Lawrence Krauss on Ben Carson (it’s not pretty)

September 29, 2015 • 2:00 pm

When I wrote my post on Sept. 24 dissecting Ben Carson’s ignorance of cosmology and evolution, I realized at the end that the people who would read here it already agreed with me, and that I had spent over two hours basically entertaining myself. Still, at least the problems with his creationist views of the cosmos and evolution were on the record somewhere.

Well, Lawrence Krauss has put them on the record in a much bigger venue, the New Yorker. If you want to see a small but loud fish blasted to bits in a barrel, read Krauss’s piece “Ben Carson’s scientific ignorance.” Krauss concentrates more on Carson’s physics arguments—including his mushbrained claims about entropy—than on evolution, but that’s okay, as I’ve done the evolution work.

Here’s one excerpt from Krauss’s takedown:

Last week, when he was confronted, during a speech at Cedarville University, about his failure to understand basic and fundamental scientific concepts, Carson responded, “I’m not going to denigrate you because of your faith, and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine.” What Carson doesn’t seem to recognize is that there is a fundamental difference between facts and faith. An inability to separate religious beliefs from an assessment of physical reality runs counter to the very basis of our society—the separation of church and state.

Carson continues to insist, as do many religionists, that science, like religion, is simply a form of faith. I’ve picked the meat off that canard before, both in Slate and in Faith versus Fact, and we needn’t belabor it here. What’s funny about that argument is that it boils down to this claim by believers: “See! Science is just as bad as religion!” If they truly were equivalent, theology would have made as much progress in understanding God as science has in understanding the universe. But the score is zero for the former and a gazillion for the latter.

Krauss is probably preaching to the choir as much as I did, for in the end there are few creationists who read The New Yorker, and virtually no supporters of Carson, but it’s still good to get the scientific objections on the record. Krauss concludes, as do most rationalists, that having a man like Carson in the White House is unthinkable:

While many may debate whether his lack of public-service experience disqualifies him from serious consideration in this race, Carson’s ideas about religion, science, and public office, as revealed in the past week, suggest that there are far deeper reasons to be concerned about his candidacy for the highest office in the land.

But of course that goes for nearly every Republican candidate, for as far as I know there is no GOP candidate who openly endorses the truth of evolution.

66 thoughts on “Lawrence Krauss on Ben Carson (it’s not pretty)

  1. On the one hand, it’s a bit unseemly of Lawrence to so utterly and mercilessly rip Carson to shreds like that.

    On the other hand, it’s nearly infinitely more unseemly for Carson to spew his bullshit over the public like that in the first place, and even more unseemly for the public to take him seriously.

    I mean, seriously? Dude thinks he can use the 747 in a tornado argument to prove that retrograde orbits are impossible? And he expects us to not fall over laughing at him for being such a complete and total blithering idiot?


      1. Exactly — and Idiot Carson tries to use that fact to somehow, incoherently, “prove” that that means that the Big Bang couldn’t possibly have happened.


        1. Nothing unseemly about dissecting a charlatan. It was done with knife edge sharpness. Not the old grab and tear.

          Why does being a Right Winger make smart people stupid? Ideology. Ideology rules them and to fit in they must jettison or suppress parts of their brains to say the PC things for their Party Core to please them. However it is a danger to anyone of any political stripe to do that. Not just the Right Wingers.

    1. I thought his article was quite measured. Not in content, of course, where it hits like a hammer. But in “tone,” there is really nothing any reasonable person could complain about. No ad homs or snark. No cursing. No innuendo or cheap shots. Krauss is presenting counter-arguments and counter-facts in a very above board manner (IMO).

      Having said that, I await someone pointing me to some creationist review, undoubtedly out there, that complains about his tone. 🙂

      1. And if you watch any of the videos of Carson on the subject, he is anything but measured in his tone. He always uses that nice bedside-manner voice, but his words are nasty and mocking. There’s even one where he says people should just read ‘Mein Kampf’ and ‘The Naked Communist’ if they want to understand what Obama is doing to the country.

        1. The only thing those two books have in common is that they were written by (then-crypto) fascists. Otherwise, they make no sense in tandem — one, the call to arms for German National Socialism; the other, a Bircher-style critique of Soviet Marxism-Leninism.

          The evidence is building that, once he strays from the medical library, Carson is illiterate.

