Combating Creationism: Responding to Comfort’s “Origin” Campus Giveaway

November 24, 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's landmark book, On the Origin of SpeciesLiving Waters Ministries evangelists Ray Comfort (well-known for his "banana argument" against atheism and evolution) and Kirk Cameron plan to use the occasion to hand out copies at "top universities" in the U.S. and in Canada.  The Comfort special edition will be distributed at at least 84 American and 20 Canadian campuses around the 24th.  (See bottom of page for a partial list.)  However, the book includes a fifty-page introduction arguing against evolution, claiming, for example, that DNA and many organs could not have evolved, that there are no transitional fossils, that mutations do not add information, and that the Cambrian explosion cannot be explained by science.  Comfort also attempts to smear Darwin personally by painting him as racist and sexist.  Comfort even argues that Hitler was directly inspired by Darwin's theories.  Comfort and Cameron created a video explaining the offer.

"Oh no!  How can we stop them from spreading this misinformation?"

It's recommended that campus groups do not interfere with or attempt to shut down the distribution.  Attempting censorship can easily result in bad publicity.  It is also impractical to remove the introduction and attempt to donate the books to schools or libraries, as some activists have suggested; many libraries will not accept damaged or altered books.  Counter-distributing material that's critical of religion may also not be the best approach—it could confirm the creationist stereotype that defenders of evolution are motivated primarily by a hatred of religion.  Engaging in "negative" tactics might alienate people who might otherwise be sympathetic to the pro-science arguments, and shift the discussion from what should be the primary foci: the theory of evolution, and Ray Comfort's misinformation.

Remember: Whether or not a Comfort Origin giveaway is taking place at your campus, November 24th is still the 150th anniversary of Darwin's seminal work!  And isn't that worth commemorating and celebrating?

"How can my campus group get involved?"

CFI has been working in coalition with other freethought and pro-science organizations, including the National Center for Science Education, the Secular Student Alliance, the Brights, and the Skeptic Society, to help equip campus groups to respond to the Comfort giveaway.  To combat the spread of misinformation, affiliated student groups and biology clubs have mobilized at many of the campuses where the giveaway is taking place, responding with pro-science and pro-evolution lectures and events, as well as tabling to get educational materials to their peers.  Many campus groups are using the occasion to celebrate the anniversary of the publication of Darwin's seminal work.

Here are some things your group can do:

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Additional Links:

- Ray Comfort's introduction in PDF format
- Dontdissdarwin.org: NCSE's official response site
- Evolution: Education and Outreach: A journal aimed at educators and laypersons explaining evolution
- Talk Origins archive of FAQs on evolution and creationism
- Understanding Evolution (UC Berkeley site)
- NOVA - Evolution: PBS's comprehensive evolution website
- How Creationist 'Origin' Distorts Darwin, by Eugenie Scott, Director, NCSE (usnews.com)
- "Kirk Cameron Action Kit" Spoof PSA, by Randy Olson, creator of Flock of Dodos
- Evolution: Education and Outreach journal, with accessible articles for laypersons written by scientists.

List of campuses targeted for Comfort's giveaway:

The goal of Living Waters Ministries was distribution at 100 U.S. campuses, but the full list of schools has not been made public.  Below is the list of 50 American schools and 21 Canadian schools originally publicized by the ministry:

American:

Princeton University (NJ)
Harvard University (MA)
Yale University (CT)
Stanford University (CA)
University of Pennsylvania (PA)
California Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
Duke University (NC)
Columbia University (NY)
University of Chicago (IL)
Dartmouth College (NH)
Washington University in St. Louis (MO)
Cornell University (NY)
Brown University (RI)
Northwestern University (IL)
Johns Hopkins University (MD)
Rice University (TX)
Emory University (GA)
Vanderbilt University (TN)
Notre Dame (IN)
University of California - Berkeley (CA)
Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
University of Virginia (VA)
Georgetown University (DC)
University of California—Los Angeles (CA)
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
University of Southern California (CA)
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill (NC)
Tufts University (MA)
Wake Forest University (NC)
Lehigh University (PA)
Brandeis University (MA)
College of William and Mary (VA)
New York University (NY)
University of Rochester (NY)
Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)
Boston College (MA)
University of Wisconsin—Madison (WI)
University of California—San Diego (CA)
University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign (IL)
Case Western Reserve University (OH)
University of Washington (WA)
University of California—Davis (CA)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY)
University of Texas—Austin (TX)
University of California—Santa Barbara (CA)
University of California—Irvine (CA)
Penn State University—University Park (PA)
University of Florida (FL)
Syracuse University (NY)

Canadian:

Ottawa University
Carleton University
Queen's University
University of Toronto
York University
McMaster University
Guelph University
Brock University
University of Western Ontario
Concordia University
McGill University
University of New Brunswick
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Dalhousie University
University of Manitoba
University of Saskatchewan
University of Alberta
University of Calgary
Simon Fraser University
University of British Columbia
University of Victoria

If your campus group is coordinating a response, let us know!  E-mail oncampus@centerforinquiry.net.