The Banana Argument Gets a National Viewing Audience

Remember the banana video that “proved” God’s existence? The two guys in the video were Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.

After the Blasphemy Challenge people were on Nightline back in January, Comfort called up ABC and “offered to prove God’s existence, absolutely, scientifically, without mentioning the Bible or faith.”

According to the Living Waters (Comfort’s ministry) press release:

ABC loved the idea, and will host a debate in New York City on May 5, 2007. Moderated by Martin Bashir, the debate will be streamed LIVE on their website and will also be filmed for “Nightline.”

In other words, there will be a 90 minute live debate (streamed on ABC’s website) with the highlights to be shown on Nightline.

Who will Comfort and Cameron be debating?

Brian Sapient and Kelly M. of the Blasphemy Challenge. They’re the ones that appeared in the Nightline segment.

There will surely be a backlash from the atheist community for a couple major reasons.

  • This debate (regardless of the results) will just be used by Comfort/Cameron to promote themselves, instead of a way to discuss arguments for/against God. It wouldn’t be the first time Comfort has done this. In the press release, Comfort says he has “been flown by American Atheists, Inc., to their 2001 annual convention to be a platform speaker.” That is true. He was a speaker that year as part of a debate on God’s existence. If you heard the debate audio, you also know he was crushed by his atheist opponent. But that’s not the point. Comfort just likes the line on his résumé. Even with solid arguments, atheists have very little to gain from participating in this debate.
  • The only thing atheists might be able to gain from this is perhaps more exposure to a nationwide audience. That said, why isn’t someone like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or even an unknown-but-well-spoken evolutionary biologist being called on to debate? Are the Blasphemy Challenge people really the best representatives we have?

I can’t really answer the first one. The debate looks like it’s going to happen regardless of what atheists think.

As for the second one, I asked Brian Sapient why he thought he and Kelly were picked for this debate. He had a fairly straightforward answer (through personal communication):

[In] the first year of the non-Koppel nightline they had [approximately] 1300 users register on their forums, in the… weeks following their segment on our blasphemy challenge they had [approximately] 13,000 people register.

Nightline likes the Blasphemy Challenge.

Brian Flemming, the co-creator of the Blasphemy Challenge and director of The God Who Wasn’t There, is not going to be a part of this debate.

This isn’t the optimal way to have a real debate, to be sure. But atheists don’t always get this type of coverage. We might as well make the most of it while people are listening.

Plus, it might be fun to see another peanut-butter-like argument that’ll get trashed by the mainstream media.

I hope Christians will be as concerned about this debate as atheists will be. They may have more to lose by having Comfort/Cameron speak as their “representatives.” That’s just embarrassing…

(via Fark)


[tags]atheist, atheism, God, banana, Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort, Blasphemy Challenge, Nightline, ABC, Living Waters, Martin Bashir, Nightline, Brian Sapient, American Atheists, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Ted Koppel, Brian Flemming, The God Who Wasn’t There, Fark[/tags]

  • http://prosthesis.blogspot.com macht

    Cameron/Comfort vs. the RRS people? That seems about right …

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Let me just say right now that even without having seen this debate that Comfort and Cameron do not speak for me and do not represent most thoughtful Christians. This really is an embarrassment. Macht has it right, those two deserve the RRS people. I just wish it wasn’t being billed in a national forum. Neither of them are representative of the thoughtful, intelligent people from among atheists or theists.

  • http://danharlow.com Dan Harlow

    ABC is just in it for their own exposure and ratings. Besides, take any important debate / issue and the media will find a way to turn it into entertainment.

    It really amazes me that “mass audiences” buy into this sort of thing. Hasn’t there been enough talk already about how “dumb” Americans are and how we are spoon fed anything that might otherwise require thought? Aren’t Americans even the slightest bit interested in actually learning something instead of just being entertained? How can we as a culture still allow this to continue?

    Man, stuff like this really gets me worked up :)

  • stogoe

    Is anyone the best representative we have? Probably not. We love to pick nits. No-one’s happy with anyone’s portrayal of atheism. But these guys are doing this one, so whatever. Here’s hoping they do well, even with ABC editing them down to the nubs.

  • http://anirratrat.blogspot.com/ J. J. Ramsey

    “Here’s hoping they do well, even with ABC editing them down to the nubs.”

    Editing will probably help the RRS. I remember seeing a clip of them on Nightline, and they came off pretty decently.

