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Brain Surgeon—or Brain Addled?

Ben Carson (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Ben Carson speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is it with brain surgeons? The strange ideas of leading GOP presidential candidate and retired brain surgeon Ben Carson have been making the headlines a lot lately. I have previously written about about brain surgeon Dr. Eben Alexander, who launched a new career on the lecture circuit after writing a bestselling book, Proof of Heaven, in which he claimed he visited heaven while in a coma, then come back to life. But as the detailed investigation showed, he made all sorts of statements that showed his “trip to heaven” was a hallucination. Even worse, he said things demonstrating that he doesn’t seem to know the first thing about neurophysiology; he appears to just know how to cut brains.

Then there are other weird beliefs by otherwise well educated doctors. Take, for example, Dr. Paul Broun of Georgia. He was elected to Congress, yet he said “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.” Unsurprisingly, Carson, Broun, and the other fundamentalist M.D.s in politics not only deny evolution and Big Bang cosmology, but also climate change and other aspects of science that doesn’t fit the party line.

The statements that Carson has made are staggeringly ignorant for a man with an advanced science education. They include such choice statements as this one, made to a group of Seventh Day Adventists in 2011:

I find the big bang, really quite fascinating. I mean, here you have all these highfalutin 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. 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.

Carson added that he believed the big bang was “even more ridiculous” because there is order to the universe. “Well, I mean, it’s even more ridiculous than that because our solar system, not to mention the universe outside of that, is extraordinarily well organized, to the point where we can predict 70 years away when a comet is coming. He added, “Now that type of organization to just come out of an explosion? I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing.” Later, Carson said he personally believed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was encouraged by the devil.

Unsurprisingly, Carson also manages to be abysmally ignorant about climate change, and even gravity:

Is there climate change? Of course there’s climate change. Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that’s happening. When that stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble… As far as evolution is concerned, you know, I do believe in micro-evolution, or natural selection, but I believe that God gave the creatures he made the ability to adapt to their environment. Because he’s very smart and he didn’t want to start over every 50 years… Just the way the Earth rotates on its axis, how far away it is from the sun. These are all very complex things. Gravity, where did it come from?

The media has been baffled by this amazing display of ignorance and superstition for a man who supposedly had a first-rate science education. On Real Time with Bill Maher on October 2, the panel (including Neil DeGrasse Tyson) was puzzled by Carson’s statements, and tried to figure out what made him tick. Maher called him an example of a “smart stupid person.” Over and over again, they speculated about how he could be so apparently intelligent and have taken classes in biology, chemistry, physics and the rest and yet come away with such primitive and erroneous notions of science. As columnist Paul Waldman put it:

There are a lot of scientific prerequisites if you want to go to medical school—not just biology, but also chemistry and physics, even some math. By the time you get there, and certainly by the time you leave, you’ll be long acquainted with the scientific method and the broad contours of scientific knowledge on those topics. So imagine it’s 1970 or so, and you’re young Ben Carson, sitting in a biology class at Yale University. With your sharp mind and strong study habits, you don’t 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? The resolution came somewhere along the way for Carson: Satan. Evolution is Satan’s doing.

The fact that Carson believes this is a fine example of cognitive dissonance—reconciling dissonant ideas by modifying one of them. Carson is an undeniably smart man—you don’t get to be 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 disparate pieces of data into a coherent whole. And yet he thinks that the theory of evolution is not just a great big hoax, but a hoax literally delivered to us from Hell. Dissonance resolved.

Throughout the presidential debates and ensuing discussion, I’ve only heard a handful of media comments that get to the heart of the Carson Enigma. There are three important things to know to make sense of him: 1) Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist; 2) Medical education is not the same thing as research science; and 3) The power of cognitive dissonance.

1. Seventh Day Adventism. If the media mention Carson’s faith at all, they just casually toss in a mention of Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) as if it were just another branch of Christianity. But SDA are a strange cult-like fringe group (like the Mormons and Christian Scientists) who really don’t share much with mainstream Christianity. The SDA are a remnant of the old Millerite revival movement of the early 1840s. They followed preacher William Miller and expected the Advent (the Second Coming of Christ and the Rapture) to happen in 1844. Millerites sold all their belongings and waited patiently, only to suffer what they themselves call “The Great Disappointment.” They didn’t all lose their faith, but instead most of the Millerites splintered into groups, one of which was led by Prophetess Ellen G. White and became the SDA church in 1863. The SDA church is very powerful and active, and is the 12th largest religious body in the world, with over 18 million members. SDAs are among the most virulent of all creationist groups, since the Prophetess herself was a rabid creationist (typical of her time).

But SDAs include George McReady Price, an early 20th century elementary school teacher with no formal education or real experience in geology, but concocted the “flood geology” model from which most modern creationists get their bizarre notions of geology. Much of the modern Young Earth Creationist literature is copied from Price, Harold Coffin, and other SDA creationists. (As the quotes above demonstrate, Carson knows all the Young Earth Creationist myths and lies about evolution and geology by heart). SDAs are also intolerant of any teaching of evolution in their schools, such as Loma Linda University and La Sierra University. I had some good friends who taught at La Sierra University and tried to give their students a modern education in biology. One of them, Lee Greer, was purged by the Church hierarchy for teaching evolution. SDAs are big on modern medicine and run several big medical centers, including Glendale Adventist (where I was born, even though my family was Presbyterian), and Loma Linda here in southern California.

They may practice modern medicine, but they also have had monstrous examples of malpractice. The best known case occurred when SDA surgeon Dr. Leonard Bailey transplanted a baboon heart rather than a chimp heart into the body of “Baby Fae” who had a heart defect. Naturally, the baby died of immune rejection, which might not have happened if Bailey had used a more closely related species, like a chimp. When questioned about it by an Australian radio crew, Bailey said, “Er, I find that difficult to answer. You see, I don’t believe in evolution.” Most medical people would regard this as medical malpractice and highly unethical, but Bailey was protected by the creationism of Loma Linda. He was never prosecuted and kept on practicing until he retired.

2. Medical Education vs. Scientific Research. It is one thing to hear a fundamentalist preacher like Mike Huckabee decry evolution, or the other presidential candidates without much understanding of science do so—but it takes special psychological mechanisms to go through years of science education and still doubt evolution, cosmology, and the like (as the quote from Waldman above suggests). The first thing to remember is that becoming a doctor is not like becoming a research scientist: doctors learn their craft, but most are not actively working on scientific research. They do not necessarily approach the world with the open-ended paradigm of science, but are doing their job based on their training. In addition, I’ve been in classes with pre-med students when I was a biology major, and I know many professors who teach med school anatomy or pre-med courses in college. They all tell me how appalled they are by med students who don’t want to know anything other than what will be on the test, and only want to learn about human biology, even though understanding comparative anatomy of other vertebrates helps you better understand how human bodies work. My good friend Dr. Melvin Moss, who was the Chair of Anatomy of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons when I took classes from him in the 1970s, used to tell us horror stories of the narrow focus of med students who had no interest or curiosity in anything they were learning. They were just suffering through anatomy to get through the ordeal of med school. It was for this reason that my good friend, classmate and co-author Neil Shubin wrote the best-selling book Your Inner Fish, which emerged from his own attempt to give med school anatomy an evolutionary context.

