Skepticism, Religion Archive

Monday, April 13, 2015

Another Look at Ben Carson's Views on Evolution

Ben CarsonI know it wasn't that long ago that I said I was done writing about Ben Carson (see Ben Carson Wrap Up), but I got into another discussion the other day where he came up, and the person I was talking with was pretty sure that Carson really did accept evolution. So, for due diligence, I took another look to see if I could find Carson's views on evolution in a source more recent than the Adventist Review interview from a few years ago that I'd been assuming was his current position. I found an interview from September of 2014 where he talked about evolution again, and it looks like his views haven't changed. You can listen to just the evolution portion by going to Right Wing Watch. The full interview is available on the Faith & Liberty podcast.

I did my best to transcribe his response below (though I did take the liberty of not writing all his 'um's, 'uh's, or stutters).

I don't know how old the Earth is, because the Bible says in the beginning God created heaven and the Earth. It doesn't say how long a time went by before he started creation. So no one has that knowledge based on the Bible. What I do know is that I believe that God is all powerful. He can do anything. So if he can create a man who is fully mature, he could also create an Earth that was mature. So, you know, carbon dating, all these things, you know, really don't mean anything to a god who has the ability to create anything at any point in time. And the problem with man is that they believe that they're so smart that if they can't explain how God did something, then it didn't happen. Which of course means that they're God. You don't need a god if you consider yourself capable of explaining everything.

After this, the interviewer momentarily interrupted, "Those are good points. What about being a surgeon? Any of that lead you to some of those conclusions, too?" To which Carson replied as below.

Well, certainly being a neurosurgeon and dealing with the complexity of the human brain - billions and billions of neurons, hundreds of billions of interconnections. And they all have to be connected the right way. And somebody says that came from a slime pit full of promiscuous biochemicals? I don't think so. And, you know, even if you look at something like natural selection, which I totally believe in, by the way. But, with natural selection it says that, you know, things that are useful tend to be passed on. Things that are not useful don't get passed on. And this is how, you know, the whole genetic display occurs. But, how, on the basis of that, do you ever develop a kidney? Or how do you develop an eyeball, which has multiple parts, none of which have any function without the others. So did a rod cell just appear one day, and just decide, let me sit around for a few million years until a cone cell develops? And then, a retinal network can develop? And then, you know, posterior and an anterior chamber and a lens and a cornea and short ciliary nerves? Gimme a break. You know, according to their scheme - boom! It had to just occur overnight. Had to be there.

So, I instead say, if you have an intelligent creator, what he does is give his creatures the ability to adapt to the environment so he doesn't have to start over every 50 years, so he can [unintelligible] all over again. And that's why you see the changes that occur within species, with environment and with time that makes perfectly good sense for a created universe and a created Earth.

So, he does say that he accepts 'natural selection', but qualifies it as 'within species'. He also says that carbon dating can't be trusted, implies that there really was a historical Adam, implies the human brain couldn't be the product of billions of years of evolution starting with single celled organisms, and flat out denies that kidneys or eyes could have evolved. In that last sentence, he even said 'a created Earth', and in the opening paragraph he implied that it could have been created 'mature' (shades of Last Thursdayism). His position seems to be fairly straight-forward old earth creationism. Perhaps Carson does say different things in different venues, but that would be a problem in and of itself. If he was willing to make such contradictory statements to different audiences, he wouldn't have much credibility.

Assuming what Carson's saying here is what he actually thinks, then it's back to what I've said before about his extreme arrogance - pontificating about a subject about which he's so extremely ignorant. Just read that part about the eye. He seems to think that if an eye evolved, it must have appeared fully formed, and he seems to think this is what evolutionary biologists actually believe. Has he ever even read a biology book? He's an extremely talented surgeon, so he had to take biology classes, but how can he make such ignorant statements if he actually paid attention in class? It's not like this is a new topic. Darwin himself addressed eye evolution in the Origin of Species (Chapter 6). And with just a bit of googling, you can find explanations of how the vertebrate eye evolved in a stepwise fashion (e.g. Wikipedia). Here's one of my favorite diagrams on eye evolution (which I've shown before), showing actual existing eyes in molluscs that are far from the complex human eye, lacking many of the features Carson said must have been present for the eye to function properly, but which obviously provide benefit to those molluscs.

Evolution of Complex Eyes

I don't want to dwell on this last point because it's not part of the main theme of evolution this post is about, but that whole section on people coming up with secular explanations and thinking they're now gods is completely ridiculous. I wonder how many evolutionary biologists or atheists Carson has talked with, and where he gets this absurd characterization.

