Ben Carson is the Republican presidential candidate, a non-politician (like Trump and Fiorina), who has a calm demeanor and is reportedly a brilliant neurosurgeon. And is also a creationist, who dismisses evolution and the Big Bang as “fairy tales”. How to account for this? Several bloggers have had their way with him today.
Astronomer Phil Plait, at Salon: Ben Carson: Evolution Is Satanic and the Big Bang Is a Fairy Tale
Wow. Where to start?
OK, how about this: The Big Bang is not something you believe in. It’s a scientific model, supported by a truly vast amount of evidence. It doesn’t take faith, it takes science (and, despite Carson’s claims, science is not faith-based).
Creationists who dismiss the Big Bang usually do so because they think the Earth is young, 6,000–10,000 years old. This belief is, to put it simply, wrong. We know 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 the Universe itself is old; a huge number of independent lines of evidence make this clear. It doesn’t take faith to think the Big Bang is true, it takes a profound dismissal of all of science to think it isn’t.
Key point: science is not about “belief”. Science is about being intelligent enough to evaluate all the available evidence and reach rational conclusions. (A number of links in Plait’s article are worth following up on, e.g. at TalkOrigins. But let’s go on.)
Next is Jerry Coyne, another actual scientist, (as opposed to a politician appealing to an ignorant base): Ben Carson on evolution: an ignorant (or duplicitous) Presidential candidate.
I think this is in fact the answer: the man is a flat-out, bull-moose creationist, and, soaked in faith, ignores any evidence to the contrary.
Coyne’s post is long, and challenges Carson’s claims on several points; I’ll quote just one.
Carson’s accusation that evolutionists are engaged in “circular reasoning” that has “no scientific validity” is simply an old creationist canard, and is blatantly false. Yes, layers are collated from place to place by the presence of the fossils in them, but the layers are dated using radiometric dating. And when you line up the layers by their radiometric dates, you see a progression of organisms absolutely consistent with evolution. Geological layers are not dated by the fossils in them!
And in conclusion, about Carson suggesting that Charles Darwin was inspired by “the adversary” (i.e. the Devil), and that “there are a significant number of scientists who do not believe it but they are afraid to say anything”:
As far as scientific opposition to evolution, I know a lot of biologists, but I’ve never met one who has told me that they don’t accept evolution but are scared to admit it. If there was copious and compelling evidence against evolution, in fact, the person who presented it would become famous. But there isn’t such evidence, and that—and not intimidation—is why reputable scientists don’t question evolution.
This echoes my comments in several previous posts — if there *really was* substantial evidence against the idea of evolution and the theory for how it happened (which theory has advanced far beyond what Darwin perceived, e.g. in terms of genetics), then anyone with such evidence should present it in a rigorous, peer-reviewed manner, and if substantianted, that person would revolutionize science and win a Nobel Prize.
This does not seem to have happened.
And then at The Week: How is Ben Carson both so incredibly smart and so spectacularly stupid?.
This piece explores, more than the others, about how a person, so intelligent in specific ways, can be so dumb in others. Is it only about pandering to the ignorant, to win elections?
Training in science is also training in how to think — what sorts of questions can be answered in what sorts of ways, and how you know what you know and what you don’t.
Carson’s entire campaign for president is built on the rejection of knowledge and experience, in that he argues that all you need to succeed as president is common sense, even if you’ve never spent a day in government. That opinion, unfortunately, is widely held. As is, we should mention, belief in Satan — according to polls, a majority of Americans believe in the devil, so Carson is hardly alone.
So, at this point I have no provisional conclusion about how apparently intelligent people can defer themselves to religious myths in opposition to rational thinking. But it does seem to be pattern in all human societies.
P.S. — Carson’s dismissive and derogatory remarks about evolution echoed with me in my recent re-reading of Isaac Asimov’s early robot story “Reason”, discussed in my previous post.