Creationist surgeon to give commencement address at Emory University

May 16, 2012 • 9:35 am

UPDATEOver at erv, Abbie Smith just posted the harrowing tale of a biologist and three trustees of a Seventh-Day Adventist School (La Sierra University) who were fired for being sympathetic to evolution.


Over at Secular Perspectives, a website sponsored by the Washington Area Secular Humanists, our own reader Hos has written a piece called “Secular perspectives: How religion corrupts minds and undercuts science.” There, Hos introduces us to Ben Carson, an eminent neurosurgeon and director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. You can’t get much more eminent as a doctor: Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest award for civilians. He’s performed many difficult operations—including the first successful separation of twins conjoined at the back of the head, and has 61 honorary degrees.  He’s a man to be be reckoned with.

But of course there’s a “but.”  Carson is also a devout Seventh Day Adventist who doesn’t accept evolution. See, for example, this interview with him in Adventist Review, where he issues howlers like this (“JG” is interviewer Jonathan Gallager)

JG: So why do so many people prefer to believe in the random formation of the universe–and of life itself? Or to put it another way, Why is the matter of evolution so important?
BC: It comes down to a matter of ownership. Who owns the universe, who owns the earth, who owns your life? Those who believe in evolution, and in a naturalistic explanation of the universe, ultimately see themselves as end-owners–as the creator and ultimate source of authority. In this way they answer to nothing and nobody, for there is nothing higher than themselves.

How does this happen? What are the consequences of accepting evolutionary views of human origins? How does this affect society and the way we see ourselves?
By believing we are the product of random acts, we eliminate morality and the basis of ethical behavior. For if there is no such thing as moral authority, you can do anything you want. You make everything relative, and there’s no reason for any of our higher values.

If we are all the product of chance, the random assortment of atoms, living in a deterministic universe that is simply the consequence of physical interactions, doesn’t it all seem so futile?
Yes, in my education I had to learn evolutionary theories, and as a God-fearing Christian I wondered how to make God and evolution mesh. The truth is that you can’t make them mesh–you have to choose one or the other. . .

But just supposing you did have that first cell?
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.

Take the simple case of ape to human. It should be easy to find abundant fossil remains since, according to evolutionary theory, this is the most recent transition. If we can find so many fossils of dinosaurs, which are further back in the evolutionary scheme, we should have plenty of evidence of intermediates between apes and humans. But we don’t have them. We have very few supposed intermediates–like “Lucy,” based on fanciful reconstruction with a lot of filling in. Today we have people with significant congenital abnormalities whose skeletal remains would seem like a missing link. So “Lucy” does not make the case, and there should be multiple “Lucys” if the transition from ape to human were true.

Also, there’s the whole subject of irreducibly complex organisms–the idea that everything has to be there all at once for it to work. How could all the complex items evolve simultaneously–as in the eye, for example? . . .

A few closing thoughts?
Ultimately, if you accept the evolutionary theory, you dismiss ethics, you don’t have to abide by a set of moral codes, you determine your own conscience based on your own desires. You have no reason for things such as selfless love, when a father dives in to save his son from drowning. You can trash the Bible as irrelevant, just silly fables, since you believe that it does not conform to scientific thought. You can be like Lucifer, who said, “I will make myself like the Most High.”

Can you prove evolution? No. Can you prove creation? No. Can you use the intellect God has given you to decide whether something is logical or illogical? Yes, absolutely. It all comes down to “faith”–and I don’t have enough to believe in evolution. I’m too logical!

This is all extraordinarily stupid stuff—the acceptance of intelligent design, the denial of transitional fossils, the characterization of evolution as an “accident”, and so on (I’ve left out a lot).  It’s beyond my ken how a surgeon who can figure out, using scientific principles, how to separate twins joined at the head, can nevertheless reject the mountains of evidence that evolution is true.  Hos has the explanation:

How is it that one of the most brilliant brain surgeons in the world can be so incredibly ignorant (bordering on idiotic) about a scientific theory that has been the backbone of biology and geology for 150 years? The answer is one word: Religion. As long as religion infects minds, you can expect ignorance peddling from the shining stars of even the top institutes of higher education in the world.

Truefact.  To paraphrase Steven Weinberg (with some slight exaggeration), “With or without religion smart people can believe true things and dumb people can believe fairy stories.  But for smart people to believe fairy stories—that takes religion.”

Carson is scheduled to give the commencement address at Emory University in Atlanta, a school I once visited.  A petition of the University’s students and faculty has been circulating to protest this choice, and, to their credit, many faculty have signed. You can see the petition (but not sign it) here. The cover letter is quite eloquent.

It won’t work, of course.  One can hope only that Carson doesn’t disgorge his antiscientific views at the students of Emory.

183 thoughts on “Creationist surgeon to give commencement address at Emory University

  1. “who owns the universe” what sort of mindframe does it take to even say such a sentence….?

  2. Doctors, engineers, so many groups who don’t think outside of their narrow specialties and simply resort to woo instead.

    1. Now, wait a moment…not ALL doctors are such split-minded zealots (I don’t think I am), and I have a lot of friends who are engineers as well who are hard-nosed realists and empiricist, even the philosophically-minded. As is the case with violent crimes, we notice the outliers BECAUSE they are outliers, and they shock us. That’s what I suspect anyway.
      I think that most doctors with whom I studied (and this was at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a branch of Yeshiva University, where a good number of my classmates were Orthodox Jews) would never deny evolution, the scientific method or anything of the sort.
      Of course, Judaism has evolved into a rather different kind of animal than Christianity or Islam, and I know a great number of “Secular Jews”, who are de facto atheists, so maybe that explains the difference.

