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November 20, 2009

Church hands out Origin of Species with Creationist intro

In a self-proclaimed “resounding answer” to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, copies of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, with a new introduction by creationist Ray Comfort, were distributed on campus Wednesday.

A lone distributor under Hull Gate, adjacent to the zoology building, handed out the books to passing students, and few refused the offer of a free book. Living Waters, a non-denominational Christian Ministry located in California and led by Comfort, donated the books for dissemination on college campuses.

The on-campus distributor, a born-again Christian not affiliated with the University, declined to give his name.

Comfort wrote a new introduction for Species, in which he argues against the theory of evolution, compares Darwin’s theory of natural selection with the philosophy of

“Social Darwinism,” and cites Adolf Hitler’s advocacy of eugenics as an example of the dangers of evolutionary theory. The 49-page introduction contains 103 endnotes, citing sources ranging from prominent evolutionary theorist Stephen Gould to the New Testament to Comfort himself.

Almost 200,000 copies of the amended book were given out at 100 universities in a plan called “The Origin into Schools Project,” according to Comfort’s Web site.

This mass distribution plan was not advertised beforehand, with the exception of a YouTube video featuring Comfort. In the video, Comfort said the event would take place Thursday rather than Wednesday.

Except for Comfort’s introduction, which can be found online at Comfort’s website, Comfort claims the text of The Origin is complete and unabridged.

Second-year Claire Stone was taken aback when she realized what she thought had been a free bible was actually The Origin of Species.

“[They] are pretty clever, I’ll give them that. Not only was it not a Bible, but it wasn’t just Origin of Species, either,” she said. “It has a creationist introduction with a fairly thoughtful argument. I was curious enough to read it, so I suppose they won in that respect. Interesting tactics, anyway.”

Robert Richards, a history, philosophy, and social studies of science and medicine professor and a Darwin enthusiast, was told early on about Comfort’s plans. As a strong advocate for evolution theory, Richards found the introduction to be “kind of silly and ridiculous.”

“A lot of the arguments have been repeated ad nauseum by creationists, and all of them have been conclusively answered,” he said.

Richards found the lack of scientific knowledge in the essay particularly troublesome. Parts of the introduction claim that evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. “It’s amazing. It’s just a misunderstanding of science,” he said.

For Richards, handing the books out on campus was a good idea because U of C students are “very critical and smart readers [who are] familiar with what’s going on,” he said. “I hope they read his intro and make it to the second part of the book, the part with Darwin’s prose,” he said.

Steve Newton, project director for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), also heard about the plans early on by word of mouth. In response to Comfort’s additional introduction, Newton wrote a five-page response and analysis which can be found online at the NCSE’s Don’t Diss Darwin Web site.

Comfort is a Christian evangelist known for his condemnation of evolution. He founded Living Waters Ministry, the group responsible for handing out the books. Living Waters provided press kits to those interested in helping out with the mass distribution.

Richards was not opposed to the marketing scheme. “I thought it was a great idea to send around 100,000 copies of The Origin of Species. It’s one of the great works of the 19th century,” Richards said.