Yesterday, free copies of a new edition of Darwin’s groundbreaking On the Origin of Species were distributed at the entrances to Harvard Yard on Massachusetts Avenue.I was pleasantly surprised to receive the book (even though the text is available online), because it may be one of the most influential works of all time.

But I was also confused. Who has the money to hand out hundreds of nice, glossy books to college students? I checked the back cover and saw that the book had been published by the Bridge Logos Foundation.

Now, I was suspicious. A quick perusal of the “special introduction” by Ray Comfort confirmed my unease; Comfort had “introduced” Darwin by devoting fifty pages (!) to discrediting evolution, disparaging Darwin’s personal character, and asking the reader to pray Jesus into his heart.

I was annoyed.

Doing some research online, I discovered that my little encounter on Mass Ave. was actually part of a much larger undertaking, a project to deliver these copies of On the Origin of Species to thousands of college students at America’s most prestigious schools. (This video summarizes the plan. And yes, that is that Kirk Cameron.)

Now, I don’t have any problem with the dissemination of creationist materials per se. I am extremely sympathetic to evolution, but it’s a free country, and we definitely need to discuss evolution more and not less.

Then what’s the problem with the project? Well…

1. It’s manipulative.

Comfort’s intention in distributing On the Origin of Species to college students is to convince America’s brightest young minds of creationism and Christianity. His website admits as much: “In one day, 170,000 future doctors, lawyers and politicians will freely get information about Intelligent Design (and the gospel) placed directly into their hands!”

If you want to convince people of creationism and Christianity, be my guest! I’m not in the business of convincing people that evolution isn’t true (I think creationism is based on bad science and – more importantly – bad exegesis), but I’m all for a healthy discussion about religion, philosophy, and science.

But if you want to convince people of creationism and Christianity, be honest and upfront about it. Don’t hide behind Darwin’s beard. Don’t pretend that you want to give me Origin of Species when what you really want to do is to evangelize. It’s true, Harvard students are probably more interested in On the Origin of Species than Why Evolution Is Wrong – but the solution to that is not dressing up the gospel in the very garb which you oppose. Introductions to On the Origin of Species should not end with exhortations to pray Jesus into your heart.

Comfort argues that this approach is not deceptive because his name will be on the cover. That’s a pretty weak excuse in my mind; if he really didn’t want to be deceptive, he could have made himself the author and added On the Origin of Species as an appendix.

To act otherwise is, in my opinion, to act out of sin and cowardice, completely unlike theĀ  apostles. Peter and John claimed that they could not help but speak about what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20); there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about what they were preaching. Similarly, Paul did not invite the Athenians to a symposium on Platonic thought; He preached “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We should do the same.

2. It’s ad hominem.

Comfort’s introduction devotes a few pages to Darwin’s (alleged) misogyny and racism, and mentions Adolf Hitler’s reliance on evolutionary theory. The implication is that evolution leads to eugenics and other horrors.

Maybe it does. So what? There have been plenty of Christians who used Christianity to justify racism and murder. Furthermore, evolution could be true even if it led to deteriorating morals.

3. It’s doubly ad hominem.

Comfort writes about atheist reactions to his project on his website:

“When [atheists] found out that I was writing an Introduction to [On the Origin of Species], they threatened lawsuits, tried to organize themselves into gangs with the intent of tearing the Introduction out of the book, and have even talked about book burnings.”

I’m sure there are some atheists who have overreacted to Comfort’s evangelistic means. But not all atheists have reacted in this way. The people from Comfort’s organization handing out books at Harvard yesterday were not disturbed at all by anyone.

Of course, even if atheists have acted so unfairly to creationists, Christians have not always been extremely charitable to non-believers. (In particular, Comfort probably shouldn’t write books entitled You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think.)

4. It undercuts serious discussion about evolution.

There are serious scholars who have qualms with evolution, and not all of them are religious. Ray Comfort, however, is not a scholar, but a preacher. I have nothing against preachers – my parents were missionaries in Brazil – but muddying the waters by conflating scientific criticisms of evolution with Evangelical Christianity is not the way to go.

5. It gets the gospel wrong!

If you’re going to preach the gospel, you should take care to make sure that you are preaching the actual gospel. Comfort’s introduction ends with a plea that the reader receive the forgiveness of sins by saying the following prayer:

“Dear God, today I turn away from all of my sins … and I put my trust in Jesus alone as my Lord and Savior. Please forgive me, change my heart, and grant me Your gift of everlasting life. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

The sentiment expressed in that prayer is exemplary – would that we could all offer prays to God such as that! But the Sinner’s Prayer is not biblical doctrine; it is a modern invention.

The Bible does not say that we are saved by prayer, but by faith, repentance, confession, and baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5, 16; Acts 2:38-40, 3:19-20, 22:16; Ephesians 2:8-9 Romans 3:28, 6:3-7, 10:9-10; inter alia).

(If you don’t believe me, just ask the earliest Christians what they thought.)