Creationist group hands out Darwin’s ‘Origin’ on campus
Correction Appended Below
Last Wednesday, local non-student Christians handed out free copies of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” with a new introduction containing creationist arguments against evolution.
They were carrying out one arm of a national campaign called “Origin into Schools,” organized by Ray Comfort, an evangelical minister and television host who wrote the introduction to this “150th Anniversary Edition” of the text. The introduction presents counter-arguments to evidence of evolution, as well as draws lines between Darwin and Hitler and alleges that Darwin was a misogynist. It is available to read online.
Eleven people coming from as far away as Hannibal, Mo., stood in small groups at three locations: intersection of Forest Park Parkway and Skinker, Melville just off campus, and near the South 40.
They distributed around 1,000 copies at Washington University alone, and legions of other volunteers distributed 194,000 copies at 100 U.S. universities this month, according to Comfort’s Web site, livingwaters.com.
On his Web site, Comfort said he wrote the introduction “to give an alternative perspective” on “The Origin of Species.” But the volunteers said their goal was not to address evolution per se, but to spread Christian beliefs.
“My purpose for going there—I think it’s Living Waters’ purpose as well—is not necessarily to speak out against evolution, but to get the Gospel in the hands of students,” said Tom Burgee, who organized the University distribution with his wife.
Why not hand out Bibles? “Truthfully, with ‘Origin of Species’, it’s something that people are going to take, and it’s something they’re going to read,” Burgee said.
Senior Eddy Lazzarin, president of student atheist group the Washington University League of Freethinkers (WULF), read the introduction and spent time talking with Burgee.
“They were acting as if they were just promoting ‘The Origin of Species,’ with an introduction you might ordinarily expect with such an important book,” Lazzarin said. “They weren’t disclosing the fact that the introduction had been specifically prepared with the intent to slant, to argue against natural selection and common ancestry with dishonest, false evidence. Fortunately, any Wash. U. student is going to be able to find shockingly silly interpretations of commonly accepted data.”
WULF, a club committed to the application of science and reason to understandings of the universe, had planned to hand out counter-informational materials created by the National Center for Science Education. But the date of distribution of the Origin of Species was changed from the 24th to the 18th.
Christian Beaulé, a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience, said the introduction contains typical creationist arguments.
“I think it’s funny…because it’s not the way scientists are trained to think and to analyze written material, so the arguments that are made sometimes don’t logically make sense,” Beaulé said. “I can see how if you’re not trained in the sciences, these arguments might make sense with a gut feeling.”
Students on campus did not participate in the distribution.
This campaign highlights the central features of the conflict between creationism and evolutionary biology. On one hand, Ray Comfort and his supporters aim primarily to increase belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and consider scientific evidence tangential to that cause.
“I’d say that the Bible is my primary source of truth,” Burgee said. “I would say that…everybody that believes in evolution that hasn’t had a full perspective on the Bible is missing information. Otherwise I believe that God would change their hearts and they would see the truth.”
On the other hand, those who support evolution respond with scientific evidence. The National Council for Science Education launched a campaign called “DontDissDarwin.com” that includes posters and fliers with analysis of Comfort’s argument, for example.
Burgee said he sees his role in disseminating information about the Gospel as comparable to saving people’s lives.
“If you look at it from my point of view…How much would I have to hate you guys to not want to share the Gospel with you? If you were walking towards a cliff, how much would I have to hate you not to tackle you, if need be, to keep you walking off that cliff?” Burgee said.
Correction: For the Record (11/23/09)
An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the copy of “The Origin of Species” handed out on campus was abridged; in fact, it was a complete copy of the text with a new introduction.