      1. Of course, you’re correct. A fairer assessment would be to say that because many doctors, engineers, and scientists for that matter, work in narrow specialties, it is possible for them to be remarkably ignorant outside of those specialties. Once such individuals get past their scientific education and get into “practice” they are willing to jettison even the elementary knowledge they once had in other areas – presumably because it conflicts with their older, more deeply-ingrained religious indoctrination.

    2. I’m afraid that I have to jump in here as well. It’s not clear that doctors and engineers are any more specialized than scientists.

      I also agree with Doctor Elessar. People like Carson are definitely outliers. Doctors and engineers have to be practical in their outlook. They are confronting reality everyday in their profession. Believe all you want, it isn’t going to make the system work.

      I’ve been a practicing engineer for many years. I have never sat in a project meeting where someone reported that the system was failing and the action plan was that we were all going to pray real hard that it started to work. I’ve never heard a design team say that they were waiting for God to modify the code for them to fix bugs -although Elliott Sober wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

      So no more engineer bashing, ok?

      1. There is however the Salem Hypothesis “which predicts that any creationist claiming scientific expertise or advanced degrees is likely to be an engineer.”

        This is not to say that a doctor or an engineer is likely to be a creationist, of course. I’m an engineer myself.

          1. Have been reading Rosenau and the 1981 engineer’s article on creationist engineers.

            Several thoughts but will restrict myself to two:

            Re: creationist engineers: an anecdote: I once read an engineer say that, because engineering involved “design,” and because he effectively fancied himself a designer, he – apparently “expertly” recognized “design” in nature. Ergo, there exists a supernatural Designer/Creator. Also, I gather that engineers accept scientific principles/theories – at least those about which controversy no longer exists – as givens, and don’t feel any need to reconfirm – and therefore from the gitgo accept – first scientific principles, and press on engineeringly. Whatever exactly “engineering research” is, it is based on a solid foundation of “scientific research.”

            Re: Islamic engineers: as most Islamicists are in Third World countries, it seems that engineering is a most reasonable and appropriate profession to enter on behalf of developing/improving the material status of ones country (when one isn’t otherwise engaged in Islamic zealotry). I doubt that many Islamic engineers meaningfully examine the foundational scientific bases of the engineering they practice.

  3. How is it that one of the most brilliant brain surgeons in the world can be so incredibly ignorant (bordering on idiotic) about a scientific theory that has been the backbone of biology and geology for 150 years? The answer is one word: Religion.

    But then the interesting question to me becomes, why are some people more susceptible to religion than others? Obviously early childhood conditioning plays a huge role. But not all children remain a member of the religion they were indoctrinated into. I’m convinced the main factor isn’t a person’s intelligence, but their emotional maturity. There is a Chinese proverb that advises one to “Accept facts with dignity.” Creationists reject facts because they aren’t emotionally capable of accepting that they aren’t special, there is no life after death, and they aren’t in an intimate relationship with a supernatural protector. It’s a blow to one’s ego, and surgeons certainly have a reputation for having big ones. Religion is a security blanket for those incapable of accepting facts with dignity, like Carson.

      1. +1 kitten.

        [I read the poll result first. How come there are no kitten buttons on WEIT?]

    1. Stupid indeed. If it really were the case that lack of belief in a higher power made people immoral it would be self evident. So self evident in fact that it would be impossible not to notice.

      1. I live in a fairly godless town in California and I am reading now by the fires of the burning city as roving bands of atheists rape, loot, and pillage their way through the streets.

  4. My favourite part is:

    It all comes down to “faith”–and I don’t have enough to believe in evolution. I’m too logical!

  5. The man might be a brilliant surgeon, but he is extremely ignorant and uneducated in evolution. I suspect it is willfully so. He couldn’t handle the facts so he lies about the proven science. What a waste.

    1. Well, I don’t know if he’s lying but it seems he has swallowed the typical creationist talking points hook, line and sinker.
      Actually I have seen everything he said from other YECers before and that years ago (Creo-Bingo anyone).
      So it seems this nonsense has been hammered into his brain since he was a toddler.

      Judging from this interview he seems sincere but it’s also clear as day that he never understood the theory of evolution and that he never made any serious effort to understand it (probably a severe case of Morton’s Demon).

      There’s no other way for me to explain how an intelligent adult with that education can talk such utter tosh.

      1. Morton’s Demon. I’m glad there is a name for this. I always just visualize the Frogger game… here comes a disturbing fact… hop hop hop… oh no, now here comes another one… hop hop hop… An active Frog in Frogger can avoid the facts for a long time. I can’t help but smile when I see this though. Silly Frog, can’t he see he’s going to get smashed sooner or later?

      1. Haha! This from a creationist troll. There are millions of proven facts about evolution. You have it confused with creationism that has absolutely not one proven fact.

      2. Yet the evidence for any one part of the theory of evolution (even the weakest) is at least 2 orders of magnitude greater than the evidence that Jesus ever existed at all — even as a regular mortal.

    2. I’m a bit concerned about his neuroscience. His claim that the brain faithfully records everything we’ve ever been exposed to seems preposterous. Yet, clearly, he believes such nonsense. I don’t think evolution is his only problem. I wouldn’t let him operate on me.

  6. A quote from Carson

    “God has given us more than fourteen billion cells and connections in our brain. Why would God give us such a complex organ system unless he expects us to use it?”

    Why are creationists so devoid of irony?

    1. “Where’s my proof for god? Why, look at all this fancy stuff god’s created! If god didn’t exist, none of this stuff would exist, either!”

      And around and around we go….

  7. “By believing we are the product of random acts, we eliminate morality and the basis of ethical behavior. For if there is no such thing as moral authority, you can do anything you want. You make everything relative, and there’s no reason for any of our higher values.”

    How can someone so obviously bright say something so obviously obtuse. A first semester philosophy students could counter those remarks.

