Klinghoffer Defends Dr. Ben Carson

This article appeared yesterday at the website of Pacific Standard, a bimonthly magazine: Why Do Some Doctors Reject Evolution?. It has this sub-title: “Presidential hopeful Ben Carson isn’t the only practitioner who’s got some doubts.”

Ben Carson is a retired neurosurgeon, formerly the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who is currently one of many seeking the Republican nomination for President. He’s almost universally liked — at least among Republicans — but he’s given virtually no chance to be the nominee. Practicing medicine is a fine thing, but it isn’t regarded as sufficient experience for the Presidency. He’s also a creationist, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the Republican party these days.

We wrote about Dr. Carson only once before — Kirk Cameron Gets Award for “Excellence”. After that we stopped thinking about him. But here’s what the Pacific Standard says. Science journalist Francie Diep describes who Carson is and then asks, with our bold font added:

How can doctors deny evolution? We assumed such beliefs would be unusual among doctors. After all, evolution is the foundational principle of biology, which, in turn, is the basic science that backs medicine. Ninety-eight percent of scientists, a closely related profession, accept evolution.

That’s a good question, but we’ve run across creationist physicians before. Here’s the answer she offers:

Although doctors use many insights from biology, many don’t actually need to understand or believe in evolution correctly to do their jobs. “Most physicians are not scientists. This is not a knock, but they’re more akin to engineers,” Gorski says. [That’s David Gorski, a surgeon and researcher at Wayne State University.] “They take science that’s already known and they apply it to a problem, the problem being making patients better.”

Then Francie Diep writes:

When I asked if I should worry if I had a doctor who didn’t accept evolution, the consensus answer seemed to be: Not necessarily, but be cautious. “I think it depends on the specialty,” Gorski says. “To be honest, to do an operation, you probably don’t need to understand evolution. If you’re in infectious disease, however, where evolution to antibiotic resistance is a very important consideration, I would say it would not be a good thing not to accept evolution.”

There’s much more to the article, and it’s good reading, but we want to give you the reaction of the Discovery Institute, who have some physicians among their number. They just posted this at their creationist blog: Doctors and Evolution. It was written by David Klinghoffer, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), who eagerly functions as their journalistic slasher and poo flinger. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

In an almost charmingly naïve article, Francie Diep at Pacific Standard wonders, “Why Do Some Doctors Reject Evolution?” Her news peg is Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who has expressed reservations about Darwinian accounts of evolution — though I don’t know that anyone has questioned him sharply and in an informed way about his ideas on the subject.

No one who is really “informed” has questioned Carson about his creationism. Presumably, Klinghoffer would require the questioner to be informed about the glorious wonders of intelligent design. Then he repeats the Gorski quote that: “Most physicians are not scientists. This is not a knock, but they’re more akin to engineers.” Klinghoffer is offended. He says:

It’s not a knock? It sure sounds like one. The countervailing consideration is that physicians and engineers — and why not throw in computer scientists as well? — do something on a daily basis that evolutionary biologists never do. The doctor or engineer’s responsibility is to maintain, devise, or build complex systems, even from the ground up, systems that must operate continuously without fail. If the system does fail, then the physician, engineer, or computer scientist has flopped in his job.

Yes, that’s what they do. And it fits the Salem hypothesis. Let’s read on:

Luxuriously insulated from reality, biologists theorizing about the history of life, how it arose and developed, face no such pressure … . Vague stories and magic words typically substitute for detailed explanations of how biological systems could come into being through purposeless, unintelligent processes alone. It often seems that the only serious pressure that Darwinists do face is from us.

According to Klinghoffer, evolution is all “vague stories and magic words.” Of course, the Discoveroids would never deal in such. They don’t use meaningless magic words — like “specified complexity” and “fine tuning” and “information.” Their intelligent design theory is very specific about how biological systems come into being — the transcendent designer did everything when no one was looking. Klinghoffer continues:

Miss Diep rolls out the usual line about how evolution is vital to biology which is vital to medicine, ergo medicine needs evolution or ought to do so. But even some hardline Darwinists admit that the practical benefits of their cherished theory are scarce.

Practical benefits? Well, it’s true that we can send a man to the Moon using only physics, astronomy, and aeronautical engineering. But then, have there ever been any practical benefits from the Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design? Could there ever be? If even the remotest possibility existed, then why doesn’t anyone other than bible colleges hire their “design theorists”?

