America's universities are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, but last week they looked more like theaters of the absurd, as representatives of an evangelical group descended on an undetermined number of campuses to hand out free copies of Charles Darwin's “The Origin of Species.” The catch: They used an edition of Darwin's seminal 1859 text that included an introduction by Ray Comfort, a minister who has made a specialty of arguing for creationism.
Was this stunt shrewd or moronic? From the first it's been hard to tell. The plan, innocuously named “Origin Into Schools,” was announced this September in a video featuring Kirk Cameron, a former television child star who co-founded a ministry called Living Waters with Comfort. There's something almost pitiable about the way Cameron crows over the scheme; he truly seems to find it ingenious. He points out that the University of California at Berkeley cannot prevent the action because “their own Web site” dictates that “anyone is free to distribute noncommercial materials in any outdoor area of the campus.” “Besides,” he gleefully adds, “what are they really going to do? Ban 'The Origin of Species'? That would be big news! Especially when their own bookstore sells it for $29.99!”