November 06, 2009

Ray Comfort's shamelessness

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

You may recall the series of posts where I critiqued Ray Comfort's introduction to his reissue of Charles Darwin's classic work On the Origin of Species (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5). I said that the first part consisted of a brief biography followed by a timeline of Darwin's life. These sections seemed straightforward and so I did not say anything, apart from making fun of him for using the euphemism "went to meet his Maker" instead of the simpler "died". (The original document disappeared for a while and has reappeared in a slightly revised form. One of the changes is that "went to meet his Maker" has now been replaced by "died". I don't think my comments had anything to do with it.)

It was only the rest of the introduction, dealing with his laughably inane arguments against evolution and his final come-to-Jesus plea that I strongly critiqued. At that time, I thought that Comfort was merely ignorant and stupid, which are no crimes, but I now realize that he is also willfully deceptive and totally shameless. Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education, called him out on the fact that his reissue left out four chapters of Darwin's book: chapter 9 where Darwin looks at transitional fossils, chapters 11 and 12 where he examines the powerful arguments from biogeography which he found so persuasive, and chapter 13 where he examines the morphological arguments (i.e., arguments based on the similarities in body structures of organisms). In response, instead of squirming with embarrassment at being caught, Comfort merely says that the second printing would contain the missing chapters, as if this were some minor issue and not a gross attempt at deception.

But the horrors do not end there. It now emerges that the reason his brief biography of Darwin was so inoffensive was that most of the words were not his own. Comfort seems to have cut and pasted large chunks of it from a handout prepared for Darwin Day by biologist Dr. Stan Guffey at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville without any attribution whatsoever. And even the timeline that followed the biography was lifted in its entirety from a press release from Britain's Natural History Museum, with only a footnote as to the source, rather than accompanied by the customary statement or other indication (such as indented text or quotation marks) that it was being used verbatim.

To judge how blatant is Comfort's appropriation of Guffey's work, I reproduce Guffey's text in its entirety below, with the bold portion being exactly the same words that appeared in Comfort's introduction. As for the rest, Comfort has paraphrased Guffey's text. The length of 'Comfort's biography' (I put ironic quotes since he cannot claim credit for it) is almost the same as Guffey's, so you can see how similar the two documents must be. (Comfort spells Guffey's "Downe" as "Down" and I have ignored that difference.)

Charles Robert Darwin was born February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. His family was of the newly emerged, newly wealthy, provincial professional class. Early in his youth he demonstrated predilections for hunting, natural history, and scientific experimentation. In 1825, after public school education, he enrolled at Edinburgh University. His intention was to follow his father in the practice of medicine, but he soon found such studies rather distasteful.

Two years later Darwin enrolled at Christ's College, Cambridge to study theology—a subject which he didn't enjoy either, with the intention of a career in the Church of England. As at Edinburgh, he often neglected his studies. In spite of this, he managed to pass his examinations in 1831 and left Cambridge.

While pondering his future and whiling away the time hunting and exploring local natural history and geology, he was presented with an opportunity that would change the course of his life. John Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge, had recommended him for a position on a British Navy survey vessel. The HMS Beagle was outfitting to sail on a two year coastal survey expedition to South America, and her captain was anxious to have a naturalist and gentleman companion on board. The voyage ended up lasting [nearly] five years, during which time Darwin was able to explore extensively in South America and numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean, including the Galapagos.

On returning to England in 1836, Darwin set to work examining and disseminating the extensive collection of natural history specimens acquired during the voyage. He quickly established a reputation as an accomplished naturalist on the London scene. In 1839 he married Emma Wedgwood, and saw his journal of the voyage of the Beagle published. In 1842 he and Emma moved to Downe house, Kent where Emma would bear 10 children and she and he would live for the rest of their lives.

Shortly after his return England Darwin had begun the first of his “species transmutation” notebooks. 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. It appears that by 1838 his concept of descent with modification by the mechanism of natural selection was largely formed. And then he mostly, but not entirely, abandoned the enterprise for the time being.

However, in 1858 Darwin learned that a naturalist working in south Asia, Alfred Russell Wallace, was developing ideas about the evolution of species similar to his own. At the urging of friends he prepared a brief paper which was read before the Royal Society along with the paper Wallace had written. He then published in 1859 On the Origin of Species, which he considered an abstract of a larger future work.

During the remainder of his life Darwin continued his research, publishing three additional books on explicitly evolutionary topics, and other books on topics including climbing plants, insect-orchid mutualisms, and earthworms. The gentle and unassuming Charles Darwin, loving and devoted spouse and parent, dedicated scholar, intellectual giant, died at Downe House on April 19, 1882 with his wife Emma by his side.

In his previous efforts to discuss evolution, Ray Comfort has shown that he is ignorant and stupid and a spreader of misery and fear. In this latest episode, this alleged man of god shows that he is totally shameless. Does he not realize that this kind of behavior discredits the very god that he wants to praise?

In the link to his introduction given above, Comfort also supposedly has the full text of On the Origin of Species. No one should trust Comfort to have reproduced it faithfully. He has shown that he is willing to modify that text to serve his purposes. If anyone is interested in reading Darwin's classic works which are all available freely online, I suggest that you go to a trustworthy source.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the vacuity of TV punditry

This was broadcast on election night Tuesday before the results were out.

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Really enjoyed this post and will go look for your book, just one thing though and that is your video link is not working over here in the uk ?

Posted by mike on November 8, 2009 06:09 PM


I am afraid that I have no idea as to why some links don't work in other countries. I have noticed that some BBC links, for example, say that they cannot be viewed outside the UK but I thought that the Daily Show was viewable worldwide. Can you try again at another time?

Posted by Mano on November 8, 2009 09:06 PM

Hi Mano and Mike.

I get the same thing, it is not that it is not working is states quite clearly that the video is not available in this country, must be some kind of copyright.

Posted by Ray Foulkes on November 12, 2009 06:23 PM

Saw this comment on a You tube Video and just HAD to share it...

"I am a Christian, but I? agree...God sending anyone to hell for literally ETERNITY would be cruel, and would make him WORSE than Hitler. But I dont believe thats what the bible actually teaches, contrary to popular belief"

You can see the original comment and my response and a great atheist comedy video on: -

Posted by Ray Foulkes on November 12, 2009 08:05 PM