I know you don't need to understand evolutionary biology perfectly to be a politician. But given Carson's background as a surgeon, it's unsettling that he is so ignorant when it comes to the foundational concept of biology (particularly concepts that he should have learned in high school biology). Further, as I've said before, the worst part is that he's so sure of himself in an area where he's so ignorant. Nobody knows everything, politicians included (or maybe especially). But what good politicians must be able to do is recognize the limits of their knowledge so that they can ask for input and advice from appropriate experts. I wouldn't trust a politician who didn't know their own limits.

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Image Source for Eye Evolution: Random Internet source, but probably originally from Douglas J. Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology

Monday, April 6, 2015

Jesus Saves! Jelly Beans

While doing some shopping over the weekend, I came across these jelly beans at Hobby Lobby:

Jesus Saves! Jelly Beans

They're just so over the top absurd that I couldn't resist buying them for my daughter for Easter. (Just so you know, she's old enough to think these are funny and not take them seriously.)

The big package contained 17 individual smaller packets, and each of those smaller packets had the following jelly bean prayer on the back:

Jelly Bean Prayer

I think it's funny that they made the black jelly beans 'sin'. Apparently, not even God likes licorice flavored candy*.

I was a little disappointed to discover that the jelly beans inside weren't stamped with the words they're supposed to represent. If you dump these jelly beans out into a serving tray you'll just end up with plain old jelly beans, but think what a conversation starter it would be to have a bowl full of Jesus' blood and sin flavored candy. They do have Jesus themed rip-offs of Sweethearts, but I think one bag of Jesus candy is enough for me.


*Full disclosure: I actually do like black licorice. Sin never tasted so good.

Update 2015-04-07: Replaced images with slightly better ones that I took last night (original ones were here and here, where that second one I borrowed from Amazon).

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 5 - Global Warming

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, mainly by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

For this entry, I'm actually going to break from the original articles I'd found on RealBencarson.com, and look at his position on global warming. In an interview towards the end of last year, Carson made some troubling statements about global warming. The statements can be found in the Bloomberg article, Ben Carson Not Convinced on Global Warming:

"There's always going to be either cooling or warming going on," the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate said in an interview this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa. "As far as I'm concerned, that's irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment."

Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, often talks about his medical background and science during his speeches. Pressed on the fact that the bulk of the scientific community believes the Earth is indeed warming, Carson pivoted. "You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same," he said. "We may be warming. We may be cooling."

Let me get the obvious out of the way, first. Global warming is real and caused primarily by people. I wrote about this seven years ago in the entry, Global Warming - It's Real, And We're Causing It, and the evidence and scientific consensus have only grown stronger since then (the latest by Phil Plait, No, Adjusting Temperature Measurements Is Not a Scandal, is a good recent discussion). I have another entry from that same year, Political Litmus Test, where I explain why I would never vote for somebody who didn't accept global warming - "to reject anthropogenic global climate change altogether requires ... that someone lacks knowledge of the issue, is willing to ignore the consensus of experts, and is willing to ignore evidence in favor of their ideology." Add to that the actual danger associated with global warming and the necessity of politicians doing something about it.

I'm glad Carson thinks we have 'an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment', but you can't do that properly if you ignore the largest threat to the environment in historical times*. Acknowledging that climate change is real means taking vastly different approaches to public policy. Of course, there are obvious examples like coastal habitats - don't conservation efforts in the Everglades seem futile if we do nothing to stop global warming and let them become ocean in a hundred years (see this interactive map on sea level rise - Global Warming Art - Sea Level Rise Explorer)? There's also the acidification of the oceans and effects on corals, not to mention major climatic shifts changing rainfall patterns on land, or the much publicized melting of the polar ice caps and the effects that's having on arctic creatures, etc. Given that global warming is such a huge driver of changes to the climate, it must be an integral part of any comprehensive environmental conservation plan.

Carson has made similar statements about global warming before. Here's a quote from an editorial he wrote early last year, Energy's role in the path to peace:

Whether we are experiencing global warming or a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s, we as responsible human beings must be concerned about our surroundings and what we will pass on to future generations. However, to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense. Expanding our wealth of energy resources, as well as encouraging the development of new renewable energy sources, would provide an enormous economic lift with obvious benefits, but it also would bolster our role as a formidable player in the struggle for world leadership.

When he says that "to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense", I don't think I'm reading too much into that by interpreting it to mean that he thinks we should continue to use coal, oil, and other fossil fuels at current rates (because no one's using climate change as an excuse to not develop renewable energy sources). This is, quite simply, a horrible idea. Since global warming is real, using more fossil fuels is going to make the problem worse. It is exactly the reason why we should slow down on 'developing' those particular resources.

