Dr. Ben Carson is not your typical presidential candidate. The fact that Donald Trump and Carson are well ahead of the pack in the Republican primary battle suggests that American are pining for a non-traditional candidate to support. Carson is a retired pediatric neurosurgeon who, in 1987, became the first doctor to successfully separate Siamese twins conjoined at the head. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, some 38 honorary doctorates, numerous national merit citations, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine. His scientific and intellectual chops should be universally accepted, yet they are not. A recent editorial by Gail Collins raised an ugly specter regarding a not-so-hidden skeleton in Carson’s closet. After referring to Carson’s inspiring personal story of rising from poverty, she wrote:
On the other side, it is kind of unnerving that he doesn’t believe in evolution. …Carson doesn’t believe in evolution. And he is, you know, a scientist.
That is all she says, but that is enough. She does not need to evaluate, because the mere fact that he is not an evolutionist calls everything else in his career into question. In those few words, Carson moves from admirable figure to ignorant rube in her mind.
It is an all too common story in American history dating back at least to the Scopes Trail of the 1920s. John Scopes was a substitute teacher that occasionally subbed in a science classroom. In the state of Tennessee at that time, it was illegal to teach evolution in the classroom. The American Civil Liberties Union was seeking a test case to challenge the law and offered to defend anyone accused of violating the law. The law was not generally enforced, but some boosters of Dayton, Tennessee thought that such a case would bring much needed publicity to their area. John Scopes agreed to being accused of violating the Butler Act that outlawed teaching evolution. Scopes could not remember actually doing so, be the ACLU provided a defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow, and Scopes helped to find false witnesses. That trial was a media sensation and a circus for Dayton, Tennessee, because the state asked three time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan to help prosecute the case. The media painted the case as a battle between science and religion, progressives and fundamentalists, rationalists and rubes. The judge disallowed scientific experts saying that the case was not about the merits of evolution, but about the law. Inexplicably, however, he did allow Darrow to interrogate a biblical expert and Bryan became that expert. Darrow asked him a variety of questions, many of which Scripture does not directly answer. America’s misguided perspective of this event is based on the play, Inherit the Wind, written in the 1950s by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. It has been made into a movie several times. The play was designed to critique the McCarthyism in America during the 1950s, and rewrote the essence of the trial to emphasize the intellectual gap between evolutionists and creationists. He likened creationists to McCarthyites and evolutionists to those who opposed Joseph McCarthy’s tactics in trying to eradicate communists in America’s government. While their purpose is clear, America’s perception of the Scopes Trial is not. Bryan actually did not like the law in Tennessee, but did support the right of a state to determine educational policy. He preferred that teachers be allowed to teach both and even offered to pay Scope’s fine. While the play portrays the Bryan character to be an unthinking buffoon, the trial transcript shows Bryan to be quite thoughtful in his responses. Today’s America would critique him, however, for actually believing what Scripture teaches.
And that, apparently, is Dr. Carson’s great failing. It is ironic what becomes a political issue in this day and age. In this case, a person, who by all accounts is a highly successful physician and a good and decent man having given away large amounts of money to help other young Americans be successful, is attacked because he holds a view on origins that some 42% of Americans hold. I wonder what these critics think of our Founding Fathers, none of whom held to the evolutionary theory. Biological evolution as we know it was not even introduced until the mid-nineteenth century by Charles Darwin. I suppose the America of today would find Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln to be ignorant and unsophisticated as well because they believed in an Intelligent Designer.
I am not even going to get into the fact that evolution is a theory and those who hold to it have to believe that certain conditions existed in order to allow it to occur. In other words, it requires faith, just as it does for a creationist to believe in creation. Perhaps what is most frustrating is that Dr. Carson is a scientist. I have actually read arguments trying to suggest that physicians are not scientists, but I think they would be very surprised by such assertions. Regardless, it is clear that a belief in evolution is not required to become one of the world’s foremost surgeons. Perhaps Gail Collins and other editorialists ought to evaluate Carson on what he intends to do if he is elected president. Carson, like many highly successful Americans (and Presidents) both in the past and in the present, believes in the God of the Bible. Such a belief should not be seen as shocking or considered ignorant given the important role that Judeo-Christian thought has played in the development of Western Civilization. I hope that Americans will remember their history. I also hope that Christians will graciously refuse to accept the type of denigration that Carson has faced.