3. Cognitive Dissonance. The third angle that I’m surprised few in the media have explored is the psychological roots of science denial, especially in people with educations in science. As I discussed in my recent book Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten our Future, the most important mechanism operating here is reduction of cognitive dissonance. We are all exposed to ideas that often contradict things that we already accept, but our brains are so compartmentalized (Michael Shermer describes it as “logic tight compartments”) that we can let these contradictory notions exist side-by-side even as we gloss over the conflict in our thought processes (as described in the Fitzgerald quote at the top of this post). In the case of science deniers (such as creationists), their extremely literalistic religious beliefs are central to their existence, and give their lives meaning. Any time they encounter facts about the world that threaten their core religious belief, they fall back on various ad hoc explanations (which is most of the contorted thinking you find in creationist apologetics), denying the facts themselves, or simply ignoring what doesn’t fit their worldview. Ben Carson was deeply indoctrinated at a young age, so when he entered science classes he simply shut out or ignored anything like evolution or cosmology that might threaten his viewpoint, and memorized what he needed to learn for the test, without letting any of its implications threaten his religious extremism.

So Dr. Ben Carson is not really so mysterious. He is typical of most modern Young Earth Creationists, who live a highly fractured life where they accept the Bronze-Age notions of primitive shepherds in one compartment of their brain, but enjoy the benefits of modern science and technology in another compartment. If the media and the public want to understand him and other science deniers, they need look no further than these psychological mechanisms. END

About the Author

Donald Prothero taught college geology and paleontology for 37 years, at Caltech, Columbia, Cal Poly Pomona, and Occidental, Knox, Vassar, Glendale, Mt. San Antonio, and Pierce Colleges. He is the author of over 37 books (including 7 leading geology textbooks, and several trade books), and over 300 scientific papers. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, the Committee For Skeptical Inquiry, the Paleontological Society, and the Geological Society of America, and also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Science Foundation. In 1991, he received the Charles Schuchert Award for outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. In 2013, he received the James Shea Award of the National Association of Geology Teachers for outstanding writing and editing the geosciences. In 2015, he received the Joseph T. Gregory award for service to vertebrate paleontology. He has been featured on numerous TV documentaries, including Paleoworld, Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, Prehistoric Monsters Revealed, Monsterquest, Prehistoric Predators: Entelodon and Hyaenodon, Conspiracy Road Trip: Creationism, as well as Jeopardy! and Win Ben Stein’s Money.

101 Comments

  1. Cory B. MD says:

    I love the anecdote about medical trainees and how they differ from research scientists. Yes, the part about how medical trainees don’t approach science with the same open ended paradigm as research scientists. The fact that this is backed up by ‘because I was in a class with pre-med students’ and ‘a professor told me’ is undeniable evidence to even the most critical of skeptics. Is it some funny coincidence that the article is written by an author criticizing a person for espousing beliefs based on opinion and not evidence, then goes on to do exactly what they are criticizing? You might want to look up what occurs in medical training and a physician’s continuing medical education for starters. Perhaps you can ask your regular MD column contributor to Skeptic. (PS I am not a Carson supporter)

    • Chris Leight says:

      Pardon the ad-hominem-like attack, but if grammar and punctuation were a criterion upon which scholarly people such as yourself earn their diplomas (assuming that indeed you have a MD degree as your title states), then you should not have a diploma.

      • Mark Maxon says:

        Since grammar and punctuation are two separate things, you should have referred to them as “criteria,” the plural of criterion, the word you chose to use. You may go to the head of the line of those who need to turn in their unused diplomas.

      • Ray Haupt says:

        And how is it that some grammatical flaws disqualify the author’s ideas in this essay or as a geologst? Why not comment on the author’s arguments presented in this article rather than a deceptive red herring?

      • John FDM says:

        I believe you mean, “if grammar and punctuation were criteria…”

    • Phil Curtis says:

      And it appears that some doctors can’t even read and understand what they are reading! Carson did not say that all medical doctors differ in their approach to research scientists. He merely pointed out that it is possible to obtain a medical degree via rote learning, (and retain prior ideas embedded by brainwashing), whereas nobody could become a half-decent research scientist (or an engineer) via the same route!

      • John Forester says:

        I entered Cal Berkeley as a freshman in physics in Sept 1947. I was just out of prep school, but there were many war veterans in that class. For the first two years, students in engineering and in physics shared many courses, and I noticed a big difference. Would-be physicists wanted to understand the processes, to get closer to the Why of things, while would-be engineers just wanted to know which formula to apply to solve a specific problem.

      • Cory B. MD says:

        And neither does Phil Curtis. The point seems to have been lost judging by the reply. But I can see someone else got it.

    • kennwrite says:

      I was going to comment with a similar idea, that refuting weak statements with no evidence turns into a disputative argument with no facts, but you articulated this point perfectly.

    • Ray Sutera says:

      Your complaint fails entirely. Prothero used direct evidence (his first-person experience of being in a class with pre-med students and a first-person statement from experience of a professor who taught pre-med students) and that is absolutely not the same thing as “beliefs based on opinion and not evidence”. How could one possibly confuse these two completely divergent ideas? I’m going to coin a new phrase now: motivated misconception. I define this as the willing misunderstanding of a well-reasoned argument in order to soothe one’s psyche and defend one’s belief system in the face of unwanted critical assessment. Skeptics, feel free to use this new term. No charge.

  2. Chris Leight says:

    Enlightening article. Thank you. I happen to be a politically conservative, scientifically literate atheist who, I suppose (by virtue of the content of this very sentence) experiences cognitive dissonance. That is, it’s certainly difficult at times to suffer the scientific ignorance of the people whose nonscientific views I (primarily) espouse. To some degree at least, perhaps what’s contributing to Carson’s case, and maybe to others’, is that he is pandering to the conservative base of the party, who by and large is intolerant of views that contradict religious dogma and who, as such, wouldn’t vote for him.

    • john kopp says:

      I suppose it is a lot easier to justify such a grand discrepancy in your mind if you surround yourself with like minded fools but I don’t believe all of those republicans hold beliefs in their minds, their all just pandering to the lowest common denominator. I wonder what it says about all the people who are willing to overlook and vote for a candidate who so easily runs away from such clear evidence.

      If they give up on evolution what hope is there for their acknowledgement of global warming.

