Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Review: “World Religions in a Nutshell: A Compact Guide to Reaching Those of Other Faiths”

World Religions in a Nutshell: A Compact Guide to Reaching Those of Other Faiths”
by Ray Comfort.

In this book, Ray Comfort addresses, comments, and criticizes the top world religions that are not Christian. Each chapter is dedicated to one of each religions. These religions include Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Among the listed “religions” in this book, what prompted me to write this review is that Ray Comfort listed “Atheism” as a religion. What should be pointed out immediately is that atheism is NOT a religion and should not belong in this book, and this article will explain why. This blog review of the book will focus on Chapter 8 of the book regarding Atheism.

While it is a given that Ray Comfort is not a religion expert with no qualifications of any type in theology, his arguments against certain religions hold little weight. It is also a given that Ray Comfort is a liar and often times straw mans and fabricates opposing views he targets. This is clearly evident when he constantly and shamelessly asserts that atheists believe “nothing created everything.” Given all this, it must be pointed out that Ray's lousy arguments towards these other religions does not give them any credulity. This blog review will be focusing on Chapter 8: Atheism, but given Ray Comfort's track record, his arguments against the other religions are very likely to be extremely bad and pathetic – there is a strong likelihood this will be the case, but that does not prove the said religions as true.

If anyone wishes to know Ray Comfort's responses to the actual religions, you can read it for free online. [http://books.google.com/books?id=4Oug2RDx9loC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Ray+Comfort&hl=en&ei=OPS9TpOcOKPciAKFw9iFAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAjge#v=onepage&q&f=falseGoogle book preview]


Anyway, onward....

'''Important Note''': Ray presents testimonies, views, and arguments set forth by atheists for the lack of faith from his blog. Since Ray knowingly picked these out from his personal blog to publish in this book, Ray cannot claim ignorance for making claims against atheism that he has just demonstrated that they do not think or believe what Comfort says they do.

Ray begins this chapter with a dictionary definition for religion: "A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion." Ray says this perfectly describes atheism. Ray says in 1961, the Supreme Court ruled that "secular humanism" was a religion, that religion did not require a belief in the existence of a supreme being.
Atheism is not a religion and Ray Comfort knows this. In his book Defender's Guide for Life's Toughest Questions, Ray defines "atheist" as "without God." The truth is atheism is a ''lack of belief in god(s)''.

Under Ray's definition, one can claim that football is a religion. So what really makes a religion a religion? There are several more accurate definitions of religion, but there are several things all religions have in general. Religions have rituals, sacred texts, tenets on how to live accordingly, holidays, creation myths, beliefs in an afterlife, and such. Atheism has none of these. Atheism simply means a lack of belief in God. An atheist can subscribe to any worldview, but whatever it is it will be a secular one.

I personally subscribe to secular humanism, all it does is provide a system of ethics – it does not tell me how the universe or how life started. It does not provide me with any holidays, nor does it demand I participate in some woo-woo ritual.

Regarding the “Supreme Courts says secular humanism = religion” comment by Ray Comfort, once against he is painstakingly wrong. However, Ray Comfort is not alone in misrepresenting what actually happened in the Supreme Court to bash secular humanism. Here is what happened: In the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, Roy Torcaso was denied his commission as notary public when he refused to declare a belief in God. At that time, the state of Maryland’s “Declaration of Rights” required “a declaration of belief in the existence of God” as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in that state. The Supreme Court ruled that such requirements violated Article 6 of the United States’ Constitution, as well the 1st and 14th amendments. But the official ruling also included a series of footnotes, called "obiter dictum," or "said in passing." These are only the personal opinions of the justice, with no official or legal significance. In a dictum footnote attached to his opinion, Justice Hugo Black listed “Secular Humanism” along with “Ethical Culture” and Taoism as religions which do not teach a belief in God. The footnote is not legally binding, which is fortunate since none of those things really count as religion. Imagine attending the church of ethical culture!

So secular humanism is not a religion in any sense, legal or otherwise, and neither is atheism. Religion must include a professed conviction, and simply being un-convinced as to the real-life existence of what they see as mythical characters –hardly counts as that. So atheism alone is no more a religion than health is a disease. One may as well argue over which brand of car pedestrians drive.

