Taking the “Atheist Test:” An Atheist Answers Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort, a Christian apologist who runs a fundamentalist-style ministry, is the author of a small comic book style booklet entitled The Atheist Test in which he makes his case not only for a god but also for the Christian religion.  There is nothing original or thought-provoking in this booklet as it contains the usual logical fallacies that atheists have come to expect from believers, including circular reasoning, faulty premises and analyses, erroneous conclusions, and ad hominem attacks on the character of those who disagree with him.  Some of what he writes is downright comical, as though making an atheist laugh at Comfort’s own incompetence will somehow bring us to Christ.  This obvious silliness and incompetence is not noticed (or conveniently ignored) by his followers who, like Comfort, appear to be unacquainted with even the most basic principles of sound argumentation and logic; they eagerly disseminate his writings, despite their superficiality and transparency.  Let us examine this little booklet and see why a comic format is a most appropriate format.

Comfort starts off by discussing “the evolution of the Coca Cola can” thereby disclosing at the outset the shallowness of his philosophical perception.  He tries to show that, because everyone recognizes that the Coca Cola can was designed by someone, nobody could possibly object to the notion that the universe itself was designed; i.e. by his god (not the Muslim god or the Egyptian gods, or any other imaginary deities, please note).  Like other variations of the design argument, it only needs to be pointed out that, in design, we are referring to things that do not normally occur in nature but are instead purposefully created; Coca Cola cans, automobiles, and houses do not occur in nature.  They must be designed and created.  However, Comfort’s fundamental error is that he is applying the same reasoning to the raw materials of the universe.  Yes, the Coca Cola can was designed.  No, that does not mean that every grain of sand on the beach was designed.

 Clearly, Comfort misunderstands the word “creation.”  “Creation” only applies to items that are purposely made; it is a logical fallacy to apply the same principle to the universe as a whole.  Comfort has committed a basic epistemological error, one that is rampant in contemporary theological apologetics: the dropping of context.  He has used the word “creation” while denying the roots upon which the word rests.  In other words, the word creation means to make something out of the raw materials of the universe; it does not apply to the universe itself.  One cannot create unless one already possesses the materials to create.

Comfort’s next error is that he does not recognize that when something is created, it is created for a purpose.  In other words, if we see a pen, we know that it was designed for a specific purpose.  There are no extraneous parts in the pen, or in anything that is not intelligently designed.  For example, we would not expect to find a microchip inside a ball point pen.  This point cannot be over emphasized, since there is no inherent purpose in the universe itself.  Comfort and his ilk will arrogantly point to themselves as the ultimate purpose in god’s creation, but this is merely wishful thinking.  If Comfort and his religious cohorts insist that the universe was created, then they must also maintain that there are no extraneous parts in the universe.  This means that Comfort must explain the purpose of everything in the material universe, from the smallest grain of sand on the beach to the most remote stars and galaxies.  How would the universe be different if, for example, a single grain of sand had not been created by his god?  Comfort thus has an enormous and impossible task before him: he must in fact be omniscient, just like his imaginary deity, and know everything there is to know about the universe.  Nothing less will suffice; that is his task.  The point is simply this: if the universe was created, then there can be no extraneous parts in it.  Comfort must prove exactly how every single thing that exists is part of his god’s master plan; he must demonstrate the purpose of everything that exists and how it relates to that plan.  Is he up to the task?

Getting back to the Coca Cola can, we can even find out who the actual designers of the can were, if we are so inclined.  More to the point, they can explain to us how the can was designed.  Saying the universe or the human eye or anything else was designed by a god and then walking away without explaining exactly how it was done is not an explanation at all.

Even more humorously, Comfort then discusses the banana, calling it the “atheist’s nightmare” and claiming that, due to its shape, the banana was obviously designed for the human hand, the human mouth, etc.  We will ignore the sexual implications of this analogy by merely noting that, by this reasoning, god must have been trying to trick us with the watermelon!

