Mr. Secretary

I need to be careful to not make this a rehash of The Carson Hour:

Up front: I’ve never been a fan of creationist Ben Carson. My mind can’t get past someone who puts aside known facts in favor of popular myth.

What’s prompting this foray into last year’s brain scrub is the following meme, which scrolled by on my Facebook feed this morning:

politics-bencarsonbrainscrubfacebook

My immediate reaction was, “Say it isn’t so!” Some Skeptical Analysis was in order. Immediate relief. No, Retired medical doctor Ben Carson has not been tapped to become Secretary of Education. What a relief! Take consolation where you can get it. He’s only being considered for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I guess that means our faith in President-to-be Donald Trump is fully restored. Think that if you want.

But wait! I’m not finished with the Skeptical Analysis. Did (possibly future) Secretary Ben Carson actually say those stupid things credited to him? Some investigation was in order, and said investigation was promptly rewarded in the negative. I was unable, through the use of the modern miracle of the Internet search, to find any direct quote attaching this foolishness to Dr. Ben Carson. There was only this foolishness:

With the wide release of video from a speech that Carson made to his fellow Seventh-Day Adventists in 2012, however, it’s becoming clear that there are significant gaps. In the speech, he made statements on subjects ranging from evolution to the Big Bang that suggest he never learned or chooses to ignore basic, well-tested scientific concepts. In attempting to refute the Big Bang, for example—which he characterized as a “ridiculous” idea—Carson said:

You have all these highfalutin scientists, and they’re saying that there was this gigantic explosion and everything came into perfect order. Now, these are the same scientists who 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 going to have this big explosion, and everything becomes perfectly organized. 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 enough period of time, billions and billions of years, one of them will be the perfect explosion”…. 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.

He continued, “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 seventy years away when a comet is coming. Now, [for] that type of organization to just come out of an explosion? I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing.” Finally, he argued that the observed motion of the planets in our solar system would be impossible if there had been a Big Bang.

That was Lawrence Krauss writing for The New Yorker last year. Lest you wonder whether Dr. Krauss is qualified to speak on modern cosmology, you need to ask those who employ him in his position as “Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and director of its Origins Project.” Full disclosure: I previously reviewed his book A Universe from Nothing.

Dr. Krauss goes on to quote from the Carson  interview: “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 seventy years away when a comet is coming. Now, [for] that type of organization to just come out of an explosion? I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing.” I don’t have a degree in cosmology, but my college degree plans have included courses in Celestial Mechanics and Interplanetary Navigation. My final term  project for my physics degree was a computer simulation of a multi-body planetary system. None of that is required to refute Dr. Carson’s silly ideas about comets and planetary motion.

What is really remarkable about Carson’s remarkable utterances is that he is pronouncing (pontificating?) on something of which he knows nothing. The last time I checked, courses in Relativity, Celestial Mechanics, and Interplanetary Navigation were not required for the prestigious medical degree Dr. Carson obtained. One would have hoped, however, along the way he would have picked up enough in the way of situational awareness to know when he is making a fool of himself in public.

The problem is Dr. Carson failed to stop with modern cosmology. He has, apparently with some effort, extended his embarrassment (and ours) beyond all reasonable expectations. Dr. Krauss continues:

Carson’s wild delusions aren’t confined to physics, either. In the same event, in a more surprising and perhaps more worrisome statement, Carson claimed that evolution, as explained by Darwin, was actually the work of the devil. (“I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary, and it has become what is scientifically, politically correct.”) As if invoking Satan weren’t bad enough, Carson resorted to bad puns to sidestep his scientific ignorance: he went on to say that he was planning a book called “The Organ of Species,” which he said would “talk about the organs of the body and how they completely refute evolution”—an amazing claim that would require a rewriting of most biology texts. At another point in the speech, he uses a long stream of medical terminology to argue against the biochemical origins of life—something he doesn’t seem to realize has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution itself. Elsewhere, he claims that plants couldn’t have evolved before bees and that sexual reproduction shouldn’t have evolved at all, and suggests that geological formations provide evidence of a great flood, not an old Earth.

Krauss links to an MSNBC story that illuminates further:

Addressing his bizarre views yesterday, the GOP presidential hopeful said, “I’m not gonna denigrate you because of your faith and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine. And that’s the kind of attitude, you know – that’s the kind of attitude that I think is very important in the society in which we live today.”
It’s an unsatisfying response because it misses the point of what makes revelations like these significant. A leading national candidate, who’s asking Americans to trust his judgment, has ridiculous ideas about a demon shaping our understanding of modern biology. It’s the sort of the thing that, for some in the reality-based community, is a disqualifying characteristic for someone seeking the world’s most important job.
Carson seemed to suggest yesterday that his bizarre beliefs are somehow off-limits. To notice a presidential candidate’s weird ideas, he says, is to “denigrate” the man who talked about those ideas publicly.
It’s treating faith as some kind of trump card – as if prominent public figures who denigrate science (and scientists) should be left alone because of their religious motivations, regardless of the disservice they’re doing to the discourse.

This was before Dr. Carson announced his candidacy, and it’s critical to observe that following the time these views became public he was momentarily the front runner for a major political party. It speaks to an American public, at least to a large block of an American public, totally opaque to some basic facts of the world we live in.

Did I mention that Dr. Carson is not presently in line for Secretary of Education? Did I mention he is only being considered for Secretary of HUD? Do you feel safer now? Me neither.

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2 thoughts on “Mr. Secretary

  1. Pingback: Secretary of Housing and Misinformation | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: The Carson Defense | Skeptical Analysis

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