Followers of the evolution-creation wars in this country have heard about Ray Comfort, a glorified street preacher with limited education (he has no college degree) from New Zealand who runs a ministry out of Bellflower, California, called the “Living Waters.” In his appearance, he reminds me of Sonny Bono, except he’s not as smart. He is very prominent on the internet, with dozens of videos (especially his “Way of the Master” series) pushing his theology, and especially attacking evolution. His publicity and high visibility have sold lots of his books (most of which are short titles cobbled together by reprinting stuff from the public domain). Together with washed-up actor Kirk Cameron, they have been constant gadflies preaching against science and evolution, and doing anything possible to generate publicity and sales, especially challenging evolutionists to pointless debates.
I first saw Comfort in action when he and some of his minions came to stalk the huge crowds gathered to hear Richard Dawkins speak at Caltech for a Skeptic Society event. They mingled about, trying to preach creationism, and handing out their little paperback versions of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” However, this book is no true work of Darwin. Comfort has deliberately edited the text to make it sound favorable to creationism, and added a long introduction that is one debunked creationist trope after another. Keeping with his habit of stalking scientists and secularists, I next saw him at a freethought convention in Orange County, where he snuck in without paying for the conference, and tried to interview some of the speakers. He baited P.Z. Myers into an interview, and P.Z. willingly talked to him, not caring that Comfort would selectively edit the interview to make it sound like P.Z. doubted evolution. Unlike the other big fundamentalist creationist ministers who focus on their own flock, Comfort’s approach is as a stalker and gadfly. His mission is to gather video footage that he can take back to his editing room and webmaster, and edit it down to create a “gotcha” moment and make secularists look foolish.
Comfort is most famous for proudly and unabashedly demonstrating his profound ignorance of any kind of science—and then doubling down on the stupid when he is called out for it, rather than retracting or apologizing. He doesn’t seem to care that scientists and secularists are laughing at him, because for him, any kind of publicity is good publicity. His flock doesn’t know or care that he is completely incompetent when it comes to science. His creationist arguments are a litany of the dumbest and most low-brow of all the long-debunked tropes that creationists ever used, and he never quits using them when they are debunked. His notion of evolution is asking scientists to show how a cat could evolve from a dog, or how a male dog could mate unless a female dog were evolved at the same time. Most often, he shows his complete ignorance of biology by imagining that each biological system must arise independently, not that each system is present in more primitive forms, and then co-evolves. In one interview he said:
As blood began to evolve, it couldn’t get around the body, so he evolved a heart to pump it around. The heart would take a long time to evolve, and it also needed a complex system of blood vessels to evolve. So survival was impossible for the first pre-human primitive life form.
In a interview on Pat Robertson’s show he said:
There is a big bang, life forms, and after millions of years a dog evolves. It is the first dog. He has got legs, tail, teeth, eyes – and it’s good he has good he has eyes because he has to look for a female, he has been blind for millions of years but now he can see. He has got to find a female. She has got to be evolved at the right place at the right time with all the reproductive organs and a desire to mate. Because without a female, he is a dead dog.
Comfort constantly harps on the argument from design, especially the design of the eye, and his response to the evidence that our eye is poorly designed with a blind spot is “I don’t have a blind spot in my eye. Both of them see very well and I am thankful for the 137 million light sensitive cells that make sight possible. Do you have a blind spot in your eye? If you do, I suggest that you see an optician and see if he can either fix it, or get you another eye.” He claims that dolphins are fish, that the earth does not move, that men have one less rib than women, and denies that transitional fossils exist—but of course, he expects the fossil to be a crocoduck, not a fossil predicted by the actual process of evolution of which he is so profoundly ignorant. He admits to quote-mining but says that lying for Jesus is OK because it’s for the Lord, and has been repeatedly caught plagiarizing material for his books.
Comfort’s most famous and revealing gaffe was what he called “The Atheists’ Nightmare”: a series of videos where he bragged that the banana was perfectly designed by God for us to hold, the stem is designed to be an easy opening top, the surface is non-slip, and the color tells us when it’s ripe or not. When he began running these videos, he was immediately slammed because he once again demonstrated complete and profound ignorance of science. Indeed, the banana IS designed for humans, because it has been artificially selected by growers and breeders for centuries to have just those properties. The wild banana that god supposedly created has none of those properties: it is a small, dry pod full of inedible bad-tasting seeds that looks like a cacao pod, and a bad-tasting flesh as well. Only by cultivating an asexual triploid clone of the wild banana, and selectively breeding it for commercially-valuable characteristics have humans made the banana we now eat. And the fact that they are clones and genetically limited has caused the modern banana to be subject to all sorts of diseases and pests that don’t attack the wild banana, and made banana growers very worried about worldwide crop failure should something serious come along to infest their crops. When this was pointed out to Comfort, he did not back down, but kept on not only promoting the banana as “designed by God,” but began to do the same with other fruits and vegetables, even though none of them are in their wild state as “created by God” but are only edible because humans have modified them too. It takes real chutzpah (or rank stupidity) to learn of your mistake, and double down in not only repeating it, but extending it without learning the lesson the first time.
Well, Ray has done it again. In a tweet a few weeks ago, he claimed that there is no gravity in outer space. In his words:
If the Bible isn’t God-inspired, explain why how [sic] the writer of the Book of Job knew 3000 years ago that “the earth hangs upon nothing” (Job 26:7). It wasn’t until thousands of years later that science discovered that gravity doesn’t exist in space, and that this massive does indeed hang upon nothing.
A number of people, including P.Z. Myers on the Pharyngula blog, were laughing uproariously all over the internet at this incredible demonstration of ignorance of science, something even a high-schooler would never say. After all, the first thing you learn about gravity is how it controls the motions of stars and planets. Apparently, the fact that low-mass objects like humans in space craft experience “zero gravity” (an expression that is a bit misleading), no gravity exists in space at all! But once again, the Bananaman doubled down on the ignorance and stupidity. He dragged out an old quote against atheism from Isaac Newton (who was a devout man, just like anyone of his time)—and then still insisted that the earth hangs on nothing!
He may be an ignorant, uneducated, meddling fundamentalist loon, but I don’t think that his religion is his main motivation. No, Ray Comfort just craves attention, and if he can get the atheist internet community to laugh at him, he’s happy.