A Special Introduction to a Special Introduction
Because I get weird compulsions sometimes, I have gone through Ray Comfort’s “Special Introduction” to the free copies of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” that are being distributed for free by evangelical Christian groups on university campuses around the world.
The DNA Code
Darwin’s theory of evolution is not without its difficulties. Even 150 years later, scientists have yet to supply adequate answers to what critics claim – and Darwin himself admitted – are weaknesses of the theory. Following are some areas of continued controversy.
What follows is mostly about DNA – which hadn’t been discovered in Darwin’s day, so it can’t be something that “Darwin himself admitted” is a weakness of his theory. In fact, DNA’s discovery is an example of biology having moved on and greatly increased its knowledge since Darwin’s first investigations into the theory of evolution.
The DNA that defines every aspect of our bodies is incredibly complex, but in simplest terms it can be described as a book composed of only four letters. To liken DNA to a book, however, is really a gross understatement. The amount of information in the 3 billion base pairs in the DNA in every human cell is equivalent to… [Comfort goes on for a while with some illustrations of how complex DNA is - and for some reason includes how long all of the DNA in your body would stretch to if laid out in a line.]
Comfort has a kind of obsession with referring to the patterns of chemicals in DNA as “information” or as a “code” or a “blueprint”. In taking that simple linguistic step, he presupposes an encoder or a designer. That’s not to say that you can’t look at DNA as “information” if you wish, but that approach is not necessary. The chemicals in DNA are in a pattern such that they interact with other chemicals to give rise to particular arrangements of matter we call living things.
Aside from the immense volume of information that your DNA contains, consider the likelihood of all the intricate, interrelated parts of this “book” coming together by sheer chance.
Comfort uses this term “sheer chance” several times. Evolution is not sheer chance. It is causal. Comfort also implies that the theory of evolution involves modern DNA forming spontaneously, rather than being the product of an extraordinarily long string of events. If I was inclined to write like Comfort does, I might say that if you counted all the iterations of self-replicating patterns of DNA throughout history and laid a dollar coin down for each time it happened, you’d have a pile of coins larger than the whole Milky Way galaxy. Or some shit.
Critics claim that would be comparable to believing that this publication happened by accident. Imagine that there was nothing. Then paper appeared, and ink fell from nowhere onto the flat sheets and shaped itself into perfectly formed letters of the English alphabet.
To imply that “there was nothing” and “then paper appeared and ink fell from nowhere” is analogous to the theory of evolution is either profoundly ignorant or incredibly deceitful. Comfort is actually approaching the origins of life here, which is a separate issue from the theory of evolution. But no theory of abiogenesis suggests that life appeared from nothing. There was plenty of stuff around before life arose in the universe.
It’s also obviously absurd to use “perfectly formed letters of the English alphabet” as analogies for the chemicals that are involved in processes of life.
Initially, the letters said something like this: “fgsn&k cn1clxc dumbh cckvkduh vstupidm ncncx.” As you can see, random letters rarely produce words that make sense.
Hilariously, Comfort has included the words “dumb”, “duh” and “stupid” amongst his random letters. Not sure what he means by doing so.
But in time, mindless chance formed them into the order of meaningful words with spaces between them. Periods, commas, capitals, italics, quotes, paragraphs, margins, etc., also came into being in the correct placements.
Again Comfort refers to “mindless chance”. No one is claiming that “mindless chance” or “sheer chance” formed the patterns of life. This is a lie, or an expression of Comfort’s ignorance.
The sentences then grouped themselves to relate to each other, giving them coherence. Page numbers fell into sequence at the rice places, and headers, footers, and footnotes appeared from nowhere on the pages, matching the portions of text to which they related. The paper trimmed itself and bound itself into a book.
Comfort’s parody of evolution sort of gets more unhinged as it goes on. Who knows what “the paper trimmed itself” is supposed to represent in evolutionary theory. But here’s a thought – if the jumble of letters on a page replicated themselves over and over, billions of times, and if there was occasionally variation from one iteration to the next, and if there were forces of competition or environment that killed off patterns that were increasingly different from Ray Comfort’s book, while not killing off patterns that were increasingly similar to Ray Comfort’s book, you would in fact end up with Ray Comfort’s book.
That’s the only way this absurd analogy could be brought around to relevance.
The ink for the cover fell from different directions, being careful not to incorrectly mingle with the other colours, forming itself into the graphic of Charles Darwin and title. There are multiple copies of this publication, so it then developed the ability to replicate itself thousands of times.
And here he just kind of goes completely off the rails. The picture he paints is of the complexity of modern DNA forming exactly as it is today, with no preceding causes or situation, out of nothing, “by sheer chance”. This is not even remotely analogous to the theory of evolution, and it is either deceitful or ignorant for Comfort to suggest it is. In fact, if you replace “by sheer chance” with “by God doing it”, his absurd parody probably more closely approximates his own beliefs.
If you find it hard to believe that there was an Intelligent Designer, give this some thought. Man, with all his genius, can’t make a rock, a leaf, a flower, a living singing bird, a croaking frog, or even a grain of dead sand from nothing. We can recreate, but we can’t create anything material from nothing, living or dead. Not a thing.
But we can’t make even one blade of grass from nothing, let alone giving it the ability to reproduce after its own kind, as regular grass does. We have no idea where to begin when it comes to creating. If that’s true, how intellectually dishonest is it to say that this entire incredible creation in which we live, came into existence with no Intelligent Designer?
Mankind’s ability to create “something from nothing” is not a necessary condition of life arising via natural processes. It’s rather bizarre that Comfort would suggest that it is.
Darwin’s “Unsavory” Views
Comfort writes at length about Darwin’s racist attitudes, including his assertion that “civilised men” are “more evolved” than “savages”.
