Billboards aim to stoke an evolving debate

Billboards aim to stoke an evolving debate
A Minnetonka woman is using freeway signs in Minneapolis and Duluth
to direct people to her pro-creationism Web site.

By Bob Von Sternberg, Minneapolis Star Tribune - Dec 17, 2006

Jule Haberle audio
For the past couple of weeks, if you've navigated through downtown Minneapolis on Interstate Hwy. 35W, a certain billboard's evocative message may have caught your eye. "Everyone has an opinion on evolution," it reads. "Read ours. Post yours." A website address - www.WhoIsYourCreator.com - is scrolled across the billboard's bottom.

Although it may not be obvious, the billboard and website are part of the newest front in the eternal struggle between advocates of evolution and the champions of creationism.

They are the brainchild of a Minnetonka woman who says God "just put it in my head to have a billboard to refute evolution."

Julie Haberle, 55, said she once believed creationism "was absolutely nuts" and has over the past nine years come to the contradictory conclusion that "evolution is just silly."

So Haberle, a business consultant, created a nonprofit organization and beat the bushes for contributions the past few years so she could afford her first two billboards, the one off I-35W on Washington Avenue and a companion one in Duluth.

They're intended to be gateways to her website, which is stuffed with arguments making the case for creationism and knocking down the tenets of evolution.

"I'm just a hack," Haberle said, "and I came up with the best arguments I could find. I wanted to give people the ability to reject the message of evolution. It's not my job to convince people, but if God opens their eyes, I wanted to give them the next step in understanding it."

Not surprisingly, she has been dismissed by science educators who have long battled attacks on evolution, most recently as proponents of "intelligent design" tried, and largely failed, to get that curriculum adopted by public schools.

"It's kind of standard creationism stuff," said Paul Z. Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris and one of the nation's most ardent critics of intelligent design. "It's not a serious site -- it's just chunks of arguments strung together."

Greg Laden, an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota, called the site "redundant, inaccurate, misleading and a waste of Internet bandwidth. But it is a free country."

Haberle shrugs off the criticism, along with comments on the website's message board that she describes as "a little brutal at times."I'm not a biblical scholar and don't pretend to have one original thought on the site," she said. "I just want people to realize evolution isn't a done deal. It's a faith just like ours -- it takes just as much faith to believe in evolution as creationism."

Haberle said her effort is strictly freelance, unaffiliated with her suburban nondenominational church, and utterly apolitical.

"I'm not getting on anyone's bandwagon with this, but I'd like it if I could keep some kind of a media frenzy going with it."

To date, her campaign has been relatively low cost, with the rental cost of billboards less than $10,000 apiece. But she fantasizes about a megachurch or big evangelistic organization spreading her idea nationwide.

"I have no idea what will happen but figure God will take it where he wants to take it," she said.

Meanwhile, she's hoping to put up a new version of the billboards next month, possibly showing a human morphing into an ape.

"This thing's evolving," she said with a laugh.

Bob von Sternberg 612-673-7184 vonste@startribune.com