Smart People Believing Stupid Things

So after a brief moment in the spotlight, it appears that Ben Carson will not be this week's Savior of the Republican Party after all. But his quick rise and fall raise an interesting question: Why are some people incredibly smart when it comes to some topics, and incredibly stupid when it comes to others?

To bring you up to speed, Carson is a noted neurosurgeon who, among other things, was the first to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. He's also extremely politically conservative (and African-American), which made him a popular, though by no means nationally famous, figure in some conservative circles. Then in February, he gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which he took the occasion to sharply criticize President Obama (who was sitting right there) and advocate for a flat tax, which as everyone knows is pleasing unto the Lord. The Wall Street Journal then ran an editorial titled "Ben Carson for President," and he was off to the races, making media appearances, appearing at CPAC, and obviously seriously considering a run for the White House. Until he went on Hannity and said no one should undermine traditional marriage, "be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality," a comment that the PC police took issue with. And now it turns out that in addition to his anti-gay views, Carson also believes that the world is 6,000 years old, and evolution is just some crazy idea for which there's no more evidence than there is for the biblical story of creation.

It's this last part that I find particularly interesting. Elitist that I am, I tend to think of young-earth creationists as poorly educated, backwoods folk. This isn't a matter of religious belief versus lack of belief, either. The Catholic Church, which is run by some fellows who are pretty serious about their religion, says that evolution is perfectly compatible with the biblical creation story, properly understood. I really don't understand how one could make it through college and med school (with all those science prerequisites!) and sustain those beliefs. After exposure to not just the discoveries of science but to scientific thinking and methods themselves, you have to go through some incredible mental gymnastics to believe that it's all just a lie. There have been other prominent Republican politicians who have advocated intelligent design (Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum did last year), but if you're going for the top job, young-earth creationism is an entirely different level.

And that's not all. Carson also seems to be something of a biblical literalist, also a belief system no person with an IQ higher than that of a turnip could reasonably hold to, unless he were also willing to advocate the stoning of rebellious children, the death penalty for working on the sabbath, and all the juicy polygamy, genocide, slavery, and rape that make the Old Testament such a page-turner. But maybe his views on those things are more nuanced than they appear.

We all have subjects we know nothing about, and things we struggle to understand. For instance, I'm pretty handy around the house when it comes to mechanical systems or anything that is made of wood, but I find electricity baffling. Circuits, ohms, volts, watts— for some reason I find it kind of confusing, as evidenced by that time I shorted out half the house trying to install a simple light switch. That being said, I wouldn't assert that it's all phony mumbo-jumbo, and trained electricians are nothing but a bunch of con artists. There are people who are insightful at understanding literature but terrible at understanding physics, or vice-versa. What's so jarring about Carson is that his area of accomplishment is a scientific one, yet he seems incapable of thinking rationally when his religious beliefs touch on areas his scientific mind ought to help him understand.

It's Carson's venomous views on gay people, and not his crazy views about geology and biology, that will keep him from becoming the mainstream figure some had hoped. But I suspect he'll do just fine, finding a Palin-esque niche on the right to occupy. It may not be the White House, but it's a pretty good gig.


2 points.

(1) Carson's field of accomplishment is not "a scientific one." He is not a researcher: he is a surgeon, a super-high-class carpenter. Immense skills are required, but they don't translate.

(2) It is characteristic of individuals successful in one field, especially a competitive and hierarchical one, to imagine that they are generically capable of doing & understanding anything. But 'intelligence' and 'skill' (more generally) fall into a myriad of special components, and reality is unkind to delusions of this sort.

Took the words right out of my mouth, thanks. While many doctors are scientists, not all are. Very well put.

hquain has it right. I've witnessed so very many examples over the years. Curiously, often people who display extraordinary skills in fields like surgery, engineering, etc. Disciplines with defined functional rules (yes, I know, there is art in those examples) are completely lost when it comes to grasping complex intellectual concepts that lack hard and fast rules.

If Mr. Waldman finds Dr. Carson's views disconcerting, we clearly need to take Mr. Waldman's views to task as well. Of course, the left loves to belittle the intelligence of prominent conservative in order to diminish the credibility of the right as a whole. Old but successful tactic. If the author is providing a straight-faced critique of the doctor by noting that "Carson also seems to be something of a biblical literalist, also a belief system no person with an IQ higher than that of a turnip could reasonably hold to, unless he were also willing to advocate the stoning of rebellious children, the death penalty for working on the sabbath, and all the juicy polygamy, genocide, slavery, and rape that make the Old Testament such a page-turner," then it's time to call him to task on his biblical illiteracy. Context still counts for something in public universities; it always has in biblical hermeneutics, the study of how to interprete the Bible. To take these culture-specific events, mores, rules, restrictions and ceremonial laws and contend that biblical literalists must logical advocate for them is nothing more than an ignorant meme that seems to replicate among the left. Jesus declared that he did not come to invalidate or do away with the law but to fulfill it. His concept of love - for God, for neighbor, for self - would transcend many of the old rules as He established his new "kingdom of God." To contend that advocacy for these evils would somehow follow in a Christian belief system is to demonstrate that you only have enough knowledge of the Bible to be dangerous. If distortion of a particular faith's tenets is the aim of Mr. Waldman here we can also add the adjective "bigoted."

So there folks, we have it, an elegant statement by Mr. Epps of Pick-and-choose Evangelical Christianism.


