He’s used to getting love letters and high-fives as a former teen heartthrob, but onetime Growing Pains actor Kirk Cameron isn’t letting the mockery and criticism dissuade him from promoting his controversial project to dispute evolutionary theory.
“Atheism has been on the rise for years now, and the Bible of the atheists is The Origin of Species,” Cameron tells PEOPLE. “We have a situation in our country where young people are entering college with a belief in God and exiting with that faith being stripped and shredded. What we want to do is have student make an informed, educated decision before they chuck their faith.”
FLASHBACK: Kirk Talks Being Religious in Hollywood
So what is the plan that Cameron, 38, has hatched to supposedly save the souls of freshmen around the country?
He and other creationists have created thousands of editions of Charles Darwin’s landmark work explaining evolutionary theory, with a 50-page introduction that picks apart aspects of Darwin’s work and try to link it to everything from Nazi eugenics to the scientist’s alleged “disdain for women.”
On Nov. 19, three days before the 150th anniversary of the original publication of Origin of Species, Cameron and other religious activists will distribute their books at “the top 50” universities around the country.
An online video of Cameron describing his theory – and his controversial beliefs – has been circulated wildly across the Internet, where it has also inspired many many counterarguments and spoof videos.
But then, speaking out about his faith is nothing new for Cameron, who has been doing it since finding God 20 years ago during the height of his fame as wise-cracking Mike Seaver on the long-running ABC sitcom Growing Pains. Cameron has made a cottage industry out of starring in films that cater to evangelicals, such as the Left Behind series and Fireproof.
But never has he ruffled so many feathers, especially among academics, as he has this week, slamming evolutionary theory as untrue, inherently un-Christian and the driving force behind some of the most horrendous catastrophes of the 20th century, including Adolf Hitler’s plan to destroy “inferior races.”
“You can see where [Hitler] clearly takes Darwin’s ideas to some of their logical conclusions and compares certain races of people to lower evolutionary life forms,” Cameron says. “If you take Darwin’s theory and extend it to its logical end, it can be used to justify all number of very horrendous things.”
But academics dismiss such arguments as ludicrous.
“This has been refuted many, many times. The anti-evolutionist fearmongers have to link Darwin to every perceived evil from mankind,” says Kevin Padian, professor of paleontology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley. “The two kinds people who believe that religion and evolution can not coexist are extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists. Everyone else doesn’t really have a problem. [A majority] of Americans believe that a belief in god is compatible with evolution.”
Cameron, who lives outside of Los Angeles with his wife of 20 years, Chelsea Noble, and their six children, realizes that he is making himself a target by being so outspoken, but is willing to do so for a cause that he believes so strongly in.
“I am proud to bring this to people’s attention,” he says. “You see things in the world that are truly distressing and you think, ‘What can I do?’ Well this is something I can do.”
And if his own kids ended up believing in evolution? “Could I accept it? Yeah sure,” he says. “I accepted a lot of things that are not true before I was able to sit down and listen to more then one side and think things through the issues. I would sit them down and tell them that I was happy that they were thinking about this stuff, now let’s look at all of the information and see if we don’t come to a better conclusion. If after that, they still come to the same conclusion, so be it.”