            1. I took the hint & subscribed to HH (which I’ve been meaning to do, but have been out-of-town lately … excuses, excuses).

              Anyway, I wasn’t questioning the accuracy of your reporting about Carson’s comments, only the “logic” of Carson’s reading recommendations.

              1. Thanks Ken. I appreciate it. 🙂 I wasn’t thinking you were questioning me, so no worries there. 🙂

        2. Ben Carson is an ignorant, hatemongering lout. And yes, IMO, even someone who is a brain surgeon can qualify as willfully ignorant if despite his capacity for genuine intelligence, he refuses to acknowledge reality that contradicts his religious dogma.

          1. I don’t get how so many can’t see the hate in what he says. It’s like, “here’s a man with a pleasant, calm manner so he must be nice.” It’s like the prejudice/assumption that good-looking people are nicer than less physically attractive ones.

            1. Or the silly notion that someone who’ll look you straight in the eye will never lie to you. Exceptional liars will always look you in the eye while spinning all manner of nonsense designed to get you to give them your money in exchange for something you don’t really want or need.

            2. We react to tone more than words. Why you can say anything to a dog but as long as it is soothing they read it as nice. I wonder how long he practiced to get that pitch perfect tone as he lays in with hate and stupidity? He’s been doing it at least since 2005.

    2. I used to wonder if Carson was ignorant, or apathetic, or simply cynical.

      But now it seems he doesn’t know, seems he doesn’t care, and seems he’s convinced that not knowing and not caring will serve him well with the Republican base.

      1. Carson is a true believer and will say anything to win for his cause.He thinks himself absolved ahead of time for any lies he tells or to him they could be the truth. And all that he learned in school was a lie. Most of it except where his surgery counted.

    3. Ii is not unseemly for any respected scientist to mercilessly rip a candidate for the presidency of the United States to shreds for his or her ignorance of science. It should be a regular thing In this world science has been proven to be the only route to progress. Without science we are lost.

  2. I wish religious moderates and non-believing liberal apologists for religion would notice that the rotten core of all religion is not what people believe but why they believe it. When moderates and liberal apologists claim that only “fundamentalist” religion is a problem, they are missing the point that non-fundamentalist religion is not religion. It’s philosophy. Philosophy becomes religion when you believe it because it’s your religion. Without the fundamentalist part, religion is just a life philosophy, and none of us atheists are up in arms over people having life philosophies.

    Religious moderates and non-believing liberal religious apologists are to blame for the popularity of people like Ben Carson. They legitimize the very idea of believing what you want to believe as opposed to believing what is evidently true. They are the cause of global warming deniers and evolution deniers like Ben Carson. They have more blood on their hands than the most extreme religious fundamentalists because they ought to know better.

    1. A rather brilliant summation, I must say. Hadn’t quite parsed it so economically in my own mind. Thank you.

      One question, though… What about the more educated moderates that adhere to their christian “philosophy” and smile at the virgin birth, parting of the seas, burning bush, etc. but stick to the crucifiction, the rising from the dead, and “heaven.”

      I suppose we may agree it is merely enculturation, compartmentalization, and wish-fulfillment, among other maladies of the mind? But how would you parse that?

    2. Religious moderate seems to be an unstable position to maintain; surely the long-term trend is for one to become a fundamentalist or atheist?

      Moderates always seem vulnerable to the charge of being weak in faith, or picking and choosing, or being neither hot nor cold. It’s just hard to argue passionately for moderate positions.

      1. Excellent point. But aren’t religious moderates the dominant demographic across all faith traditions?

        I agree with your point, but perhaps it’s just that they are “cultural catholics” or whatever and simply accept and dont question much. frankly don’t much worry, assuming, if they kept looking further, all the answers are there. As in “I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the priest does, and if he doesn’t the pope must.” And these are not all stupid people by any stretch.

        Of course, I, for one, just wish they would think harder. But I guess that is just my faith position.

        1. “But aren’t religious moderates the dominant demographic across all faith traditions? ”

          Sure, but you don’t hear them providing much of a religion-based counterbalance to the religious fundamentalists. It’s not a simple matter to counter someone pointing to a phrase in the Bible and providing a literal interpretation.

          I remember a fundamentalist attempting to recruit me 25 years ago, and he was pushing me to accept things like the subordination of women, etc, and he ended up pushing me more into the secularist camp. I could easily see it going the other way for some people.