    1. I don’t know, though like many I have some ideas. But, finding out the how of this kind of cognitive dissonance should be a high priority in my opinion. Unfortunately it seems like most people don’t see this as any kind of problem at all.

  8. Dennett and LaScola have their research into clergy who no longer believe – it would be interesting to do a study of all the biology professors teaching at Catholic and mainstream Protestant universities.

  9. It’s interesting to note the specifics that Dr. Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist…a group that is very good at rationalizing persistent beliefs in the face of blatant contradictory evidence. After all, the church has its origin with the Millerites, who expected the world to come to its end on October 22, 1844. When the world survived that day, they decided not that their prophecy had been wrong, but that its interpretation had been wrong, and that Jesus had done some weird entry into a tabernacle in Heaven on that day (I don’t know what sort of place it was that Jesus wasn’t allowed to go into prior to that moment, but that’s beside the point).
    If you can rationalize away the fact that the world didn’t end when you said it was going to end, and still claim that you were right anyway…well, what CAN’T you rationalize?

    1. Rationalization to further strengtening own cognitive dissonance could be like this:
      “Our devoted belief in “the end of the world” made God change his mind”..

      We all seems to do this:
      Interesting and humorous 30min with Carol Tavris from TAM2011:

    2. I’m impressed that he can rationalize a “wonderful creator” with the existence of conjoined at the back of the head twins. WTF?

      And he similarly sees “microevolution”, you know, the ruthless winnowing of those not adequately adapted to a changing environment, as also evidence of a “wonderful creator”.

      You know you’re in for a rough time arguing when your interlocutor construes pain and suffering as evidence of benevolence.

  10. so…..? would you let him save your lives in the case yo had developed a giant-religion-induced tumor..?

  11. This is all extraordinarily stupid stuff . . .

    Exactly what I was thinking when I reached that phrase in your post.

    It is truly amazing that so much stupidity could be displayed with so few words.

    Dr. Carson needs to back up and explain just how he arrives at each claim he made. He sounds exactly like a young child trying to explain things he does not understand but has heard adults discuss before. He is fooling himself if he really thinks that he is making any sense.

    This interview alone would give George Carlin inspiration for a years worth of new material.

  12. I was thrilled to see the name of one of my former AP Biology students (an Emory undergrad) listed. A catch-in-the-throat moment in what has been a trying day

  13. Every M.D. I know says the same thing about surgeons — they have good hands and can sew. That’s it. They are not necessarily intelligent people. I’ve read about Ben Carson for years.

    1. I made it to the end, but only with great determination. I’ve gotta say that I’m totally floored by the amount of stupid that came out of the guy’s mouth. I’d heard rumors of hyper-intelligent people checking their brains at the door when it came to religion, but now I’ve got proof. See, I was never convinced that people like Behe, Dembski, etc. were actually very intelligent to begin with; but there’s no denying (based on his academic and professional accomplishments)that Ben Carson is highly intelligent. The question is: is it easier or harder to change someone’s mind if they are extremely intelligent? I mean, can we send Dr. Carson a copy of WEIT and wait a few days for him to see the obvious? Or maybe, the smarter you are, the less likely you are to accept that you’re wrong. I don’t know, I’m not that intelligent myself, and I don’t rub elbows with intelligent people for the most part. It’s a mystery to me.

      1. Intelligent people have more resources, at least in some areas, and should often have more resources to fool themselves.

        Though I dunno if it comes into this specific case – it is just too much tosh.

      2. Perhaps you’ve read this, but if not, Michael Shermer’s book “Why People Believe Weird Things” deals specifically with the question “Why Do Smart People Believe Weird Things?” in chapter 18 of the revised edition of his book. In a line, his answer is “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” The rest of the chapter develops the idea marvelously.

  14. Damn, this is depressing. I especially like that bit towards the end; “Can you prove evolution? No. Can you prove creation? No. Can you use the intellect God has given you to decide whether something is logical or illogical? Yes, absolutely. It all comes down to “faith”–and I don’t have enough to believe in evolution. I’m too logical!”

    I’ve been debating creation-tards all week. All I’ve got to say now to the surgeon—fuck you. You’re an intellectually compromised fool. Your arguments are no better than those of a second-grader. Under the auspices of your cult, I could easily rape, plunder, and murder for my entire life, but as long as I mutter the magic words on my deathbed; “help me, Jeebus-Man!”, I’ll go to heaven while people like Gandhi and Einstein burn in hell. Evolution has nothing to do with morality because it is not a philosophical treatise, it’s a hard scientific theory that has been proven so many times that denial of it is an admission of crippling ignorance that is most unbecoming of an educated man like yourself.

    1. Can you prove creation? No.

      Can you falsify creationism? YES!!!

      Creationism was falsified over a century ago. It’s just a zombie belief for weird xian death cults.

  15. It’s odd that those who opt for “faith” and accuse atheists of having no basis for ethics, or alternately of being ethical relativists, fail to see that “faith” (in which god, what religion?) allows for unlimited amorality and relativism. It just depends on faith in what? Different faiths have different moralities, and faith in religion X turns out to be no more defensible than faith in Nazism, alien abductions . . . whatever. And if faithiests start appealing to some sort of alleged evidence, then they abandon faith and enter the realm of reason, evidence, logic, and all that.

  16. Okay, now I’m mad. Now I understand why people are going to reason rallies and atheist conferences. It isn’t enough anymore for me to enjoy the work of others who combat this nonsense.

    Now I’m joining the fight.

    Not sure how yet, but I’m gonna.

  17. So basically it’s a herd-pack mentality in here, everyone rushes to condemn Dr. Carson because he won’t subscribe to the evolution-fairy.

    1. I suggest you go elsewhere if you think there’s no evidence for evolution. Produce the evidence for creationism or be banned.

        1. Yeah, what else do we have to chew on?

          Smoled — please go buy and read the book this web site is named for. Come back and we’ll talk.

