As I write this, GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson is just one percentage point behind the GOP front-runner, Donald Trump. I find this state of affairs to be both amazing and troublesome. At one point in time, Ben Carson may have been best known as an excellent, even groundbreaking, neurosurgeon. He was featured in national magazines and was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor. In the parish where I served, Dr. Carson was invited to give the annual lecture that the parish sponsored. All of that lauding of Ben Carson was well-deserved. But in recent years, it seems that Dr. Carson has done everything he can to throw that splendid reputation away. There is no doubt that Ben Carson was (and probably still is) a brilliant neurosurgeon, and I would want my family members in his capable hands if, God forbid, the need ever arose. But running the nation is another matter – one that involves diplomacy, tact and the kind of interpersonal intelligence that Carson does not seem to have outside of an operating room.
You may have noticed by now that, for a neurosurgeon, Ben Carson is a surprisingly unscientific guy. He may have been first-rate at cutting into brains and making repairs, but once he left the operating theater he became a bit clueless, to say the least. He rejects evolution and climate science because he happens to know better than to believe those “lies.” Now, some new video has surfaced of a talk that Carson gave to a Seventh Day Adventist meeting in which he explains that the Big Bang is merely a “fairy tale” and that the theory of evolution is an actual tool of the devil. Sounds pretty groundless to me! So let us see what we can learn (if anything) from this great man of medicine.
In the video, Ben Carson says that the big bang theory is part of the “fairy tales” pushed by “high-faluting scientists” as a story of creation. Similarly, Carson, a noted creationist, also says that he believes the theory of evolution was encouraged by the devil.
I wish I could say that I have misinterpreted Carson, but I have not. The retired right-wing neurosurgeon, known for his off-the-wall ideas about a great number of issues, called the science surrounding the big bang “ridiculous,” and added in reference to evolution: “Interestingly enough, this [evolution theory] is a relatively modern science concept. Before Darwin came along, it wasn’t. You know, scientists like Sir Isaac Newton – considered one of the most scientific minds ever, inventor of calculus, so many things – had a strong belief in God, big mission outreach. Einstein! When you think about genius, what is the word you come up with? Einstein. He believed in God. A lot of people believe in God, but I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary.” In this context, “the adversary” appears to refer to the Devil. (By the way, although born into an Anglican family, by his thirties, Sir Isaac Newton held a Christian faith that, had it been made public, would not have been considered orthodox by mainstream Christianity; and in recent times, he has been described as a heretic. Einstein’s concept of God, if you have to put a label on it, is not of the Biblical theism variety, but a sort of nebulous Deism: Maybe God played in role in creating the universe – because nature inspires such awe and the universe seems perfectly guided by mathematics – but God has no direct effect on our lives today.)
Imagine with me for a moment that it is 1970 or so, and you are a young Ben Carson sitting in a biology class at Yale University. With your sharp mind and your strong study habits, you do not have much problem understanding the material, grasping the copious evidence underlying the theory of evolution – all the fossils going back millions of years, how it all fits together in an endless process that affects everything, from a towering redwood down to a microscopic virus. And yet, the whole thing sounds like an attack on the beliefs about the universe you were taught your whole life from your family and your church. How can you resolve this contradiction?
That resolution came somewhere along the way for Ben Carson: It was the Devil. Evolution is the Devil’s doing.
The fact that Carson believes this is a true puzzlement. After all, Ben Carson is an undeniably smart man. He did not become one of the world’s most renowned neurosurgeons without the ability to understand complex systems, evaluate evidence, sift the plausible from the implausible, and integrate dissimilar pieces of data into a coherent whole. And yet Carson believes that the theory of evolution is not just a great big hoax, but a hoax literally delivered to us from Hell by that fellow in red with the horns, a long tail, and a pitchfork!
Forgive me for my contemptuous tone, but that is what Carson actually believes.
Carson reveals that he plans to write a book explaining how the organs of the human body refute evolutionary theory. Carson told a crowd, with a little giggle, that he was planning on writing a book to be called The Organ of Species – not the Origin of Species. Get it? It is a pun! In this book, Carson plans to “talk about the organs of the body and how they completely refute evolution and several other things as well.” It is not at Amazon yet, so I suspect that Carson is still in the drafting phase on that one. This is a huge disappointment, if only because I was hoping to find out what other stuff our organs disprove, beyond mere evolution. Perhaps we will just have to wait on that book until after President Carson (Heaven help us!) has served his two terms!
Wow. So where to start?
