School of Biblical Evangelism, Chapter 71 - Comfort answers Atheist questions

Comfort and Cameron use this lesson, titled "Atheist Obstacles", to deal with all of those common questions and objections that Atheists have toward Christian apologetics. From the very beginning, we are promised by Kirk Cameron that, “It is quite simple to prove that an atheist doesn’t exist, while disproving God’s existence is impossible.” So of course I started reading this lesson with anticipation – the really hard Atheist questions are going to be answered! Here are three of my own questions:
  1. Why are so many billions of people born into countries and religions that make it almost impossible to learn about and study Christianity while others are born to Christian parents in countries (like the United States) that are so seeped in Christianity that it makes it very easy to learn about and become Christian? Isn’t this an unfair playing field?

  2. Why is it that so many different Christian religions define God differently? In fact, they argue with each other about what God is, and what he requires - so much so that many Christian sects actively recruit from each other to “save” each other. How can an outsider to Christianity know which Christian sect is right?

  3. And I've always wondered how an omniscient God, who knows everything - including the future, how can he truly have freewill? Granted, if God exists outside of time then the future might not mean anything to him – but existing outside of time only makes the question of God's freewill even more difficult. If God doesn’t have freewill, then he’s really no different than any other natural force.
I had such high hopes for this lesson!

Comfort doesn't create easy labels for what he says are common Atheist objections, So I've created my own labels.

First is the "let God show himself" objection. Comfort starts with his by now familiar method of insulting those he would call to God. He caricatures a “proud and ignorant sinner” with “no understanding of the nature of His Creator” who says, “I will believe if God will appear to me.” Comfort then mixes Exodus 33:18–23 with 1 Corinthians 10:4 in order to explain why, “No man has ever seen the essence of God.

For those unfamiliar with this section of Exodus, Moses has asked God to “Show me your glory.” God responds by saying he likes Moses, and would love to do as he asks, but exposing him to God’s full glory would kill him. God then stuffs Moses into a cleft in a rock and places his hand over Moses to protect him as he walks past.

For some reason, Comfort leaves out part of Exodus 33:23, which says, “And I will take away mine hand and thou shalt see my back parts but my face shall not be seen.” The original Hebrew word is 'achowr, which means things like “backside” or “hinder parts”. Some religious scholars interpret this to mean the “after effects” or "essence" of God’s presence, but that doesn’t seem to agree with the use of the word for “hand” which the same scholars say does in fact mean “hand”. In either case, saying that no one has ever seen the essence of God isn't exactly true.

To answer Comfort, Yes, some Atheists have asked God to show himself, and Comfort uses the bible to answer that by saying that God actually can't show himself without killing the viewer with God's glory. (Except that God's backsides are apparently a little less glorious.) Still, I can't help but think that all of God's other apparitions would be sufficiently impressive to qualify as "showing himself". The unconsumed burning bush, for example, or the huge pillar of cloud and fire are both direct, visible revelations from God.

But this is just unnecessary showmanship. God, if he exists, should be easily and directly provable without the Hollywood special effects. Easiest of all would be for God to just let us "know" that he exists, with a firm and undeniable conviction. Why does an all powerful God require all those Old Testament fireworks anyway?

Besides, a one-time event, no matter how flashy, is not excellent evidence. Excellent evidence would be something that could be repeated over and over again, as often as the experimenter liked. You could test my own existence that way by pinching me any time you like, and every time you would feel my flesh between your fingers, until some point after my death. (But please, send me an email instead - you'll get a testable, repeatable response that is much less intrusive!)

There is no comparable way to test the existence of God. That is the point that Atheists try to make.

Next is the "Prove God doesn't exist" objection. In this Comfort states that the Atheist,
"...takes an illogical leap by concluding that there is no God, because it cannot be proved that He doesn’t exist. Such reasoning is absurd. Why would anyone try to prove that God doesn’t exist when it can be proved that He does? Creation proves scientifically and absolutely to any sane mind that there is a Creator. His existence is axiomatic."
I like Comfort's use of, "... any sane mind...." Another insulting little dig.

And Comfort is right, it would be absurd to insist that God doesn't exist because we cannot prove that he doesn't exist. That's nonsense reasoning. Fortunately for Atheists, that's not what we are saying.

Comfort has completely misunderstood the objection to God due to evidence through experimental testing of God. Comfort says that God is axiomatic, but many people disagree - which by itself disproves the axiom. Comfort gives "proof" that God exists through "creation", which is explainable by science through non-supernatural means.

