Politics Archive

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 1 - Evolution

Ben CarsonPrompted by a recent political discussion with someone I know who's a big fan of Ben Carson, I've decided to take a closer look at this potential politician. For links to all of the entries in this series, go to the index.

I've written about Carson a few times before on this blog, for his opposition to marriage equality, his anti-science position in denying evolution (both covered here - Local University Invites Creationist to Give Commencement Address), and his mangled interpretation of the Establishment Clause and the separation of church and state in response to a minor controversy over Bibles in Navy hotel rooms (A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle). With those three strikes against him, I wasn't all that interested in digging into his positions on other issues, but that discussion prompted me to do so. I figured that maybe by basing my impression of him on only three issues, I'd been being overly critical.

I went to his official website, RealBenCarson.com, where he puts links to articles he's written and had published elsewhere. To get a decent sampling of his opinions, I read each of the articles featured on the home page (at least the articles when I first went there - it's taken me a little while to put together this response, so he's put up more articles since then). While there were some points he made that I agreed with, I found myself in disagreement with him over many issues. I'd started to write up responses to the articles that I was going to send as an e-mail to my friend, but my responses were getting too long for an e-mail. So instead, I sent a shorter reply and decided to turn my responses into blog entries. In the coming weeks, I plan to post those entries as I complete them.

For today, I'll focus on just one issue, one of the first issues I'd ever heard about him and one that I've already discussed before - his rejection of evolution. There's a portion of an interview where he discusses evolution available from the Wayback Macine, Adventist Review - Evolution? No. Here's an example of Carson's abysmal understanding and rejection of evolution.

Even if you accept evolutionary theory--developing a more sophisticated organism in this theoretically "logical" fashion, then there should be a continuum of organisms. And why did evolution divert in so many directions--birds, fish, elephants, apes, humans--if there is some force evolving to the maximum? Why isn't everything a human--a superior human? Darwin specifically stated that his theory hung on the discovery of intermediate forms, and was sure that we would find them. More than a hundred years later we still haven't found them. Even the earliest fossils don't show such intermediates.

If you don't remember enough from high school biology to know why that's such a horrible statement, I wrote an article that addresses some of it, Local Church Misunderstands Evolution - Why Are There Still Apes?.

Here's another quote where he denies a separate area of science, the Big Bang.

So how could our incredibly organized universe come about as the result of a big bang? This flies in the face of the second law, which says it would be less organized as a result, not more! Scientists have to be consistent.

Carson's rejection of evolution is a huge red flag to me. First, there're the obvious reasons - evolution is one of the most well supported concepts in science, and it's been known of for over 150 years, so for a reasonably intelligent person to reject evolution must mean they're either ignorant of science, and/or willing to put ideology ahead of evidence. Ignorance can be cured with education, but putting ideology ahead of evidence is a huge problem for a political figure.

A perhaps less obvious problem, but which seems to be the case given Carson's answers, is arrogance. This comes in two ways - first, thinking that he knows more than the countless scientists and researchers who have devoted their careers to this topic (see the related entry, The Economy & Expertise ). The second is that he spoke so confidently about a subject about which he obviously knows so very little. In fact, this is my main issue with his rejection of evolution - not that he's merely ignorant of the science, but rather that he's so sure of himself when he's so obviously wrong. Elected officials don't need to know everything, but they do need to recognize the limits of their knowledge, and know when to defer to the experts in various fields.

(If you're interested, here's a degreed biologist's response to Carson's comments on evolution, showing just how misinformed those comments were - Afarensis - Stupid Creationist Quote of the Week: Ben Carson on Evolution.)

Anyway, from his articles and what I'd heard of Carson before, although I agree with him on some things, I find myself in disagreement with him over many, many other issues, and have seen a few red flags to make me question his credibility. I have no doubt he's a very talented surgeon, but his political views leave something to be desired.

In the coming weeks, I will post responses to his articles, and maybe a few other things if I get particularly ambitious.

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Continue to Part 2 - Religious Privilege

Update 2015-01-22: Added quotes from interview & slightly rearranged other portions to accommodate quotes.

