On Thursday, Nov. 19 the scientific community celebrated the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s ground-shaking work, On the Origin of Species. Unfortunately, not everybody was excited about this event. Evangelist Ray Comfort took it upon himself to organize a mass distribution of an abridged version of the text in question to nearly 100 of the nation’s top universities including UCSB. Here’s the catch: Each copy of the book included a 40 page foreword written by Comfort using misleading evidence, as well as complete and outright lies, in order to deny the theory of evolution. I would like to take this time to make sure that nobody leaves for Thanksgiving break with any of the misconceptions spread by this attention-wanting, for-profit madman.
Admittedly, Comfort did some homework. He even cites a few newspaper articles that quote noted researchers about discoveries that have influenced our understanding of evolutionary developments, with a special focus on the paleontological breakthroughs. Paleontology, of course is one of the main contributors to our understanding of evolution, along with other fields such as biogeography and genetics. However, Comfort does his best to contort and remove these points from their original context. Among his arguments, Comfort mentions the “lack of transitional fossils” that would explain how one species can become another. He must be doing his research with his eyes (or brain) closed because fossils of extinct species with contemporary relatives are, by definition, transitional fossils. If Comfort is looking for a relative of modern day avians with “2% of a wing,” as he brings up in his rant against reason, he will not find it. He may, instead, find a lightweight dinosaur with feathers on its extremities, strong evidence of the transition from dinosaur to bird. This particular fossil is named Archaeopteryx and should be familiar to any beginning biology, paleontology, or geology student. Comfort almost names the fossil himself, but decides to reference another fossil, Archaeoraptor, which was found to be a hoax, demonstrating his ability to omit the important facts of this “debate.”
Ray Comfort’s rhetoric is not restricted to paleontology; he makes an effort to fight fire with fire and science with “science” by referring to the genetic code to prove his point. Comfort tries to intimidate his audience with the magnitude of the cumulative effects of genetic mutations necessary for the evolution of a species and tries to make them balk at the sheer unlikelihood of life spontaneously arising on our planet. He fails to admit that geologists estimate that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, and that biologists estimate that life has been present on our planet for 3.7 billion years. A lot can happen in such a vast period of time, and it has. Continents have united and split numerous times, islands have been forged from the depths of the ocean and a self-sustaining collection of molecules has preserved and modified itself to become all of the forms of organisms that we call life. It truly is a miracle, maybe not the kind that Comfort is looking for, but a miracle nonetheless.
Is it too much to appreciate the amazing events in geological history that led, ultimately, to us not just as a species, but as individuals ourselves? Whatever one’s religion, surely it can be reconciled with the clues given to us by history. If you want more information on the subject, please sit in on a few biology courses like Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology 2 this Winter Quarter. Your efforts will be rewarded by a reasonable explanation of the theory of evolution with no strings attached and no smoke and mirrors to divert your eyes.