Scientific experiments must be falsifiable or else they are useless. If we cannot construct any experiment that would give a positive result if God did NOT exist, then applying experiments to test God's existence is a worthless endeavor. Oh sure, we could lay a voluntary test before God, such as a fleece, and according to the Bible, God might play along. But as Comfort goes on to explain, just because God does NOT answer means nothing.

Atheist don't use this reasoning to prove that God does not exist, merely to show that there is insufficient proof to show that he DOES exist. We're still in a position of waiting for sufficient evidence.

Then there is, "The Problem with Prayer" objection. Comfort sets up a scene with a sick child and a praying family. If the child dies then the Atheist, according to Comfort, points out that the prayer didn't work. If the child lives then he lives due to what the Atheist calls naturally explained reasons. Then Comfort completely misses the point by going on to say that, "... one thing we do know is that answered or unanswered prayer has nothing to do with God’s existence." He gives a "broken car" analogy where he says, "What would be my intellectual capacity if I concluded that (my car) had no manufacturer simply because I couldn’t contact them about the dilemma? The fact of their existence has nothing to do with whether or not they return my calls."

The analogy breaks down. What if the manufacturer used to exist, but doesn't exist now? (Anyone still own a Yugo?) Maybe God doesn't answer because he died? (No, I don't think he died. You have to exist before you can die.)

Comfort completely misses the problem that Atheists have with prayer, even as he says that prayer may be answered or unanswered. The problem is, if prayer is answered only at God's whim, and if God may act on people even without their prayers, then what use is praying, other than salving God's desire for worship?

Atheists view the words, "I'll pray for you" to be a null statement that is devoid of content or proposed action. It is something that has no value or use, which is why secular people have responded to the "National Day of Prayer" with a more helpful blood donation holiday, called the "National Day of Reason".

I think that Atheists would agree that the effectiveness of prayer, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the existence of God, and is a strawman argument that is posed and easily knocked down by Comfort.

He mixes the prayer objection with another, "God exists regardless of Human Testimony" objection. Here he says that miracles, or the lack of same, do not have anything to do with God's actual existence. He uses the sun as an analogy.
The sun doesn’t exist because we see its light, or because we feel its warmth. Its existence has nothing to do with any human testimony. Nor does it cease to exist because a blind man is not aware of its reality, or because it becomes cloudy, or the night falls. The sun exists, period.
Agreed. The sun exists whether we agree with or deny its existence. The sun exists even if every one of us were blind, and living on the bottom of the ocean where we could no longer directly detect it. It exists regardless of what we say.

But we can test that the sun exists. We can feel it's warmth, turn it's radiation into electricity, calculate how it's mass affects the planets in our solar system, watch its sunspots, and experience what happens to our cell phones and radios when it flares. We can even experiment with what would happen if it did not exist, through astronomical observation of gas and matter that do not orbit a star like our sun, or by examining the absence of solar radiation on the dark side of Mercury or our own satellites.

The sun exists no matter what we say - and we have mountains of evidence that prove its existence. We have no such evidence for God.

The next paragraphs aren't an Atheist objection. They are some sort of "Odd Rant about Idolatry." Honestly, it doesn't seem to have been correctly placed in the lesson series. In these paragraphs Comfort says, "If men will not embrace the biblical revelation of God, their nature is to predictably go into idolatry." He spends a paragraph talking about why idol worship is silly, and then finally tries to bring it back to an Atheist Objection by saying, "However, there is something even more ludicrous than the imaginings of idolaters. It is that trait of human nature that is just as predictable —the intellectual suicide of the atheist."

"Intellectual suicide". Heh. Ray can certainly come up with the zingers can't he?

I really have no idea where this bit on Idolatry comes from. Perhaps Comfort is confusing a reliance on the scientific method as a way to discover truth with the religious practice of worship? Does he think that scientists worship science or the scientific method? Let's put this simply. Atheists don't worship - and are therefore incapable of idolatry. Worship is an act of religious devotion, and religion requires supernatural claims to which Atheists do not subscribe, so idolatry is something that only a religious person can be accused of. There is a non-religious definition of idolatry that says it is an, "immoderate attachment or devotion to something", which could apply to Atheists, but it does not denote worship.

Anyway, his rant on Idolatry has nothing to do with answering any Atheist objections, and I'm really not sure why it is in this lesson.