If there were no global warming, there would still be concerns over methods of extraction and ways to clean up the exhaust (such as scrubbers), but coal and oil are wonderfully convenient energy sources. And they're still fairly plentiful, with many decades of oil left, and probably at least a century of coal left (source - World Coal Association). Without global warming, we could budget research on renewable energy at a far lower rate, since we'd still have plenty of time before we'd have to transition.

But global warming is a reality, so we as a civilization must try to drastically slow down our use of fossil fuels and develop alternative renewable energy technologies. Well, I say 'must', but it really depends on what consequences you're willing to live with - more extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts, and floods and the deaths they'll cause, rising sea levels and shrinking coastlines including the inundation of major cities and entire islands, disruptions to the food supply, more wildfires, disruptions to fresh water supplies, mass extinction, etc. (more info - Union of Concerned Scientists - Global Warming Impacts). It's not going to be the complete downfall of civilization or the extinction of every living thing on earth, but it's going to be a lot of suffering and expense that could be avoided with some increased funding right now. Personally, I see it as a no-brainer, but if you only care about yourself and don't give a damn about future generations, then I suppose you might want to just continue on with the status quo. I think Carson probably does care about future generations, but you can't address the effects of climate change if you don't first accept the reality of it.

I also can't let slide the statement he made about "a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s". This is at best misleading, at worst a lie. A minority of scientists in the '70s were predicting an ice age, but the majority even then were predicting global warming (Skeptical Science - What were climate scientists predicting in the 1970s?). Only a tenth of the of papers published between 1965 and 1979 predicted cooling, while nearly two thirds predicted global warming, and the consensus has only grown stronger in the 35 years since then.

It's not like this is the issue that's finally pushed me over the edge in not supporting Carson. I wasn't too found of him based on everything else I'd read prior to this. But even if I didn't know all those other things and this was the first I'd heard about him, it would be enough to disqualify him as a viable presidential candidate. Our politicians must start addressing climate change much more aggressively if we want to avoid passing on all the associated suffering to future generations. And the first part of that action is acknowledging the reality of human caused climate change.

Related Entries:

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


Continue to Part 6 - Equal Opportunity



*Note that global warming isn't the only current environmental threat. Habitat destruction is another huge one, and why it's frustrating to see some of the proposals to address global warming that worsen the habitat loss problem.

Updated 2015-02-18: Added links to related entries. Slightly reworded one sentence to read better (but not changing the meaning).

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tragic Murder of Three Muslim Students by an Atheist

Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-SalhaA few days ago, three Muslim students were shot and killed in a parking lot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Washington Post - Three Muslims killed in shooting near UNC; police, family argue over motive‚Äč). The victims were Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. All three were Muslim. The gunman, Craig Stephen Hicks, was a 46 year old atheist.

The religious beliefs of all those involved have raised questions over whether or not the shootings were religiously motivated, or whether they were solely a case of someone losing their temper and overreacting over a parking space. While the police are still investigating this, it won't make any difference to the victims or their families. Hicks's actions were despicable.

Various atheist and secular groups have responded to this incident, universally condemning Hicks's actions. Hemant Mehta has an entry on his blog, The Friendly Atheist, Three Muslim Students Were Killed in a Tragic Attack Carried Out by an Atheist, listing excerpts of some of these responses. If you want to go directly to the source for the full responses, here are links to the statements at each organization's own site.

It's worth reading all of the statements, but here are two excerpts from the Secular Student Alliance statement that I think are particularly good.

Everyone at the Secular Student Alliance is appalled by the murders of Deah Bakurat, Yusor Mohammed, and Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina yesterday. We are further appalled by the trauma and terror caused by these murders and offer our condolences to the victims, their family, and the greater Chapel Hill community. The Secular Student Alliance encourages students to work with each other to understand one another and make the world a better place. These killings work in the exact opposite of that cause.
The Secular Student Alliance promotes pluralism and secularism. We work alongside people of faith, and work to spread the understanding that both people with and without faith have the capacity to do good. Nothing about the lack of a belief in a god supports the murder of innocent people, and we absolutely condemn what has happened. We hope that dialogues can happen, and bridges are built, not burned, in the wake of this.

These deaths were tragic and senseless, and there's no excuse for the horrendous actions committed by Craig Hicks. My heart goes out to the families and friends of Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

Image Source: USA Today

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If you're interested, here's another article on the murders, USA Today - Chapel Hill 'rocked' by killings of 3 Muslim students.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 2 - Religious Privilege

Ben Carson I've begun a series to take a closer look at Ben Carson, and the main method I've chosen is to read articles that he himself has written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

The first entry in this series was mostly an introduction and some comments on Carson's troubling views on evolution (based on an interview). Today, I'm going tackle the first of the articles, which is an example of religious privilege (similar to the privilege Carson wanted in the (Navy Bible Kerfuffle).

