On the Origin of Specious Arguments

On the Origin of Specious Arguments

GUEST blogger Dr Robert Stovold weighs up some Creationist arguments, and finds them wanting.

Having tried (and failed) to smuggle Creationism into schools in the guise of “Intelligent Design”, Creationists now have another Trojan Horse strategy – bundling their ideas with Darwin’s masterpiece itself in the form of a Creationist introduction to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Ray “Bananaman” Comfort is giving away more than 100,000 copies of Charles Darwin’s work at 100 top US universities.  His parasitic introduction is available here.

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort

The part dealing with Charles Darwin’s biography is actually rather good – almost as if he’d plagiarised the work of someone else?  Sure enough, Googling several key phrases from Comfort’s introduction proves beyond reasonable doubt that he had.  Whole passages were lifted without attribution from Dr Stan Guffey’s work, A Brief History of Charles Darwin.  For example:

Ray: During his great adventure as the Beagle’s naturalist, Darwin had studied certain aspects of the morphology and biogeography of the many species of plants and animals that he had observed. He eventually concluded that species exhibited varying degrees of similarity because they were to varying degrees related.

Stan: On his great adventure as the Beagle’s naturalist Darwin had noted and begun to ponder certain aspects of the morphology and biogeography of the many species of plants and animals that he had observed. In particular, he had begun to explore the possibility, and eventually concluded, that species exhibited varying degrees of similarity because they are to varying degrees related.

Hmm.  A case of “Descent with modification”, to use Darwin’s phrase?  This and other examples of Comfort’s plagiarism have been highlighted by fellow sceptics here:

Comfort is even biased in the way he presents his references.  For example, evolutionary biologist Professor Steve Jones is referenced as “Steve Jones”, but Creationist Charles Thaxton is “Charles B. Thaxton, Ph.D.”.  Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is “Richard Dawkins”, but Creationist author David Dewitt is “David A. Dewitt, Ph.D.”  (It should actually read “DeWitt”, but never mind ….).

Sandwiched between a plagiarised biography and biased references are several canards from the Creationist canon, such as (and I paraphrase) “evolution is simply a matter of chance”, and “the complexity of living things requires a designer”.  I’ve refuted both lies with an analogy that I’ve used for years, which I’ll share with Freethinker readers in the form of an amusing conversation I once had with a Creationist:

Creationist: Design requires a designer – it couldn’t arise by random chance!

Me: Would you say that order requires an orderer?

Creationist: Yes.

Me: So why is it that all the small cornflakes send to settle at the base of the box?  Do you think it’s because God put them there?

Creationist: No – it must be, well, gravity pulling the small flakes down.

Me: Wouldn’t gravity have pulled the large flakes down as well?  Why do the small flakes fall further?

Creationist: I don’t know.

Me: It’s because small flakes fall through large gaps, but large flakes can’t fall through small gaps.  The flakes sieve themselves.  Random shaking of the box coupled with a non-random filtering law (which we might call “the furthest-falling of the smallest” or “the persistence of the largest”) leads to an ordering of flakes over time, with no intelligent input required.  Random shaking is analogous to random mutation, and “the survival of the fittest” (Natural Selection) is analogous to “the persistence of the largest”.  Cornflakes and living things are both self-ordering systems, filtering out smaller flakes and deleterious mutations respectively.  Cornflakes become more organised over time, and organisms become better-adapted.

Creationist: There must be more to it than that?  There must be!  There has to be!

[Walks away scratching his head….]

A more detailed refutation of Comfort’s nonsense is beyond the scope of this blog, but will appear in a future print edition of The Freethinker.

23 responses to “On the Origin of Specious Arguments”

  1. funkybarfly says:

    For God’s sake,Ray,did God inspire your plagiarism or did it evolve naturally?

  2. Broga says:

    As an example of the desperate tactics to which creationists are now driven this one is hard to beat. Quite funny as well – unintentionally of course.

  3. shargraves says:

    He’s such a twat. As is his fuck buddy Kirk Cameron.

    Such a pair of idiots. In the UK they would be ridiculed and a laughing stock – like Stephen Green.

    Yet in the US – they seem to have their own band of idiot followers.

    Way of the Master my arse!

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ManOnASoapBox: On the Origin of Specious Arguments: GUEST blogger Dr Robert Stovold weighs up some Creationist arguments, and find…

  5. Rozi says:

    I would call it….
    Cold Comfort!
    Sorry, I’ll try and think of a better one.
    But yes, what a loon. Why do these people even get the time of day? They’re clearly part of the pants-on-head-pencil-up-nose brigade.

  6. Angela_K says:

    Part of the evolutionary process is that nature tends to keep what is useful; it seems to have broken down in the case of these prats.

  7. ophelia says:

    Ah, liars for Christ. Anyone surprised?

  8. Ash Walsh says:

    Croc-o-duck anyone?

