Emory University should have had bragging rights for this commencement season: Internationally renowned neurosurgeon and humanitarian Ben Carson delivered the keynote address at the university's 167th commencement on May 14.
Carson (see "Second opinion," April 21) has directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center for more than 25 years. He overcame a hard childhood in inner-city Detroit and has become particularly famous for his work in separating twins with conjoined heads. In 2008 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. His fifth book, America the Beautiful, is now out.
In announcing the honorary degree and keynote speech that Carson would receive and give, Emory President Jim Wagner said, "Few men or women have demonstrated to so inspiring a degree the transformational effect of liberal learning and the humanities. Dr. Carson has transformed lives both inside the operating room and beyond."
But campus bragging about commencement stopped early in May once many faculty members and students learned that Carson has faith in Christ and disdain for evolution. Four Emory biology professors complained to the school newspaper: "Carson argues that ... there are no transitional fossils that provide evidence for the evolution of humans from a common ancestor with other apes ... and that life is too complex to have originated by the natural process of evolution."
He's right on both counts, but the professors-joined by 160 other faculty members as well as many researchers and students-stated flatly that Carson is "incorrect. ... The theory of evolution is as strongly supported as the theory of gravity and the theory that infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms. Dismissing evolution disregards the importance of science and critical thinking to society."
Carson has made enormous advances in medicine, and his disbelief in evolution has not hampered him. If he had a similar disbelief in gravity or germ theory, it's doubtful that he could have been such an innovator, since I suspect it's hard to operate when both doctors and patients are floating gravity-less-and I suspect patients don't survive if their surgeons don't scrub.
Carson's problem is not a refusal to engage in critical thinking. His thought crime is critically thinking about an academic orthodoxy. The professors particularly complained about the connections Carson makes between evolutionary theory and ethics: If we're merely the result of evolution, he has said, "You don't have to abide by a set of moral codes, you determine your own conscience based on your own desires." But the history of the past century, and the lifestyle of many campuses, shows that he's right.