I have been mulling over a problem the last few days, and I am curious what other people think. His new book is out and I am wondering, would you pursue a dialogue with a person like Ray Comfort? I would compare him to the mental equivalent of people like Sylvia Brown, or especially David Irving. These people are not necessarily evil, they can be quite 'smart', but they are intellectually harmful, destructive, and tend to lie or ignore evidence. . That would be my main problem with Ray, he acts like he works within the rules of reason and logic, but ignores them habitually. If he was working within a more postmodern thought pattern, I probably would not care. If you're gonna play the logic/reason game, you should play by the rules. I hope if meeting them I would be polite, but have the courage to tell them they are full of bullshit. David Irving is especially insidious. The modus operandi of the holocaust denial movement, as in creationism, you ignore anything that would expose your world view as fantasy. The comic above is a nice illustration of this type of thinking.
Back to my question. Is there a point to having a dialogue with people like that? This is most likely a very hypothetical question, as I will never meet the fellow, but what then do you do with people who subscribe to that sort of world view? Do you gently point them in the direction of more credible apologists. I might have gone that route, pointing out the works of Ken Miller or Francis Collins when addressing the science, and maybe people like Alvin Plantinga when addressing the logic and philosophy. They are all Christians, thought provoking, and unlike when quoting Comfort, don't make it seem like you have sub average cognitive functioning. For a person into Sylvia Brown, I would probably recommend Michael Shermer or Carl Sagan.
I am starting to wonder if the best move is to just ask a person like that questions, and then minimize contact whenever possible. Though this does not sit well with me, as I like reading and being exposed to opposing views. A habit I have developed is to google the names of authors I like, along with the word 'criticism'. This does not always lead to valid criticism, but it can lead to some funny rants. Being exposed to views that contradict my confirmation bias helped me get to where I am now, so I think it can also be helpful for others. Again though, after initial exposure to a person who espouses ideas and views similar to Comfort/Brown/Irving, is it best to eject from the dialogue before your brain squeezes out of your ears and tries to strangle you?
I have met very thoughtful, and thought provoking people of faith. I do like those sort of intense God talks, but when I meet a Ray Comfort type fundamentalist, I find it hard not to get angry. It does not do me any good, it's not constructive and I can't have a good discussion with the person, because I am too annoyed. It's like having a nice warm shower, with someone dumping a bucket of cold water on you. Actually not cold water, but a bucket of runny, cold, cow shit. You need another shower to just to wash the stink off.
What would you do? Do you talk to the Comforts of the world, try to stay calm, polite and respectful, or do you just excuse yourself and try not to get the mental equivalent of cow shit on you before you leave?


  1. Personally I would avoid confrontation if I did not respect someone's ability to reason. I would encourage them to put forward their arguments in a forum, up against other players they claim to be in the same league as. I would love to be able to set up forums... too bad we can't simulate philosophers with computers. Kind of like a philosopher mortal combat.

    Dawkins VS Keller - FIGHT!
    Dawkins: Clue-Killer
    Keller: "If we can't believe our belief forming facilities to tell us the truth about God, how can we trust them to tell us about evolutionary science!"

    Keller: "You hold that there is conflict between science and religion, however the conflict is between science and naturalism"


    Reference: http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&url=http%3A%2F%2Fbooks.google.ca%2Fbooks%3Fid%3D-eUbFMEY49QC%26pg%3DPA135%26lpg%3DPA135%26dq%3Dgod%2Bclue%2Bkiller%26source%3Dbl%26ots%3Dn7jr0W_oRP%26sig%3D2EZEBLUx5V8j-0jxE13pC3ubE-Q%26hl%3Den%26ei%3D-pykSaqCBpmMsQOl_JGsAg%26sa%3DX%26oi%3Dbook_result%26resnum%3D1%26ct%3Dresult&ei=-pykSaqCBpmMsQOl_JGsAg&usg=AFQjCNGhisPYbFjoJTrK1_SS1XnGJRSedw&sig2=l4I4koDfcGj3XdLzsN1hTg

  2. LOL, that made me laugh. I actually listened to a podcast that sort of refuted what Keller said in your little Street Fighter philosophy there, if I understood it correctly.

  3. Hehe, That sounded like mortal kombat to me. But I never could really get the hand of the special moves in that game.

    [Disclaimer: Never Read/Listened to Ray Comfort]

    Anyways, there's a great question here! I wonder at the reason for engaging someone who is unwilling to be a fellow truth seeker. I think that would be the determining point for me for whether to engage a person is whether or not they are willing to explain to me in simple jargon free terms why they think that. Sharing the scraps of understanding that one has gathered with another should always be encouraged. Trying to fit those scraps together into the over arching systems of belief that we hold can be quite a jigsaw puzzle and can take ages, meaning lifetimes. Consider electricity as an example "From the writings of Thales of Miletus it appears that Westerners knew as long ago as 600 B.C. that amber becomes charged by rubbing. There was little real progress until the English scientist William Gilbert in 1600 described the electrification of many substances and coined the term electricity from the Greek word for amber." [1] Gees, 600BC-1600AD to get any progress on electricity, and I don't even think they were really getting any use out of it in 1600BC (don't quote me on that).