    2. Carson is being castigated for making profoundly stupid comments on a topic he plainly knows nothing about.

      Your “herd-pack mentality” remark is amusing because, in your zeal to defend Carson’s nonsense, you condemn science’s ability to come to a consensus based on observing the reality we all share, even though that is what makes science so successful in the first place. Your insult is as irrational and empty as Carson’s faith-driven rhetoric, and I have to wonder if it has the same root.

    3. No, we’re blasting him because he believes an ancient epic about a douchebag called YHWH who murders people for not kissing his ass, then comes up with a great plan to send himself in the form of his son to an assbackwards part of the world to be murdered by a local Roman administrator, only to reappear in a couple of days. All of this to forgive humanity for one woman’s mistake, which was to eat the wrong fruit because she used the curiosity he could’ve NOT given her. Hell, it’s not even a good story! Lame-oh!

      1. I love it when people call the so-called big “g” names such as douche-bag! Helps put things into perspective. Thanks for the laughs

  18. I notice this being a very common tactic among creationists regarding fossils, particularly Lucy. They claim that the reconstructions were a “work of art” or “imaginative”, indicating unwarranted conclusions. But I wonder, isn’t the Lucy fossil pretty well preserved? I know a lot of her head is missing but isn’t her jaw almost complete? And is that enough to make reasonable assumptions about it? Don’t we even have multiple specimens of australopithecus afarensis itself?

    1. how do we know that any of the relevant humanoid fossils (australopithecus, habilis, etc. – I don’t know all the names) were not defects of some sort? seriously here, I am ignorant of the subject.

        1. that’s interesting and funny, but what about birth defects – how are these taken into account when analyzing in particular ape/humanoid fossils?

          1. My inference was that birth defects wouldn’t replicate the full range of distinct characteristics of different hominini species…


            1. Not to mention the fact that it would be exceedingly bizarre and statistically improbable for the only skeletons to have fossilized to have been those of individuals with birth defects (who nonetheless somehow all managed to reach a fairly advanced age!).

            2. the inference and statistics are rather obvious, thank you. I would think that the probability of observing a birth defect in a fossil is actually higher than one would intuit given the number of fossils.

              what is not obvious is how birth defects are treated if at all. from what people are saying here, is that either fossil analyzers know for a fact that none have been observed or there very well could be birth defects as fossils but there is no good way to analyze them and they are assumed not to exist.

              and as you (or someone) rightly pointed out, the sheer number of fossils and the trend inferred from them as to human evolution is indeed the simplest explanation. however, the technical point is I think interesting, and it is all the more important to understand when someone comes up with the idea such as any fossil could be a birth defect as this guy has.

    1. francis collins also has ridiculous beliefs doesnt he? what it seems baffling that both men are so competent scientists (well actually if neurosurgeon qualifies as such, but i think it does)…aren’t they? (competent i mean)

    2. It’s baffling, but not completely. We have some idea how otherwise smart people can hold stupid ideas.

      Carson is basically being willfully ignorant about evolution. He spouts some very basic errors that one could find in any common misconceptions list. He clearly hasn’t really invested any effort into trying to learn what evolution is. Or he made a lot of effort avoiding learning about evolution.

      1. he is not “willfully” (remember free will doesnt exist) ignorant (he is highly skilled human being probably making 6 digits salary)…he just doesnt believe in evolution….the question is why…..

        1. How smart he is and how much he earns doesn’t make him any less ignorant about evolution.

          I’ve got a 6-digit salary (just, if you convert it to USD) and a Ph.D. in physics, but I’m just as ignorant about, say, Polynesian mythology!


        2. It isn’t that he doesn’t believe in evolution… It’s that he doesn’t believe in a preposterous strawman version of evolution he and his fellow creationist dingbats cooked up so that they could continue believing nonsense and pretending the nonsense was reasonable.

          Considering that he refuses to actually deal with the actual claims of evolutionary biology, which are easily found all over the internet or any library, I’d say that willfully ignorant is a pretty useful description.

        3. He doesn’t believe in evolution because he doesn’t know what evolution really is. look at the stupid questions he asks and assumptions he makes –

          “random assortment of atoms”
          “some force evolving to the maximum”
          missing link
          irreducible complexity and evolution of the eye
          not enough faith to believe in evolution

          Clearly he hasn’t read WEIT or any of Dawkins. His understanding of evolution seems to all come from some cursory reading of a creationist pamphlet.

          1. Indeed, and this is what baffles me most. He doesn’t even try to hide behind a more “sophisticated” (i.e. weasely) creationism à la Discovery Institute or Michael Behe.

            No, he just spouts the most asinine creationist howlers that came out of the ICR some 30 or 40 years ago. Heck, I’m sure one or two of his points are on the AiG list of arguments creationists shouldn’t use.
            I just wonder the didn’t ask why there are still monkeys if we evolved from them.

            1. “I just wonder the didn’t ask why there are still monkeys if we evolved from them”

              Well, why roll out your big guns when you have a sympathetic interviewer? He was probably just saving that one. 😉

      1. Wow. Well, that invalidates the Shermer explanation cited above for Carson: “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” That defense of creationism is just as stupid as any you’ll hear from the most ignorant rubes on the interwebs.

  19. Those who believe in evolution, and in a naturalistic explanation of the universe, ultimately see themselves as end-owners–as the creator and ultimate source of authority. In this way they answer to nothing and nobody, for there is nothing higher than themselves.

    That line of thought always angers me. Someone who claims to possess extraordinary knowledge presenting, as arrogant, those who will not. And that attitude is an important weapon for maintaining deference. It’s what all the charges of “scientism” come down to and why people are quick to dissociate themselves from the gnus.