      (P.S. Please don’t bother to waste everybody’s time and space to judge my grammar and or spelling)

  3. mike anderer says:

    Wonderful and enlightening view of the “duplicity” of bright guys who cling to non-scientific world views which cannot be corroborated by rational inquiry.

  4. Ray Madison says:

    Carson’s belief in a well organized universe does not logically require that the organization was arranged by a godlike being. But Prothero’s belief that the universe, and the rather well organized evolution that resulted in developing humans, was accomplished by a series of randomly determined accidents is just as illogically goofy.
    Self organization that evolves itself in an exponentially more complicated trial and error process is more likely and more logically what’s going on, but skeptics would rather be skeptical of using a more complicated theory to disbelieve a simpler one than they would to substitute their own illogical simplicity for what has appeared to them to be supernatural one – if only because the logic needed is a bit over their heads..

    • Nate Klaiber says:

      “but skeptics would rather be skeptical of using a more complicated theory to disbelieve a simpler one than they would to substitute their own illogical simplicity for what has appeared to them to be supernatural one – if only because the logic needed is a bit over their heads”

      A simpler one? Can you clarify which god or mythology you are referring to? You say “simpler” as if there is a single story.

      • Ray Madison says:

        Belief in a universal creator modelled after the humans that decided to believe in it is a simple concept shared by virtually all original creationists..

    • Donnski says:

      Evolution is not accomplished via a “series of randomly determined accidents.” You should maybe educate yourself a bit on the topic before blabbing about it.

    • Paul says:

      Sorry Ray, you’ve just demonstrated that you don’t understand how evolution works. Take a course. There are many good ones available as MOOCs. Google Coursera. Educate yourself before making comments like this.
      Cheers

  5. Paul Braterman says:

    The idea that Satan inspired Darwin is not Carson’s own, but comes from SDA prophetess Ellen White whom you mention.

    In Scotland, as an alterantive to Higher Biology one can and creationist students do take Higher Human Biology, which almost totally ignores evolution. How students are supposed to understand the recurrent laryngeal nerve, the embryonic gill arches and tail, or other aspects of human anatomy and physiology without evolution is beyond me. But perhaps they don’t feel the need to, just as car mechanics don’t feel the need to understand combustion kinetics.

    • DanVignau says:

      Wow! Thank you for the ENLIGHTENMENT! Now, I know that this article is not true, simply because you say that the media had made up Carson’s ignorant quotes. You must be the smartest person in your church.

  6. Shad Schroeder says:

    I’m not a fan of Ben Carson, but according to Snopes the gravity and climate change text is a canard.

    http://m.snopes.com/2015/10/03/ben-carson-gravity/

    It’s hard to be credible when you’re using information that has been debunked. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s coo coo for Coco Puffs and not much of a scientist, but spreading false info doesn’t help your credibility.

    • Bill Morgan says:

      Great job Shad! You have caught Dr. Donald Prothero in a LIE! Now the credibility of his entire article comes into question. Can you believe anything else he says? Has he told other lies? Once you catch someone lying, you question their credibility from that point forward.

      Dr. Carson is consistently mis-quoted by the left wing national media as is Donald Trump. The national media twists their words to mean something they did not mean. How can anyone believe anything the national media tells us when 6 corporations control 90% of the national news media? GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS control us with non stop propaganda. Sadly, many Skeptics believe the national news media.

      • Marvin Dooln, Jr. says:

        Sarcasm? I hope so!

      • James says:

        Wow, that almost sounds like sarcasm, but I think you are serious; and you actually read Skeptic?

      • Dr Rob Johnston says:

        Also, sadly, there’s no need to rely on ‘quotes’ reported 2nd hand. Just watching the Republican debates so far I have heard Carson & Trump (and all of the others) say such ludicrous, ignorant, uninformed, self-deceiving, self-aggrandising, paranoid and downright DELUDED/HALLUCINATORY stuff that I despair!
        Even Reagan, in the (obvious) grip of Alzheimer’s – less than 2 years into his 2nd term – seems like an intellectual giant and GENUINE seeker-after-truth in comparison. Even the ‘near-normal’ – like Fiorino, Christie, Bush & Kasich – displayed signs of being seriously unhinged; although it’s possible that was being ‘put-on’ to appeal to the brain-damaged GOP primary electorate.
        And I say “brain damaged” not as an insult or with any hint of irony. I, quite seriously, feel that has been the consequence of 7 years of a President they genuinely (absolutely NOT just for effect) regard as totally illegitimate – by dint of his race, the race of his wife & children, his ‘foreign’ birth, his ‘extreme socialism’, his appointment of a proportionate number of women, minorities and ‘intellectuals’ to state office … and so on and so forth.
        Obama is an absolute affront to EVERYTHING they hold dear – which Bill Clinton was not. Obama is the quintessential ‘uppity negro’ and is such an assault on their world view and so disrupts their ‘thought processes’ that it constitutes REAL DAMAGE to the ‘White, Lower Middle Class Entitlement to Rule Ourselves’ sense-of-self that resides in the Frontal Lobes and which, heretofore allowed them to cope, psychologically, in a rapidly changing America (that the rest of the world is also changing is of no meaning to them – it does not even exist in any meaningful sense).
        This, at least, is my humble theory!

        • dleet says:

          I think conservative brains have been passed on genetically, studies show that to be true. Since their lack of desire to think critically might be due to lesions on their reasoning lobes (Frontal parietal?) and they pass it on to their heirs, I think a huge percentage of the GOP suffer from lesion heirs’ disease.

    • Brian says:

      Shad, did you even read the snopes article you posted? The quotes on gravity and climate change are accurate, in fact, they are on video (and they are actually also quoted in that same snopes article)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFlK9It4jtU

      • Rebecca Gavin says:

        Your comment brought to mind the inimitable Groucho Marx. “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your lying eyes.”

    • Gilgamesh Jones says:

      Shad– I don’t think you read the Snopes article. The quotes used in Prothero’s article are accurate.

  7. Richard Baker says:

    An enlightening and frightening article…it emphasises the almost unlimited potential for human indoctrination and the virtual impossibility of reversing it once it is internalised. The apparent insanity of suicide bombers and ISIS followers and their ilk seem almost reasonable when considering the beliefs of those like Carson who one would expect to be more sensible and sceptical? What chance is there of ever eliminating superstition based indoctrination? Perhaps there is a case for developing a new measure of human intelligence in addition to the traditional IQ’s and EQ’s… a sceptical quotient or SQ for example that measures sceptical intelligence. (An example of low EQ is the amazing lack of emotional intelligence that some academics display with their extreme eccentricity and poor social skills. Far less “intelligent” people with high EQ generally perform better in society.)