    The thing is that Electricity, who cares. They lived fine without it, missed some economic opportunity around selling electric zappers to the kids, but hey. In the religious question there is an extra pressure for those who believe in it, judgement. Enter emphatic-ness, enter impatience, enter a whole bunch of other things that accompany pressure. And it definitely makes it harder to have a methodical discussion. I think that explains some of the emphatic-ness, and emotion that can surround people working in the religious discussions. In my estimation as you said there's no excuse for trying to use rules for arguement only when they work for you, that's unfair. But you never know how a person might be to talk to in the flesh, I still think it is worth a conversation, even if it's only to discern why someone thinks the way they do. If they're seeking out the truth perhaps they'll ask what about other peoples thoughts and why they are thinking that. (I have my doubts about that, people tend to be pretty focussed on themselves, but its nice to dream). If brains are starting to strangle me, I tend to get out of there and calm down and rethink the discussion. No need to be hasty :)

    People who are looking to gain a better understanding of the truth can and should band together and look. For a discussion to be helpful it has to at minimum illuminate why the other is thinking the way they are. If it only comes down to an unsupported or a personally supported faith statement, well at least we can reckon with that. If it comes down to a well supported faith statement, that's more encouraging. And from the logicians standpoint if it comes down to a proof, well that's tremendous. Unfortunately, proofs at least in the, air-tight-mathematical sense are perliously hard to find (outside math). Consider Newtonian physics, which was turned on its head by Einstein or the atomic model which nearly every high school teacher fibs about. "yeah kids, that's how it is, there's this Bohr model and no, no wait electron cloud model, no no, you still have to do all your Bohr model homework cause it's good for you, like wheaties."

    Well, that got long. Hi Scott, long time no talkee.

    [1] http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/sci/A0857938.html

  4. Nice question. I would enjoy talking / debating with Ray. It turns out that even Mother Teresa was an atheist in the last years of her life. Maybe Ray is so overboard because he's compensating.

    I just wouldn't provide a forum. I wouldn't (for example) agree to a public debate. Without evidence for their views, all they have is rhetoric. As Dawkins is wont to comment "a debate with you would look good on your CV, not mine".

    And I'm sorry Matt, but Dawkins would wipe the floor with Keller.

    Our faculties inform us about the truth of evolution, Zeus, astrology, astronomy, psychic powers, and whatever God you care to name. We use science to tell the difference.

    Comparing the trust in a verifiable, testable, and tested theory built on multiple strands of objective evidence such as evolution to an untestable and unproven hypothesis such as 'God' would not be particularly difficult. As of yet, there is no conflict with science and naturalism, as the entire body of knowledge is consistent with naturalism. There is, however, a conflict between the supernaturla claims of religion (talking snakes, flooding the world, etc), and science.

  5. ooohhhh Scott, just read your tagline. Love it.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. he wasn't offensive, why'd you delete Rick? Just curious, not trying to be annoying

  8. Love all the thoughts and comments guys. Sorry Rick, I deleted your comment, it broke one of my personal rules. It was neither thoughtful or reasoned. I don't care if you disagree with me, heck, prove I am full of shit. At least make it seem like you are not a mindless Ray Comfort zombie.

  9. Goforth,
    I actually realized that's against the spirit of the internet and tried to "undelete" his comment. He was intellectually offensive though. It's not up to me to restrict that, even on my blog, and I should have left the comment. Even zombies need to have their free speech. I mean, if David Irving can publish books, Sylvia Brown can con people, and Comfort can lie through his teeth, I should at least have balls to leave up all comments. Apologies.

  10. Your handling of my post is an apt metaphor. You suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

    Curiously, you appealed to "reason". perhaps you could take a moment and explain and justify your claim to reason.

    What is reason? How do you know?


  11. Well Rick, sometimes it's difficult to tell a Ray follower from a Poe, but I will assume you're a God follower, although the sheer indignant arrogance is hinting at Poe.

    To answer your earlier question simply for myself, I doubt Scott was suggesting that we would be worth Ray's time. The question was *if someone like Ray wanted to debate*, would you. Ray's desire was then assumed as part of the question.

    However, Ray is a bit of a glory hound, and has offered Dawkins 10K to debate him. I have also seen Ray "debate", and anybody would be poorly served giving Ray the attention he so desperately wants. In a debate Ray's usual tactic is to ignore the topic and the points of his opponents, and use it as a podium to simply preach to his audience. There is no 'debate' or struggle between contested ideas in an intellectual forum. It's simply an excuse to preach.

    This was quite obvious when Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron debated the Rational Response Squad (Believe in God: We can fix that!) on ABC.

    Ray contacted ABC to suggest a debate after seeing the RRS on an earlier episode. They agreed that the they would use fact and avoid Biblical scripture to make their point. What did they actually do in the debate? Make appeals to faith and pull out Biblical scripture, and essentially ignore the actual "debate" part. It was, to them, simply a chance to appear on tv.

    If Ray, or God, condenscended to pay attention to me I doubt I'd be embarressed. With Ray I would undoubtedly be amused and frustrated by his inability to understand evidence and logical inference, and with God (assuming the literal Biblical God Ray believes in), I'd bring up a few unsavory moments in His past (killing children, condoning slavery, etc), and remind Him about the whole taking the beam out of one's own eye before pointing out a speck in others.

    I'm pretty sure God would either slink off, embarrassed, or get loud and obnoxious like Ray. Either way, He'd be unable to embarrass me.

  12. Rick, I truly am sorry for deleting your comment. You are hilarious and I am wondering if you actually read my post.
    If you don't know what is meant by reason, this might be illuminating for you.
    How exactly am I suppressing truth?
    And even more so, how does one do that in unrighteousness?
    I am assuming you are a Muslim, as the language you are using seems very similar to that of the Imams I have heard.