Klinghoffer goes on a bit longer, but we’ve seen enough. All that remains is for Carson to join the Discovery Institute. But we doubt that he will. He may be a creationist, but we don’t think he’s that far gone. Well, we shouldn’t make any predictions. One never knows what a creationist will do.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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21 responses to “Klinghoffer Defends Dr. Ben Carson

  1. “The doctor or engineer’s responsibility is to maintain, devise, or build complex systems, even from the ground up, systems that must operate continuously without fail. If the system does fail, then the physician, engineer, or computer scientist has flopped in his job.”

    But such systems do fail, all too often. Blackouts happen, planes crash, bridges collapse and so on. Likewise, the ways in which living systems can fail are numerous almost beyond counting, with the practical result that every living thing dies eventually. Does that mean God the Engineer has “flopped in his job”?

    No, creationists would answer, for living creatures only die because Adam and Eve sinned and were driven from the Garden of Eden. (And never mind that “scientific” creationists pretend they’re not peddling Genesis.) Why would God alter the entire order of nature just to punish two foolish humans? Never mind; after all, He supposedly does it again after the Flood, modifying the laws of optics to give us the rainbow as a sign there would never be another such deluge. (“Won’t be water but the fire next time!”)

    How any of this drivel qualifies as serious criticism of evolution is beyond me.

  2. Eric Lipps admits: “How any of this drivel qualifies as serious criticism of evolution is beyond me.”

    Yes, it’s beyond you.

  3. docbill1351

    A good friend of mine is chief of thoracic and trauma surgery at a major hospital. He’s a heart transplant specialist and he knows virtually nothing about evolution, chemistry or physics. Well, no more than the typical science undergraduate, yet he’s a brilliant surgeon. We talked about this and his take was that he was technically good with his hands and he was good at improvising. “Anybody can transplant a heart,” he told me once, “it’s child’s play. What you need to be able to do is improvise quickly because once you open the chest and look in, the game changes. Stuff isn’t where it’s supposed to be, stuff is broken and you need to come up with a plan to fix it.”

    I asked him about neurosurgery and he said it was the same thing. He said that as long as you were good with your hands, had a good team and gas man and you could come up with a plan, you were golden.

    However, in our society we have placed “brain surgeons” and “rocket scientists” at the top of the scientific food chain when, in fact, they are highly skilled technicians who can do stuff we don’t understand, but not more than that.

    Carson may be a surgeon, but otherwise he’s quite ignorant and not very smart, either.

  4. michaelfugate

    Luxuriously insulated from reality, biologists…

    Another irony meter blown to hell – spooooiiiiinnnnggggg!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Diogenes' Lamp

    WTF? Just a few days ago Chappie at the DI was using doctors in the 1950’s saying cigarettes were good for you (allegedly, according to the Madison Avenue men). There the argument was: doctors dumb, doctors are scientists, therefore scientists dumb, scientists are evolutionists, therefore evolutionists dumb.

    Today Klinghitler’s argument is: scientists smart, doctors are scientists, therefore doctors smart, doctors are creationists, therefore creationists smart.

    These two arguments ftom the DI contradict each other in every intermediate step, and start ftom opposite premises, yet amazingly, they arrive at the same conclusion: creationists smart, evolutionists dumb. Funny how that worked out. Almost as if someone started from a desired conclusion and worked backward.

    See, this is what the DI fellows get paid the big bucks to do. Some measely scientist, who starts an experiment without knowing the conclusions ahead of time, does not deserve the big bucks paid to the seasoned propaganda commissars of Intelligent Design.

  6. Stephen Kennedy

    And I have to cringe in once again because of another medical doctor taken in by the pseudo-science of creationism. When I went to medical school there were no references to creationism in the curriculum and I do not really understand why there are so many creationist medical doctors. Now, I went to medical school in Philadelphia and did my residency and practiced in California. If I had gone to Alabama for medical school I might have run into some creationists.

    I do recall going on an interview for a residency position in Oklahoma that did not go so well. They were certainly very religious there and assured me that I would not be required to work on Wednesday evenings. They seemed a little perturbed when I asked what was so special about Wednesday evenings? Having been raised a Catholic I did not know that some of the more evangelical Protestant denominations have prayer meetings then. I could easily imagine them being creationists.

  7. Curmudgeon:

    While I respect your conservative views, do you ever wonder, not just in matters of science, but in matters of politics, especially on same-sex marriage and the religious right’s hysteria surrounding it … which is equal to or greater than that about evolution … whether you have backed the wrong ideological horse?

    I will understand if you find my question beneath answering.