    • Ray Madison says:

      Yes EQ is the instinctively produced intelligence that the so-called emotional brain has been intelligently evolving longer than our rational brains have existed. It tends to use inductive or abductive logic while our rational brains have been taught to use deductive logic to make us an even more competitive species. If these brains can be allowed to work together, the choices that result can reach and deal with more complex problems that those with brains that give their emotional signals short thrift.
      And then again we have the evolving instincts of the abysmally ignorant as well as those in the more rigid cultures (such as the Islamic ones that rule the middle East) which will inevitably be inherited by their offspring. Such instincts can be affected by learning from competing systems and cultures, but they are hard to completely erase.
      A very good example would be the inability of those who now instinctively believe in the stochastic nature of biological evolution, to recognize how illogical it is for any of our cognitive systems to have long accepted that accidents can cause intelligence to emerge, and from where not even a less developed variety had existed earlier. (And yet both Prothero and Shermer see our evolutionary causation as almost exactly that sort of an accidental process, and Carson in addition sees God as some sort of “thing” out there that makes accidents operate with smarts.)

  8. Y. Zoaka says:

    We had surgeons in Africa trained by missionaries who did not know biology, chemistry or physics, they could not read or write in English language. It seems we still do have some…..

  9. Jim Gerrish says:

    Donald Prothero is guilty of the same sloppy science thinking and writing of which he accuses Ben Carson. He bases his opinions on hearsay about Carson’s speeches, rather than going to the original sources, and attempts to render psychological verdicts about the man without having any background in psychology (at least none listed in his credits). He judges Carson based on the words, deeds and actions of other individuals. He claims Carson is pandering to voters; I claim Prothero is pandering to skeptics. The evidence is above in his own writing.

  10. Dr Roger, Australia says:

    It just shows that everyone can potentially have reason and rational thought hijacked and over-ridden by motivated belief and confirmation bias – even top neurosurgeons of international repute.

    BTW if any of those Republican candidates get elected as President, we’re all in deep trouble, even over here.

  11. Bill says:

    “There are a lot of scientific prerequisites if you want to go to medical school—not just biology, but also chemistry and physics, even some math”. Sadly, that is not true. Many Medical schools accept students with no scientific training. MDs are not scientists.

    • Bruce Nixon says:

      Could you please identify a medical school which does not require scientific prerequisites? I am certainly not aware of one, but will change my mind if you can provide some evidence. You can major in almost any humanity and be accepted into med school, but you must also have demonstrated proficiency in collegiate scientific prerequisite courses.

      And I must take issue with your limited definition of “scientist”. Most any dictionary will define such as “an expert in science, especially in natural or physical science”. Have a doctorate in medicine surely qualifies. I think there is confusion with the more restrictive term of “research scientist”.

      • Ken Phelps says:

        @ Bruce Nixon- “And I must take issue with your limited definition of “scientist”. Most any dictionary will define such as “an expert in science, especially in natural or physical science”. Have a doctorate in medicine surely qualifies. ”

        The science courses required for entrance to medical school (and other equivalent professional programs) are general undergraduate courses. The content of the medical curriculum itself is more on the order of a trade school, albeit one that is rigorous and academic. The idea that a doctorate in medicine is in any way, shape, or form equivalent to a PhD is nonsensical. The requirements for graduating medical school do not involve anything resembling the focused understanding of a literature, nor do they include doing or publishing research in the manner of a typical graduate program. Medicine is a trade, pure and simple. It is possible, and sadly all too common, to receive an MD with no experience of critical thought outside the narrow confines of medical diagnosis.

  12. Jack Brown says:

    Great read Donald. Medical doctors often get so focused in their field that they never explore the rest of science. Even the science that underlies their own field. No MD should speak about evolutionary biology as if they know even 1/10 as much as an evolutionary biologist. An MD discussing the Big Bang can be laughable as well. You do not see Brian Greene busting up in a surgery room to tell them how to separate conjoined twins do you? Ben needs to have some more respect and admiration for the process of science and for all the other “doctors” in the world : )

    • Dick scott says:

      Nice summary. I trained residents and hoped to foster love of learning, desire to be critical in reading articles, and knowledge that any new discovery leads us to realize we are still ignorant as each discovery illuminates how much more there is left to find out about.
      The culture of success in school has encouraged students to study for a test. The grade is more important than understanding. Maintaining certification requires tests for short term recall of information in multiple choice exams. Good test takers do best.

  13. Wendell Rudacille says:

    When I first heard Dr. Carson make comments about creationism, God, etc., I thought how could such a smart man actually believe those things? Then my inner cynic kicked into gear and I thought, well maybe he’s just pandering to the “God people” to get their votes. Knowing now that he’s a SDA explains a lot. I’ve noticed an almost paralysis-like hesitation in his speech when he talks about the political issues asked of all candidates. It seems odd to me, almost like he’s agonizing over how to answer questions. Maybe he’s a “savant” in the field of neurosurgery, but in fact not really too bright on other topics? Just a hypothesis…

  14. skeptonomist says:

    The idea that physicians are highly educated is very misleading. They certainly do have to know a lot because there is a huge amount of medical information now that must be considered for diagnosis especially. Their entire education is devoted to cramming medical facts and coming up with the right ones in a short time. This and artificial time stress in residency are partly just ways of keeping physicians scarce and their compensation high. These conditions are not conducive to deep thinking and expansion of perspective – it’s like life reduced to a series of multiple-choice questions.

    • Lee Shaffer says:

      I agree with skeptonomist. In my view, Ben Carson (and others have mentioned this, albeit perhaps tangentially) is a very well trained mechanic. He understands how to operate, for example, on conjoined twins the way an expert mechanic knows how to take an automobile engine apart.

  15. k.Kelley says:

    Anyone who relies on scientific “consensus” to prove something is true, as the author does with regard to global warming, (e.g.97% of scientists believe global warming is true) should be avoided. “Consensus” merely shows that most scientists believe there is global warming, not that the global warming is a true phenomenon. For example, prior to 1549, most scientists believed the sun revolved around the earth. Then Copernicus published his book…….
    Or the old ads from the 1940’s and 1950’s which said things like “9 out of 10 New York doctors smoke Camels”. The idea here is that if a large number of doctors(the consensus) think Camels are good for one, they must be correct. We all know where that went.
    Consensus may be correct or incorrect, but a mere consensus doesn’t prove it one way or another.

    • Raf Olliviere says:

      “Or the old ads from the 1940’s and 1950’s which said things like “9 out of 10 New York doctors smoke Camels”.”
      You are confusing “truth in advertizing” with “scientific consensus”.
      The “9 out of 10” figure was not based on any survey or scientific study. It was simply concocted by the tobacco companies to try to counter the pressure being put on them by the real scientific consensus which at the time was examining the evidence that smoking was bad for you. Scientists don’t “believe” anything. They either have evidence or they don’t. The evidence for climate change is overwhelming whether you believe it or not; just as smoking will kill a lot of people whether they choose to believe it or not. Cognitive Dissonance will allow you deny the truth even it it hits you on the head like a bolt of lightning.