    1. And what exactly does “higher than” mean? How is an invisible and uncommunicative parent figure higher?

      I can’t help but notice the convenient correlation between “God’s authority” and stuff religious people just want to do. God created in man’s image, so to speak.

  20. His remarks are factually ignorant as well as philosophically anti-rational (rather than just non-rational). I like the past which notes he even embarrassed Francis Collins.

  21. It’s quite simple, really.

    Surgeons are technicians. Skilled at anatomy and fine motor control. They only have to work with what is right in front of them right now.

    They have no need to understand how the body system they’re cutting into got the way it was. In fact, it’s probably detrimental to even consider such things.

    All they need to worry about is the present instance.

    While nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, most of everyday medicine does just fine without it. Especially those aspects of medicine that require nothing more than a steady hand.

    My otolaryngologist is a SDA. He has very nice gentle hands when he’s pulling impacted wax out of my ears. I suspect he doesn’t even care one whit why I have the wax-forming polymorphism.

    Even oncologists, who work with mutations every day, only work with them in somatic cells. They have precisely and exactly zero need to understand evolutionary theory.

    It is my considered opinion that the vast majority of physicians cannot be considered scientists and should not be referred to as scientists. Yes, they use the findings of science in their jobs — but so do airplane pilots, long-distance truck drivers, and construction workers.

    1. Correct. Surgeons are plumbers. Skilled plumbers. Neurosurgeons are specialized plumbers/electricians.

      Some of the best cardiac bypass surgeons do 3 or 4 operations/day. Several days a week. Skilled? Yes. Scientists? Sometimes.

    2. Kevin,

      You really believe that oncologists have zero need to understand evolution? That strikes me as a very bizarre statement. Oncologists deal with depressed immune systems all the time (and ENTs with various infections), so a physician not understanding (or rejecting) the role that evolution plays in microbial evolution and antibiotic resistance is absolutely unacceptable. Physicians also have to understand evolution to understand why we use animal models for disease, if evolution isn’t true than a lot of the basic medical science (especially genetic work on non-humans) and treatment development is worse than worthless.

      Understanding evolution is also import in understanding the doctor-patient relationship, see Benedetti’s book The Patients Brain. Also, Oxford’s Principles of Evolutionary Medicine details how important understanding evolution is to medicine. The MCAT is adding more details on evolution to the test because they think people entering medical school need to understand it better, and you’d be surprised how often evolution got brought up in my first year of medical school.

      1. Heh. Microbial evolution…funny.

        You mean microevolution? As in a microbe always is a microbe and never turns into a crocaduck?

        The first time you see a microbe giving birth to a crocaduck, then we can talk “evolution”. Until then, it’s just variation within a “kind”.

        Yes, this is exactly how these people think.

        1. I know how those people think, I used to be a young earth creationist. And you are wrong that mechanisms of microbial virulence and resistance are compatible with how a lot of creationists view “microevolution.” Many of them, not just young-earthers but also many IDers, think that there are no examples of beneficial mutations, that mutation and variation can only make things work worse, and that evolution is purely random. Which is wrong, and would lead them to reject a lot of genetics and microbiology directly relevant to being a good physician.

          You still ignored all my other points about the importance of evolution in medicine. Understanding evolution is a vital part of being an oncologist (or any other kind of doctor). Please check the Oxford book I referenced earlier out from your library if you really don’t think so. Also, Randolph Nesse has some good peer-reviewed papers free online, and if you can access the paper “Nothing in medicine makes sense, except in the light of evolution” by Varki in the Journal of Molecular Medicine you can read that paper and look at the references. I think you’ll come to agree with me that understanding evolution is a very important part of being a good physician.

      2. There is need and NEED. Sure, they’d be more in tune with reality and, probably, better doctors in the long run, if they knew and accepted evolution. But practically speaking, they can get along without it. Many of them do, in fact. At the clinic an oncologist is going to test your lump to see if it’s a carcinoma, they are going to test if you are ER positive (I’m thinking breast cancer here). The size and location of the lump(s), whether the tumor is responsive to Estrogen, and other factors will determine if you get hormone therapy, radiation, chemo, de-bulking, or all of the above. At no point in figuring out a treatment plan is evolutionary reasoning called for. I’d say precious little reasoning of any sort is called for because it’s a pre-defined flow-chart. A lot of knowledge is needed, these flow-charts can be quite elaborate, but that’s a different thing. Where their special expertise is most useful is in handling side effects, knowing what to do if your liver starts to fail, or your lungs fill up with blood. Evolutionary reasoning isn’t needed there either, just an elaborate flow chart of what to do when X,Y,or Z happen.

        Most doctors aren’t doing research. They aren’t expanding the frontiers of human knowledge. They are consumers of very specialized bits of knowledge. As such, they should not, generally, be considered scientists.

        1. Well, you could make the same argument that doctors don’t NEED to know biochemistry, pharmacology mechanisms, physiology, evidence-based medicine, or immunology, if you view doctors as just algorithm machines who carry out the flow charts designed by real scientists.

          Ideally, doctors are trained to think critically about problems and integrate different parts of science to diagnose, treat, and care for patients, and to critically evaluate literature when there isn’t a clear consensus on what the best treatment therapy is. My view is that understanding evolution is an important part of medicine (I’d really encourage you to read the Varki article I referenced in my second reply to Kevin). Sure maybe someone can be an OK doctor without understanding evolution, just like someone can probable be a mediocre doctor without understanding metabolism, how antibiotic classes work, or how to critically evaluate primary literature, but that isn’t how I hope to approach medicine as a doctor, and it certainly wouldn’t inspire confidence in me if my doctor didn’t understand evolution. Anyways, I was specifically arguing against Kevin’s view that oncologists “have precisely and exactly zero need to understand evolutionary theory.” As if understanding evolution has absolutely no value to specialists with as complex a job as oncologists.