Update 2015-02-10: Removed index from this page to create a stand-alone index page. Slightly reworded opening paragraph on this page to link to the index, and split it into two paragraphs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election Results 2014

Sad Uncle SamUgh. I'm not terribly surprised, given then way the polls were going, but this is still dispiriting, and especially disappointing that the polls appeared to have a slight Democratic bias this year that gave the Republicans a few more races than predicted (this bias goes back and forth, sometimes favoring one party, sometimes the other - more info: FiveThirtyEight Blog).

As far as the Texas SBOE elections, the best news is that reasonable candidates held their ground and didn't lose to new ideologues. The bad news is that incumbent ideologues held their seats, too, so there's not going to be any change in how the board conducts itself anytime soon. For results, the Texas Tribune has a good page, but I can't link directly to the SBOE results. You'll have to click on the SBOE tab:
2014 Elections Scoreboard

Anyway, I'm not up to writing a whole lot about this, so I'll just provide links to what other people have written.

About the only consolation is that voting trends can change rapidly every two years, so I can only hope that 2016 will reverse the current state, and get Democrats back into the majority. Like I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge supporter of Democrats, but Republican policies are just so horrible that Democrats get my support by default. Anyway, here's a graph I stole from an article on FiveThirtyEight Blog, Is 2014 A Republican Wave?.

Trends on Popular Vote for U.S. House of Representatives

So, two more years of nothing getting done. Two more years to wait until hopefully better results.

Uncle Sam Image Source: FairEconomy.org

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Get Out and Vote, 2014

I Voted Today

I voted today. If you haven't already, go do it.

Like I've said many times, and almost verbatim two years ago, I hardly ever vote a straight ticket, and this year was no exception. Of course, if you read this blog, it's no surprise that I voted mostly for Democrats, but I judge each candidate individually, so a few Republicans and Green Party candidates also got my vote.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Midterm Election 2014 - Fix the Texas Board of Education

TEA LogoThe midterm elections are tomorrow. Seven seats on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) board are up for grabs (sort of - one candidate is running uncontested). With all the shenanigans and controversy associated with the board, this is a chance to replace some of the extremists responsible for those problems, and of course, keep the members who are doing a good job. And of course, you should also be voting just out of general principle on all the races - that's how a representative democracy works.

For general election information, Texas has a pretty good website to inform you about what's going to be on the ballot, where you can vote, etc.:
Texas Voter Information Website

One particularly helpful section that's buried in that site allows you to enter your address to see who represents you at all the various levels of government:
Who Represents Me?

I've found two good resources for assessing the candidates' positions - the Texas Freedom Network, and the iVoterGuide. Both sent out questionnaires to candidates and have listed the responses of those that responded. TFN put them all in one place. iVoterGuide, who also covered much more than just the SBOE election, have it broken down by district. The iVoterGuide links appear to be a little glitchy, so you may just need to go through their main site, iVoterGuide.com.

TFV SBOE Voter Guide
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 3
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 4
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 7
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 11
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 12
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 13

Here's a summary of the candidates for each district. The ones marked with an asterisk are the incumbents.

District 2: Ruben Cortez* (D) - uncontested

Not much to comment on here.

District 3: Marisa B. Perez* (D), Dave Mundy (R), Josh Morales (L)
Perez gets my endorsement. Mundy appears to be exactly the type of ideologue that caused so much trouble in the Board's past.

District 4: Lawrence A. Allen, Jr.* (D), Dorothy Olmos (R)
Allen gets my endorsement. Olmos also appears to be the type of ideologue that caused so much trouble before.

District 7: Kathy King (D), David Bradley* (R), Megan DaGata (L)
From their responses, King and DaGata both look like they'd be reasonable. Bradley is simply horrible, with a proven track record of divisiveness.

Megan DaGata's answers to iVoterGuide questions
TFN Summary of David Bradley

District 11: Nancy Bean (D), Patricia "Pat" Hardy* (R), Craig Sanders (L)

Take your pick on this one. I don't agree with all of Hardy's responses to the iVoterGuide survey, but she's done a good job with her time on the board and hasn't been part of the extremist contingent (during the primaries, it was her Republican challenger, Eric Mahroum, who got the endorsement from the extremists - more info).