  8. @ John Pieret: Not presuming to answer on behalf or our Curmudgeon, I would nonetheless suggest here that your question appears (to me, at least) to conflate social conservatism and political conservatism, in the way that it seems to be in the USA–but which is baffling to the rest of the world. In the UK, it was Mr. Cameron, a Conservative Party Prime Minister, whose government brought in the legislation for same-sex marriage on equal footing, and he did so with only minor yelps of protest from a small faction within his own party. And needless to say, the UK Conservative Party has no truck with Creationism or social and economic discrimination against women. None of this is remarkable here. From a European perspective, it is the foaming-mouthed ‘SoCons’ of the USA that are the inexplicable outliers on the political spectrum.

    Of course, it’s true that the entire American political spectrum seems markedly right-shifted relative to Europe, and I don’t doubt that Mr. Cameron, were he an American politician but holding his present ideology, would be rounded on by the SoCons there as a flaming revolutionary. And it always bemuses me that our dear Curmudgeon persists in equating US Democrats with ‘socialism’, which European socialists (who have not only been ‘loyal opposition’ parties here, but have also headed up some reasonable as well as some silly governments) no doubt find hugely risible.

    It would be interesting, had one the data and could agree the appropriate definitions, to prepare a simple Venn diagram on the overlap between US social and political conservatives. My guess would be that a substantial number of SoCons, while professing ‘conservatism’, would actually fall outside the set of core conservative beliefs on, say, limitations on central authority or individual freedoms of conscience and belief.

    Just my tuppenny worth…

  9. I suppose I have to thank Klingy. Only a while ago I argued that engineers feel attracted to creationism (or creationists feel attracted to engineering) because engineers design. I wondered if something similar applied to doctors. Klingy gives the answer: yes!

    What Mega writes about the comparison of UK politics with US politics fully applies to Dutch and German politics as well. Our dear SC probably would be comfortable with these parties:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Party_for_Freedom_and_Democracy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Democratic_Union_of_Germany

    No creationism, no opposition to same-sex marriage (in the case of Dutch VVD) and to abortion (in both cases) and solid conservative views on economical policy. They generally like Obama, which I as a radical with some firm socialist roots don’t.
    Our dear SC is politically as homeless as I would be, if I lived in the USA.

  10. Dave Luckett

    Mr Priest is a complete loon. He should be in the American Dictionary thereof. His website is a doozy. Have a look at the photo of him in his office. Once you get past the thought that will inevitably occur to you, viz “Would I buy a used car from this man?”, look at his surroundings. Look at the half-tiled wall with the exposed pipes behind him. If that’s a regular school principal’s office, I’m Carl Sagan.

    I notice that although he implies that he went to college (West Virginia State), he says absolutely nothing about his studies, except baseball. CreationWiki says he has a BS in education and an MS in school administration. He implies that he taught in public elementary schools for thirty years. I don’t think it was full-time. He was serving in the US Navy in 1968 as an enlisted man – I think he joined up out of high school, served only a short time (he doesn’t say for how long or why he was discharged), and then did teacher training, but there’s a photo from a newspaper dated June 1 1975, of him building his own school. So I think he worked as a public school teacher for a couple years at most, then built his own private school where he taught kids who had the misfortune to have parents as estranged from reality as he is. He was apparently a substitute teacher at times in the public system, but of course he bitterly hates it. The only reason that occurs to me for his doing that is because he didn’t make a living running his indoctrination mill.

    He certainly has no background in any scientific discipline. As for the rest, he’s bog-standard. A religious fanatic, YEC, six day six thousand years ago kind, thinks scientists are frightened of him, has mathematical proof that evolution is impossible, the whole nine yards. The DI guys look at these fringe lunatics and shudder. There’s simply no way of selling creationism as science so long as rococo fruitloops like this one keep demonstrating that you have to be deranged to be a creationist.

  11. John Pieret asks: “do you ever wonder… whether you have backed the wrong ideological horse?”

    The horse I backed long ago no longer exists, nor does the track he ran on. When I was still in school and just starting to think about politics, the US political spectrum was very different. As others have pointed out, the “social issues” that now dominate American politics didn’t exist — not in national campaigns.

    I think it was the Supreme Court that changed everything. They made rulings against prayer in school and for abortion. Previously, those had always been state and local issues. I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court didn’t have to decide those cases at all, but they wanted to, and they created a monster. The result is that sex and religion have become intertwined with national politics, and the typical election campaign makes it look like we’re all crazy.

    My political ideas go way back to the ’50s. Aside from national defense, where I’m rather “hawkish,” I favor free enterprise (instead of the un-free alternative). In economics, markets are smarter than politicians and bureaucrats, so aside from courts to enforce contracts and police for dealing with fraud, the less the government does, the better. (Don’t argue with me — I’m right.)

