Stan Guffey had been waiting months for Nov. 18 to arrive. On that day, Christian groups handed out free copies of a 150th-anniversary edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species on college campuses across the country. Guffey is a biology lecturer at the University of Tennessee who earned his doctorate studying genetic differences between northern and southern populations of brook trout. When he heard talk outside his office about people handing out books on the UT plaza, Guffey says, “I hot-footed it over to get myself a copy.”
“Would you like me to autograph this?” Guffey asked the distributors, telling them he is one of the authors, albeit unacknowledged. Since spring, e-mails had been trickling in alerting him to extensive similarities between the first three pages of the edition’s introduction and “A Brief History of Charles Darwin,” which Guffey wrote in 1997 for UT’s first Darwin Day event. He wrote the biography, handed out on campus each February and available through the Darwin Day website, “to make Darwin accessible to people who thought Darwin was a devil, to make him human.”
It seems to have appealed to New Zealand-born evangelist Ray Comfort, who wrote a 50-page introduction for Florida publisher Bridge-Logos’ reissue of Darwin’s treatise on evolution. Bridge-Logos lists dozens of titles by Comfort in its catalog, including some co-authored by actor Kirk Cameron, who also co-hosts a television series with Comfort. Guffey is not acknowledged in the book, but the introduction begins with his biography of Darwin. A few sentences were chopped or shortened, and a paragraph on Darwin’s youth was rearranged and reworded, but most of the passage appears taken directly from Guffey.
Comfort put his introduction on the Web months ago, and several bloggers who monitor anti-evolution efforts noted differences in style between the biography and the rest of the introduction. A brief computer search uncovered the source, and they confronted the author and publisher about the apparent plagiarism months before the book was printed. Guffey says he was never contacted for permission to use the biography. Both the author and publisher declined to comment for this story. Contacted by phone, Bridge-Logos publicist Shawn Myers said it was the first she had heard of matter, so she was unable to respond.
“I am party to a scam,” Guffey says. “The introduction begins with a nice, sweet little biography, then degenerates into intellectually lame, lazy distortions, selective reading of the literature, picking and choosing of facts, and misreadings of the historical record.” He says Comfort “gently moves folks into the notion that they don’t want to read what comes after the introduction. He just wants his 50 pages read, 47 of which are anti-intellectual, dishonest drivel, the first three of which are pretty good because I wrote them.”
According to local experts on intellectual property law, plagiarism can be more an ethical matter than a legal one. Were an academic like Guffey to do what Comfort did, it could potentially cost him his job. The website of Comfort’s Living Waters ministry says, “An angry backlash from atheists has prompted best-selling author Ray Comfort to stop answering questions about [the book].” Guffey says he believes this discrepancy encapsulates the different standards to which scientists and their religious critics hold themselves.
“I would like to engage him in intellectual combat, but it wouldn’t be fair,” Guffey says. “If he were to play by the rules of reason and logic, I would whoop his ass, but he’s not constrained by those rules, so it wouldn’t be fair to me.” Guffey is preparing a cease-and-desist letter through an attorney to prevent further distribution of the book and is contemplating further legal action.