Ray says that the "new atheists" have an ''unwavering'' faith that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Ray notes that their numbers are growing in America and Europe, where often they meet to discuss things that include "their belief that God doesn't exist." Ray states the Bible calls atheists "fools" (Ps. 14:1) and according to Ray, this is so because an atheist ''knows'' intuitively that God exists and ''suppresses'' the truth in "willful ignorance." Ray quotes Romans 1:18-22.
Atheism is the lack of belief, and therefore the lack of faith. Faith by definition is to ''believe in something'' with no evidence, and since atheism is the ''lack'' of belief it therefore cannot have faith to believe something exists or not. To not believe in something (like fairies) does not require faith.

Ray's claim that atheists ''know'' there is a god is simply nonsense and ludicrous. As already stated, atheism is the ''lack'' of belief. Using Ray's logic, he must know that invisible gnomes live in his closet. Coincidentally, Ray does not ''know'' there is a God at all, even though he often claims he does. But belief does not equal knowledge. Subjective convictions are meaningless in science, and eyewitness testimony is the least reliable form of evidence.


Here is a brilliant analogy from YouTube user AronRa regarding belief and knowledge:
If I go into my front yard and I see a large sauropod walking down the middle of my street, I will of course be quite convinced of what I see. I may be even more satisfied when I follow the thing and find that I can touch it, maybe even ride it if I want to. When I gather sense enough to run back for my camcorder, I may not be able to find the beast again, because I don't know which way it went. But that doesn’t matter because I saw it, I heard it, felt it, smelt it and I remember all that clearly with a sober and rational mind. But somehow I'm the only one who ever noticed it, and of course no one believes me. Some other guy says he saw a dinosaur too, but his description was completely different, such that we can’t both be talking about the same thing. So it doesn't matter how convinced I am that it really happened. It might not have. When days go by and there are still no tracks, no excrement, no destruction, no sign of the beast at all, no other witnesses who’s testimony lends credence to mine, and no explanation for how a 20-meter long dinosaur could just disappear in the suburbs of a major metropolis, much less how it could have appeared there in the first place, -then it becomes much easier to explain how there could be only two witnesses who can’t agree on what they think they saw, than it is to explain all the impossibilities against that dinosaur ever really being there. Positive claims require positive evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that’s what I’d need –since what I propose isn’t just extraordinary; its impossible. But since there's not one fact I can show that anyone can measure or otherwise confirm, then my perspective is still subjective -and thus uncertain. Eventually, even I, the eyewitness, would have to admit that, although I did see it, I still don’t know if it was ever really there –regardless whether I still believe that it was.

It doesn’t matter how convinced you are; belief does not equal knowledge. The difference is that knowledge can always be tested for accuracy where mere beliefs often can not be. No matter how positively you think you know it, if you can’t show it, then you don’t know it, and you shouldn’t say that you do. Nor would you if you really cared about the truth. Knowledge is demonstrable, measurable. But faith is often a matter of pretending to know what you know you really don't know, and that no one even can know, and which you merely believe -often for no good reason at all.”

Ray quotes John 1:9 that God has given "light" to every mans, which is why Ray says, only 2% of the world’s population claim not to believe in God. Ray says the atheist has turned the light switch off, and it was his job as well as other Christians, to turn the light switch back on.
This argument is no more valid than quoting the Qur'an and revealing the "primordial Covenant." Ray says that God has given "light" to all humans so we all know that God exists. 7:172-174: "''When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam -from their loins- their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): "Am I not your Lord (Who cherishes and sustains you)?" They said: "Yea! We do testify!: (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: "Of this we were never mindful;" or lest ye should say: Our fathers before us took false gods.'' Basically, according to Islam, Allah created us and made us testify that he does indeed exist and he created us right before we take human flesh upon birth, therefore while we live we know Allah exists, and when we die we cannot claim ignorance of him or give any excuse for not believing in him.

Basically what Ray means to "turning the light switch back on" is brainwashing people to sacrifice their reason and intellect and discard observable reality in favor of delusion and fantasy.

Ray notes that atheist have a variety of beliefs, as seen on his blog Atheist Central, which is why he quotes them to let the unknown atheist speak for him/her self on what they believe.
I love this piece, because Ray Comfort completely shoots himself in the foot here.

Here, Ray Comfort admits that atheists have a wide variety of individual beliefs, making his postulations that ALL atheists think "nothing created everything" and such are completely bogus and he knows it. He just revealed that to us here. Atheists do indeed have a wide variety of individual beliefs, this includes how they think the universe came to be.

