You’ve been on the edge of your seat, waiting for the question

Ray Comfort’s new “movie”, The Atheist Delusion, is available for download today. It’s another of his ambush interview shows, where he and his handheld camera go to random people on the street, he asks a loaded question of some sort, and then he pretends to have stunned them with some deep insight, aided by selective editing of the video. It’s cheesy and dishonest, and really boring — it’s the same way he’s made his previous schlocky messes.

This time, he’s been promoting it for months with this kind of promise:


ATHEISM DESTROYED WITH ONE SCIENTIFIC QUESTION. Right. Like ol’ Ray would recognize science if it were a miniaturized complex electronic device that he could hold in his hand and then use to edit and upload video images to a larger network of computers accessible to the entire world, or something.

You know that he’s lying, though. It’s telling, because if an evangelical preacher actually had a devastating criticism of atheism that could be expressed in one single question, then why would he hide what it was for months, and bury it in a bad movie that everyone had to pay to see? Shouldn’t he be out slaying atheism right and left, and sharing his great question with his fellow travelers so they can carry out mass conversions everywhere?

The explanation for that reluctance to reveal it is obvious, though. He doesn’t have a good scientific question, and if it were made known, the scientifically competent scientists would all be rolling their eyes and saying “Pfft!” and posting the answer. He relies entirely on surprising unprepared and scientifically naive young people in order to get the responses he wants.

I’m not going to buy the video. I don’t think I could even bear to watch any of it, if it were given to me for free. But I did find a review that gives away the “scientific question”.

The Argument From DNA

How did the majesty of creation emerge without some sort of intelligent designer? How could that possibly have happened? This has convinced most people of the existence of God throughout the generations. However, with the advent of modern science, this debate has evolved. Atheists of old may have hypothesized that perhaps everything in the natural world arose as a result of natural processes. But they did not have a model for understanding that process, as seemingly provided in the Theory of Evolution. Ray pointed out that the advent of science has given rise to another aspect of the argument for God’s existence, namely, the DNA molecule.

In an effort to elucidate the point that he was making, Ray showed the atheists in his interview a book comparing pictures of natural structures with the structures of engineering. Then he posed the question that has confronted many thinkers throughout the ages. Could this book have occurred by chance, from nothing? The answer is that it obviously could not have. But then, argued Ray, the DNA molecule contains information, it contains a message, and as such, it could only have derived from intelligence. Just as we recognize that the words on the page of a book derived from intelligence, we also recognize that the information that is transmitted in the DNA molecule must have derived from an intelligent designer.


This isn’t new, it isn’t deep or surprising in any way. It’s simply Paley’s argument again, that gosh, biology is really complicated, therefore it must have had a really complicated designer. Paley, at least, presented his argument forthrightly to the intelligentsia of his time, and didn’t jump out at skateboarders at the local park and demand an immediate, in-depth philosophical analysis.

You don’t get to just assert that DNA could only have derived from intelligence, because that’s the question you’re asking. It’s as if I were to ask, “Did Ray Comfort congeal into existence out of old farts, wind-blown grocery bags, and rotting banana peels?”, and in answer, I then declared that “Ray Comfort could only have derived from old farts, wind-blown grocery bags, and rotting banana peels,” therefore, Ray Comfort congealed into existence out of old farts, wind-blown grocery bags, and rotting banana peels. That’s not how logic works.

This feat of illogic is so old and routine that it was shot down long ago by Percy Shelley, in A Refutation of Deism.

Design must be proved before a designer can be inferred. The matter in controversy is the existence of design in the Universe, and it is not permitted to assume the contested premises and thence infer the matter in dispute. Insidiously to employ the words contrivance, design, and adaptation before these circumstances are made apparent in the Universe, thence justly inferring a contriver, is a popular sophism against which it behoves us to be watchful.

He wrote that in 18-freakin’-14. That’s how old and dead this “scientific” question is, and how long ago it was shot down by a poet.

That’s also why he didn’t publicize his amazing “scientific” question in the promos for his “movie” — there’d be moans from every cemetery as all the old dead scientists and philosophers rose from their graves to slap goofy Ray Comfort upside the head and berate him for his ignorance.


  1. corwyn says

    I have yet to see a question like this that doesn’t refute god if you replace ‘universe’, ‘creation’, whatever, with ‘god’.

    “How did the majesty of god emerge without some sort of intelligent designer?”


  2. rq says

    They overuse the term ‘destroyed’. Can they just go back to using ‘smitten’ (as in, “god smote everyone”)? “Atheism smitten with one scientific question” just sounds a lot nicer in general.

