On Comfort's 'Origin of Species'

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | November 19, 2009 5:29 pm

Picture 9By now you’ve surely heard about evangelist Ray Comfort’s plan to distribute thousands of free copies of Darwin’s Origin of Species–with his own 54-page nonsense ‘special’ introduction–to students at the ‘100 top U.S. universities.’ Yesterday they were given out at Duke (pictured), but unfortunately I missed it since I’m on the road.

In response, the National Center for Science Education has launched a campaign to counter the stunt: www.dontdisdarwin.com features resources, a detailed analysis of the Comfort introduction, the NCSE Safety Bookmark (for use with Comfort’s edition of Origin), and this terrific flier–which I’m glad to report was all over the Duke campus today. Help spread the truth by sharing the url and reposting the flier on your own site.

Thanks to Steve Newton, Robert Luhn, Eugenie, Josh, and all the great folks with NCSE.

Picture 7

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Comments (34)

  1. No Crocoduck? The banana’s a nice touch, anyway.

    Perhaps it’s worth saying once again that science isn’t prescriptive, but descriptive. The only prescription that often accompanies it (but technically needn’t) is that it should not decide what we will do, it only tells us what is possible.

    IDists and the rest of the creationists not only confuse science with their apologetics, they seem unable to understand that it can’t be science if it is prescribing either “good” or “evil” to other humans, that it is then in the ID sphere of religion, or in the sphere of politics and ideology. Needless to say, because science does tell us what is, and what is possible, it can be used to machine gun other humans, poison them, or wreck their societies.

    Science is an idealized set of methods, but does not thereby fall into the “true scotsman fallacy.” It’s just how we understand the world–according to categories. We conceptually split science off from other activities, and consider it to be proper science only if it adheres relatively well to the ideal of being unbiased, apolitical, and non-religious in nature. Of course the scientist may be a bad person, and may use science to wrongful ends, yet it can’t be the science that’s doing it, because science just isn’t prescriptive and still able to be science, according to the accepted convention of what science is.

    ID, of course, is prescriptive, demanding that a silly criterion like “functional complexity,” which can’t be entailed by design, be taken as the mark of design. It also demands that it be taken seriously as science when it isn’t serious science. And no, we can’t conceptually split a “scientific ID” from their politics and theology, because ID’s impetus comes from religion (and occasionally from contrarianism).

    The thing is that the charge that “Darwinism” causes evil consequences works so well for them, because it smuggles into the claim that idea that evolution isn’t science, rather ideology, theology, or politics, without their having to support such a lame claim. If evolution were prescriptive, it wouldn’t even be science. It isn’t prescriptive, ID is, and thus ID isn’t science.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Why the hostility towards Ray Comfort? From my humble perspective, you are winning. There are far more college students embracing the claims of evolution than those of special creation. You get a guy who shows up on campus for one day criticizing your point of view, then he disappears never to be seen again. These kids will be see there professors everyday for the next 3-4 years. As a person who believe in special creation (God created everything in 6 days, talking snakes, Adam, Eve, fruit, Noah’s Ark, etc.), I would say that you scientists have very little to fear.

  3. Did you miss the fact that Comfort is promoting bad science, and bad history, R. Bradford?

    I doubt that any of us is especially concerned about college students, in fact. A bunch of false claims, like the ridiculous idea that there are no transitional fossils, are quite appropriately countered publically when someone is spouting anti-science and pseudoscience like Cameron and Comfort do, but it’s unlikely that anyone that is open-minded won’t have the resources on a college campus to understand how dishonest Comfort’s spiel is. I think they wasted a lot of money in giving out their tripe on college campuses–yet what might make it worthwhile for Comfort is that it gives him publicity and thus potential dollars.

    It is beyond the college campuses that Comfort’s long-refuted false claims need to be countered, because there are a lot of people whose knowledge of “science” goes little further than what their preachers tell them. As Comfort staged a successful publicity stunt and managed to repeat the false claims that many have troubled to explain to him without his learning almost anything at all (unless he simply doesn’t care that he’s wrong), it is quite appropriate to counter his claims yet again, to reinforce the fact that creationism/ID has nothing scientific in it.

    Glen Davidson

  4. Ian

    I invoke Poe’s law and unmask Ray Comfort as the worlds most epic troll!

  5. Am I high, or is the actual title of the book On the Origin of Species? Why is this so hard for its critics to keep straight? Could it be that they are as clueless globally as they are with respect to the science the book outlines?