          I don’t have any problem with you describing doctors as not scientists (I guess it depends on how you define a scientist, doctors certainly use the scientific method is making diagnoses, but many aren’t doing bench research), but I certainly disagree with people implying that a physician has no need to understand the fundamental principles of biology to be competent.

          1. I agree that they’d be better doctors by knowing more about evolution. I’d also like them to know a lot more statistics, on average. And not to be such cowboys, more willing to routinely consult resources outside what’s in their head (should you really recommend a major surgery without, say, consulting a patient-age and status specific Kaplin-Meier plot, just going with whatever memory you have in your head? Where are the computers?).

            I’m more commenting on the reality that many do operate, sadly, as kind of algorithm machines. I think a lot of people think that the average doctor already understand evolution, statistics, and all the other relevant things that touch on medicine. My experience has been that some do, some don’t. Knowing that someone is a medical doctor tells me much less about their general science understanding than I would have expected or hoped. As a result, I am not in the least surprised when a major surgeon is a creationist. A lot of people seem surprised, and I think they shouldn’t be if they knew better how doctors often are trained and operate in practice.

    3. True that one can be an extremely competent physician and no nothing of evolutionary biology but this does not mean that knowledge of evolutionary biology is not important to medicine. This is the point that is lost (or never made) on Egnor. There was a beautiful paper in last weeks’ nature or science on inflammation in response to mitochondrial dammage causing heart disease. The hypothesis was evolution driven – if mitochondria are endosymbionts then a damaged mitochondria may leak molecules into the cytoplasm that the cell would not recognize as self and these would induce an immune response. Evolutionary thinking created the hypothesis.

    4. Most doctors know about as much about evolution as a bricklayer would know about the structural dynamics of the buildings they work on !!

  22. Jerry, regarding your update: Abbie Smith’s ERV blog has the story, not Rosenhouse’s Evolution Blog. (Your link does go to ERV, so it is correct.)

  23. Some years ago in the late 70’s, I was seated next to Samuel R. Powers, MD on an airplane flying from Philadelphia to Albany, NY. At that time, Dr Powers was professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery of the Albany Medical College of Union University and surgeon-in-chief of the Albany Medical Center Hospital. During our conversation I talked about the current project I was involved with (legal status of mental patients) and mentioned that I was finishing my doctoral degree in Sociology. Dr. Powers noted that the difference between those with PhDs and MDs was that PhDs were educated, while MDs were trained; the distinction he drew then has remained with me all these years. Dr. Carson seems to be a case in point.

    Sadly, Dr. Powers died in 1980, cutting short a brilliant career in medicine.

  24. “You have no reason for things such as selfless love, when a father dives in to save his son from drowning. ”

    It’s amazing to me that the religious are so willing to present themselves as wicked, mass murderers all, were it not for their terrible fear of God. I take it as fair warning.

    1. I was speaking to someone recently who admitted as much: fear of God was the only thing stopping him from acting like a psychopath.

      1. It’s the ultimate temper tantrum, isn’t it? “Let me keep my toy or I’ll have no reason to behave. Whaaaaaaa!”

      2. I always tell those kinds that, whatever they do, keep believing.

        Normal people don’t have that problem but if religion keeps an admitted psychopath in line, go for it.

        1. They are almost certainly mistaken, of course. We all have many impulses in our minds, some selfish, some more social. The religious are taught to think that all the positive impulses they feel come directly from God. Of course, this isn’t true, but if you think it’s true, you will introspect and say, “What kind of person would I be without any kind of positive impulse?”. Well, obviously, you’d be a psychopath. But they aren’t really psychopaths . It’s like saying, “What kind of person would I be if I had no emotions?” I don’t know, but it’s an irrelevant question because you can’t be that no-emotion person, whether you believe in God or not.

    1. They believe in biblical literalism. A 6,000 year old universe created whole and entire in pretty much its present form by a magic genie who spoke magic words.

      They believe there was a global flood about 4,000 years ago that reduced the human population to 8. And then there was incest.

      The death factory hospital closest to me is run by these people. They have pictures(!) of Noah’s ark on the way to the cafeteria.

      1. That wasn’t meant as a challenge to the veracity of their looniness on that account, but rather a heads-up in case anyone felt like updating the Wikipedia page.

  25. Last May I attended my niece’s graduation at Loyola Baltimore and I had to sit through Dr. Carson’s creationist ramblings. But just when I didn’t think it could get any worse, he started spouting revisionist American history. I silently wondered whether Dr. Carson had ever read any American history that hadn’t been invented by David Barton.

      1. Indeed. I couldn’t believe the nonsense about the brain recording precisely everything you’ve ever seen. That just isn’t credible.

  26. “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason…is like administering medicine to the dead.” -Thomas Paine

  27. I gather that Adventists are OK with blood transfusions, whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses are not? Anyone ever heard of a Witness surgeon?

    Were Dr. Carson a thoracic/heart surgeon, he’d have to somehow concern himself with the recurrent laryngeal nerve. I mean, every time he laid eyes on the RLN, he’d have some thought, however fleeting, about the “design” intention there, eh?

    I trust that some day someone pins him in the corner regarding the free-floating pelvic/hind limb remnants of whales.

  28. This guy serves as a reminder that belief in religion is more about emotional and sociocultural factors than it is about intelligence.

    To understand why this otherwise brilliant man believes in such utter nonsense we’d have a know a heck of a lot more about how he was raised.

    1. It is a very interesting question why some people are religious and others are not. I know we often talk like it’s just a matter of intelligence, but clearly that’s not the case. It’s a question worth spending some time on because it bears directly on what might be done about it. How did it come about that Scandinavia is so much less religious than the U.S.? I think JC has touched on this question from time to time. I think his prevailing hypothesis is that religion follows economic uncertainty and disparity, or some such. I expect that’s part of it, but not the whole story.