  3. Sven says

    You know what would “destroy” atheism? Actually demonstrating, unambiguously, the existence of god(s).

    In contrast, naked assertions and long-debunked apologetics won’t do much.

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ray, if your designer exist, please point at it. Since it interacts with matter, it must be made of matter too. We can see and interact with it. Point if you can. If you can’t, stop pretending it exists.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    ummm but it contains the software executable code for the cell to run to produce babies. so it must contain many encyclopedias worth of information nicely encoded into 4 symbols, a quaternary code that is double more than our simple binary code. So pffft
    enough garbleness.
    a book is clearly not a natural product, not because of all the information in it but because of the processes needed to turn wood into paper and pages and put ink in the right places in the right shapes in the right order to convey that information, etc, etc. While nature can produce stuff even more complex requiring even more steps, the list can be used to distinguish the source.
    why even try to refute Comfort [pun?], virtually, where he does not read or even listen. Asking gotcha questions, expecting people who can’t give the answer instantly will happily accept his answer without question. (I wonder where he might have got dat i-dee-uh, evang.s).

    geee, guess who produced that “manufactured artifact of a book”?? a product of natural selection from natural processes. so transitive property says books are a natural product of Evolution. Gotcha, Comfort. ugh, does the product of a source disprove the source of the source? sorry. don’t think so.

  6. Gregory Greenwood says

    Deep time, iterations, selection pressures – all clearly foreign concepts to Comfort.

    There is nothing overly challenging about the idea that complexity can form over time without any need for a guiding intelligence – just look at what magnetic fields can do to small flakes of ferrous metals, or how tidal action can effect sand and the various flotsam on a beach, all with no designer required.

    All you need for something like DNA to develop is a sufficiently amenable environment (and that hardly means comfortable by our standards) a molecule capable of replication (hello early amino acids) and replications over a span of deep time (as in, not a few years or a handful of centuries, but a truly evolutionary timescale). Mutations, selection pressures, and fortuitous random events (like the entry of what would become mitochondria into other mono-cellular life, thus affording the possibility of multi-cellular life) do the rest, all with vast amounts of dead ends and wastage, but no one ever said the process was neat or efficient. And that imperfection also exists on the macro-scale of organisms; just look at the urino-genital tract. What kind of incompetent and/or sadistic creator would design that?

    If a layman like me can see holes large enough to fly an entire fleet of 747s through Comforts argument, then he has hardly succeeded in ‘destroying’ atheism. A rather feeble effort all told, but that is as expected.

  7. robro says

    Whatever metaphor you use to describe whatever DNA/RNA is, Comfort certainly has not demonstrated that “as such, it could only have derived from intelligence.” Me thinks Comfort doth beg the question. Anyway, it’s well established that these things derived from many minute random and chance occurrences over long eons of time. This makes Comfort and his ilk uncomfortable so they will always deny it. That’s just tough for them.

    Nerd — “Since it interacts with matter, it must be made of matter too. We can see and interact with it.” Aren’t there several things that interact with matter that are not matter and that you can’t see, except as matter reacts to them? Energy comes to mind as a possibility, perhaps gravity.

  8. blf says

    [Bananaman] showed the atheists in his interview a book comparing pictures of natural structures with the structures of engineering. Then he posed the question […]. Could this book have occurred by chance, from nothing? The answer is that it obviously could not have.

    Eh? Why not? Yer postulating the existence of magical sky faeries who allegedly can, and supposedly do, create stuff from nothing. So why not a book? Or for that matter, Bananaman’s completely absurd claims?

  9. themadtapper says

    Ugh, what an unsurprisingly daft line of argument. Percy Shelley’s point about assuming the conclusion is as concise a refutation as any. But really this argument is just one more variant of the “747 out of a tornado” or “giraffe out of a peanut butter jar” arguments. “Here’s a thing that’s too complex to just pop out of nowhere, therefore it must have a creator”.

    The thing is, no one in the evolution camp is saying that complex life popped out of nowhere. Quite the opposite of that, complex life is the culmination of hundreds of millions of years ever more refined processes. All the raw materials needed to make a human being existed eons ago, but there weren’t any humans because the processes necessary to make even the building blocks of humans hadn’t formed yet. All those engineering examples Comfort uses are actually the same way. iPhones can be assembled fairly quickly today, because the processes necessary to make them have been defined and refined, but that took a very long time to come about. The scientific advancements that led ultimately to the iPhone have been refined over the course of millennia, and the processes necessary to make the people that make the iPhones over a period even longer than that. The materials necessary to make an iPhone existed eons ago, but a fossilized iPhone from the Jurassic is never going to show up because the processes necessary to make an iPhone hadn’t formed yet.