An atheist wrote and said, “What do Darwin’s personal views on race have to do with our modern understanding of evolution? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, Ray. Even a fool knows this.” Indeed, Darwin’s racism has nothing to do with the credibility of the theory of evolution. It should stand or fall on its own merits. However, the theory itself teaches that all men are not created equal.
The theory of evolution does not “teach that all men are not created equal” in terms of any relevant value judgement. Nothing about the theory of evolution inherently says that one man is “better” than another, and neither does it say that man is “better” than a squid. There are no value judgements in the theory of evolution.
Darwinian evolution doesn’t say that human beings are made in the image of God and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. It rather states that they are mere animals, some closer to apes than others, and it therefore opens wide the door to racism.
Darwinian evolution does not say that humans are “mere” animals. It says that humans are animals. There is nothing “mere” about it. That value judgement is Comfort’s own. And the theory of evolution no more inherently opens wide the door to racism than a belief in a Creator opens wide the door to believing such a Creator plays favourites with the races he has created.
His Disdain of Women
As with racism, so with sexism – Comfort accuses Darwin of sexism, presumably seeing sexism as a natural consequence of believing the theory of evolution. And as with racism, nothing about the theory of evolution inherently places a value judgement on males and females, with one being “better” than the other.
His Famous Student
Perhaps it was inevitable. By “Darwin’s famous student”, Comfort is of course referring to Hitler. Curiously, he hits the nail on the head when he writes:
Darwin’s observation of the survival of the fittest in nature was interpreted to mean only the fittest should survive – and Hitler was happy to take Nature’s place in ensuring that it was done.
In other words, Hitler misapplied Darwin’s theory by deriving an ought from an is – a value from a fact. Darwin observed that, in nature, “the fittest survive” – which is to say, that which is well suited to survival tends to survive well. Hitler misapplied the observation, turning it into moral imperative. But, having correctly identified this important distinction between Hitler and Darwin, Comfort goes on to identify Darwin’s theory of what is true with a bunch of ideas of what is good.
In promoting the idea that humans were merely animals and accidents of nature, the natural consequence of Darwinism was to overturn the traditional Judeo-Christian values on the sacredness of human life. The legacy of Darwin’s theory can be seen in the rise of eugenics, euthanasia, racism, infanticide and abortion.
Again, Comfort uses the value-laden term “mere” in reference to the theory of evolution’s observation that humans are animals. What is “mere” about being an animal? Presumably, Comfort believes that any attitude towards humans in which humans are not distinguished from animals by possession of a “soul” is an attitude where humans are somehow degraded. But to claim that a naturalist view of human nature says that we are “mere animals” is as meaningless as saying that Comfort’s own view of human nature is that we are “mere souls”.
As for “euthanasia, racism, infanticide and abortion” being the “legacy of Darwin’s theory”, we’re right back to Comfort seeing value judgements where the theory of evolution makes none. The theory of evolution is concerned with how life diversified, not with how life is to be lived.
Darwin and Atheism
It’s rare to find an atheist who doesn’t embrace Darwinism with open arms. Many believe that with creation adequately explained by evolution, there is no need for a God…
Yep, fair enough.
…and no moral responsibility.
If there are no absolutes of right and wrong, anything goes as long as it’s within the bounds of civil law, and any sexual exploits are merely natural instincts to further our animal species.
Back to “merely” again.
However, Charles Darwin himself was not an atheist. In On the Origin of Species he refers to creation as the “works of God” and mentions the “Creator” an amazing seven times.
So if I was an atheist, I would see that I have an intellectual dilemma. If I deny that there is a God, I am saying nothing created everything, and that’s a scientific impossibility.
No, if you deny there is a God, you are saying there is no God. You’re not saying anything about the origins of the universe at all, except to say there was no God involved in them.
I may say that I have no beliefs in any gods, but if I say I have no belief that my Toyota had a maker, it means I think that nothing made it (it just happened), which (again) is a scientific impossibility.
It is at this point that I begin to wonder if Ray Comfort is actually genuinely stupid. These dilemmas are something like saying, “If I say I have no belief that this gust of wind is a big invisible giant blowing at me, it means I think that nothing made the gust of wind (it just happened), which is a scientific impossibility.”
So to remain credible, I have to acknowledge that something made everything, but I just don’t know what that “something” was. So I wouldn’t be an atheist if I believed in an initial cause.
“Initial cause” and “God” are two quite distinct notions. An atheist can believe in an initial cause if that makes sense to them, and they’ll still be an atheist so long as that initial cause is not a god.
[...] Keeping in mind that the most intelligent of human beings can’t create even a grain of sand from nothing, do you believe that the “something” that made everything was intelligent? It must have been, in order to make the flowers, the birds, the trees, the human eye, and the sun, the moon and the stars.
This is just weird. His reasoning seems to be that…
a. If one was intelligent enough, one could cause something from nothing. (Great intelligence is sufficient for the ability to cause something from nothing.)
b. In order to cause something from nothing, one must be very intelligent. (Great intelligence is necessary for the ability to cause something from nothing.)
c. Not even the most intelligent human beings are intelligent enough to cause something from nothing.
d. Something had to cause something from nothing.
e. That something must therefore be greatly intelligent.
There is just no reason to swallow the first two premises.
And… that’s it. The last ten pages of the Special Introduction have nothing at all to do with Darwin or his book, but is rather a very poor argument for becoming a Christian, ending with instructions on how to ask God to forgive your sins. There’s a pretty stunning piece of bait-and-switch where he tries to get you all angry about the murder of a little girl, tells you that God’s even angrier than you are, and that he’s so good that he is that angry about every little thing you do.
If you would like to read the full text of the “Special Introduction”, it’s on Scribd here.