The article is one Carson wrote for the Washington Times, Houston's First Amendment abuse. If you'd believe what Carson wrote, this would be a case of stifling free speech and religious freedom.

The recent, questionably unconstitutional moves by the City Council of Houston to subpoena the sermons of five area ministers as well as internal correspondences dealing with social issues, should have the American Civil Liberties Union and everyone else who believes in free speech and religious freedom up in arms.

But in reality, this to me is an example of the privilege religion gets in the U.S., not having to play by the same rules as every other organization. Snopes, as usual, has a pretty good summary of the specifics of this case, Houston Hustle. Various right wing groups were trying to organize a petition to challenge the recent HERO law passed in Houston. They needed 17,259 signatures to get their initiative placed on the ballot. While they had 50,000 signatures, the city rejected most of them as invalid for various reasons, and the initiative fell short of the threshold. Once they learned of this decision, the opponents of HERO filed a lawsuit against the city. As part of gathering evidence for the lawsuit, the city has subpoenaed sermons and other materials from various ministers. The reason for this, in the words of city attorney, David Feldman, is, "All officials want to know is what kinds of instructions the pastors gave out with respect to collecting petition signatures, and whether what they said agrees with what they're arguing in court while appealing the referendum." Unfortunately, public outcry against the subpoenas was so great that the city dropped them.

Perhaps the subpoenas are overly broad, but they do have a legitimate legal purpose, in trying to determine if the claims in the lawsuit are factual or not. Churches should not be above the law, and should not be able to hide behind the First Amendment to break the law. The city should have a means of investigation to determine if what the churches are claiming in their lawsuit is a lie.

But that's not the way Carson sees it. Take a look at how he sees the issue.

We as Americans must guard every aspect of our Constitution and recognize when it is being threatened. One of the great dangers in America today is extreme intolerance in the name of tolerance. For example, in this Houston case, it is presupposed that the pastors in question may have said something that was objectionable to the homosexual community.

The subpoenas were not because the pastors may have insulted homosexuals, but as I already pointed out, an attempt to determine if the churches are being honest in their lawsuit.

Although city attorneys said that they weren't interested in whether or not the churches were violating their tax-exempt status (it's not within their jurisdiction), I think that this issue should have received much more legal attention. This issue of free speech on the pulpit has certainly received a lot of attention in the articles on this issue, including Carson's.

Churches almost always file as (or simply default to) 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. Part of the law regarding 501(c)(3) nonprofits is that they're not allowed to engage in overt political activities (About.com - Can Nonprofits Engage in Political Activity?). This applies to any organization that wants to have 501(c)(3) status, from churches to Doctors Without Borders to the Girl Scouts. When ministers want to preach politics from the pulpit, they're violating this law, and risk losing their 501(c)(3) status. It's not that the ministers don't have free speech - but churches don't get to file as that particular type of non-profit if their ministers are going to engage in political speech on church time. Of course, the ministers are free to say whatever they want when not on church time, and like I said, it's the same rules for every other 501(c)(3) charity.

And this isn't the first instance of churches escaping consequences for breaking this law. There's a movement, Pulpit Freedom Sunday, where pastors across the country openly flout this law (N.Y. Times - The Political Pulpit), but because of the special treatment churches get, the IRS has yet to go after these criminals. Just imagine if a modern day Al Capone were to found a church as a front for their organization. They really would be untouchable.

The solution for churches who want to engage in political activity is simple - don't file as a 501(c)(3). But unfortunately, many of these churches want special treatment instead of following the same rules as everybody else (and for the most part, they're getting that special treatment).

To give Carson some credit, the middle portion of his article wasn't too bad. He made some good points about tolerance, open conversation, and free speach. However, in the context of the Houston issue that prompted the article, those points seem out of place. They would have seemed more fitting in an example where people's free speach actually was being suppressed.

The issue in Houston was a city government trying to investigate claims that various churches made in a lawsuit. The city wouldn't have any jurisdiction over the churches' tax exempt statuses, at any rate. But this case clearly shows churches getting special treatment in two ways - first by blocking any investigation into claims they've made relevant to the lawsuit, and second by so egregiously violating tax law without even being investigated at all. Carson can try to claim this is an issue of free speech and religious freedom, but it really seems to be a case of religious privilege.

Summary on RealBenCarson.com: Houston's First Amendment Abuse

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


Continue to Part 3 - Healthcare & Romanticizing the Past

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