    The real funny thing is, not only are they arguing against a ridiculous straw version of evolution, their straw version of evolution actually more resembles their own theory of creation. The very correct observation that a giraffe won’t spontaneously pop out of a jar of peanut butter or that a 747 won’t miraculously pop out of a junkyard tornado isn’t a testament against evolution; it’s a testament against creationism. Giraffes and airplanes won’t pop out of peanuts or tornadoes anymore than a person is going to pop out of dirt or ribs.

  10. zetopan says

    Since Banana mans creator would have to be even more complex that the creation, that also means that his creator also needs a creator, ad infinitum. Banana man and intelligence never intersect in a Venn diagram.

  11. jaybee says

    Comfort: The only possible way DNA could have gotten this complex is through design of a powerful creator!

    Darwin: Actually, Ray, that is the entire point of my theory of natural selection. It addresses this very point in some detail.

    Comfort: Exactly my point too. I’ve disproved evolution because the only possible answer is design by God.

  12. edmond says

    It’s just trial and error, Comfort, not design. It shouldn’t take a god a billion years to get it right, and he shouldn’t be peppering his design with Down syndrome, hemophilia, and Tay–Sachs disease.

  13. emergence says

    Let’s just point out a few of the fallacies here;

    – Just because human intelligence is one known source of complex structures doesn’t mean that we are necessarily the only source. The faulty reasoning here is to first insist that intelligence is the only known source of complexity in the universe, and then insist that we should consider all complexity to come from intelligence by default. The argument then goes like this; Scientist: “I’ve found evidence that complex structures can form through natural processes!” Creationist: “That’s impossible, because the only process we know of that can produce complexity is intelligence.” Scientist: “You don’t get it, I’m demonstrating another source of complexity, so you can’t say that the only known source of complexity is intelligence. You’re responding to a refutation of your position by just reiterating it.”

    – Creationists love to conflate information in the sense of language and knowledge with information in the physical and mathematical sense. DNA isn’t literally a language and it doesn’t confer knowledge. It’s just a sequence of nitrogenous bases that catalyze the production of organic molecules.

    – There are plenty of natural structures that are beautiful and majestic that we have directly observed to have formed through natural processes. Does comfort think that his God carved all of the crystals on earth? Did the Christian God form the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon? No, these structures formed naturally, and yet are still breathtakingly beautiful.

    – The whole reason why this intelligent creator schtick is so unfulfilling to real scientists is that science is all about describing the processes behind nature. In the supernatural explanation for the existence of life, there is no process. It’s just a deity snapping its fingers and magically poofing living things out of thin air because he felt like it. Teleology is just simple-minded anthropomorphism.

    – None of these half-baked pseudo-philosophical wankings do anything to discredit the mountain of empirical evidence for evolution. You can’t just sweep aside shared genetic errors, comparative genomics, population genetics, transitional fossils, biogeography, and all of the other lines of evidence for evolution with a few glib rhetorical flourishes.

    Overall, I’m not surprised that comfort hasn’t come up with anything new in this barely-a-movie. He’s never made any original arguments in his life. There’s no reason to think he’s going make any anytime soon.

  14. Menyambal says

    I don’t know if it was Ray or the reviwer that used the word “creation” in the question, but that’s really priming the answer he wants.

    I like that he shows pictures of natural formations, and pictures of designed structures, with the clear understanding that they can obviously be told apart, then argues (in a roundabout way) that the natural forms are obviously designed. A refution of Paley’s watchmaker that has been around for onks.

    DNA is obviously made from simple chemicals by natural processes in single-celled organisms. Such simple organisms must make copying errors, and we can then assume evolution, for which there is overwhelming evidence.

    For Ray’s god, on the other hand, there is no evidence, and there would be no simple explanation for its existence. The explanation for belief in its existence is that Ray’s an idiot, and there is plenty of evidence for that. Religion is destroyed.

  15. hotspurphd says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls
    29 July 2016 at 1:53 pm
    Ray, if your designer exist, please point at it. Since it interacts with matter, it must be made of matter too. We can see and interact with it. Point if you can. If you can’t, stop pretending it exists.

    I don’t know about Ray, but many of these creationists are not pretending. They really believe this stuff.

  16. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I don’t know about Ray, but many of these creationists are not pretending. They really believe this stuff.