  9. Rob says:

    My answer to “Design requires a designer – it couldn’t arise by random chance” is this article

  10. Stuart W says:

    Thanks for the ‘Bananaman’ link. Two quick things come to mind. Firstly, why are the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge never depicted as being banana shaped if they are such a symbol of divine architecture? Secondly, most of the things he notes about a banana can also be said about an erect penis.

    Btw, did y’all read about Birdshit’s latest pratfall? He turned up at a school in Birmingham late November for one of his useless ‘witnessings’ against sodomite material only to find that he had picked a teacher training day so the place was near-empty!

    To both the above –

  11. anzr says:

    Has anybody been able to contact Dr. Guffey about this? I imagine he’d like to know. Besides, plagiarism would justify bringing civil suit against Mr. Comfort, would it not?

  12. Billy says:

    Creationists would probably subvert your argument by saying that God did put the smallest corn flakes at the bottom of the box.

  13. Be Crowned says:

    The corn flakes settling to the bottom need an
    *outside influence*. They do not settle on their own.

  14. Daniel says:

    I don’t believe order needs an orderer like design needs a designer.

    Just sayin’.

  15. Dan says:

    The most successful species designed the box for the cornflakes to be kept in an order which allows for the smallest flakes to fall to the bottom. /- Was the most successful species designed ?
    (mmmmm…cornflakes Om nom nom nom)

  16. Sterling says:

    Sad thing is Barfly, dishonesty is a part of our evolution. Kind of counter-productive for this cause.

  17. Robert Stovold says:

    Thanks for your comments, Be Crowned and Daniel – I’ll be addressing the “Outside influence” and “I don’t believe order needs an orderer like design needs a designer” concerns in the printed article.

  18. barriejohn says:

    Isn’t it truly remarkable how God has designed the human hand? There are two smaller fingers which can be curled over to fit perfectly into the palm, with the thumb fitting neatly on top of them to keep them gently but firmly in place, while the remaining two fingers can be held upright to convey a symbolic gesture to people of Mr Comfort’s ilk. Evolution could never have succeeded in giving us such a wondrous ability to express ourselves so perfectly!

  19. ed says:

    Daniel, you wrote “I don’t believe order needs an orderer the way design needs a designer” The point of the cornflake example is that what appears to be “designed” when it comes to evolution really is just another example of something that has been ordered by natural laws and “selected” by circumstance (but not by random chance). Just as the corn flakes were ordered and naturally “selected” by circumstance (but not by random chance) for bottom placement in the box by their size, the size and position of their surrounding flakes, and by the force of gravity, biological evolution and adaptation can be explained. The development of the eye is one such example.

  20. Matt says:

    You’d SWEAR, for just one second, that he doesn’t care about the content and is doing it just for the money he makes off of faith-based fools.


  21. Ice Maiden says:

    Many years ago when Ray Comfort lived in Christchurch, New Zealand I knew him and was a friend of is to a point. I also attend the New Life Church where he would occasionally preach. He was a regular in Cathedral Square during the lunchtime. At that time he had a regular following and would be in constant verbal battles with the “Wizard of Christchurch”. As long as Ray could peddle his form of religion he was happy and anyone who tried to put across a different interpretation was the devil incarnate. Ray once he had a “firm” conviction of one aspect of the bible then it had to be the exact word of God regardless of any irregularities. Those of us here in New Zealand who knew Ray then now treat him as a person who has lost the plot and will not waver from his convictions. Plagiarism is something that Ray was good at then and obviously he has perfected to a fine art.

  22. Todd says:

    I just read Mr. Comfort’s entire Special Introduction. I didn’t read particularly carefully or thoroughly, but I got enough out of it to count easily a dozen clear logical fallacies (metaphors that don’t make sense at all, appealing to majority, straw men, etc. etc.). Plagiarism is bad, yes, but misleading people with bad logic is much, much worse.
    There is a lot more to this piece of bilge than simple plagiarism and denial of scientific evidence. The last several pages entirely abandon the evolution aspect and instead are filled with phrases like “you must repent of your sins (turn away from them)”, and “confess your sins to God, put your trust in Jesus to save you, and you will pass from death to life. You have God’s promise on it.” Pretty heavy shit. This is apparently much more serious than just deciding where we came from and why our hands look so much like monkey hands.
    I recommend reading this crap, because it’s lame to argue one side of a debate without any knowledge of what the other side thinks.
    Keep track of the number of fallacies you can find in Comforts’s arguments.
    0-5: Uh oh, maybe go back to high school?
    6-10: Getting better. Review college books.
    11-15: Pretty good. You’re probably ready to take on most Creationists.
    16+: “Bring it on, Bananaman!”

  23. Vic says:

    I just realized that I have a copy of “On the Origin of Species” with the Ray Comfort intro. They were handing out free copies outside of the student center at my university a few months back. I was just relieved that they seemed to be handing out legitimate educational material at a college instead of fairy tales like they usually do. Looks like they still managed to slip in some bit of tom-foolery…

    Such a strange tactic, though. I’m left scratching my head a little bit… Who even reads the introduction to books like this anyway?