Yes, indeed. In addition to them, many atheists and agnostics think they can interpret the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven by merely reading a Bible.
But listen, who gave them their understanding? A Bible thumping preacher? Their own conceit?
"And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand." Jesus in Matthew Chapter 13.

Ah, religious thinking.

"All truth and wisdom is contained in my sacred text, which says A"
"But your sacred text appears not to say A, it says B"
"That's because you don't understand it the right way, the words don't mean what you think, you 'seeing see not, and hearing hear not.'"

Often, the same critique applies to American constitutional lawyers.

"Something of a literalist?" Seems a phrase with no meaning.

I see no reason why our personal ideas of dignity need to be validated by society or the State. Whether I fired you for being Catholic or gay or a serial killer or a torturer of puppies, so long as I am not imposing my standards on decisions to be made by others, they are my decisions and I defy any law to tell me to give a hoot. I am aware that the Sate can reward or punish but I do not believe that it should ever do either of those things just to make people feel that their own beliefs are being validated or supported.

If I did not have to contend with the ludicrous argument that right or reason supports the rights of Gays (as opposed to the opinions of Gays, which are in my view as valid and as irrelevant as the opinions of the rest of us), I might take the other side and blast the good surgeon.

There is a term for people who feel that their "personal ideas of dignity need [not] be validated by society." It's "sociopath".

The peculiar notion of some on the American libertarian Right that values are some entirely private individual creation is one of the greatest misunderstandings of morality and society that I know. "…so long as I am not imposing my standards on decision to be made by others" is not a viable foundation for human survival. When the first East African plains apes became more intensely social, and thrived because of it, we all had certain choices made for us: we are social and communicative animals, intensely so, which means that every act and decision every individual makes is founded -- both pre-consciously and consciously -- on the values of others. This does not mean we need passively accept our particular group's values: we may challenge them, invert them, seek to change them…but what we are constitutionally incapable of doing (unless we are sociopaths) is to exist as though our group's values had no effect on us.

It's interesting that the linkswarm has directed both hyper-libertarians and Biblical literalists here to defend the good Dr. Carson.

the further western civilization gets away from religious theology, the more free we can be to create and prosper-providing that political correctness isn't ultimately successful at destroying free speech and our rights to criticise religion-especially deathcults like islam-which beats out christianity in stupidity, slavery and misogyny.
how else does one account for the fact that western culture leapfrogged from horsecarts to spacecraft within 3 centuries only after the reformation?
i'm certain that the good doctor performs surgery by electric lighting instead of candlelight and utilizes surgical instruments instead of faithhealing upon his patients. his patients don't go to him to hear his religious views.

I agree with most of the commenters here! For all the hoopla regarding Dr. Carson on Foxnews and considering the relatively thought provoking speech at the prayer breakfast that made him famous I have ultimately been disappointed and severely unimpressed with Dr Carson. NOT just because I disagree fervently with his political outlook and most of his cultural critiques, but also due to the fact that he just DOES NOT come across as having more than a 'few fingers' on the topics of the day, far from the firm 'grasp' necessary to be an effective pundit on tv shows about politics IMO. He seems to be on the Hannity show a few times a week but The people at Foxnews obviously refrain from putting him opposite other guests with conflicting views; Id imagine this is due to the sound drudging he takes whenever thats the case! Sometimes his lack of knowledge on a specific subject is amplified by his unwillingness to cede any ground when very good points are made, I have seen him countless times reiterate a position proven to be logically inconsistent which only serves to shine a light more intensely on his faulty logic in the first place, as opposed to accepting an opposing point as valid, albeit incorrect and then amending your argument to fit the context! IDK this is a rather long winded way to say that I have been unimpressed with the guy! ;-)

Scientists of today are some of the stupidest people on earth. I used to work in a sawmill in northwestern Montana. Today there are no sawmills in northwestern Montana. There are people on welfare. The county where I worked in a sawmill has the highest percentage of people collecting social security of any county in the United States. The reason why there are no more sawmills there is because scientists testified in federal court that unless sawmills were shut down, all the spotted owls would be gone. Without the sawmills, the number of spotted owls continued to decline. Then it was decided that the reason they were disappearing was because a larger owl from the east was moving into spotted owl territory, so now Fish and Game people are shooting the larger owl because scientists decided that was the way to save the spotted owl now. So what are the trees used for now?
They are used for 500,000 acre forest fires to prove there is global warming and burn up some firefighters once in a while so people can get all emotional about it. About half of the trees in Arizona have burned since 2000. They burned up a fire crew from the state prison in the Dude fire in the 1980's. It was mentioned several times on the news. Then last month they burned up a hotshot crew on the Yarnell fire because the scientific fire bosses put them where they would get burned up. There was a difference between the fire crew burned up on the Dude fire and the one burned up on the Yarnell fire. The ones burned up on the Yarnell fire were heroes, but the ones burned up on the Dude fire were not.
But mathematics is where scientists of today are really stupid. Here are the correct equations for relativity.


Here are the equations scientists use.


Scientists discarded the correct equations in 1887 and have used the incorrect ones since that time. There is no way to even discuss these obvious mistakes with scientists because they are paid trillions of dollars in money borrowed on national credit to do things wrong.

t' = t

And the transit of Venus data was faked…and that pretty light over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just an illusion paid for with all those trillions, I guess.

The progression from policy choices and critiques of government policy (which is indeed sometimes wrongheaded) to wild fantasies liking unrelated things (no spotted owl protection in Arizona, and not much logging, either!) to outright reality denialism (relativity in physics is a fraud), illustrated all in one post.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)