Comfortably dumb

As most people know by now, last year marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s seminal work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This book, which showcased Darwin’s methodical approach to the documentation and presentation of evidence in support of a hypothesis, as well as his ability to construct magnificent prose, was the foundation of the field of evolutionary biology, and it is fair to say that, however much its ideas have been expanded upon and in some cases superseded, it is clearly one of the most influential and important works in the history of science. It is also in the public domain. This has allowed Librivox to publish a freely-available audiobook of the work. It also gave former teen star and born-again evangelist Kirk Cameron and his fruitcake partner-in-crime Ray Comfort the idea to publish a “special edition” of the book to be distributed on university campuses for free; because Cameron and Comfort are rabid creationists, there was, of course, a catch: Comfort would pen his own introduction to the work, wherein he would attempt to discredit its ideas.

During my last trip to Houston, I picked up a copy of this dubious edition of the scholarly work for $2. Comfort, who is best known for his justifiably-ridiculed Youtube video in which he explains how the banana was clearly made as a human food, using such profound observations as “it fits in my hand,” will probably look back on that episode with nostalgia once people get a good look at his latest work.  Comfort recycles a litany of creationist arguments that were old when Henry Morris first published The Genesis Flood a half-century ago; this list of greatest hits includes the following golden oldies: 1) there are no transitions because scientists say that every fossil named belongs to a particular group; 2) the Cambrian explosion repudiates evolution because organisms “suddenly” appeared; 3) there’s no such thing as a vestigial organ; and 4) macroevolution is not real but microevolution is A-okay. He also tacks on some newer staples of the ID creationist movement like DNA has too much information to have evolved and the eye is “irreducibly complex.” Comfort’s arguments lack any kind of technical sophistication, making it clear that he made little effort to research any of these topics beyond reviewing creationist literature. For example, he discusses at considerable length the complexity of the human eye, but makes no mention of the fact that the image projected by the eye is inverted and reversed. He states in several places, as though this constitutes some sort of compelling argument, that mutations are not a result of a specific environmental condition. No biologist has ever suggested anything of the kind; if he had bothered to read the text he was criticizing, he would have noted that Darwin stated that mutations are random; it is the effects of those mutations and their consequences for the survival and reproduction of the organism in which they occur that is non-random and contingent upon the interaction between the organism and its environment. He asks this bizarre question (reminiscent of the “chicken and egg” conundrum): which evolved first, blood or the heart? Because this question is prefaced by a rudimentary discussion of circulatory systems in vertebrates, it seems clear that Comfort doesn’t understand that blood exists in other kinds of organisms and lacks an understanding of the difference between an open and closed circulatory system.

Finally, having exhausted his spate of ridiculous pseudoscientific drivel, Comfort goes on to malign Darwin himself as a racist and misogynist. Once again exposing the superficiality of his scholarship, and like so many others before him, Comfort blames Darwin and evolution for everything from Victorian attitudes towards women to the Holocaust. Darwin, as anyone who has read about his life knows, was an abolitionist, had relatively enlightened views on race, and had a loving relationship with his spouse, whose ideas and opinions he highly respected. It would be just as easy to point out the long history of oppression of minorities and women by Christian churches and lay the blame for these atrocities at the feet of Comfort and his ilk. That’s fair, right?

Round about page 41, Comfort turns to saving souls. The last few pages are pointless and stupid and require no additional commentary.


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