  • Darryl

    The responses to the banana argument posted on YouTube are hilarious and they do show how stupid it is. I understand how Dan Harlow feels about mass ignorance and the lure of entertainment. Our country has an entertainment addiction that is not exclusive to us–European culture-watchers are quite concerned about the same phenomenon over there. When you add relative affluence (we’ve got time on our hands) to unrestrained mass-media to free-market Capitalism to the pleasure center of the human brain, you get us. We could be using the time wasted in front of the tube watching Jerry Springer or The View or Wrestle Mania to educate ourselves. Wasn’t it Tocqueville that noticed something in our national character that was paradoxical: we are an independent, self-reliant, liberty-loving people who are free to think and hold any ideas we choose, but we let others do our thinking for us. When you are broadcasting to a large, mostly-ill-informed, mostly-average-intelligenced public, you have to shoot for the middle. This puts the bar pretty low. On the other hand, knowing what we are like, if you want to plant the seed of humanism, rationalism, or atheism in a population like ours, you’d better take the back-door approach. Americans do not like to be confronted. Make us laugh at ourselves and our absurdities first, and then maybe the kernel of truth within the joke will slowly begin to dawn on us.

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    I like the efforts of the Rational Response Squad to make atheism acceptable to people, but I really don’t think they are the best people to engage in this debate. Of course, they’re debating two of the biggest idiots in the world, so I guess I shouldn’t be worried. They are, after all, more used to bombarding unknowing strangers on the street rather than actually taking on people prepared for their silly arguments.

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  • Steve Eykel

    I don’t really buy that there’s nothing in this for atheists because Comfort will use it to promote himself, win or lose. So can we.

    In fact, I like having Ray Comfort out in public, because I think he creates more atheists than Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins do. I suspect everyone who read ‘The God Delusion’ was either already an atheist, or would NEVER be one. It’s christians themselves who create atheists, by consistently saying stupid or dishonest things in public.

    If there’s any trap atheists tend to fall into, it’s that we feel the need to explain why a stupid argument is stupid. We shouldn’t. We don’t need to. Smart people can recognize stupidity for themselves. Smart people hear Ray Comfort and think “Wow…is this the best Christianity has got?” As for stupid people…well, Christianity is welcome to them.

    Every time Comfort opens his mouth, there’s a few new atheists in the world.

  • Tim S

    Its true that as long as the RRS people have a working brain that the nanner squad will get shut down. But I would have loved to see Dawkins open a can of whoop-ass on them, or any talented bilogy professor for that matter. Ill be watching just for a laugh, its too bad I couldnt go debate, I think it would be fun

  • nicole

    Do you guys stop and think that just maybe cameron and comfort are doing this because they really do have a concern for the public, and want to put there views out there?

  • Jeremy

    NO KIDDING! Nicole said it perfect! These guys truly believe in what they are trying to spread and are making an incredible attempt to help out people like all of YOU who really need this stuff! BECAUSE THEY CARE!! They’re not calling any of you stupid like you are to them..! There’s no hate from them like there is from you! Take a step back just one time and see the hateful and misled cocoon you need to crawl out of…

  • Karen

    NO KIDDING! Nicole said it perfect! These guys truly believe in what they are trying to spread and are making an incredible attempt to help out people like all of YOU who really need this stuff! BECAUSE THEY CARE!!

    Why do they presume the right to decide that WE “really need” anything they are selling? Do you see how wrong-headed it is, and how contradictory, to say that someone “cares” for us and in the same breath that they also know what’s BEST for everyone else? What gives them the right to impose their beliefs on people and insist that they’ve got a lock on the “truth”?

    They’re not calling any of you stupid like you are to them..! There’s no hate from them like there is from you! Take a step back just one time and see the hateful and misled cocoon you need to crawl out of…

    You are completely misinformed, Jeremy. Maybe you need to take a step back and get your facts straight.

    Ask Hemant about the hateful way that C&C treated him on their radio show. They called him all kinds of names and insulted him after he was no longer on the line to even defend himself. They do the same thing to the poor schmucks they meet on the street – tell them they are sinners, and that they’re going to hell, that atheists are horrible people, etc. That’s not very “caring” behavior.

  • Jeremy

    Well, I am sorry that you see it that way. It really is your loss. We have tried…

  • Siamang

    Comfort did call Hemant names.

