Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Comfort's Wager

The biggest howler in Ray Comfort's "Special Introduction" to the Mutilated Edition of On the Origin of Species comes not in the parts about Darwin, but in the Bible-tract preachment that makes up the last third of the piece. He offers the following instructive dilemma:
Imagine I offered you the choice of four gifts: 
  • The original Mona Lisa
  • The keys to a brand new Lamborghini
  • A million dollars in cash
  • A parachute
You can pick only one. Which would you choose? Before you decide, here's some information that will help you make the wisest choice: You have to jump 10,000 feet out of an airplane. (pp. 40-41)
The answer is supposed to be obvious, of course, though this is set up like one of those lateral-thinking exercises in which you take the keys to the Lamborghini and offer them as a bribe to some poor sucker who has one parachute and not a lick of sense . . .

Anyway, let's play along. Writes Comfort: "The knowledge that you will have to jump should produce a healthy fear in you - and that kind of fear is good because it can save your life. Remember that." (p.41)

Okay, give me a minute. Fear: Good. Got it. Take the parachute.

Comfort continues:
Now think of the four major religions:
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Islam
  • Christianity
Which one should you choose?  Before you decide, here's some information that will help you determine which one is the wisest choice: All of humanity stands on the edge of eternity.  We are all going to die.  We will all have to pass through the door of death . . . For most of humanity, death is a huge and terrifying plummet into the unknown.  So, what should we do? (p.41)

Notice that he's no longer talking about "information." If I'm in an airplane of which the engines have flamed out, the plummet of the airplane is a fairly straightforward matter of fact. It's a plummet to the ground, not a plummet into the unknown.

The death of my body could be treated the same way: sometime, the engines will flame out . . . That much is a brute fact.

But Comfort smuggles in some metaphors that serve a metaphysical function. "The door of death" - like that archway in the Department of Mysteries in the fifth Harry Potter book - suggesting that there's something on the other side.  (They're whispering and muttering over there, according to Harry.)  It's a plummet into the unknown . . . but only for "most of humanity".  The elect few, Comfort is here to tell us, know what's on the other side, and, conveniently, it's just what the Bible tells us it is.

So, you walk through this door, and find yourself before the throne of God, where you will be judged according to the Ten Commandments. The whole thing has the whiff of hellfire about it.

Now, remember: fear is good. Writes Comfort, "let fear work for you." (p.42)

But bring this back to the choice. Which religion will actually function like a parachute to stop your plummet into hell?

Let me rephrase that. Which religion will save you from the most primitive, simple-minded horror story Christians have used to manipulate children and their intellectual equals into being good Christians? (Fear is good! Let fear work for you!)

Let me rephrase that. Assuming this fearmongering version of Christianity is true, which religion should you choose?

Uh . . . I don't know. Hinduism?

Let's review. In the first version of the choice, you are offered four items, only one of which is really useful for resisting the consequences of gravity when the airplane's engines flame out. Assuming the laws of physics remain valid, you should pick the parachute.

In the second version of the choice, you are offered four religions, only one of which is really useful for resisting the consequences of Christianity being true. Assuming Christianity is true, you should pick Christianity.

For those keeping score in the ongoing game of Name That Fallacy, that's one count of petitio principi, begging the question, for assuming the truth of that which is to be proved. Also add (at least) one count of false dilemma, for the assumption that there are only four options in the religion-picking game and, for that matter, the assumption that there is only one (childish fearmongering) version of Christianity in the offing.

I suspect that, for his arrogance, Ray Comfort is going to be reincarnated as a newt.


Doc Nagel said...

If a newt is the next stage of being a twit, then yes, certainly.

In addition, I have still further information: the Lamborghini comes with a factory-optional parachute; the original Mona Lisa can fly; so can Buddhists.

Jim Lippard said...

You could buy a lot of parachutes with the cash from selling the Mona Lisa.

Diego Cena said...

Is the plane on flight?
He did not say it's flying, so, I'll take the Lamborghini keys, jump out of the plane steal the mona lisa and do the 10,000 feet with my brand new car!