District 12: Lois Parrott (D), Geraldine "Tincy" Miller* (R), Mark Wester (L)
Parrott gets my endorsement on this one. Wester's responses to the TFN surveys seem mostly reasonable, except that he doesn't want climate change taught to students. Miller has done some good things in her time on the board, but she's also sided with the extremists too many times, and her answers to the iVoterGuide questions are horrendous.

District 13: Erika Beltran (D), Junart Sodoy (L)

Beltran gets my endorsement. Sodoy isn't as bad as some of the other candidates, but he's against having qualified experts review curriculum standards and textbooks, is against teaching about climate chage, wouldn't take a position on denouncing creationism as not science, and didn't think schools should protect students from bullying and harassment.

So that's my take. I won't lie and say I'm particularly optimistic, but this is a chance to improve the school board responsible for our children's education, and take some of the culture wars out of that organization.

I've written about the board a few times over the years, so for some background on this issue, here are my previous entries, in chronological order, with the newest at the top.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Air Force Oath Follow-Up

U.S. Air Force LogoWell, I have some good news to report, as a follow-up to an entry I'd written last week, Air Force Makes Religious Oath Mandatory. The short background is that the Air Force had changed their official policy. Previously, a religious section of the enlistment/re-enlistment oath, "So help my God", was optional. No one was forced to say it who didn't want to. Just recently, they reversed that decision, and tried to make that portion of the oath mandatory again. After a complaint brought about by an enlisted airman, and the threat of legal action by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the Air Force went to the DoD's legal team for advice.

Apparently, either the DoD was the voice of reason, or someone in the Air Force came to their senses, because the oath has been made optional again (see story: Air Force: 'So Help Me God' in Oath is Optional).

I really don't see how this was much of a controversy at all. The requirement was clearly un-Constitutional, going against Article VI's ban of religious tests. And even if the Constitution had no such ban, that type of language in the oath still makes no sense. America is a multi-cultural society with people with all types of religious beliefs, from Christians to atheists* to Buddhists to Hindus. It's really only Christians and Jews who refer to 'God' with a capital G, so that part of the oath is very clearly a pledge to Yahweh. For the many people who don't believe in that god, forcing them to make an oath to him is lying - a tacit admission of his existence. Shouldn't we expect more integrity from the members of our military? Even at best, it makes that party of the oath an empty phrase, recited as a platitude that means nothing to the people saying it. In my opinion, that cheapens the oath overall, and I don't think that's what anyone wants.

Like I noted in that previous entry, if you really want to despair for our nation, go read the comments in the linked article. Here are a few from this one.

Yet another monumentally stupid decision by someone who shouldn't be making decisions, we take God our of our lives more and more and as this is done things get worse and worse. He whosoever denies me shall be denied before the father. If the military denies God then in the future you will lose and then you will all have to change the way you salute each other. Just wait till they make it mandatory to allow call to prayer 5 times a day. Apparently the Air Force Never heard of the phrase Stand Your Ground
Personally I don't trust anyone who refuses to end the oath, 'so help me God.' But that's just me.
Cowards all. Why not also make fighting and uniforms optional?
This shows an act of cowardess the part of the Air Force. My respect for them is down as this appears to be another act of appeasement on their part. Tolerance in this area will lead to tolerance in all other areas and the Good order and Discipline will go out of the window. The AF needs to get up some guts and so does their legal department at the national level.

On the plus side, many of those types of comments had responses from rational people, so it wasn't completely one-sided. It just amazes me that so many people have a problem with making optional a religious section of an oath for a non-religious organization. I don't even know what it's doing there in the first place, and look forward to the day when it gets removed completely.

For now, the voices of reason have a small win, and airmen and officers won't be forced to appeal to a deity they don't believe in.


*Yes, I know - atheism isn't a religion. But these types of beliefs are mutually exclusive. You can't be an atheist Christian (at least, not in the traditional christian sense of accepting Jesus as your savior). So, I think it's fair to characterize them all under the blanket term of religious beliefs. Or to put it another way, not stamp collecting may not be a hobby, but the label does tell you something, even if only a very little, about the person's hobby habits.


Selling Out