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Local University Invites Creationist to Give Commencement Address

Ben CarsonThe local university here in Wichita Falls is Midwestern State University. It's a pretty good university, actually. In 2007 (I think), it was named the #1 top value in public colleges and universities by Consumers Digest (source). It's a small university at only around 6500 students, but even at that size any organization is going to have some controversies. The most recent one for MSU was when they invited Dr. Ben Carson to give the commencement speech at this year's graduation, as detailed in this Times Record News article, MSU brings polemic to graduation. This little event even got noticed nationwide, such as Jerry Coyne's website, Why Evolution Is True, in the entry, Creationist neurosurgeon speaks at yet another commencement.

Just in case you don't recognize Carson's name, there are a few reasons his presence was controversial. The one aspect that didn't get as much attention, but which strikes a personal chord with me, is his rejection of evolution and embrace of creationism. Just read this quote from an interview with the Adventist Review.

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?

That sounds an awful lot like an old canard that I covered in the entry, Local Church Misunderstands Evolution - Why Are There Still Apes?. There is no pinnacle of evolution. Organisms are constantly evolving to fit their particular environments. Why would even expect that all animals should evolve to resemble humans?

Moving on, here's another quote from that article.

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?

This is another one that I've covered before, only very briefly for this one, in the entry, Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution. If you scroll about a third of the way down that page, you'll find some pictures of eyes. One is a full on camera type eye like we humans have. The other is a cup type eye from a patella snail. Snail eyes evolved independently of vertebrate eyes, but they show a clear analog to what an ancestral vertebrate eye was probably like. There's no reason to expect that all components of an eye had to evolve simultaneously - eyes work just fine with only some of the components that we have in ours.

And finally, here's one last excerpt from that interview.

So how could our incredibly organized universe come about as the result of a big bang? This flies in the face of the second law, which says it would be less organized as a result, not more! Scientists have to be consistent.

I have a previous entry that's somewhat related to this, Creation Museum/Creationist Rule of Thumb with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. That entry was more about creationists misapplying the 2nd Law to biological evolution, but it's just as applicable to the evolution of the universe. The 2nd Law does not mean what creationists so often naively interpret it to mean. And what type of arrogance does it take to think that you could have found such a glaringly obvious problem with cosmology when there are countless well educated and intelligent scientists who have devoted their careers to it? I know, that's hinting at being an argument of authority, but I see people so often who think they know more about fields than people who are actual experts, which I discussed in another entry, The Economy & Expertise.

Carson's knowledge of evolution is abysmal. And it's not as if biology is unrelated to medicine, even if you don't need a perfect understanding of biology to be a doctor. If I were the university administration, I'd be very hesitant to invite someone as ignorant as Carson to represent my university.

But enough about evolution, since that's not really what stirred the pot in this case. No, the big problem is Carson's bigotry against homosexuals and his opposition to marriage equality. Back in March, he made some pretty odious remarks on this front.

It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society, and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality -- it doesn't matter what they are -- they don't get to change the definition.

Now, some people (like commenters in that TRN article above) claim that Carson never directly compared gays to NAMBLA or practitioners of bestiality. But that's a pretty weasely argument. Carson is an educated man. He could have chosen any manner of saying that he didn't think marriage should adapt to changing times. And the manner he chose was to associate homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality. I don't think this qualifies exactly as the type of propaganda known as 'poisoning the well', but it's awfully close.

For a bit of entertainment, and to hear Carson actually speak those words himself, you can watch this segment from the Daily Show below, and get John Stewart's take on it (along with his reaction to other opponents of marriage equality). Carson's bit comes near the end.

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Of course, after the outrage this caused, he issued the standard apologies. Well actually, his first apology was some mangled ramble about apples, oranges, and bananas (or watch it on The Daily Show). But he later issued a more reasonable apology, as detailed in the article, Ben Carson Apologizes to Johns Hopkins Community. Still, his original comments were offensive enough that after enough public pressure, he eventually stepped down from being the commencement speaker at his own university, Johns Hopkins. And he never did back down from his bigoted position against marriage equality - he just apologized for his word choice.

So, when some faculty found out that Carson was the speaker, they approached the MSU administration. When it was clear that Carson was going to remain as the commencement speaker, they decided to stage a mini, peaceful protest. Just before Carson was to speak, eleven faculty and two students stood up and walked out, waiting outside the auditorium until Carson's speech was over.

If you read the article in that TRN article above, you'll find several commenters upset with that reaction. But to me, it seems perfectly reasonable. Carson is ignorant of the most fundamental theory of biology, and he has expressed his bigotry against homosexuals with some pretty odious remarks. Those faculty and students who disapproved of his role in the graduation ceremony didn't shout anything. They didn't hold up protest signs. They didn't cause a major ruckus. They simply walked out silently.

So, that's the latest local controversy here in Wichita Falls. It's a bit disappointing that university officials saw fit to invite someone like Carson to begin with, but it's nice to see people who disapproved enough to stage this mini protest. And the TRN article also mentioned that many faculty and students were wearing rainbow ribbons pinned to their gowns. So there's hope even deeply conservative Wichita Falls.

Image Source: YMaryland.org

Updated 2014-09-04: Adventist Review link changed to WayBack Machine.

This didn't fit anywhere else into this blog entry, so let me just add it here. MSU has a Freethought Alliance that meets regularly. I even went to a discussion they put on this past Darwin Day.

I'll also note that I found another good webpage that deals with one of the quotes I gave of Carson up above:
Afarensis - Stupid Creationist Quote of the Week: Ben Carson on Evolution


what can you say

I had some hopes for Carson. But I can do with out the weird "science"

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