    3. I wish religious moderates and non-believing liberal apologists for religion would notice that the rotten core of all religion is not what people believe but why they believe it.

      It’s the 16/64 conundrum. One guy recognizes the common factor between the nominator and denominator, and divides top and bottom by four to show that it’s the same as 1/4. A second guy simply cancels out the sixes, and the result is 1/4.

      They both achieve the right answer, but you wouldn’t trust the second guy to make much progress in mathematics because his method merely produced a lucky guess. If he’d peeped at the other guy’s working and copied the answer, then he’s cheating and effectively admitting his method is flawed. Either way, his “remove the sixes” method is bunk. We’ve shown his method is a non-starter, and we didn’t even have to give him 16/65 to reduce.

      Religious apologists have the same problem. Their methods for solving social problems (indeed, for identifying what they are) and working out truths are either straightforward bunk that sometimes gets lucky or solutions taken from secular methods and passed off as religion’s own work. For all their ambitions in (theological) philosophy and reason, their epistemological incompetence puts them on par with quacks and amateurs. The only thing that seems to rival their overconfidence is everyone else’s over-enthusiasm for catering to it.

      Now, if only people would realize there’s nothing religion claims to have – ethics, spiritual feelings, thorough study of human nature, etc. – that isn’t better claimed by others elsewhere…

      1. > 16/64 conundrum.

        Nice one; I usually come up with more convoluted examples, using probabilities, to illustrate that point. I’ll have to remember that one.

  3. Mr Carson like other candidates is only following Bush(the elder)and Bush(the younger)in using Reagan’s script and all that needs is the the ability to read the lines.

  4. That’s a good point about Carson’s case: he believes the things he does because of religious convictions. I believe the big bang occurred, like Krauss, because of the abundant evidence for it. Show me better evidence and I and Krauss will change our beliefs. Evidence is why we believe, faith is why Carson believes.

    1. I would just as soon eliminate the word “believe” from my vocabulary when discussing science. I don’t believe in evolution, I accept the facts of evolution because the ideas have been proven to me by scientists using scientific arguments and proofs logically and comprehensively. There is no room for me to believe any contradictory explanations because they must defy logic and science. I suppose one may believe anything one chooses, but one would be wrong.

      1. Well I believe in evolution because I accept it as being an accurate description of reality. “Belief” here is being used colloquially. The word “belief” is like the word “faith”. Faith can mean irrational confidence but it can also be used as a synonym for trust.

        I take your point but let’s not forget that words can be multivalent. As an old literati I’m simply not willing to surrender our range of expression to the fools. They don’t own “belief” anymore than they own “faith”.

      2. In daily life I never use the word, it’s silly.

        “I believe in the theory of electromagnetism or gravity.” What is that supposed to actually mean? As if there is a choice?

        Same with evolution. I do not believe in evolution. It is a fact, in so far as it logically and cohesively fits with all other known facts.

        Epistemologically I am happy connecting knowledge with beliefs, but such connections are contingent on the veracity of propositions. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow, for example. It is ‘almost’ a fact that it will and clearly it can be considered knowledge, even if it has not happened. It is highly improbable that it will not. It is also highly improbably that everything Carson expects after death is not going to happen.

        1. It can be useful in discussions with believers. If they ask you if you believe in Evolution, you can ask them if they believe in gravity, if they believe that the Sun will rise in the East, if they believe that 1 + 1 = 2. If they do believe all that, ask them if their belief in those facts is the same as their belief in religion — and, if so, why. You’ve now pivoted the whole discussion to the basis for belief…which, after all, is what the entire debate is about, really. Faith vs Fact, and all that.


        2. It might help if one thinks of “belief” in some contexts is simply a technical term in epistemology which is somewhat related to, but not identical, to its ordinary meanings. Is this confusing? Yes, sometimes, but ideally no more so than “force” or “energy” in physics vs. ordinary life.

    1. OK.I threw up in my mouth a little reading that. I already had him pegged as a nut and still trying to square that with his rep as a “brilliant neurosurgeon.” But, this seals the deal. I know that scientists are scientists, and at some level doctors and engineers are mechanics. This took me a long time to realize even after that difference was pointed out to me, as I have a brother who designs high-end communcation chips and routinely works with quantum equations and relativity, but is a young-earth creationist. I forgot what my comment was. I’m still nauseous.