Next, he brings out the old theistic canard of the human eye, noting that, with its forty million nerve endings, it must have been designed by a super intelligence.  He then claims that “man cannot make anything from nothing” without failing to explain how his god can.

Comfort’s “Atheist Test” includes several puerile “tests” worded in a way as to purposely mislead the gullible.  No doubt some or most of his followers will think he is being extremely clever, but it is doubtful that any knowledgeable atheist would be convinced.  For example, test number three asks “from the atom to the universe is there order?”  This question shows that Comfort is unacquainted with the fundamental principles of logic; specifically, he does not understand Aristotle’s Laws of Identity and Causality.  Either this, or he is deliberately deceiving his readers and followers.  There is nothing mysterious about the word “order.”  It is simply another way of stating Aristotle’s laws.  The Law of Identity states that a thing is what it is and cannot be anything else, at the same time and in the same way; a cloud cannot also be a table.  The Law of Causality is the Law of Identity applied to action: a thing cannot act contrary to its nature.  For example, if a male rabbit impregnates a female rabbit, the two laws guarantee that a baby rabbit(s) will be the offspring.  A horse cannot be the offspring of a rabbit.  Is this the great mystery that Ray Comfort needs a supernatural god to explain?  What alternative to an “ordered” universe would Comfort envision?  Does he really think that, without god’s intervention, the two rabbits will produce a horse?  The laws of Identity and Causality make it perfectly intelligible.  This is true even in cases where we do not have enough information at present to explain a given phenomenon.  In other words, we do not need to refer to any supernatural deity to explain such phenomena, since introducing the deity doesn’t answer the initial question as to HOW the deity’s action caused the phenomenon in the first place.  It merely states that a god did it without telling us how.  Thus the introduction of a god as a causative factor is useless; explanation by a god is not an explanation at all.

In fact, positing a god as an explanation for the universe (or for anything else) violates another logical principle, the Principle of Parsimony, which states that the simplest answer, the one requiring the fewest assumptions, is generally the best answer.  In other words, when one introduces a god into the equation, one must assume first of all that it exists without explaining what it is, where it came from, how it did the creating, and numerous other factors.  In other words, introducing a god as a causative factor simply makes the problem more convoluted without even answering the initial question of how it did the creating.  In addition, Comfort and his fellow misguided Christians have simply “answered” the unknown (the creation of the universe) with the unknowable (their god).  While the unknown may possible be discovered or answered in the future, the unknowable is by definition incapable of discovery.  This cannot possibly suffice, except in the mind of certain Christians who will grasp at the most remote straws if they think it bolsters the case for their god.

The second question on this “test” is “Did it happen by accident or must there have been an intelligent mind?” gives the reader a false alternative.  Again, nothing happens by “accident.”  There are physical laws determining how entities will interact and react with each other; no supernatural agent is needed.  Once again, the laws of Identity and Causality supply the answers, while the introduction of a deity violates the Principle of Parsimony.

Naturally, Comfort misrepresents the atheist position.  An atheist is a person who does not believe in gods.  However, Comfort insists that atheists state categorically that “there is no god.”  From this, he points out that, because we humans are so limited in our knowledge, we should be willing to at least admit the possibility that a god exists.  This ignores the fact that no coherent description of what a god is has been offered by Comfort, or by anyone else.  Is it close-minded to not take seriously claims that lack any kind of foundation in observable reality?  Are atheists being close minded when they point out that anything that exists must possess identity?  Comfort also fails to take into account the fact that all of the alleged “proofs” for a god’s existence have been found wanting.  For example, when pressed for a definition of what their god is, many believers will call it a “non-physical being.”  This is a contradiction in terms, as the word “being” presupposes physical existence, yet another example of theistic dropping of context.  A “non-physical being” is as contradictory as a square circle.  Are theists like Ray Comfort really this philosophically incompetent, or are they just being intellectually dishonest?  Or possibly both?