      Oh, and you’re a jerk, Wowbagger, a real knee biter. 😉

  29. Goodness…

    This man is an eminent, well-respected doctor. He is probably an extremely knowledgeable person who would be a fascinating person to listen to on the subject of surgery.

    And yet he subscribes to the basest, stupidest, most preposterous of the counter arguments to evolution. And that’s saying something, that’s basically scraping the bottom of the logical barrel.


  30. This doctor doesn’t even have the excuse of being stupid he’s highly educated and intelligent and wilfully ignorant.

    1. Maybe he’s just too busy to learn anything outside the techniques of his profession. I have a couple of friends who are like that, so busy with their work that they live in a kind profession-induced cone of ignorance. They are very knowledgable about their own profession, very successful, but haven’t read or thought about anything outside that narrow realm since they were undergraduates.

  31. Unfortunately, Adventist beliefs such as held by Carson can seriously clash with the Hippocratic oath of “do no harm” with severe medical consequences. And this is not new in this medical subculture. A particular case puzzled Steven Jay Gould over a quarter of a century ago (Natural History 98(2), 24-31).

    Gould wrote: “On October 26, 1984, Dr. Leonard L. Bailey of Loma Linda University (Seventh Day Adventist) School of Medicine transplanted the heart of a baboon into the chest of Baby Fae, an infant born with a lethal malformation of her own heart and otherwise doomed to a swift death. . . . She died twenty days later.” (p. 28)

    Gould continued: “I will make a strong statement of my own opinion, one that I think almost any evolutionary biologist would share. I have nothing but admiration for Bailey’s effort to save a child without hope. . . . But I believe that Bailey performed an indefensibly improper experiment from the standpoint of evolutionary homology.” (p. 30)

    Gould was baffled why any transplant surgeon would use an organ from a baboon rather than from a chimpanzee, given that chimpanzees have a radically more recent common ancestor. Furthermore, chimpanzee donors had been used in renal transplantation with impressive success.

    “I just couldn’t figure out,” said Gould, “how Bailey could work in such ignorance of known evolutionary relationships of homology—that is until I read a chilling comment in the London Times Higher Education Supplement. The Times reported an interview between Bailey and an Australian radio crew. They were forbidden to ask directly about the operation, so they quizzed Bailey on the general issue of why he had used a baboon in the light of its evolutionary distance from Baby Fae. ‘Er. I find that difficult to answer,’ Bailey responded. ‘You see, I don’t believe in evolution.’”

    I wonder if one day disbelief in evolution will be deemed malpractice.

  32. I find it maddeningly ironic that this man, who deals with birth defects regularly that show how glaringly unintelligent his beloved God’s design supposedly was, rejects the only viable explanation for just such defects and wonders why, if Evolution were really true, why we’re not all supermen, because obviously a natural process would produce a better creature than his all-loving omnipotent God. But then we’d have to eat each other (surgeon, not nutritionist.) He’s nuts!

    My goodness, I see where he’s coming from though, I could just start randomly murdering people at any moment because there’s nobody to tell me not to! That’s it! I’m convinced! I now officially believe in God, can someone please tell me how to know what God wants me to do? He wrote it all in this book you say? Alright then… GOOD GOD! Have you read this thing? God apparently wants me to rape and murder people anyways… oh, I see, skip a few chapters, there we go, now, oh this guy’s not bad, love thy neighbor, good, rich people suck, got it, hmmm, every jot of the Law? What’s that Law again… mmm, yeah big “L”, oh, the first five books, okay, waaaaaiiit a minute, you just said I could skip those! Oh, I see, God wants me to do the good things and not the bad things, except for part about gays, wait… what? So what you’re saying is that I need to use my own judgment and follow the Bible as the inerrant word of God, but ignore the stuff that’s wrong and factually absurd, I have to say that doesn’t leave much except maybe this part about the Gideons. Hold on then, what would the difference be if I just went back to not believing? Oh, I see, that part about not believing being a sin, that one he reeeaaaally wants me to listen to. Or else he’ll send me to Hell? What if I don’t believe in Hell? Oh, got it, we’re back to me randomly murdering people. I’m really confused, can I go back to being an atheist now, it’s so much less mental strain, my brain feels like it’s been doing tumbles!

    Anyone who thinks that biblical creation is a better explanation for the universe and biological diversity is either severely shortsighted, frighteningly demented, or just plain stupid.

  33. This isn’t the first biologist fired by La Sierra.

    A year or two ago they had a purge and fired just about all of their biology department and some school officials as well.

    The SDA’s like all fundies are huge fans of Joseph Stalin. They like to have purges every once in a while just to keep the members in line.

    If it wasn’t for the US government, they would probably have their own Gulag as well.

    1. google capture:
      Four Resign at La Sierra University—UPDATED | Spectrum Magazine…/four-resign-la-sierra-university—updated

      13 Jun 2011 – At La Sierra University, two administrators, one professor, and one board member … Dr. Gary Bradley from his part-time faculty position in the Biology Department, and Mr. … Headline would be more accurate reading, “Four Fired at LaSierra. ….. Comparing unhealthy sugar and caffeine drinks produced by …

    2. The SDA’s are famous for infighting and schisms.

      Two of their finer products were.

      1. The Branch Davidians. We all know how that ended.

      2. HW Armstrongs Worldwide Horror Show of god. One of the uglier cults on the planet that fortunately blew up but unfortunately left a zillion splinter groups.

      What is happening at La Sierra is typical. The arch conservatives are having a purge of the moderates and normal people. Routine.

      What’s the point of having a weird cult if you can’t purge a few apostates now and then and burn a few heretics at the stake anyway? Might as well join the Unitarians otherwise.