    Hemant is 1000 times more polite and a class act than Comfort and Cameron.

    Cameron and Comfort are disrespectful, impolite and frankly are very poor (but sadly typical) examples of bad Christians.

  • Karen

    Well, I am sorry that you see it that way. It really is your loss. We have tried…

    Thanks for trying, Jeremy, but honestly you don’t have to worry about us. We’re just fine. :-)

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  • Sara

    It’s not that Cameron and Comfort have decided THEY know what’s best… it’s that they, and other Christians like myself believe that GOD knows what’s best for all of us and has revealed that in the BIble. That’s what compells us to teach what the Bible says we believe it is true! Just as atheists like those on this site want to teach what they believe, because they believe it is true. Looking at it that way, is it really so strange to atheists that Cameron and Comfort want to do this?

  • Karen

    It’s not that Cameron and Comfort have decided THEY know what’s best… it’s that they, and other Christians like myself believe that GOD knows what’s best for all of us and has revealed that in the BIble.

    I understand that, Sara. But honestly, how do you take it upon yourself to “know” what god wants for other people? That’s kind of a murky area, if you’ve studied history – lots of killing has been done by people completely convinced that they KNOW what god wants for others.

    Also, how do you know that you’ve accurately interpreted the Bible? That’s been another huge source of conflict for thousands of years. And how do you even know that the god you’re worshipping is the “right” god, and Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and other religious people are worshipping the “wrong” god, or the wrong interpretation of god?

    In the end, aren’t we all basically throwing dice here? Much as you might be devoted to your idea of god, or C&C’s idea of god, there’s no definitive proof one way or the other. (And please don’t bring personal spiritual experience up, that’s not proof. If it were, we’d have to believe all kinds of stuff and nonsense that people have had personal experiences with over the millennia.)

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    it’s that they, and other Christians like myself believe that GOD knows what’s best for all of us and has revealed that in the BIble.

    It’s that you folks assume you have all the right answers for us… without even listening to us… that’s the problem.

    You assume that just because you believe something that you’re right and everyone else is wrong and going to burn in hell forever for having the timerity to have different beliefs from you.

    Just as atheists like those on this site want to teach what they believe, because they believe it is true.

    Not in the least. We atheists are here posting on an atheist website which you came to by your own accord. We aren’t pushing ourselves onto others. I don’t say “Drop your own beliefs and agree with me or you’ll burn forever in eternal torment, and the Creator of the Universe agrees with me!” I don’t go posting on Christian sites to tell people why they’re wrong and they better stop having their own opinions and start agreeing with me before they die and suffer untold torment.

    All I say to Christians on sites where there is open and welcoming dialogue is “your beliefs are cool with me. I’m not a believer, if you want to dialogue here I can tell you why not for me, with the hope of creating better understanding.”

    This site, and Off The Map, where I blog, is about dialogue, not diatribes. It’s more about listening and less about talking. The Way of the Master is like a kind of pre-rolled script that Comfort and Cameron have. You list the ten commandments and then ask them if they’ve lied, or lusted or stole something as a child.

    Nothing proves their inability to listen and their utter disrepect for other people’s paths and beliefs than the fact that they think that a pre-rolled script is satisfactory to meet an individual’s spiritual needs.

  • Jad

    Is there anyway to download this interview. I’m in Australia so I won’t ever get the chance to see it I don’t think. Unless it’s streamed?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Jad– It will be streamed. Check out this post for more info.

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  • Curt

    Karen said: Ask Hemant about the hateful way that C&C treated him on their radio show. They called him all kinds of names and insulted him after he was no longer on the line to even defend himself. They do the same thing to the poor schmucks they meet on the street – tell them they are sinners, and that they’re going to hell, that atheists are horrible people, etc. That’s not very “caring” behavior.

    When Ray and Kirk talked to people on the street, in what manner do they tell people that they are sinners and that they are going to hell? Do they yell and scream their heads off or do they say, “Everyone is a sinner. Everyone deserves to go to hell. Those without Christ will go to hell.”?

  • Curt

    Karen said: Ask Hemant about the hateful way that C&C treated him on their radio show. They called him all kinds of names and insulted him after he was no longer on the line to even defend himself. They do the same thing to the poor schmucks they meet on the street – tell them they are sinners, and that they’re going to hell, that atheists are horrible people, etc. That’s not very “caring” behavior.