Another point to be made in Comfort’s silly misrepresentation of atheists is that, in his effort to portray atheists as “close minded” to the possibility of a god’s existence, he fails to admit the possibility that he could be wrong.  What proofs, if any, could be advanced that would make Comfort give up his belief in a god?  Not surprisingly, Comfort fails to address this question.  If Comfort wants atheists to be “open minded” to the existence of his god, is he willing to be open minded to the non-existence of his god?  Is he willing to be open minded to the existence of the ancient Aztec god Quetzlcoatl or to Zeus, Odin and Brahma?  If not, why not?  I know of no atheist who would maintain his/her position if a coherent, non-contradictory description of what a god actually is and how it actually operates were offered.   So who is being close minded here, the believer or the atheist?

In addition, since Comfort insists that human knowledge is so “limited,” is he willing to admit the possibility that his knowledge may also be inadequate?  Again, he fails to consider this possibility; the lack of self-reflection is a ubiquitous characteristic of religious apologetics.  Simply put, god believers either cannot or will not admit to the possibility of error on their part.  This indicates that, when objectively analyzed, their faith is nothing more than plain old mule-headedness.

This leads us to the idea of faith, which Comfort attempts to define by equating it with the word “confidence.”  We do not have faith, as he claims, that our televisions will go on when we turn on the switch; we have confidence that they will.  Confidence is based on prior knowledge, on objectively verifiable reality whereas faith is simply believing what you want to believe, either without supporting evidence or, more commonly, in the face of contradicting evidence.  There is also nothing of the mule-headedness referred to above in confidence.  If the television does not go on, we don’t stubbornly keep turning the switch on and off again hundreds of times in the vain hope that it will somehow fix itself; we go to a television repairman.  With confidence, we are reasonably certain that the television will go on, but not absolutely certain.  By contrast, believers such as Comfort profess absolute faith in their god, no matter how many times their prayers may have failed them, or no matter how many proofs are available disproving its existence.  This is reminiscent of the story of the boy who whistles as he goes past the graveyard.

Faith is indeed, as Dan Barker has observed, a cop-out.  It is a tacit admission that logic and reason cannot prove the existence of what they want to believe, so they need something else to bolster their belief.  Consider the millions of Germans during the Second World War who, despite all the objective evidence that Hitler was a monster in human form, nonetheless professed faith in their fuhrer.  Faith is a nice-sounding word for an ugly and immoral concept.  Despite the fact that no coherent description of their god has been offered, despite the fact that no one has ever observed him, despite the fact that all the rationalizations for his existence have been disproved time and again, Ray Comfort and his ilk continue to believe in him.  If Comfort or anyone else could objectively describe and prove their gods existence, the question of faith never would have arisen in the first place.  No amount of faith can make a false proposition true.

Finally, Comfort claims that Jesus “will manifest himself to anyone who obeys him.”  Even ignoring the master/slave relationship Comfort seems to idealize, why should we blindly obey a book until we have first read the book?  Historically, reading the Bible was considered a crime, and with good reason; ministers realized that if their parishioners actually read the Bible, they would see for themselves that it is a hate-filled, anti-rational, misogynist, slavery-supporting, intolerant, anti-scientific and supremely ignorant book.  What was the root cause of the witch burnings?  The Bible.  What was the root cause of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and slavery?  The Bible.  Biblically-inspired ethics have been the root of most of the world’s evils for two thousand years.  It is an indisputable fact that the Bible has been the single greatest obstacle to human progress than any other factor in history.

What would it take to convince Ray Comfort of this?  Is he open to changing his views?  If reading the Bible doesn’t turn one into an atheist, any objective reading of history should.

Comfort asks if atheists cannot find god for the same reason that a thief cannot find a policeman.  Let us turn the tables on him: Is Ray Comfort unable to recognize the immorality of his religion because he too is immoral?

If Ray Comfort’s atheist test is the best the Christian community can come up with, then Christianity is doomed.  The test is taken.  The atheist passes.  Christianity has failed, and the discussion is over.

By: Jon Nelson

Categories:   America, Atheism and Religion, Christianity, Religion In America