How about this: The Big Bang is not something in which you believe. It is a scientific model, supported by a truly vast amount of evidence. It does not take faith; it takes science (and, despite Carson’s claims, science is not faith-based).
Here is Carson explaining why the theory of the Big Bang Theory has to be bunk: “I find the big bang really quite fascinating. I mean, here you have all these high-faluting scientists and they’re saying it was this gigantic explosion and everything came into perfect order. Now these are the same scientists that go around touting the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is entropy, which says that things move toward a state of disorganization.”
Well, he is off the track already! First off, I am pretty certain one would not find many astrophysicists describing the universe as being a place of “perfect order.” It is true that there are physical laws that make things predictable, but there is also a lot of stuff crashing into other stuff – galaxies colliding into one another, and the like. This may all depend on how you define “order,” of course. While I admit that my understanding of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is very limited, my comprehension of the Law is that it only says that eventually – in a closed system – things will fall apart. That inevitability is not a problem for the universe yet, since as far as we know we have a few hundred billion years to go before the heat death of the whole shebang occurs. Ah, but Carson’s only getting started with the goofy stuff. Somewhere, he seems to have acquired the idea that mainstream science believes there have been multiple Big Bangs – a bunch of test Bangs before the universe was perfect. He says: “So now you’re gonna have this big explosion and everything becomes perfectly organized and when you ask them about it they say, ‘Well we can explain this, based on probability theory, because if there’s enough big explosions, over a long period of time, billions and billions of years, one of them will be the perfect explosion.’ So I say what you’re telling me is if I blow a hurricane through a junkyard enough times over billions and billions of years, eventually after one of those hurricanes there will be a 747 fully loaded and ready to fly.”
Aha! The old 747 in a junkyard fallacy comes to the fore. Carson is not even trying now. He concludes that the Big Bang has to be nonsense because gravity works and comets travel in predictable orbits: “Now that type of organization to just come out of an explosion? I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing.”
Remember, this man believes himself to be qualified to be President of the United States. But sure, let us toss out science because it is hard to believe, especially if you have a book that says everything was just poofed into existence – twice actually, if you read Genesis closely – by a theistic God who resides hovering above the sky of a three-tiered universe. This is actually perfectly scientific because The Good Book says it is so.
Creationists who dismiss the Big Bang usually do so because they believe that the Earth is young – 6,000 to 10,000 years old. This belief, to put it succinctly, is simply wrong. We know that the Earth is more than 4.5 billion years old, give or take a few million years. The evidence for this is overwhelming. We also know that the Universe itself is older (about fourteen billion years); a huge number of independent lines of evidence make this clear. It does not take faith to believe the Big Bang is true; it takes a profound dismissal of all of science to believe it is not!
Such thinking brings us to evolution. Young Earth Creationists dismiss evolution as well, due to the age issues, as well as others (for example, the Bible stating that God created Adam fully formed and in God’s own image, the so-called Imago Dei). Carson says that Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution through natural selection when the Devil whispered the whole thing into his ear! Considering that Ben Carson also believes that God gave him the answers to a chemistry final exam in a dream, it is not difficult to see that he really believes that the devil literally co-authored Darwin’s work! Ah, yes, the evil evolutionist conspiracy comes to the surface to silence critics of evolution.
But, contrary to Ben Carson’s beliefs, evolution is a fact. Like the Big Bang, the evidence for it is overwhelming.
It bothers me greatly when a presidential candidate is so cavalier in dismissing facts. That is a route we have been down before and it leads to very bad things. The almost unutterable irony here is how Carson dismisses all this, talking about “high-faluting” scientists. But he was a neurosurgeon. His entire career owes its existence to science, yet he tosses out the men and women whose expertise over the past few centuries have allowed him to benefit so greatly from their contributions to his practice.
I know that many in the Republican base are very religious people and they have every right to be. But fundamentalism is dangerous; it promotes clearly erroneous claims while simultaneously encouraging people to legislate those beliefs. We have seen what happens there. I also know that the vast majority of creationists have very basic disputes about evolution, about the Big Bang, and about science in general. (I am trying very hard to be polite here, given that I am dealing with people’s personal beliefs.)
But I take a totally different stance when it is a politician who espouses these views, especially when that person is running for the highest office in America. If someone wants to run for the Presidency, then that individual better show a solid grasp on reality. It is horrifying to think that in 2015 not only that this ignorance exists, but also that it exists in a serious candidate for President of the United States. Dismissing and actively denigrating strongly understood science – whether it is astronomy, biology, or climatology – is, at the very least, cause to disqualify that person. And Ben Carson, you are disqualified.