    • Dennis says:

      It was not 97% of scientists being referred to; it is 97% of climate scientists. That is those scientists actively publishing peer-reviewed articles on climate science in reputable journals, who are being referred to. What you are doing is including unqualified people. It is like a doctor explaining to you that you have a life-threatening illness, but you choose to take advice from a doctor of history.

      • John Hodge says:

        As I understand it, most scientists agree global warming DID occur. That is, the temperature of the earth did increase. But they don’t agree that the increase was due to human activity. The left has co-opted the term “global warming” to mean “human caused global warming”.

    • Dennis says:

      It was not 97% of scientists being referred to in the comments you have misread; it is 97% of climate scientists. That is those scientists actively publishing peer-reviewed articles on climate science in reputable journals, who are being referred to. What you are doing is including unqualified people. It is like a doctor explaining to you that you have a life-threatening illness, but you choose to take advice from a doctor of history.

      Further your comment that scientists changed their minds after Copernicus and Galileo is proof of why science is so powerful; if the scientific consensus is shown to be wrong it changes. It doesn’t wrap itself in a cloak of ignorance, fear and false hope; science learns and advances our knowledge a little bit closer to the truth.

    • Dave Matson says:

      K. Kelley would have us avoid those who rely on a scientific consensus. However, in the world of atoms and energy you don’t have mathematical certainty. The closest you can get is with an overwhelming consensus of those scientists working in relevant fields. Those professionals have examined the evidence and reached a conclusion. Such an overwhelming consensus is another way of saying “fact” in the world of atoms and energy! Such facts, as that of the sun rising tomorrow or that of evolution, are “facts” in the sense that it would be perverse to pretend that there is any serious doubt among experts. Even so, they are regarded as “tentative” in that the door to new discovery or better scientific models is always open.

      Kelley’s comparison of a near unanimous modern consensus to a “consensus” about the sun orbiting the earth before 1549 simply stinks! To begin with, that view was a religious staple and most astronomers preferred not to roast in a fire! Even Copernicus took some elaborate precautions. Moreover, the number of scientists in the game, and the degree that their views were/are circulated for review, do not remotely compare.

      When the experts on climate change are in unanimous agreement (for all practical purposes), that opinion deserves to be treated as the best statement we have on the subject. In science, the best statement is not viewed as final since the door must always be open to new evidence. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for the sun not to rise one morning, waiting for the fact of evolution to be refuted, or for new evidence to overturn the fact than humanity has caused the current global warming. A wise gambler knows where to place his bets.

    • Ken Phelps says:

      “…prior to 1549, most scientists believed the sun revolved around the earth.”

      In that era there was nothing even remotely equivalent to an independent, literature based scientific community.

  16. Jerry says:

    But how much of that ‘bronze-age belief’ is not genuine, but just catering to a base?

  17. Raf Olliviere says:

    You don’t have to be a mechanical engineer or a physicist to be a good mechanic. You don’t have to “believe” in the various laws of physics that make an engine run. You just need to know how the various parts fit together and how to remove and replace them properly. A brain surgeon like Dr Carson is just a glorified mechanic.

  18. M. Frisch says:

    I will never understand how any physician can practice evidence-based medicine during the week and ignore the lack of evidence on the weekend.

  19. Clark Neily says:

    I’d like to support Carson on the political side, but the accurate summary of his unscientific views makes it difficult. On the other hand, I find the views of many so-called “progressive” politicians just as nitwitty when it comes to obviously failed or damaging governmental policies. Whether it’s belief in the efficacy of the minimum wage, or belief in The Flood, it’s all Magical Thinking to me…

    • Ray Haupt says:

      Yes. Belief in something looney like the Flood or Creation may very well be more benign than the equally looney deep belief of total government control of medicine, business, schools, etc. The first is a set of fatuous ideas that are for the most part harmless, the second set are ideasa that entail action that could be very unpleasant for all except those commissars who percolate to the top.

  20. ACW says:

    Since the other commenters are addressing themselves to the main issues, I feel free to insert a tangential remark.
    No matter whether a chimp heart or a baboon heart, the Loma Linda transplant was a sickening atrocity. Although I am strongly atheist and generally a defender of science, the failure of the scientific community to condemn the moral and ethical bankruptcy — as well as the broad invalidity — of animal-model experimentation leaves me alienated from them as well.

  21. Linda A. says:

    The entire lead page of this essay is guilt-by-association. (Ditto much of the rest.) It is not worthy of having been published by Skeptic.

  22. John Heininger says:

    Actually, I agree with Dr Carson, here’s why. As someone who has spend much of my life involved in systems design, writing code, and IT I found it impossible to believe in the evolutionary notion of that slime brought itself to life, turned goo into you, mud into mind, and earth into Einstein. I discovered that everything is remarkably interconnected, and that life in interdependent, and codependent. And concluded that the universe and life is far to complex to have happened by undirected chance events, and far to unified to have been organized by a committee. Evolution operated on unguided blind natural selection which had no overall perspective and no predictive power. And thus wouldn’t have the foggiest notion of where anything and everything was evolving to, or even why.

    Biological evolution has no answer for the origin of life, the DNA double helix, Consciousness, language music, conscience, or a multitude of other attribute of living creatures. The entire evolutionary hypothesis was entirely based on contrived story telling assumptions, inferences and subjective interpretations of historical remains. None of which could be verified by direct observation or affirmed by the Empirical & Scientific Method. Because the scientific method has no role to play in testing unobserved and unrepeatable historical events in the distant past. Thus, there was no possible way to empirically test and determine that unobserved past events happened one way, and not another way, or even whether the supposed “evolutionary continuum” happened at all. In fact, the most repeated observation and experiment on planet earth affirms that there are cross breeding boundaries and reproduction “limits” for every form of life, without exception. As every breeder and horticulturist knows only too well. Making, Darwin’s supposed “evolutionary continuum” impossible.

    So, while I believe Skepticism is to be highly valued, I am often skeptical of the skeptics. As the atheistic philosopher Jean Paul Sarte concluded, “A finite point without an infinite reference point is meaningless and absurd.” Meaning, we will never have a big enough perspective to know that we really know that we know. Which is why the quest for the elusive naturalistic Theory of Everything” is an illusion based on a delusion. The illusion that finite humanist can ever know and define the ultimate nature of ultimate reality .

    Similarly, the “Theory of Everything” has itself turned out to be more imagined than real. The Physics and cosmology is largely based on unproven theoretical models and constructs: involving hypothetical theories and “invisible” other worlds, unverified String Theory, mind experiments, fancy maths and fudge factors, “invisible” dark matter, “invisible” dark energy, contradictory claims, unresolved models, acknowledged paradoxes, and ever more mysteries. All directed towards establishing the unproven “blind faith” religious presuppositions of “metaphysical” naturalism.