  6. Got mine yesterday! Knew of its imminent propagation and was pleasantly surprised at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). I, then posted it on my Facebook page warning others of its true covert message! My take was on how the ethics (or lack thereof) of how he is spreading his message via deception discredits it! We can only hope everyone else see through this veiled threat to society!

  7. Vindrisi


    A case can be made for using the title with or without the “On”. “On the Origin of Species” was the title Darwin used for the first through the fifth editions (Actually, to be precise, it was “On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life”). However, in the 1872 sixth edition, Darwin changed the title, dropping the “On” so that the short title became “The Origin of Species”. As the sixth edition became considered the definitive edition for most of the ensuing century (Darwin modified the text extensively, added a chapter, and emphasized Lamarkian mechanisms of evolution far more deal with Lord Kelvin’s pre-radioactive decay calculations of the age of the Earth to be only tens of millions of years old. In all, the sixth edition is a good 45,000 words longer), the title sans the “On” came to be far better known in the public mind. After the Modern Synthesis and other advances, the first edition’s stronger thrust for natural selection came to be favored by biologists. As the first edition has been since making a comeback, so has the original short form of the title. I would say that the version of the title with the “On” still there is to be preferred, but it is arguable as to which is the “correct” title. So, unfortunately, that isn’t a good point to go after people like Comfort with. And that is okay…it is not like there is dearth of other issues they wrong on (not to mention dishonorable, ignorant, and mendacious).

  8. Blogger


    A lot of religions have a beef with Darwin. Is this guy being attacked because he is overtly attacking Darwin…or will other religions soon receive the same treatment?

  9. Chris Mooney

    One of these showed up at the MIT Knight office today. I was appalled. I may have to do another post myself….

  10. Collin

    They handed these out at Michigan the other day too. I grabbed one, but I haven’t read much of it yet.

  11. John Kwok


    They haven’t arrived at Brown yet. I asked Ken Miller to get me a copy if he is so lucky, and he told me that he hadn’t seen Comfort or his minions.

    @ Sheril –

    Speaking of Ken Miller, he has an elegant two-page “primer” which demolishes Comfort’s breathtaking inanity. It is posted at NCSE’s website, and I am sure is posted too at this one.

  12. Kevin Taniguchi

    Unfortunately, they were at UC Davis. I snagged a copy gave it to my favorite biology professor, had a good laugh, and then tossed it!

  13. Sorbet

    Comfort has had a problem contemplating how “readymade mutant” females were available to mate with “readymade mutant” males and vice versa. I think the dude is just sexually confused, that’s all.

  14. Michael

    There is a great sadness in this kind of thing. Sadness that after lo, these many years, we still have this kind of attack on one of the major foundations of science.

    This is quite simply an epic failure of scientists to effectively communicate with the ‘average’ citizen, especially in our broken public school system. Unless this is remedied, folks like Comfort will still have an impact on our future as a nation. Some progress is being made, but it’s slow and arduous at best.

  15. Woody Tanaka

    “Why the hostility towards Ray Comfort?”

    Because he’s a religion-addled scumbag who’s lying to people. It’s because of irrational lunatics like him that I have to worry about my daughter getting a decent, basic education, rather than being subject to some evil christians trying to shove religious indoctrination down her throat and that of her contemporaries.

  16. SLC

    Re John Kwok

    Does Mr. Kwok have a specific link to Ken Millers’ 2 page refutation of Comforts’ crap? I was unable to find it on NTSE’s web site.

  17. SLC

    Re R. Bradford

    As a person who believe in special creation (God created everything in 6 days, talking snakes, Adam, Eve, fruit, Noah’s Ark, etc.), I would say that you scientists have very little to fear.

    This type of malarkey is about on the level of belief in the tooth fairy.

  18. Disappointed

    Excuse me, but why the combative and antagonistic tone toward Comfort?? Why call his work “nonsense”? If I am not wrong, the authors of this very blog have argued several times that we should adopt a conciliatory approach towards those with whom we disagree and have stressed the importance of using mild and friendly language to try to persuade others. It’s disappointing to see that they are not applying their own philosophy to people like Comfort.

  19. Guy


    I don’t think the blog authors are being especially combative and antagonistic, but some of the commenter are being a little more so. Don’t take the comments on the blog as being endorsed by the blog authors. They have little control over what others say.

    Did you know that Ken Miller (a religious person) has done more to combat Comfort’s attempts to spread his ignorance and misinformation? Maybe you should direct your question to him.


