Free books used as tools to fight evolution

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Hundreds of college students were surprised on Wednesday when they were handed free copies of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" as they walked across campus. But they were perhaps even more surprised when they opened the book and discovered that it contained a 50-page foreword by a Christian minister who questions the validity of Darwin's theories.

About 17,000 such books are reported to have been given away by 1,200 volunteers at 100 US universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. On some campuses, such as Missouri State, students were among the volunteers enlisted to help with the giveaway.

The book, advertised as a new edition of the 150th anniversary of the 1859 publication of Darwin's book, was put together by Ray Comfort, a Christian evangelical minister who espouses creationism and argues that Americans need to be made to understand that evolution is only a theory. The massive giveaway of Comfort's edition of Darwin's book is part of his "Origin into Schools" project.

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College students who received the books had mixed reactions. At Emory University, freshman June Lee told the Emory student newspaper that the book was “false advertisement,” because it includes a preface 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.

At the University of Minnesota, however, freshman Cassie Annis said she thought the handout was a smart idea. “I think it’s good to have … both [viewpoints] there,” she told the Minnesota Daily.

At Stanford University, Lewis Marshall, a graduate student in chemical engineering and the public relations coordinator for Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics at Stanford, told the Stanford Daily that "Comfort’s writing is riddled with numerous untruths, leaps of logic and even plagiarism. It appears that he didn’t even do cursory research.”

Marshall also said that he had planned to distribute fliers alongside the books to provide a counterpoint to Comfort’s argument, but then the "book-distributing organizers moved distribution up a day in order to avoid conflict."

“Opinions differ on whether something like this is wrong and goofy, or wrong and dangerous,” Thomas Hayden, a journalist and lecturer in the earth sciences department told the Stanford Daily. “I think this is wrong and goofy.”

Goofy it may or may not be, but as Liz Ebert, an employee of Living Waters, an evangelism resource and training company founded by Comfort told the Minnesota Daily, it's all legal. Ebert said the company chose to focus on distribution at colleges because most are not private property, so books can be handed out without breaking any laws.

She said campuses feature the “future generation,” so “there is a great impact to be made.”

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

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