Nearly 200,000 copies of author Ray Comfort’s edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
were distributed at the top 100 schools around the nation on Wednesday, including Emory.
The book, advertised as a new edition of Darwin’s Origin
in honor of the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s original publication, features a controversial introduction by Comfort, a Christian minister and evangelist.
In a post during an online debate at the U.S. News & World Report website with National Center for Science Education (NCSE) Executive Director Eugenie Scott, Comfort wrote that his introduction to Origin
was not an attack against science but rather, against “psuedoscience.”
“Is this book going to be a backward step for science, as some have maintained?” Comfort wrote in his U.S. News post. “Of course not. Science is a wonderful discipline, to which we are deeply indebted. It will, however, be a backward step for the pseudoscience of Darwinian evolution, of which there is no empirical proof.”
Darwin’s theory of evolution states that all organisms are related and come from a common ancestor, evolving gradually from ancestor to modern organism over time by way of natural selection, or the idea of “survival of the fittest,” and genetic mutations. Although the theory of evolution is still missing links, it is backed by research in molecular genetics, the fossil record, biochemical similarities between organisms and such.
Those who believe in creationism criticize evolution largely based on these missing links.
“Even 150 years later, scientists have yet to supply adequate answers to what critics claim — and Darwin himself admitted — are weaknesses of the theory,” Comfort wrote in his introduction and stated later, “Not only are these missing links still missing, but the fossil record reveals that man arrived on the scene abruptly.”
Supporters of intelligent design believe the creator of life to be the God of the Christian faith.
Comfort’s introduction publishes a number of scientists and other researchers whose quotes denounce Darwin, but according to Assistant Professor of Biology Jacobus de Roode, many quotations and much of the information Comfort cites is taken out of context.
“But how do you get from nothing to such an elaborate something if evolution must proceed through a long sequence of intermediate stages, each favored by natural selection? You can’t fly with 2 percent of a wing [...]” paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and self-proclaimed Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould is quoted as saying in the introduction.
The quote comes from Gould’s Not Necessarily a Wing
and is his explanation of British zoologist George Mivart’s stance against evolution. Later in the work, Gould presents “a plausible story about thermoregulation as the original function of organs later evolved into wings,” backed up by “hard evidence to support a shift from thermoregulation to flight as a scenario for the evolution of wings,” by evolutionary biologists Joel G. Kingsolver and M.A.R. Koehl.
De Roode said that the mass distribution of Comfort’s edition of the text makes him angry.
“They made this version of the book to pass out to unknowing people who are thinking that they’re getting a copy of The Origin of Species
when they’re really just advancing the creationist agenda,” de Roode said of the book, whose back cover boasts the new edition as a “higher-education edition ... for use in schools, colleges, and prestigious learning institutions.”
The introduction, de Roode said, is not only inaccurate, but also “highly offensive” to both evolutionary biologists and also to those belonging to all religions, including Christianity. He noted that Comfort ridicules Islam’s acknowledgement of the reality of sin and Hell and the possibility of escaping God’s justice.
In addition to belittling Islam and Christianity, Comfort condemns Hinduism for its belief in reincarnation and Buddhism for its denial of God’s existence.
College freshman June Lee called the book “false advertisement,” because it prefaces Origin
with a creationism-based introduction that urges readers to “have faith in God,” “read the Bible daily and obey what you read” and “pass [the book] on to someone you care about.”
“I think Darwin’s rolling over in his grave right now,” Lee said.
De Roode contrasted Comfort’s introduction to Darwin’s work. While Origin
is what de Roode calls “an amazing work of science,” he said that the introduction to the 150th anniversary edition miscites material and offers inaccurate information.
“It’s very bad, and it makes me really angry,” he said.
According to de Roode, supporters of the creationist theory often blame scientists for trying to “avoid the dialogue” concerning the evolution versus intelligent design debate. However, he said, Comfort and his colleagues avoided the conversation when they advertised their distribution date to be Nov. 19, but instead arrived on college campuses all over the country on Nov. 18, not giving supporters of evolution a chance to respond.
Despite the change in date, de Roode and others distributed information about evolution to students at the Dobbs University Center (DUC), such as fliers and bookmarks from the NCSE’s “Don’t Diss Darwin” campaign.
“If you have to trick people in order to get the word out, that says something about the message you’re trying to convey,” Lee said.
De Roode said that it is important for students to know the truth.
“What we’re trying to do is make students aware,” he said.
Students have been responding well, de Roode said. He said that on a college campus like Emory’s, most students are able to read Comfort’s introduction and realize its faults. Many students who visited the DUC wanted copies of the book as a souvenir because it is so “ridiculous,” de Roode said.
Whether or not he and his colleagues were going to respond to the book distribution was called into question in the beginning, according to de Roode.
“As scientists, we ask, should we respond to it or should we ignore it?” he explained, adding that they question if responding gives the intelligent design theory credit.
It was even more important to respond and show people the inaccuracy of the introduction, however, de Roode, added that the distribution of information was not just a response to the book.
“What we want to do is not only respond to the creationists, but also to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species
,” de Roode said. “We think that Darwin deserves a much better celebration than the distribution of these misleading books.”
— Contact Alice Chen