    They are pretending. If they can’t point to hard evidence, like a real designer or a pooferie where new species come into existence, all they have is the equivalent of as statement that “pixies exist in the bottom of the garden”. All presuppositional, and not one bit agreeing with reality. They may take it seriously, I don’t.

  17. hotspurphd says

    They do take it seriously and are not pretending. The fact that it makes no sense doesn’t mean they are pretending. If you disagree with someone you often accuse them of lying or being a troll or pretending. According to one person here you have at times accused everyone here of being a troll. At other times you speak for everyone here. Some of us would like it you stopped the namecalling and mind reading and just stick to the facts and your arguments which are often quite good. I won’t support the statement made here recently that you should “just shut the fuck up”, but I do wish you would stop attacking people. You seem quite vicious at times. And I see by your recent statement that I was right when I guessed that you were a man. Only men in my experience behave the way you do. I say that as a man. Sorry Vivec.

  18. chigau (違う) says

    According to one person here you have at times accused everyone here of being a troll.
    citation needed

  19. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The fact that it makes no sense doesn’t mean they are pretending. I

    Nope, it just means they don’t understand that they have nothing to back up their presuppositions. Everytime they have been challenged to present evidence they come up short.
    What do I require? Physical evidence that would pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not natural (scientifically explained), origin. Without said evidence, their claims are false.
    Believing the evidence is there, without checking the facts is delusion. They are delusional fools, and get called out as such. They don’t like it, but that is irrelevant.

  20. hotspurphd says

    I see you have dropped your claim that they are pretending and are now calling them delusional fools. I’m not going to argue with you because your need to put people down is so great it is not only hard to have a civil conversation with you I think you have a hard time giving in. Most apparent to me about you is what I infer about you based on what you think a bout others motives and how you treat them. I will not say anymore about that because it is just plain rude to do that. Please do not speak to me anymore and I will reciprocate. But if you ever attack me again as you have in the past I will blast you as hard as I can. As I said before, I would have left this place long ago if it weren’t for such intelligent civil people like chigau and Saad among others. They have been helpful to me. You are just destructive with your insults and attacks. I wonder why you’ve been quieter today.

  21. chigau (違う) says

    I am baffled that you consider me civil.
    Did I ever say to you, “Bless your heart.”?
    ’cause in Pharyngula-speak, that is very close to “Fuck off.”
    use the [return] key

  22. hotspurphd says

    You did and I didn’t understand and I’m sorry you told me that.
    Please leave me alone.

  23. Badland says

    It suddenly occurs to me I’ve been reading hotspurphd as hotspurspud for the last n years.

    They like potatoes that much?

  24. emergence says

    A few other stupid things comfort argues;

    – He’s pulling that tired bullshit where he compares living organisms to machines, and then argues that because they work similarly, or even just because they look similar, they must have come from the same source. The only reason that living organisms resemble machines in the slightest is because they’re operating under the same physical principles. He’s also making the same fallacy I mentioned before, where he thinks that two different processes can’t produce similar structures.

    – Abiogenesis states that the first living things formed from simple organic molecules. Evolution states that modern orgaorganiare derived from previously existing organisms. Organic molecules and prior organisms are not “nothing”. There’s also a very complex process behind both. They aren’t just pure chaos, so no biologist thinks that organisms formed “by accident”. Creationists are the ones arguing that life was poofed into existence out of nothing.

  25. says

    OK, let’s play devil’s advocate and go with Comfort. Let’s grant him that “there never was a machine without an engineer to design and build it” and that living things are such machines.

    Even then:

    What does “design” mean? Combine (pre-existing) knowledge and skills (that you had to learn at some point, from someone) in order to produce a design.
    What does “build” mean? Combine (pre-existing) materials, tools and instructions in order to produce a device.

    You know what never, ever existed, and never will?
    An engineer who never had to learn anything (neither from others nor from their own reflexions and experience), builds from no material and uses no tools.
    In the real world, creators can’t work from nothing.

  26. Jake Harban says

    A designer must be proved before design can be inferred.

    That Paley’s watch is designed while everything else is not is the reason he finds the watch conspicuous in the first place.

  27. ajbjasus says

    On the other hand, the vast majority of things in the universe look designed, but we can find no sign of a designer. A more statistically sensible conclusion is that the watch or whatever doesn’t have a designer. Which shows what a stupid argument it is.

  28. Saad says

    In order to label something designed, you would need to have something undesigned in front of you. So what looks undesigned to Paley and why?

  29. leerudolph says

    emergence@33: “That should be ‘organisms are’, my phone is acting up.”
    Not at all! Your phone is, in its own small way, becoming a creator!