being the piece of evangelical propaganda that it is, and you can watch it on Hulu or possibly for free on YouTube.

Also regarding Saving Christmas, with all today’s hoopla surrounding a supposed war on Christmas, there is very little mention of the modern controversy, engineered almost completely by right leaning evangelicals, who want everybody the strike back at what they contend are attempts to eradicate Christmas traditions across the country.

If you can get past all that, the movie ends on an up note. Cameron convinces the BiL that the modern Christmas is really all right, and the two return to the party for a joyous celebration, which includes hip-hop renditions of the greatest Christmas carols by the God Squad Dance Crew.

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In the end, Cameron reminds us what Christmas is all about. It’s about getting together with family and friends on one of the darkest days in the Northern Hemisphere, eating good food, drinking good wine, and having a good time.

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And all the rest is bullshit.

Likely due to its design as a propaganda piece, it received low ratings from critics and viewers. From Wikipedia:

Three weeks after release, the film gained additional notoriety when it became the lowest rated film on the Internet Movie Database‘s bottom 100 list. Cameron later responded to the low rating, saying that it was due to a campaign on Reddit by “haters and atheists” to purposely lower the film’s ratings.