Comfort finishes with a paragraph about the, "Adamant atheist April Pedersen". Here Comfort says he sent a copy of the Atheist Objections to Ms. Pedersen, who responded by saying that they were, "...worded with impeccable logic..." and "...nearly impossible to find holes in your premise...." I had never heard of Ms. Pedersen before, I thought she might be a prominent Atheist, but a quick Google search for 'Atheist + "April Pedersen"' gave me a mere 22 hits. (As a control, I googled Atheist Calladus and got 2500 hits! Not bad for a D-list blogger!)

This leads me to wonder, just how many Atheists did Comfort send a copy of Atheist Objections? How many answers did he get back, and what were their agreements and objections? Did any atheist ask him something that he just couldn't answer?

And finally Comfort tosses in a story, almost a parable, that gives the analogy of a terrorist takeover of a plane as for why it is a good idea to be a believer. In this analogy, terrorists have secretly taken control of the cockpit and called the tower threatening to toss the passengers out of the plane unless their demands are met. The pilot, being a slick sort of person, writes a note on his notepad telling the passengers to pull the parachutes out from under their seats and wear them. The note is smuggled out to the passenger compartment, where some passengers believe the note and follow the directions, and some disregard the note for "lack of evidence" - thereby falling to their doom when the terrorists toss everyone overboard.

The analogy is not equivalent to reality, and is in fact a poor restatement of Pascal's Wager, which is also easily refuted. A better, more true to life analogy is that several notes are passed out of the airplane's cockpit, all reputing to be from the Captain, and all giving different and sometimes conflicting instructions. This is the problem that Atheists have with the many different Christian sects, and indeed with the thousands of different religions that all require different, and sometimes conflicting actions from their followers. The wise thing to do would be to examine the bag under your seat to see if it does indeed carry a parachute, then ignore ALL of the notes and follow your own judgment.

To conclude, all of this, except for Comfort's strange rant on idolatry, have something in common. They are all poor answers to an Atheist's request for proof. And let's get this straight - Atheists do understand about the difference between evidence and faith. Faith is belief without the requirement of evidence. Faith means that a religious person doesn't need proof. To quote Penn Jillette from the "Bullshit" episode on the Bible,
If you're religious, and you believe the bible is real because of faith, we can't touch you. It's an automatic tie. No one can bust you. Bible nuts pride themselves on believing in things that are hard to believe in. They think God will bless them for that.
So if you believe in God on faith, fine. Your faith is not convincing to me or other Atheists. We are at a tie, and Atheists require proof or evidence to break that tie. So far, Comfort's School of Biblical Evangelism has failed to deliver that evidence.

(Part 2) (Part 4)


Sunioc said...

Excellent post. Comfort and Cameron are my 2 favorite idiots. Linked over to your site via one of your crackergate comments on Pharyngula, and I've been reading for 2 days straight now. If you haven't seen it already, I suggest you look up the video for Comfort and Cameron's public debate against the Rational Response Squad, in which they promise to scientifically prove the existence of God without making any references to the bible. Comfort gets up on stage, reads a couple pages from his book, including a few of the passages you've quoted, then (surprise surprise) starts quoting from the bible. Cameron's arguments are even better. When he argued against transitional forms in evolution by showing the audience a photoshopped image of a "crocoduck", I almost died laughing. Just be careful which version you watch. One version is heavily edited to show C&C giving their arguments, then cutting the RRS response down to make them look like stuttering, bumbling fools.

Keep up the good work, you've got a new regular reader.

Calladus said...

I did see the video. You might want to check out my other stuff on Comfort by hitting the "Comfort" tag on my blog. I showed that Comfort and Cameron did the ol' bait and switch routine for the debate.

You would think that lying in order to proselytize would negate any moral high ground that you claim - but that didn't seem to be the case.

Ken L. Hagler said...


I had thought about commenting on it elsewhere but couldn't find it. I really like how you expressed this:

And let's get this straight - Atheists do understand about the difference between evidence and faith. Faith is belief without the requirement of evidence. Faith means that a religious person doesn't need proof. To quote Penn Jillette from the "Bullshit" episode on the Bible,
If you're religious, and you believe the bible is real because of faith, we can't touch you. It's an automatic tie. No one can bust you. Bible nuts pride themselves on believing in things that are hard to believe in. They think God will bless them for that.So if you believe in God on faith, fine. Your faith is not convincing to me or other Atheists. We are at a tie, and Atheists require proof or evidence to break that tie.

I'm going to have to have to work through this some more. However, I think it does express a key point to the dialogue you and I have been having. Mainly, we are at this tie.