      1. I would suggest that being a brilliant surgeon consists of knowing intimately the details of a small area of physiognomny, and having extreme patience and steadiness in operating. I would compare that to an expert railway modeller, whose obsession with and skill at creating tiny precise details of model locomotives is breathtaking. But nobody expects a railway modeller to necessarily know a lot about the wider world, why would a surgeon?

        Actually, I’d think the anaesthetist would need a lot more scientific background than the surgeon.

        (Disclaimer: I owe my life to an expert heart surgeon. I do not wish to disparage surgeons, I’m just pointing out that their skill is not necessarily a guarantee of wisdom).

        1. That brings up another good point.

          Obviously, going into brain surgery is hyper-demanding. I worked with neurologists during college doing EEG’s and loved the science, briefly considering med school. One turning point was reading a profile of a 30 year old resident who routinely worked 24 shifts in his pusuit of becoming a brain surgeon. He lived in resident housing across the street from the hospital and in his few off hours, he sat in a chair next to a large pile of journals and read them continuously to keep up.

          He didn’t go out. Didn’t go to movies. Hadn’t read a book in years. Sounded more like a fascinating prison sentence rather than a vocation I would enjoy. Takes a certain type, I guess.

      2. Some engineers are responsible for designing new artefacts, which makes them akin to medical *researchers*. I use the term “technician” to apply to all those (or all those tasks, more correctly) where design and creativity is not required, merely implementation. Most of medical practice is like this, however sophisticated and complex the background knowledge is.

  5. waiting for an important phone call,but after that will be all over this post.Love Lawrence he is amazing now Ben Carson is really for a doctor so stupid and that is amazing.

  6. he says that scientists believe that, after the Big Bang, the universe was “perfectly ordered.” But no such claim has been made by scientists

    Scientific aside, but at very high energies you have less accessible states in which to store energy (e.g.: rotational and excitational states of atoms disappear when atoms cannot form). One can imagine that in the earliest, hottest moments, there may have been only a few states in equilibrium or one available state. In which case entropy would be at both a minimum (because all energy is in one state) and a maximum (because its evenly distributed among all possible states) at the same time.

    Likewise imagine a universe which reaches maximum entropy (energy evenly distributed amongst all available states). Now imagine new available states get added to it (say, by adiabatic expansion and cooling). All of a sudden, your entropy has decreased! 🙂

    So in some ways it may make sense to talk about the early state of the universe as lower in entropy. But what this shows is not that Carson is right, but that he’s making the standard mistake of confusing thermodynamic entropy with the notion of physical objects being in an ordered arrangement.

  7. “I’m not going to denigrate you because of your faith, and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine.”

    — Says Carson after having denigrated the “faith” of evolution by saying it is dumb and comes from the devil.

    1. Yeah, but if you saw the young lady I saw yesterday, you would know the reason we reproduce sexually. We can’t help it. And it also gives those of us too slow to understand most of the discussion here something to do that’s not only a lot of fun, but also gives us a feeling of doing something meaningful.

  8. ” … Carson responded, ‘I’m not going to denigrate you because of your faith, and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine.’”

    Carson is wrong twice over. First, he confounds “faith” and “scientific fact.” Then, he gets the science backasswards every time he opens his mouth, as with his arrant obtuse nonsense about a “slime pit of promiscuous chemicals.”

  9. … in the end there are few creationists who read The New Yorker, and virtually no supporters of Carson …

    That recalls the (probably apocryphal) comment attributed to the late New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael that she couldn’t understand how Richard Nixon got elected president since no one she knew voted for him.

  10. I’m unclear that any of the New Yorker’s readers were going to vote for Dr. Carson anyway.
    Not too long ago Ben Carson came through my state of California and said some silly things about climate change, and how no one has any evidence when he asks for it. Our governor sent him a nice letter along with a flash drive of a meta-study written by more than 800 scientists of over 30,000 papers . You can see the twitter pic here.

