Carson's Hand Shaky at Political Surgery

Monday, December 08, 2014

Karl "The 'Genius' Who Can't Stop Hillary" Rove has written a column about whom he calls the winners of the GOP's "invisible primaries", leading to the 2016 presidential race. Among those winners is Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon of whom I have had a vaguely positive impression:

Dr. Carson may have the most impressive list of new small donors. The Draft Carson Committee (with which he legally could not be involved) used his name to raise $11.1 million, spent $10.2 million (92%) on overhead and devoted $531,788 (5%) to supporting midterm candidates. American Legacy PAC (Dr. Carson heads its anti-ObamaCare project) used his signature to help raise $6.5 million, and spent $5.9 million (91%) on overhead and gave $140,090 (2%) to candidates. If Dr. Carson runs, his campaign presumably can use those donor names.
In addition to already having strong grassroots support, Carson recently polled second only to Mitt Romney, showing that he already starts with good name recognition.

This is impressive, but I have become highly suspicious of GOP candidates in recent years. Accordingly, I decided to take a closer look at Carson, aided by the fact that he has a published a fair amount of commentary, making it easy to learn his actual positions on a host of relevant issues.

Hardly scratching the surface, I found the following whopper in a piece about a successful effort by a secular watchdog group to have the Navy remove Bibles from the rooms of its military hotels. After wrongly likening atheism to religion, Carson makes the following interesting analogy:
This is like saying there shouldn't be certain brands of bottled water in hotel rooms because there may be guests who prefer a different type of water or are offended by bottled water and think everybody should be drinking tap water. The logical answer to such absurdity would, of course, be that the offended individual could bring his own water or simply ignore the brand of water he does not care for.
I have a small quibble to make with Dr. Carson here: These hotels are run by the government, which not only should not be taking a stand on what we should be thinking, but is also legally barred from doing so in the case of religion by the Establishment Clause. Carson's analogy is fine for a private business, whose owner can choose to provide (or allow others to provide) Bibles to his customers, but it fails here. This is because, at the very least, those Americans who are not Christian are being made to finance, however indirectly, the spread of ideas they do not support. Christians have freedom of speech, but that freedom does not include being provided a forum at the expense of non-Christians.

Dr. Carson cuts a very appealing figure to many, but intelligence and impressive credentials are not enough to make a defender of liberty. In that vein, let me offer a couple of analogies of my own: First, as is most obvious in economics, small breaches in freedom lead to larger ones. Letting the Navy off the hook here would be like leaving a small piece of a tumor behind during a cancer surgery, and pronouncing it cured. Second, if someone cannot be trusted in small matters, he should not be trusted in large ones. As Carson's condescending language about "'big boy' pants" indicates, this may be a relatively minor affront to individual rights in today's context, but it is a violation nonetheless. A true defender of freedom tolerates no breach, and would have the courage to say so.

Carson may well emerge, in today's horrendous culture, as the lesser of two evils in the 2016 election, but that is the best I can say for him.


-- CAV


Steve D said...

Who pays for the water/bible? This is not just a quibble. His whole article is an example of confused thinking to the extent that I am not always even sure what his point is.

For example:

‘it’s the belief that there is no God and that all things can be proved by science.’

No, it’s just the belief that there is no God; the lack of belief with no necessary positive implications at all. It makes no statement about what science can or cannot do. Atheism can be analogized to a null set; not a zero.

‘The previous sentence may seem out of place if you don't realize that atheism is actually a religion.’

That left me scratching my head. If atheism is a religion, then essentially every possible positive or negative belief is a religion. (I am not sure about agnosticism, though)

And even if that were true, at least atheism would have the advantage of not forcing anyone to pay for its holy book since it has no holy book. Therefore it still gets the advantage of putting its holy book (which is nothing) into Navy hotel rooms.

Gus Van Horn said...


I'm using "quibble" rhetorically. You are absolutely correct that the article shows poor thinking.

Regarding the idea that atheists think all things can be proved by science, Carson is buying into/pandering to a conservative stereotype (that the so-called "New Atheists" sometimes make look plausible). Since conservatives aren't used to thinking about non-scientific things philosophically, using faith as a substitute, they see the alternative as absurd.

Science is only a kind of rational thought, but it may be the only kind many religionists know.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus, Steve,

I don't know who first said it, but it is succinct;

If Atheism is a religion then Bald is a hair color.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


That is a gem of brevity and humor. Hadn't heard it before. Thanks!


Snedcat said...

C. Andrew writes, "I don't know who first said it, but it is succinct; If Atheism is a religion then Bald is a hair color."

An excellent quip. The sad thing is that Carson's comment, "The previous sentence may seem out of place if you don't realize that atheism is actually a religion" is common enough among religionists that I've heard it countless times, and they mean it literally.

The best argument, such as it is, is that atheism makes a claim about religion, therefore it is itself a religion (or, slightly less flagrantly objectionable, is a religious view); some continue by saying that everyone therefore has religious views, even atheists, and often go further to say that the sate therefore cannot be neutral in matters of religion or separated from the church.

This is sometimes further muddled by the fallacy of taking the positive views of some atheists as characteristic of atheism per se; both approaches can be found on this page, for example. Notice, by the way, that the seven characteristics of religion that it gives are non-essentials--the author starts by dismissing supernaturalism as a defining characteristic of religion, which means that religion in this view is presented as just socially influential systems of belief, never mind the essential question of where those beliefs come from.

This brings us directly to the basic error in this canard--in fact and essence, atheism is a philosophical view (however limited in scope, of course), in the same way that religions are philosophical views, and while all religions are philosophical views, not all philosophical views are religions. (Or to use a much less entertaining quip, all hobbies are pastimes, but not all pastimes are hobbies.) The state cannot be separated from philosophy (political philosophy most obviously, the more fundamental branches of philosophy as well), but it can be separated from religion.

Gus Van Horn said...


Your last comment is an interesting connection that is worth remembering, and thanks for bringing up the better arguments from that side of the debate.


Anonymous Rice Alum #4 said...

One glance at Carson's photo shows you why the GOP brain(dead)trust want him as 2016 nominee: they hope the big meanies at the New York Times will stop calling them racists.

Gus Van Horn said...

I think there's more to it than that.

Look further, at his resume: He's a neurosurgeon. Now, look at what half of the GOP call Obama: incompetent (as if having a competent leftist in office would be better).

Too many in the GOP can't or don't want to argue on issues, so they appease the left or pretend that there isn't an argument at all.