Yet, it also expresses the struggle I have. I want to talk on these issues and hear what others have to say but I am dealing with, what I suppose atheists are always dealing with: I'm "nuts" or what I believe is referred to as "bulls---"

So far, you're the only atheist blog that hasn't cussed at me or other Christians and I thank you for that. As you indicated earlier, there is a lot of emotion out there. It is just hard getting passed it to express where I find solidarity.

I'm sure you're tired of my posting all over your blog. I'll quit for the night. ;)

Calladus said...

The problem is that Penn Jillette's quote isn't quite accurate.

From a religious person's point of view it IS a tie, a tie between faith and non-faith in God.

But from an Atheist's point of view, this has to apply to ALL religions, not just Christianity. I'm an equal opportunity Atheist, I think there is no evidence for ANY religion.

So, I see no evidence for Christianity, for Islam, for Hinduism, for Judaism, and for the thousands of other human religions that have been invented over the last hundred millennium.

Thor and Zeus make as much sense to me as Yahweh or Allah. The gods and creation stories of my Choctaw ancestors are given just as much credence by me as any book of the bible.

On top of this, the amount and quality of any possible evidence is also very important. The more outlandish the claim, the more evidence I'll need.

Ken said...

Thanks Calladus, that does help. I don't think Christians generally come to understanding the distinction.

Would you say the "tie" still exists if we expand it beyond Christianity?

Calladus said...

I dunno. If we continue to use a "game" analogy, then the "score" is calculated by points against, not for each player.

Atheists are unconvinced due to lack of evidence - that's one point against the Atheists.

Islam lacks evidence - one point
Christianity lacks evidence - one point
Hinduism lacks evidence - one point.

So far we are 3 to 1, Atheists ahead. How many religions are there?

Calladus said...

Or perhaps you meant expanding the lack of evidence to the scientific sphere?

For example, cosmology. What happened before the big bang? What lies beyond the edge of the galaxy? How did life first happen?

Religion (and Ray Comfort) use questions like this to insert "God" as the answer.

Science answers these questions with a cheerful, "We don't know! Isn't that WONDERFUL!? Hey, let's try to think of ways that it might have happened, and then we will try to figure out how to test our ideas!"

It's funny, when people use the Scientific Method to suggest possible answers, we are warned by the religious that "Mankind wants to be God"!

Some religious people would examine the map of all known science and stamp certain areas with "GOD" in the same way that ancient maps were stamped with "Here Be Dragons"!

Science goes where religion fears to tread. And it's a darned good thing too!

Ken L. Hagler said...

But from an Atheist's point of view, this has to apply to ALL religions, not just Christianity. I'm an equal opportunity Atheist, I think there is no evidence for ANY religion.

I was responding more to this point, which I interpreted you to mean you were throwing all religions together: Theists VS Atheists. IF you and I were going to begin this discussion my first goal couldn't be to convince you of the truth of Christianity. You would have me present a case for God, in other words, to convince you of a theistic world view. At least this is how I understand your reasoning to this point.

I had not thought of expanding the sphere of scientific evidence. But if we did as you suggest, namely exploring options, doesn't that equate to one of the atheist arguments against denominations and sects? If we grant to you the opportunity to explore scientific answers, can we not receive the same opportunity to explore the spiritual without being plastered for it?

Science goes where religion fears to tread. And it's a darned good thing too!

I'm sorry but again, I can't go here with you. I have friends in the clergy ranks who are microbiologists and who have excelled in science and published excellent articles in defense of the scientific method (and even evolution!) Granted, it isn't my cup of tea (I have a broadcasting background), these clergy and I are United Methodist. We have a different code..."more like guidelines," to coin a phrase.

Scripture is primary. Yes, we are religious and not necessarily moderate about it. Yet we are committed to being in dialogue and examination with tradition, reason and experience. Albert Outler termed it "Wesley's Quadrilateral."

The UMC regularly stands on the opposite side of the fence from many other denominations. Part of that is Wesley held firmly that logic and reason had a place within faith.

For me the "tie" is between faith and skepticism. My reasoning ability has determined that if my goal is to convert you, we're not going to get very far beyond this point. However, if my point is to learn and to reason together, then isn't this, in part, what our discussion is about?

As you posted on my blog, skeptics have tried to blend in, to get along because (and I'm assuming) that it is faith that seems insane. I'm just wondering, though I may be insane, have I convinced you yet I'm not dangerous?