  34. It just comes down to different levels of understanding.

    There’s nothing special about Medicine. Just because doctors work on the human body doesn’t mean jack all about understanding fundamental concepts of certain processes. It’s just a trade like any other trade.

    Take a mechanic. Someone can be an expert car mechanic. Know how a car is put together, how the parts work, how to diagnose if something goes wrong. It doesn’t mean they understand fully how the physics of combustion works etc, etc.

  35. In his interview Carson said:

    Ultimately, if you accept the evolutionary theory, you dismiss ethics, …

    And in his speech at Emory Carson said:

    I know there was some controversy about my views on creation and somebody thought that I said that evolutionists are not ethical people. Of course I would never say such a thing and would never believe such a thing nor would anybody with any common sense. So that’s pretty ridiculous.

    This sounds like the same intellectually dishonest, disingenuous bullshit that creationists are always coming out with.

    Explain this to me. If I dismiss ethics doesn’t that make me a “not ethical person?” Did Carson say that evolutionists are not ethical people by that statement?

    Scalpel cuts both ways, Carson, you can’t say that evolutionists dismiss ethics but are somehow magically in some other bubble or astral plane ethical. Well, unless you’re an intellectually dishonest creationist.

  36. With his career and accomplishments, Ben Carson is an excellent choice to give this commencement speech. I can honestly think of nobody better.

    He’s just not qualified to give a lecture on evolution or any related scientific disciplines.

      1. A commencement speech is a place to talk from experience about where hard work and discipline can take you and what the road after graduation will look like. Can you think of anyone more qualified for that than the most celebrated and arguably most successful pediatric neurosurgeon in the world?

        Commencement speeches aren’t soapboxes and I trust he’ll use it to talk about things he’s qualified to, not rally on about things he’s not.

        1. “Can you think of anyone more qualified for that than the most celebrated and arguably most successful pediatric neurosurgeon in the world?”

          Yes. Any of the most celebrated and arguably most successful X in the world, for multiple values of X.


          1. So anyone at all who is the best in any and all fields in the would be significantly more qualified than Carson to give a talk to graduates? You must hold him in extremely low regard.

        2. Sure, graduates can and do appreciate, and occasionally need, encouragement to work hard and perservere. They also need to apply critical thinking skills to claims, regardless of who makes them and in what circumstances. Something is not true merely and solely because someone says so.

          1. All true. We’ll have to see what Carson says in his speech to know if he’s giving them the right information.

            1. I have put on my “To Do” list to search the net for the texts of several of Dr. Carson’s graduation addresses. I hypothesize that their respective substances will significantly overlap.

          1. Or he’s suggesting that someone like Carson is especially qualified to give a commencement speech since he is a prime example that someone can succeed through hard work and make it to the top in spite of being severely handicapped by such inane creationist beliefs and lack of critical thinking skills.

            1. You’re right. Rather than “better” i should’ve said “at least as good as”. Otherwise, it logically follows from your statement.


        3. Ok let me clear this up. I said I couldn’t think of anyone better to give a commencement speech. Nobody jumping on me for that has offered up anyone at all who would be.

          I never said nobody is *as* qualified him, that would be a ridiculous claim. I said I couldn’t think of anyone *better* (even more qualified) to give a commencement speech.

          Help! Help! I’m being straw-manned!

          1. Now you’re saying that there is no value of X that is better than X = “pediatric neurosurgeon” and that there is no example of any other X who is more celebrated and more accomplished an X than Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon.


        4. I endured Dr. Carson’s commencement speech last May at a Catholic university. His sermon was littered with creationist tripe and ahistorical babble about America being founded as a Christian nation.

          I hope a WEIT reader can attend this year’s speech/sermon and report back.

            1. That was a fantastic, inspiring speech. Dr Carson is a fine public speaker. I can’t help but want to better understand his thinking on evolution though. Are his objections based on his scientific research or are they theologically grounded? I would love to hear more from him on the subject.

              1. Whatever his objections are, they’re wrong, and of course based on religion. There are mountains of evidence for evolution. Asking where his objections come from is like asking someone exactly why he believes the earth is flat.

                Carson is religious and virtually all antievolution in America comes from religious belief. Carson may be a fine surgeon, but he’s an ignorant man–and ignorant in the worst kind of way: willfully!

  37. Afraid I couldn’t make it past the point of reading an African-American male wax eloquent over “who owns your life”. Too much sad irony in that.

        1. What I tell you three time is true: Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.



  38. Why does it matter if an M.D. rejects evolution?

    To understand that, I thought to ask why it would matter if an M.D. rejected the germ theory of disease. maybe they would assert that alcohol or antibiotics used in surgery are merely spiritual paraphernalia instead of interacting with bacteria. (I don’t know how this works in practice).

    in each case, we would have our M.D. curing people well enough. then one might ask “Isn’t that good enough?” Reason is, it simply won’t do : the M.D. will have no precautionary outlook for the patient – they will not be able to warn against behaviors that can introduce bacteria, e.g. dental work, scratches, etc.

    Likewise, what precautions could an M.D. miss by not only not considering, but actually rejecting evolution? I think there are some – the human back, epiglottis function, but surely there are more – hopefully WEITers can fill in – to help a patient understand why their body is the way it is. That alone to me is enough to show the egregious error that is rejecting evolution, germs, or any other knowledge that bears directly on a patient.

    its another question whether evolution provides the same kinds of insights as the germ theory of disease, e.g. avoiding getting sick tomorrow or not, while evolution works over millions of years, or, you wouldn’t be able to “do” anything about it anyways, while you can grab an antibiotic right away. This might be the spellbinder that woos people to not care about evolution vis-a-vis medicine.

  39. Before this thread dies

    Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine (Paperback)
    Randolph M. Nesse MD, George C. Williams

    Titled differently outside US, maybe evolutionary medicine.

    Dawkins talked about it.

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