    All of which are in violation of the most established observation and law in science and physics: The reality of increasing entropy, in open and closed systems. The established reality that the universe of necessity “started out” in an initial state of “minimum” entropy. An initial state of optimum order, information and usable energy. Just as the Genesis Biblical account proclaims, and the Second Law of thermodynamics affirms. Namely, that the universe is not winding up to greater order and information, but rather running down towards increasing disorder, loss of biological information, and loss of usable energy: Heading Towards a final state of maximum disorder and eventual heat death. A reality no informed scientist disputes, yet turns a blind eye too. In the belief that everything in our universe made itself. Even though everything in existence necessitates an external cause beyond itself to explain its existence, including the running down dying universe itself, that cannot explain or sustain itself.

    I discovered long ago that Self deception runs rampant in the scientific community. Indeed, it was noted Skeptic and CSI member Dr Ray Hayman who stated in an interview with Vanguard Video some time ago, that the more intelligent you are the more easily you can be deceived. Stating that scientists where particularly vulnerable to deception , particularly if the deception is in the right “context’. Darwin’s godless theory was exactly the right “context’.And the “Philosophical” naturalism and raw materialism of atheistic Humanism and Socialism provided the perfect framework to replace the theistic creationist framework in which almost all the pioneers of modern science operated.

    The godless naturalistic worldview now operates on the premise that God is unnecessary and irrelevant, And that everything in existence is solely the result of “vastly improbable” cosmic and biological events for which there largely exists no known “verifiable” scientific answer, to this very day. Which, ironically, turns out to be a definition for magic” and “miracles’. Namely, vastly improbable event for which there is no verifiable scientific answer. All these natural miracles without a miracle worker anywhere present in the universe. Which Dr Carson would have to concede is “really miraculous”.

    • Dr Rob Johnston says:

      Oh John, John, John ….. where to begin ….?
      I started by jotting down your fundamental scientific errors para by para so I could correct each one … but there are just SO MANY that this Reply would end up the size of a PhD thesis.
      Since you write code … let’s start with a Thought Experiment. (I’m an MD and only half-remember BASIC so please humour me!)
      Imagine you have written a Program to do something fairly simple. Now you hire a total incompetent to copy the code over and over again for a BILLION years. Although he makes enormous numbers of mistakes, which stop your Program working, every few thousand years one of his ‘mistakes’ will actually IMPROVE your Program so it works better! So he continues his incompetent copying – but now he’s copying the better version of your Program. Again he makes loads of mistakes that screw up the Program …. but after a few more 1000s of years there’s another improvement in the Program. This cycle repeats & repeats for (say) 1/2 million years. But now …. the improvement in the Program (as the result of the accumulation of ‘good’ mistakes) yields something unexpected. Not only does the Program do its original job better, it confers another advantage — maybe it uses less RAM, or draws less current from the electricity supply, or has started calculating Pi to more decimals (say Pi was involved in the original program), or even starts copying part of itself sometimes so your incompetent employee doesn’t make so many ‘unproductive’ mistakes.
      That’s how evolution progresses – it DOESN’T know where it’s ‘going’ – in fact it only goes anywhere by making HUGE numbers of errors that do nothing – or even ‘kills’ whatever has been evolving — e.g. your Program. But once in every few 100 thousand years your Program ‘evolves’ to do something new and unexpected!

      • Ted says:

        Once a mistake causes a program to stop working, it stops evolving. Species with fatal genetic mutations do not contribute to the gene pool.

    • Alvin Goodson says:

      Good thoughts, John, aside from the fact that I labored through your grammatical errors.
      Now, do you apply that same logic to what I assume is your belief in the Holy Bible and the source of your theistic beliefs for the origns of all things?

      I am guessing you accept what is in the Bible because it says so, but reject what is in science books simply because they say so.

    • Scott says:

      It would help if you actually understood the topics you dismiss.
      Natural Selection is not a blind process. It is a major driving force behind evolution.
      Evoloution does not have a goal or direction to be headed to.

      If you start with the strawman the Creationists/ID promote — you can refute those strawman examples rather easy because that is what they were designed for. It just does not actually accomplish anything but stroke your own ego.

      You might try addressing the actual topics before making a fool of yourself.

    • Mswear says:

      John, you blabber nonsense!!

  23. bob tannenbaum says:

    I am finishing a book based on what I call the Eisenhower Principle which states that while teaching anything, you have to make sure that misunderstandings can not take place.
    For example, last night Senator Bernie Sanders said he wanted a revolution to change the government and talked about Denmark as an example of the kind of socialism he is talking about.
    He is not saying he is against capitalism. Denmark is both a socialist country but is also democratic and capitalistic. The difference is American Capitalism controls the government and the way wealth is distributed.
    He also failed to mention that all the people in democratic socialist countries pay about fifty percent tax. That sounds high, but when you look at the benefits, free health care (not free your taxes pay the doctors salary) and free colleges (your taxes pay for that too) it comes out cheaper and more efficient than American education and medical care. Drugs are bought in huge volumne by the government and hence the lower prices if any. When people asked how do you pay for it, the senator declined to say. That is how and it is fine with all who live there.
    When the rich own the government, we are no longer a republic. We are like Germany and Italy (landowners) before ww two.
    We need single payer, but must all pay for it through a raise of our taxes which is not a satanic move. It is a moral move. Think of the children please.

  24. Steve Whiteside says:

    I’m surprised that a computer professional would be unaware of the expements where the hardware was designed to make up its own circuitry in solving a problem. The result was soliving the problem with far fewer lines of code than any human had been able to do. The evolutionary method was superior to the designers.

    • Ray Madison says:

      The hardware was designed intelligently, no? And if not by some sort of God, by what, an intelligent accident? Or is it possible that intelligence is a natural entity that designs and redesigns itself? And in that sense DOES make intelligent accidents?

      • Dr Rob Johnston says:

        Ray! For Heaven’s sake! That was an analogy! Not meant to be literal in EVERY ASPECT!
        In fact, the value of Programs that evolve on their own was proven decades ago — they can ‘learn’, ‘self-improve’ ‘work’ faster & more effectively – and so on!
        Remember – not long ago – when Voice Recognition was SO crap and the algorithms had to be tweaked constantly? But now … VR Programs rewrite their own algorithms.
        And … unlike much biological evolution … even its terrible mistakes actually IMPROVE the Program for next time!

        • Ray Madison says:

          Calling it an analogy even makes it worse. To argue that a computer can think and learn intelligently without having been set up to learn to do so by an intelligent programmer, which up to now has required a human to intelligently start the process, is just ridiculous.
          (But of course you were kidding, right?)