Lunch with an Atheist
In this section, Ray retells a story of being interviewed by a "backyard" skeptics club. They asked him why he rejected the evidence given forth by paleontologists Ray answered he was skeptic by nature, and thus was skeptical of the "evidence" brought forth by paleontologists because "they [paleontologists] have had big motives for lying." Ray says if they brought forth evidence, their face would appear on the news and magazines. Ray says this gives paleontologists’ motive to twist the truth "just a little." In parenthesis, Ray notes that some paleontologists have brought forth evidence ''against'' evolution, but said there was no need to go into that.
According to Ray, fame drives scientists to lie. Here, Ray Comfort spoke in the past sense, that the paleontologists “had” big motives to lie. But what about right now? Is there any indication that paleontologists have been lying? And if they did twist the truth “just a little” - how much is little? With no examples provided, Ray Comfort gives us no reason to suspect the paleontologists have maliciously altered their work, not even just a “little” bit. Why would paleontologists strive for fame, but in the end will be exposed by their peers of actual scientists. Once exposed, the “famed” paleontologists will be discredited to their core, so why would they risk the massive humiliation?

Ray Comfort does not provide any references or sources that any paleontologist have brought forth evidence ''against'' evolution. And if there were indeed paleontologists who did provide evidences against evolution, why does Ray Comfort not reveal them and parade down the streets with it? Why does Ray Comfort not reveal any of this? The answer is simple: Ray Comfort is lying through his teeth.

Next question from the skeptics: why won't God perform a little miracle (such as moving the water in the glass) in front of them to reveal his existence to them? Ray notes that before the interview, he mentioned that God stopped the sun for three hours in Joshua, which is a bigger miracle than moving a glass of water. Ray mentions that if a person wants to meet God, they must come to him on his terms.
So Ray believes that God ''literally'' stopped the sun in the sky for three hours? Is Ray even aware for that to happen, the Earth must stop rotating, and thus the results would be catastrophic!? The Earth is constantly spinning at several hundred miles per hour. We do not feel it because we are use and adapted to it. If the Earth suddenly halted, mountains would fly off, waves miles high would sweep across the globe, nations would be annihilated, and life itself may be destroyed.

The ancient authors who wrote Joshua believed the Earth remained motionless and fixed, and only the stars, moon, and sun in the "firmament" moved. They based their views on a geocentric model, which as we know is completely false, and yet God (the supposed all-knowing creator of the universe) did not correct this mistake and in fact often supported this model.

This also misses the question: why can't God perform a miracle right now? Despite Ray Comforts pleas that miracles have already happened in the past, that ignores the demands skeptics are asking – a miracle they can witness. But nope, Ray Comfort's best response is that if you want proof for god, you have to go looking for it. The exact same thing can be said if you search for Allah or Krishna.

Next question: why are there so many religions? Ray says man messes up everything, and that he [Ray] hates religion. Ray then described the difference in being "religious" and doing "works of righteousness."
Claiming to hate religion and yet being involved in one is rather hypocritical.

Nearing the end of the debate, Ray thought that the debate was not going as well as the skeptics hoped for, which is why they did not post it on their website because “it wasn’t good for his cause??" The skeptic, Bruce, claimed he did not post it because Ray said "bible" too many times (Ray recalls only saying it two or three times and wondered by Bruce did not just edit it out). Based on this, Ray says his suspicions were true: they were not interested in truth, "he only wants to confirm his presuppositions." Ray then states "that is why they have their club —— to build up each other in their faith (beliefs)."
Ultimate Projection Alert!

We do not know what else what said in the talk between Comfort and the skeptics. Ray accuses the skeptics for wanting to prove their presuppositions rather than being interested in the truth. When Ray debated the Atheist Experience, it was made clear that Ray was the one trying to prove his presuppositions rather seeking the truth.