  20. Vindrisi

    The problem with Comfort is that he himself is not only antagonistic and combative, but also a liar and purveyor of shoddy, ill informed rubbish. The man knows nothing of evolutionary theory and yet attacks with vehemently in publicity stunts like this and with arguments that have time after time after time been pointed out to be false. The history he put into his forward to his version of “The Origin” is known to be false, and yet he put it in there, while also excising large chunks of the actual text of the book. Everything he does reeks of mendacity and ill-intent, and this naturally provokes a certain necessary reaction to him.

  21. 19. Disappointed Says:
    November 20th, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Excuse me, but why the combative and antagonistic tone toward Comfort?? Why call his work “nonsense”?

    Because it is nonsense. There’s only so far one can take a conciliatory approach when dealing with people so thoroughly averse to facts and rational thinking. At a certain point – say, when people start handing out nonsensically-annotated versions of seminal works of scientific literature – we have to take it a notch above mild and friendly and communicate the sheer idiocy that is being promoted by Comfort and his ilk.

    Somehow I doubt many Christians would take a friendly and conciliatory approach if we were to annotate the Bible with a bunch of lies and distortions and hand them out at megachurches.

  22. tresmal

    Blogger @8 says:


    A lot of religions have a beef with Darwin. Is this guy being attacked because he is overtly attacking Darwin…or will other religions soon receive the same treatment?”
    If you’re implying a specifically anti-christian bias here, you’re wrong. In the U.S. and other parts of Christendom, the anti-evolution cause is led by people from some denominations of Christianity. You may be interested in knowing that denominations representing a majority of the world’s Christians have (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) made their peace with evolution. At any rate, if you want some “balance” go to any pro-evolution site and see what they think of Harun Yahya

  23. John Kwok

    @ SLC –

    Ken Miller was on CNN earlier today and did a great job dismissing Comfort as noted here:


    As for Ken’s elegant two-page “deconstruction” of the Comfort “edition”, you can look here:


  24. SLC

    Re blogger @ #8

    Darwin isn’t too popular in much of the Muslim world nor in some of the orthodox Jewish world either. The Muslims and Jews who attack the Theory of Evolution on religious grounds are just as idiotic as their Christian counterparts.

  25. IU Student

    The introduction’s plagiarism allegations are priceless. Oh the irony that this is being distributed exclusively on college campuses. It’s all over google now.

  26. HopkinsHumanist

    Somebody please teach Comfort the theory of evolution — he clearly does not understand it!

  27. Larry Linn

    So the Evangilicals ha ve a problem with reality or Darwin? George summed it up: Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”

  28. Norm

    Since Mr. Comfort thinks it’s a good idea to publish “The Origin of Species” with 4 chapters removed, and a special ‘critique’ disguised as an Introduction, perhaps he would also think it good form for ‘critics’ to publish and distribute copies of the New Testament, with an new special “Introduction” (read critique) and with 4 chapters removed.

  29. gary best

    What is the athiest afraid of? Most of the comments I read are the typical mean spirited type from the athiest camp.Name calling, nothing of signifigance. All Ray Comfort is asking is that you read the book, both viewpoints with a open mind and see which makes more sense.If evolution is really rtue like you believe then you have nothing to worry about, but I guarentee if you are honest enough to be a real free thinker, his points will cause you to rethink what you have been led to believe all these years.Science is a search for truth and knowledge. The secular scientist and the Creationist actually have the same science, its not a question of faith vs.science, its actually a question of the interpetation of the science. Comfort simply points out the flaws with Darwins theory, and science does point out those flaws. Its interesting that Darwin had a degree, but it was actually in Theology and not Science! How ironic that the Creation vs. Evolution debate is phrased as science vs. religion, with the basis of Darwinian Evolution as being assumed as the science, when Darwin himself was not a scientist actually but a theologin.
    Please be honest enough with yourselves to at least entertain the slight possibility that you could be wrong and what you hold as the truth just could be a lie. Think about it, really, common sense tells us that all of what we see in this world could not have come by chance.Its really that simple. Our world is so complex its incredible. Math masterminds have figured the odds of everything coming to be by chance it is simply impossible. Tne DNA is the most complex discovery and scientists have admitted that it had to have a designer behind it. Dont supress the truth any longer. Deep down in your heart you know, despite the lie of evolution you have been fed, you know better. Just read the first 50 pages of the book. You will be suprised! There is a whole other side of the story that has been kept from you,and real observational science actually supports it! I notice the angry athiest usually doesnt argue the science, but just resorts to name calling and such. If you truly want to be objective and make up your own mind, read the whole book and maybe you will be set free of the bondage you are in and dont even know it.You even think you have come to your own decisions, come to your own conclusions, but you have not, you have been influenced by a particular viewpoint, just like all of us have, but you dont even realize it! Read the book and then make up your own mind.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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