    As with the Evolution and Big Bang comments, it is tantalizing to wonder whether he is sincere in his beliefs, or merely “putting us on”, to paraphrase Mark Twain. However, what I think is a more pertinent question in the context of him running for president is, from where is he getting his information. If no one he asks has evidence for human influence on climate change, who is he asking? Cab drivers? His barber? Who was it that gave him the idea that the solar system is perfect and stable, and why did Dr. Carson choose to believe him? We don’t expect our presidents to know everything, but we do need them to be good at getting smart people that do know to get them good info. This is essentially a continuation of the “I’m not a scientist, but…” Our response should be. “We KNOW you’re not a scientist. But if you want to be president, you at least need to be able to call one on the phone.

  11. Ok call me naïve but I’m still wondering how a brilliant neurosurgeon can at the same time be so batshit crazy? It’s kinda scary. Who else is out there wearing a shiny sane mask hiding a brain full of squirming worms?

  12. Dawkins & Dennett debated/discussed evolution with Francis Collins and Ben Carson some years ago.

    It might interest someone. Youtube audio is here. I listened to enough to notice that Carson is indeed extremely silly about a large number of things.

    1. Listening to that…I’m in Collins’s opening statement, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to put up with much more special pleading from somebody who really ought know better….


  13. But Prof. Coyne, you know full well that if a college came to you or to Krauss and expressed doubt about evolution or cosmology, you;d report them to your friends in the NSA and they’d disappear without a trace.

    Or at least someone trying to be president, seems to think so.

  14. I must admit a very embarrassing fact and that is my mother in law is a Seventh Day Adventist.
    However, my wife is a life long Atheist so thankfully we do not see mom much.

    I also know these folks to be very strange people and Carson fits right in. One of his many pieces of evidence to this behavior on Y-Tube is a speech from 2011, I think called Creation vs. Evolution. It is right out of the Adventist play book.

    These folks are in a holding pattern waiting for second return of you know who. Many dates have passed and the wait continues. And he thinks a Muslim should not be president…

  15. I like the new Yorker’s spelling of “coördination”, it sounds fun trying to coördinate my mouth saying that in swenglish.

    More seriously, Krauss says this:

    [Carson] uses a long stream of medical terminology to argue against the biochemical origins of life—something he doesn’t seem to realize has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution itself.

    This is a nit of mine, I think it is time to start being careful on this topic. It is a fact that the theory of biological evolution does not stand or fall on biological emergence. But same as species are discernible after speciation but an uncertain area during the gradual process of speciation, there is an uncertain area during the gradual process of emergence.

    It is even possible that we inherit traits straight back to the geophysical systems that were responsible for biochemical origins. [“The Drive to Life on Wet and Icy Worlds”, Russell et al, Astrobiology; “A Bioenergetic Basis for Membrane Divergence in Archaea and Bacteria”, Sojo et al, PLOS Biology.] Not a genetic inheritance at first obviously, which makes the subject and its connection to evolution contentious. But possible.

    In a New Yorker piece… well, Krauss did good!

    1. To be fair, there’s no guarantee that the origin of life involves an evolution-like component. It doesn’t even have to be a particularly probable event from our point of view; it only had to happen once.

      The tricky part is figuring out how the first replicator molecule was assembled, given the raw elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, etc. and their compounds. You need a replicator that can mutate, and a plausible source for it to mine. There’s no shortage of candidates, only of evidence incriminating any particular one.

  16. Any time someone makes the false equivocation between faith and fact, I ask them to play a game. In one hand I have a dollar (which is visible) and in the other hand I’ve flipped a coin that’s either heads up or tails up.

    They can then choose both hands and earn 2 dollars if and only if the coin hand is heads up. But if they choose both hands and the coin hand is tails they get no money.

    Or they can just choose the visible money and earn a dollar.

    Faith vs. fact.

    If they think that all “faith” is equal, then they should have no hesitation at all about choosing both hands. Even if I decrease the odds of the coin hand (by say, having two or more coins in it that all have to be heads up).

    If they hesitate even a little bit, then you know they’re full of crap. As us Bayesians like to say, a bet is a tax on bullshit.

  17. In honor of the sixth International Blasphemy Day, today, 30 September, 2010, I have an irreverent joke (designed to piss off people like Ben Carson) to share:

    It was the week after Easter, and a crowd of followers were waiting to the resurrected Jesus to appear, but he was a no-show. The Apostles sent Thomas to the house where He was staying to get him.

    Thomas knocked on the door and said, “Lord! Lord! The people are waiting to see you!”

    From inside, an annoyed voice said, “In a minute! After last Friday it takes forever to do my nails!”

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