Who is God?
After giving a few quotes from atheists explaining that atheists don't believe in a god and claim there is no reason to believe in a god, Ray responds there are billions of reasons to believe in a "supernatural intelligent Creator."
*The order of DNA, atoms, tiny fleas, large elephants.
*The order of the sun and its circuit, to the millions of stars and the entire universe.
Ray makes the argument, if you found a message written in the sand, you would conclude it came from an intelligent source and was not "random" or an "accident." Ray says only a fool would think otherwise.
These ''billions'' of reasons to believe are fallacious, lack any logic, and are simply wrong. For all Ray can argue, there is no logical argument that there could be billions of creators to create "order" in the universe. However, this "order" Ray cries about are not the result of divine or supernatural work.
*DNA, flies, and elephants are all the products of evolution, which has been shown and proven to give impressions of design, the design is actually the result of natural selection.
*The sun, stars, and universe may have order in it, but that does not follow that order was deliberately placed there. The natural laws of physics are completely capable of sustaining a universe that appears orderly.

If you went into a desert, and saw lines drawn in the sand in many different patterns, what would you expect? Ray Comfort would expect them to be drawn by an “intelligent source.” In reality, they are drawn by blades of grass that are drawn by short breezes.

Jesus Christ
Responding to several skeptics of the historicity of Jesus, Ray says that Jesus gave skeptics the ultimate challenge to discover that he was real and right: “He who has My Commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will by loved by Me Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Ray challenges atheists to therefore keep the Ten Commandments, repent and believe in the gospel, and then Jesus will appear to them. "Then they will know God exists, because they know Him."
Ugh, possibly the worst proof for the historicity of Jesus yet. I say yet, because there may be a time when some other moron reaches a new low.

Simply claiming to "love" someone or follow their "teachings" does not prove that person ever existed. Anyone can make the same argument for a comic book character, or even an ancient mythical legend.

Similarly, challenging someone to simply believing in any religious figure can produce the same effect as Ray Comfort is aiming for. In fact, a person searching their whole lives for aliens, Big Foot, ghosts, and such can produce the same level of confidence that these things exist, but in reality that simply does not provide any credulity or evidence for their existence. Ray Comfort dismiss out of hand that Muslims say he can know Allah is real simply by praying and obeying his commands. Since Ray sees the folly in that argument, he must be able to see the folly in repeating the same argument towards nonbelievers.

George Harrison, the guitarist for the Beatles was a Bhaki Hindu. He believed in a personal god, and he said that if one chants the mantras with devotion, Lord Krishna would visibly appear and speak to him in an audible voice. Many pagans are similarly convinced of having met their deities too. For example, a cat fancier in Texas insists he began worshiping Bast only after the Egyptian goddess dramatically appeared physically manifest, having personally chosen him to become her disciple. The Chinese religion is a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, polytheism and ancestor worship. Devotees of this blend of traditions are capable of remarkable feats of faith, and many of them claim direct communication with their gods and spirits as well. All of these different believers, and some Buddhists too, talk about their spiritual rebirth once they accept whichever deity into their lives. Every religion boasts their own miracles and prophecies proving theirs is the truest faith. So its no surprise that Christians say the same things about their versions of God too.

Scriptures
Responding to an atheist who claimed that the Bible should not be taken literally in the modern world. Ray says millions today do believe it literally (as people did centuries ago, which they considered themselves in "modern" times). Ray says "it is easy to believe that water could be walked on, fish can be multiplied, seas can be opened, storms calmed, etc. when a supernatural nature of God is acknowledged. With God, nothing is impossible."
We know that modern illusionists can possible perform stunts like walking on water, but even they admit that they are simply fooling the audience and not performing "real" magic or miracles.

Basically, what Ray is saying, belief in some magic sky man robs you of your rationality to see the absurdity in evident fictions. With Ray's god, you can believe the sky is actually red.

Responding to an atheist who does not accept the events recorded in the Bible historically happened, Ray responds with "Again, never hesitate to challenge the atheists unquestioning faith in history books by asking 'How do you know that to be true?'
Does Ray accept on faith that George Washington existed? No. Why? We know that George Washington existed, we know what kind of man he was and all his accomplishments. History does not require faith, every scrap of history we uncover gives us a glimpse of the past. These historical findings do not require faith to accept. They can be evaluated to see if it corresponds with what happened at the time. Historical evidence brings forth positive evidence.

How can we know in regards to the historicity of Jesus? Well the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ is severely lacking, which is very puzzling for someone as important as Jesus. The lack of evidence has led many people to question if Jesus was real and who he was claimed to be. In ancient times, as well as to modern times, it is common to create mythical characters. Similar cases are William Tell, King Arthur, Merlin, and such.

