Four professors applied Charles Darwin's natural selection process to free speech at Emory University. It's not clear if it will survive, despite the good will of Dr. Ben Carson.
Four professors applied Charles Darwin's natural selection process to free speech at Emory University. It's not clear if it will survive, despite the good will of Dr. Ben Carson. The four, Jaap de Roode (biology), Arri Eisen (biology), Nicole Gerardo (biology) and Ilya Nemenman (biology and physics), wrote at letter to the editor, published in the Emory Wheel student newspaper April 23, 2012. The letter, titled: “Ben Carson's Outright Rejection of Evolution Is Against Emory's Ideals.,” was signed by nearly 500 individuals, most of them Emory University professors and students.
Carson was scheduled to speak to the Emory School of Medicine graduating class May 14. He did speak as scheduled, and answered some, but definitely not all of the objections to his views. He said that he did not believe evolutionists, or those who believe in Darwinian evolution to be unethical. That may be true, since Carson probably has no intimate knowledge of the four professors. But it probably does not change what he thinks about evolution.
Carson was quoted in the Adventist, Dec. 2011, “Ultimately, if you accept the evolutionary theory, you dismiss ethics, you don’t have to abide by a set of moral codes, you determine your own conscience based on your own desires.” Why take issue with this? Possibly because the professors would rather not have someone uninvited air their views about evolution, or tell the truth about it - whether it is Carson or anyone else. In the letter, the professors say he has denied and dismissed evolution. That may also be true, but does he also says that evolutionists lack ethics and morals? Princeton University philosopher Robbie George attempts to clarify the doctor’s views in May, 2012, on the web site First Things:
“(Carson) doesn't believe that his Darwinist friends and colleagues are necessarily unethical. What he believes is that Darwinism is necessarily materialistic ... a view [shared by] some devout Darwinists themselves. And he believes that materialism, if true, is incompatible with free will and with ethical norms. ... He knows perfectly well that people who believe in materialism are in many cases decent, honorable, ethical people. But he thinks that they lead lives that are much better than their formal philosophical beliefs would require them to lead. He believes that their commitment to materialism makes it impossible for them to give a sound account of the ethical norms which they themselves, to their credit, live by."
It is unclear if George spoke with Carson or is simply describing what he sees as shared beliefs. The professors believe that Carson “insists on not seeing a difference between science, which is predictive and falsifiable, and religious belief systems, which by their very nature cannot be falsified. This is especially troubling since his great achievements in medicine allow him to be viewed as someone who ‘understands science.’” It’s a surprising analogy, only because he is probably not attempting to falsify either science or religion. Rather, he is simply describing the materialism in Darwinism that the professors would rather not discuss.
Reading the “Origin of the Species” and the “Descent of Man,” it’s not hard to see how one could come to the conclusion that some, if not all, morality, can be decided by any one person or society that claims right by might or by a greater ability to adapt or survive by simply being “fitter.”
There are countless examples of “strongmen,” who take by force, seeking to liberate people, only to impose an onerous and corrupt, if not destructive personal ethic. In a sense, it’s the opposite of what we get with creation - a God intimately involved in the creative process. If we suppose there was a creator, and much of Western civilization is based on the Judeo-Christian ethic, we know our rights to be unalienable. That is, we have rights from birth, because of who God is, as described in the Bible. But Darwinism believes that what we are, our rights, can be torn from us as easily as an animal that kills another. The greatest ethic spoken of in Darwin’s hypothesis, is that we are who we are through death and survival: natural selection, and survival of the fittest. It’s likely that the four professors are sensitive to the impact of Darwinism on ethical standards and morality. And yet, it is the removal of God from the picture that makes the Darwinian hypothesis so attractive to many scientists, especially atheists who have a distaste for Jesus, the God of the Bible - and creationism.