    When Ray and Kirk talked to people on the street, in what manner do they tell people that they are sinners and that they are going to hell? Do they yell and scream at the top of their lungs, “YOU ARE A WICKED SINNER!!! GOD HATES YOU AND YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!!” or do they politely say, “Everyone is a sinner. Everyone deserves to go to hell. Those without Christ will go to hell.”?

  • Matt Channing

    I would sincerely hope that any intelligent person in either camp wouldn’t bother to watch this waste of time.

    As a Christian (a Quaker, specifically), the debate strikes me as without any merit for a few reasons.

    First, it’s Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort trying to ‘scietifically’ prove the existence of God. If actual SCIENTISTS can’t do this, what makes Cameron and Comfort, who have no scholarly background at all, think they’re the guys for the job?

    I read a comment on another blog that said “Kirk Cameron can’t even prove the existence of Kirk Cameron….” I’m inclined to agree.

    Ray Comfort is so dense light bends around him.

    Secondly, I get the feeling that the two people from Blashemy Challenge are as equally challenged in their own sphere.

    Thirdly, the debate serves no practical purpose. It does not put food in people’s mouths, a roof over anybody’s head, nor does it inspire either side to overcome their differences to work together to achieve these or any other worthwhile goals.

    Furthermore, the nature of the debate does not invite more reasoned, educated and less strident voices to engage in a more meaningful discussion of the subject matter.

    In the end, all it does is work to paint both atheists and believers as ignorant, hateful morons who harbor a belief that their camp posesses a monopoly on the truth.

  • Maria

    Having watched this debate, I agree with a lot of the comments here. It was a huge waste of time. I think RSS won, but anyone could win against Kirk and Ray, as those two are ridiculous. I don’t think RSS is the best represenative of atheism in general either, but I will say they were much better prepared and frankly, more polite than the opposition. Martin Bashir seemed a bit biased, but then again he was probably just frustrated with the stupidity of Kirk and Ray’s arguments-they cheated and totally used the bible and there was nothing “scientific” about it. You can boil their argument down to “believe or you’re going to hell”.

    The audience was mixed, but it seemed most of them thought the RSS did a much better job too. I heard how Kirk and Ray treated Hemant and it disgusted me. These types of debates will get people nowhere, but they seem to make great ratings boosters. The more civilized, open dialouge between Richard Dawkins and Richard Harries is a much better indicator of the talks we should be having. But then again, who wants to be see people being respectful, trying to make good agruments, even while disagreeing? Certainly not the media…….

    In the end, all it does is work to paint both atheists and believers as ignorant, hateful morons who harbor a belief that their camp posesses a monopoly on the truth.

    Good point. I don’t think RSS was hateful so much as very obviously frustrated b/c I think they wanted an actual “debate” and all they got was preaching. However, I don’t usually agree with a lot of their methods either.

  • Matt Channing

    But then again, who wants to be see people being respectful, trying to make good agruments, even while disagreeing? Certainly not the media…….

    Well….I kinda do, actually. It may not entertain some people as much as a smackdown, but it might serve a more worthwhile purpose. In general, we’ve become one big collective Star Jones, telling everyone who disagrees with us to “talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening”. How does this do anything other than coursen us, and close us off to ideas that aren’t our own? Are we so insecure about what we believe that it can’t stand up to a little scrutiny from those who disagree with us?

    For those of us who are people of faith, is our faith so shallow, flimsy and narrow that we feel it so threatened that we need to shout down people who may even only slightly see it another way.

    Furthermore, what’s so bad about having it pointed out to me that I may not be right about every single thing?

    What’s more important, the actual truth (whatever that might turn out to be), or whether or not it conforms to what I think it should be?

    We’re in a lot of horrible messes in this country, specifically due to people being so blinded by ideology they could not accomodate the possibility of the existence of facts that did not conform whatever worldview they happened to embrace.

    Ultimately, debating the existence, or non-existence of God is a bit like looking for fun in Tulsa. It gets you nowhere, and makes your head hurt. Eventually, someone ends up with a black eye…

    It seems to me there are vital, creative, vigorous people on both sides of the faith/atheism divide who share common ground on a great many practical, day-to-day issues. It seems to me that the whole God thing is just another means for the powerful in this country to keep people squabbling with each other so they can keep that power….

  • Maria

    I agree Matt.


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