Heaven and Hell
Responding to several atheist's objections to the belief in Hell, Ray says that simply not believing in something does not mean it doesn't exist.
By this logic, green horses gallop on the surface of the sun. We cannot see them because we cannot look at the sun directly. By this logic, there are theoretically an infinite number of things that could exist simply because we do not believe in, INCLUDING the possibility there is no Hell. The core of the problem, is that to claim your worldviews are true, in this case Hell is real, you must provide positive evidence for it. If nothing can be given or demonstrated, then you do not kow there is a Hell and you should not claim that there is one.

There are many good reasons to reject the concept of Hell. For the most part, an omni-benevolent God would never create such a place. Historically, it can be shown and proven that Hell is just a reconstruction of Greek Hellenistic views of the Tarturus as well as historical sites like Gehenna.

Sin
Ray says the following: "There's a big problem when an atheist denies that sin (evil) exists. All you have to do is ask if murder is wrong, and if he says that it's not, keep on asking if what Hitler did was wrong, or if pedophilia is wrong. You will soon find that he has a moral boundary regarding what is right and what is wrong. God's moral standard is infinitely higher."

Sin does not equal evil. Evil does indeed exist, but according to even Christianity, evil existed long before sin came into the picture. Christianity teaches sin first came into the world when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden. What tempted Adam? A snake. What was the snake? The devil. The devil is supposed to be the embodiment of evil, so his mere existence shows that evil existed before Adam brought sin into the world. It can also be legitimately argued God is responsible for creating sin and evil.

Is murder wrong? According to Ray Comfort, there is no distinction between killing someone and murder. AND YET, Ray Comfort says that killing someone in self-defense somehow makes it not murder.

If morality means anything, it is the minimizing of suffering. Any nonreligious or godless person can justifiably state murder is wrong on the mere fact that the victim suffered. Whereas certain religions traditionally use moral language to divide, control and frighten people to obedience, there is a more appropriate and principled function for morality: to ease the challenges of coexistence. In a world of finite resources, each of us with different interests and desires, societies in which individuals coordinate different talents and develop effective ways to promote flourishing and harmonious living and minimizing conflict and needless suffering, will tend to be happier, more peaceful and more productive than those who don't. Because we live in continuous changing world with new kinds of moral problems being generated all the time there is much harmful ignorance yet to overcome, there is an ongoing need to develop and redefine our moral understanding.

In response to a person saying that good and bad is determined if a supposed action is harmful to others. Ray responds with a question: is a pedophile taking pictures of children wrong, especially since the children are not affected because they do not know that they are being photographed.
Secretly taking photos of naked people - whatever their age - is an invasion of privacy. Ray seems to be under the peculiar impression that taking advantage of someone is okay if they personally don't find out. By that reasoning, the burglar who steals a piece of jewelery that turns out never to be missed does nothing wrong. But we don't make moral assessments according to how successfully a perpetrator can conceal his deeds. We judge the intention in their deed. Ray's pedophile is violating privacy through deception, and it's those elements that attract our disapprobation.

Salvation
Ray lists several quotes by anonymous atheists that express their views and disbelief in salvation. Ray Comfort provides no responses.

How to Reach an Atheist
Ray says there are two ways to reach an atheist: with the intellect and the conscience. Starting with the intellect, Ray uses a argument he presented in his Evidence Bible. The argument goes like this: when I see a building, how do I know there was a builder? I can't see him, hear him, touch, taste, or smell him. of course, the building ''is'' proof that there was a builder. In fact, I couldn't want better evidence that there was a builder than to have the building in front of me. I don't need faith to know that there was a builder. All I need is eyes that can see and a brain that works.
This "building requires a builder" argument is so old and fallacious, which has been demonstrated to Ray Comfort before. When Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron agreed to debate the rational Response Squad on live television, they promised they could prove God scientifically without invoking faith and the Bible (spoilers: they failed to keep their promise) and Ray used this exact argument then. The first response was that, unlike God, we can verify there was a builder simply by calling the builder, check city permit records, etc. but we cannot call god or his 'universe factory.'

Can a building not have a builder? Lets try this: can a bridge not have a bridge-maker? Absolutely yes. One Google Images search can confirm this. Natural rock bridges forming in canyons and Southern Unites States have been formed without the aid of a maker. These rock bridges were formed completely naturally without any supernatural chiseler.





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