  25. Dan Lynch says:

    Donald Prothero is a geologist and can be forgiven for not understanding mating calls. It was obvious to me that evolution denial was a mating call for authoritarians so long ago that neither “evolution denial” nor “authoritarian” was well defined in a modern sense. Bob Altemeyer, now retired from the Psychology department at the University of Manitoba, has done such a masterful job of describing “right-wing authoritarianism” that you will say, “Of course!” three paragraphs in to reading his main paper. Dr. Carson gives new meaning to that old Navy expression, “Not sailing with a full sea bag.”

  26. J Li MD says:

    Physicians are indeed human and suffer the same human characteristics, and foibles, as the general population. Having a medical education does not prevent one from imperfection, nor make one better than anyone else– although Dr. Carson would want you to think so. Certainly, being imperfect, and having flawed thinking are some of the necessary skills for being a believable, successful, politician. This, Dr. Carson seems to be excelling at.

  27. Dr. Jack L. Edwards says:

    Although there are a lot of good items in this article, there are flaws as well, which take away from its credibility. One has been pointed to by Shad Schroeder in the 6th contribution, above, regarding Carson’s alleged comments on gravity and climate change; a second is the 4th contribution by Ray Madison who contrasts Carson’s biblical belief with the equally, “illogically goofy” idea of Prothero that “the rather well organized evolution that resulted in developing humans, was accomplished by a series of randomly determined accidents”; and, the third, revisiting the first point on climate change, is Shermer’s, and, among other Skeptic and eSkeptic contributors, Prothero’s “true believer” vulnerability on this issue.

    It was more than a disappointment for many readers when Shermer became a proponent of CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming), especially given the many reputable scientists who either do not believe in it or are highly skeptical of its claims. What is most damaging to the cult of believers, like Shermer, are the many examples of catastrophic predictions that never came true — talk about dissonance.

    If you want a catalog of all the very many nutty, now falsified, predictions made since the 1960s on climate change, you can find it at:

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/18888-embarrassing-predictions-haunt-the-global-warming-industry

    • Doug Dean says:

      Sorry for my ignorance, but what percent of scientists in this field correlates to “the many reputable scientists who either do not believe in it or are highly skeptical of its claims”?

  28. Craig Gosling says:

    Intelligence is difficult to figure out especially cross culturally. Emotional intelligence is easier, and is as or more important when discerning the chances of someone being socially successful and popular.

  29. Richard Concklin says:

    While I don’t think Carson is the best option, I don’t really care if the next president thinks the moon is made of green cheese. But it would be nice if he was not so pre-occupied with global warming (a gradual threat with decades to adjust) that he did not realize that the Middle East is imploding and could blow us all to Hell in less than 20 years. (Atheists please substitute the word “Oblivion” for the word “Hell.”)

    • Ken Phelps says:

      “…not realize that the Middle East is imploding and could blow us all to Hell in less than 20 years.”

      I was raised an SDA. The problem with the Carsons of the world is that they believe a cataclysm in the middle east is the opening act to the best thing that will ever happen, ie. the second coming of Christ. And they believe that it is imminent. I do not think it is prudent to give the football to someone whose world view is rooted in the belief that Armageddon is inevitable, imminent, and desirable. They didn’t call themselves “adventists” for no reason.

  30. Dr Rob Johnston says:

    You have to understand that Brain Surgery sure ain’t Rocket Science! No subject could be LESS appropriate as a metaphor for intelligence than ANY type of surgery.
    This IS NOT a put-down of the noble profession of Plumbing – but Brain Surgery is just a slightly more delicate version of cutting & replacing water pipe. Likewise every type of surgery.
    Neurology, however, being the DIAGNOSIS of brain/nerve disease IS a discipline that requires great intelligence.
    Neurologists do all the hard work then may turn over to a BS (‘brain surgeon’ – geddit???) for them to suck out/sever what the Neurologist has decided must go.
    Carson boasted that he had “separated Siamese Twins” — fine motor skills but not much IQ required!
    So … if I may partly defend my profession: ‘Internists’ -who diagnose by history/examination then treat with (e.g.) drugs ARE scientists and (usually) VERY intelligent. ‘Surgeons’ – who rely on diagnosis by other MDs or (one of many types of) scan, then treat by ‘cut & rearrange’ do not have to be particularly bright – hence can be as stupidly religious as they like!

  31. Sean says:

    This article seems to have brought out a lot of negativity. I am surprised by this. Perhaps it is because the article mixes religious and scientific beliefs in conflict. Interesting…

  32. David McCarthy says:

    “the rather well organized evolution that resulted in developing humans”? Ray and Jack, you really need to read up a bit more on that. Not remotely organized, let alone well. You see purpose where there is none. But neither is it a random process.

  33. Richard Hillman says:

    The answer to evolution is …wait for it…preaptation.

  34. David says:

    I have no hair but I would tear it out at some of the comments here. Can anyone just agree that our perception of the world whether thru science (don’t disqualify me on my orthography please) is relative and as searchers of truth, assuming there is such a thing and the rock against which I knock my foot does not satisfy basic exigencies, can we just say that there is an inherent virtue in having an open mind? That is the horrific danger of Taliban and Carsons and anyone else who denies empirical knowledge eg the bloody fossil record. I will kill you they say
    if you do not cede to my power to reduce you to burnt matter, that’s the scary underlying message but I believe civilization has survived these crises time and again. That’s not to say that it should have won. Maybe if we we were destined to be ants and unless you believe in destiny, also not rational, or an Aristotelian view of progress, sub Hegel sub Marx sub whoever – or at least reduction ad absurdi. anyway the Pantheon of values is just a distraction. I vote for civilization but doubt we my dear confreres will ever win this contest within the lifetimes of our great grandchildren

    • Doug Dean says:

      David said “an Aristotelian view of progress.” I think The Philosopher would not think progress is so good! May be you’re thinking of the Christianized view of Aristotle.

  35. Doug Dean says:

    The phenomena Dr Prothero is attempting to explain bewilders me immensely. That is, highly successful individuals who hold implausible beliefs. Psychological compartmentalization is the explanation this article offers for this phenomena. I’ll go further and say it’s a moral failure; a lack of integrity due to intentional ignorance. Let me explain.

    There are two meanings giving to ignorance. The first means unacquainted – or simply to not know something due to never having learned. The second is to take no notice of, pay no attention to, ignore, or disregard. The second is the ignorance of Ben Carson since he must actively ignore scientifically established evidence.

    Superstitious charms are thought to bring fortune when believed. When one enjoys the belief that a rabbit’s foot causes good fortune, one must, at the same moment, ignore the rest of one’s knowledge. For not to compare part of what one knows to the whole of one’s knowledge could very well render one pretentious to oneself.

    Thus Carson is a brilliant neurosurgeon who is actively ignorant (second definition) when isolating his particular charm from the whole of his knowledge. This shows a lack of integrity from ignorance. I rest my case.