    All I care about is keeping the level of taxation and regulation down to what is necessary so we can defend the country and do the few other things the Constitution describes. But no one else cares about the Constitution these days, and taxes are no longer an unfortunate necessity. They’ve become an ideological issue — one party really likes them and always wants more.

    Neither party addresses my concerns, and this isn’t about science except very superficially. The Dems seem opposed to everything I care about, and the GOP is obsessed with sex and religion. As I’ve said before, voting these days involves trying to decide which candidate will do the least amount of damage.

  12. I like docbill’s analysis comparing surgeons to technicians. They are implementing a skill with limited creativity involved. They could be flat earthers or moon landing denyers, it wouldn’t change their surgical outcomes at all. While we should admire people who have the drive and the patience to get advanced degrees, at the end of the day they are human body techs.

  13. Klinghoffer says “Luxuriously insulated from reality, …. It often seems that the only serious pressure that Darwinists do face is from us.”

    Really? Is that the issue? Scientists experiencing luxury? Isolated from pressure?

    What? Should they suffer more? Is Klinghoffer jealous? Sour grapes?

    Sniping about nothing.

  14. @Dave I think you replied one post too late.

  15. As far as people who are concerned with designing things and thus carry that concern over to other realms:
    Wouldn’t they therefore favor socialism?
    Wouldn’t they realize, more than most people, that design leads nowhere without implementation?

  16. The problem is that there is no centrist party, and very few if any members of the two main parties who approach that balanced position. A centrist would balance the cost of government with the revenues of government and let that determine tax rates, rather than setting arbitrary rates and then borrowing money to make up the difference. If taxes are too high, reduce government services, if government is unable to provide the services the people feel it is important to have, then increase taxes to pay for them. The populace will determine whether they are getting fair value for their taxes when they go to the polls.

    A centrist would have no truck with social values ideologues or extreme positions on either end of the spectrum.

    The balanced position used to be achieved through compromise between the parties, but that is more and more difficult as the parties are pulled further apart. Thus, no immigration reform, no amending the ACA to keep what works and fix what doesn’t, no national infrastructure overhaul, no meaningful measures to address climate change, no overhaul of the tax code, etc. etc. etc. We currently have the least productive congress ever elected, at least since the 2010 election. Yet the “base” of each party’s electorate continues to vote extremists into office, especially on the GOP side.

    It’s hard to see how we will ever get out of this mess.

  17. @mnbo – I find it curious that anyone would suppose that engineers would tend to be creationists, or vice versa. Engineering as I see it (from the perspective of computer engineering) rests on the foundation of the natural sciences. Knowledge of physics, in particular, is required in every engineering program I know of. Whether it’s electrical, mechanical, civil, etc. the engineer needs to know the basic behaviors of matter and energy relevant to design of circuits, mechanisms, structures, etc. Even computer software engineers should understand the way that computer hardware works; a thorough understanding of computer hardware requires an understanding of electronics and the underlying physics.

    The science one learns in an engineering degree program is of course natural science. The word “miracle” is not used to explain how things work in natural science. And when a civil engineer or architect is designing a dam, a bridge, or a building, the design takes into account natural forces such as wind and earthquakes. One does not worry about anticipating supernatural events.

    IMHO the understanding and acceptance of Darwin’s view should come naturally to engineers. Furthermore, product lines that are designed for sale in competitive free markets (things like automobiles and consumer electronics) can be seen to evolve over time as market forces select the winners and leave the losing products unsold (with their backers facing death-by-bankruptcy). Free markets are often compared to jungles where only the fittest survive. Design engineers had best understand this.

  18. Dave Luckett

    PaulS, Oh, Goddammit, you’re right.

  19. Eddie Janssen

    @Diogenes’ Lamp, 11:07 pm
    Bravo!
    Its not that brilliant an insight as Darwins idea, but the first thing I thought after reading your comment was: “Why didn’t I think of that!”
    That’s why they don’t allow comments at ENV.

  20. @HG: “I find it curious that anyone would suppose that engineers would tend to be creationists”
    No, that’s not what I claimed. I addressed the fact that among engineers and doctors the percentage creationists is clearly higher than in other fields. There is a correlation. I tried to give an explanation that does not assume one is the cause of the other. It might very well be the case that due to the nature of the work engineers and doctors do creationists feel more attracted to these fields. Ie they were creationists before they started their studies and chose exactly these studies because they seemed (in their eyes) to confirm that creationism. In other words: cognitive dissonance is much, much lower.
    Of course I see engineering and medicine in exactly the way as you describe.

  21. One can observe that medical doctors, and surgeons particularly, have a temptation to be know-it-alls.