We certainly see this with at least one professor, Eisen, who posts his thoughts on religion dispatches . org, and on CNN. In a CNN article (Dec. 15, 2011), “My Take: the case for presenting ethics, religion in science class,” he talks about giving more context to science discussions. As an example, he asks the students in his cell biology course, “How many of you believe in evolution?” Almost all of them raise their hands. When he asks, “How many of you think something in addition to evolution accounts for humans being on earth as we now exist?” Again, almost all of them raise their hands.
Two inconsistent thoughts coexist without an attempt to reconcile or integrate them. It is this kind of dissonance of fundamental beliefs and science that good education should address and help explore, and certainly not ignore, he relates. And yet, it seems that Eisen is willing to ignore the hypothesis of the creation model in his explanation. Not having talked to Eisen, it’s hard to unravel the logic behind his statements. Most of this is probably because Eisen has probably never examined a creation model, assumes that since it talks about it in the Bible, he can’t think about it or address it at Emory. And yet, this kind of backward thinking is not really what students need. It certainly does not sit well with his title, professor of pedagogy at Emory University Center for Ethics.
Here is more of Carson’s Adventist claim: there is no evidence for evolution; there are no transitional fossils that provide evidence for the evolution of humans from a common ancestor with other apes; that evolution is a wholly random process; and that life is too complex to have originated by the natural process of evolution. “All of these claims are incorrect,” reads the letter. “ . . . the processes by which organisms evolve new and more complex body plans are now known to be caused by relatively simple alterations of the expression of small numbers of developmental genes.” This is perhaps the most interesting statement in the letter. If one attempts to argue illogically, I suppose it is best to use a statement that is as outlandish as is possible. It makes it more difficult to disprove. But according to Darwinism, new forms of life evolved as a result of other forms dying off. And the alteration of a gene does not sound simple at all. There are actually lots of reasons why a “body plan” may change; yet none of them may have anything to do with evolution. Races of people can adapt to being at a high altitude. You could call this evolving a new “body plan,” but it’s actually more likely that it is just the body adapting. There are no new species being created here. The races of man have different skin color, different features. Are they evolving a new body plans? Other claims made by the letter: Our understanding of the evolutionary process has advanced our ability to develop animal models for disease; our ability to combat the spread of infectious disease and, in point of fact; the work of Dr. Carson himself is based on scientific advances fostered by an understanding of evolution; the theory of evolution is as strongly supported as the theory of gravity and the theory that infectious diseases are caused by micro-organisms. Dismissing evolution disregards the importance of science and critical thinking to society; stating that those who accept the underlying principle of biology and medicine are unethical not only encourages the insertion of unnecessary and destructive wedges between the Americans, but stands against many of the ideals of this University.
While Carson did not specifically address the disagreement about evolution, he did reflect on that the professors were obviously upset that he spoke his mind about a topic that they disagreed with. And that politically correct thinking negatively affects the “prosperity and vitality of our nation.” “Many people who came to this nation were trying to come to this country to escape from societies that were trying to tell them what they could say and what they could think,” he said. “And here we come reintroducing it through the back door.” Carson, of course, was referring to politically correct thinking at Emory University - that a speaker needed to conform to accepted thinking on evolution, or risk public rebuke. “We need to remember that it is not important that we think the same thing,” he said.
Though Emory University President James W. Wagner met with the four professors, in the end, he enthusiastically welcomed and presented Carson to Emory University. Here is what Wagner told Carson during the commencement address: “Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., courageous physician, exemplary humanitarian, tracing intellectual and spiritual ascent out of the bonds of a risk-filled childhood. Your story lifts the hearts and steals the courage of countless men and women. You combine learning, fortitude, and nimble hands, to heal and save fragile lives. You have used your renown and influence to forge new, hopeful paths for young people. Your gentle spirit and rigorous intellect demonstrate a wise heart harnessed to a keen and searching mind. In gratitude for the best qualities of humanity that shine brilliantly through your life and work, we bestow on you the degree of doctor of humane letters, honoras casa.”
© 2012 Larry Ingram
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