    But there’s more. I would speculate that Carson’s psychology goes something like this; if I, Ben Carson the brilliant neurosurgeon, believes in Jesus then there must be a God since only a God would be able to cause me to believe in Jesus. An irony that costs him his integrity. This is the saddest of cases.

  36. Marcelo says:

    I’ve never understood the respect and status that society places on doctors. Yes, they save lives. Yes, they are smart. But to me they are nothing more than glorified mechanics. Our bodies are machines with moving parts and all they have to do is learn how those parts interact with each other and learn how to fix them. Same logic applies to commercial airline pilots and the fancy notion most people have of them (ala DiCaprio on Catch me if you Can). Pilots are simply flying bus drivers.

  37. sittingbytheriver says:

    I was just going to comment that doctors, especially surgeons, are essentially mechanics. What they believe about evolution or climate change is irrelevant. But Marcelo said it first. thank you, Marcelo.

    • Doug Dean says:

      Although I think surgeons are essentially mechanics, natural selection is the mechanism which explains the particulars of their profession; biology. Could a car mechanic fix my Mini Cooper thinking that a deity created Minis from whole cloth? Sure, but I wouldn’t want him as a statesman. I reject presidential candidates on belief that the moon is made of cheese. I think integrity is a virtue, especially for our statesmen.

  38. Graham Weir says:

    All very interesting, but misses one important point. I have come to think (after many years of examining the evidence) that the USA has a form of Theocratic Government where religious opinions and beliefs are as (possibly more) important that anything else. What’s more, any Presidential Candidate has to be Christian (preferably protestant), White and Male. (Witness the discussion around the time Jack Kennedy was President – he was a Catholic! Oh dear.)
    In that light, the hysteria over Obama from the right is not surprising. All part of the Religious Right’s agenda of wanting everyone to adhere to their fundamentalist way of thinking. So much for the “Land of the Free”.

  39. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Dr. Carson is dumber than Donald Trump. Can’t wait Trump telling the doctor, “You’re fired!!”

  40. Skeptical Student says:

    I am overwhelmed by the bickering over things in this comments section. Constructive criticism is great, but nitpicking the grammar of an online article and insulting each other doesn’t help anything.
    Ben Carson was required to take many courses to become a neurosurgeon – that is true. He had to give explanations and apply formulae as taught in class to pass those classes. He had to learn a lot of anatomy, physiology, disease pathology et cetera to become a neurosurgeon. I don’t think these statements would be disagreed with.
    I think the idea behind this article is that applying the concepts of physics and evolution in classes does not mean that one believes those concepts.
    As an allied health profession student (with no interest in being a neurosurgeon) I am being taught that thimerosol is linked to autism. As I understand it, that’s an outdated concept and scientific evidence does not generally agree with it, yet on my midterm when asked in multiple choice format “which of the following preservatives is linked to autism” I picked thimerosol. I’m going to pass that class, I gave the answer desired, yet it’s not an answer I believe in the least.
    I think Prothero is saying a similar version could be applied to Carson on a much larger scale: the ability to regurgitate the required answer and pass the course doesn’t mean you believe what’s being regurgitated.
    I think Carson’s beliefs are incorrect and that he’s not a good candidate for president, but I do believe I now understand why a retired neurosurgeon who was given heavy religious indoctrination at a young age could end up with the set of beliefs Carson has. He’s retired, so he doesn’t have to pretend to believe the scientific principles that he never actually believed.

  41. Rob says:

    The problem with Carson is that he has an opinion on everything. He just fails to recognize the difference between his opinion and scientific evidence.

    Further, he fails to exhibit any tendency to research or become informed on the issues. He thinks his opinion and existing beliefs are sufficient.

  42. John Hodge says:

    Look at Carson’s pole numbers. Look at Obama being elected – twice.
    The scary thing for me is that the majority of the electorate accepts and votes for this unproductive nonsense.

  43. wade says:

    Whereas I certainly agree with most here that Carson is unscientific, I want to pose the following question: Which is more absurd, the claim of people like Carson that The Bible is The Word of God and that we should believe what God says, or the claim of more liberal Christians that The Bible is The Word of God, but we should ignore some of what God said. Is there really more cognitive dissonance in the minds of those Christians like Carson than in the minds of those like Hillary Clinton? I will vote for neither as I won’t vote for any faith based person. Furthermore, neither of them reflects my political opinions. But although I find Carson to be the scarier one of the two, I do think he is a decent person who might really be able to help with race relations as Barack Obama has not. Whereas white racism has certainly been a factor in “Obama Hate”, I must admit I am surprised at the 80% approval rating of Carson by conservative Republicans. He has the highest approval rating of any candidate of either the Democratic or Republican party. And no, Carson isn’t an Uncle Tom. I furthermore contend that the claim he is an Uncle Tom is in itself racist.

  44. John says:

    “Any time they encounter facts about the world that threaten their core religious belief, they fall back on various ad hoc explanations (which is most of the contorted thinking you find in creationist apologetics), denying the facts themselves, or simply ignoring what doesn’t fit their worldview.”

    Huh, I wonder similar charges can be leveled against Prothero’s words, too. Oh, wait. They can be. https://johnkpatterson.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/professor-protheros-preening-pungent-prattle/

  45. Dave Matson says:

    It’s as clear as a hot, desert day that an advanced degree is no safeguard against determined ignorance based on an intense prejudice! That point has been amply demonstrated by Ben Carson, Henry Morris, Duane Gish and other creationists over the years. What amazes me most about Ben Carson (based on the quotations given by Dr. Prothero,there being no reason to suspect them given Dr. Prothero’s penchant for accuracy) is the obvious foolishness he spews against some half-dozen fields of science. The more polished creationists, such as Dr. Henry Morris in his prime, could at least sound respectable if one knew nothing about science. Ben Carson comes across as a hide-bound ignoramus of the worst type and I would never have expected anything more! Maybe Ben Carson should give a little more thought to organizing his statements.

  46. Ted says:

    A perfect being did not design the prostate.

  47. swarmma says:

    perfect beings don’t just happen

  48. Dragonfiremalus says:

    I forget what article I was reading, and I should try to go find it, but I remember one study suggesting that highly technical fields that aren’t geared towards scientific discovery (eg doctors, engineers, some computer scientists) actually have a surprisingly high rate of religious fundamentalism. The article was theorizing that it was because the way these fields are often taught become somewhat “here’s the answer, not going to tell you how we got it, but just memorize it.” And this meshes well with acceptance of religious fundamentalism.

  49. Jeff Magnus says:

    Brain surgeon and apparent brain donor Ben Carson also proposed the use of RU-486 in ER’s on rape victims, which makes no logical or medical / biological sense whatsoever. Once you open the door to magical thinking, there’s no limit to what you can’t understand.

  50. Jon kime says:

    The great attraction of faith is that you don’t actually have to know anything, just feel it is true. Science is work, you have to understand it to believe it. Big difference.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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