I am writing this blog post to address the fallacious arguments presented by Dr Ben Carson with regards to the theory of evolution. My attention was recently diverted to this youtube video, where Carson gives a lecture about “the flaws in evolutionary theory”. It is complete nonsense and demonstrates Dr Carson’s limited knowledge of the central theorem of biology and indeed of geology, archaeology, and history — something which has incredibly elicited immediate bewilderment and confusion on my part, given the fact that he is a neurosurgeon, which is quite ironic indeed since the brain is an evolved organ.
Carson begins his talk by mentioning that humans have the biggest frontal lobes and that “we can extract information from the past or present and fashion our future because we are made in the image of God.” But this is quite a fallacious argument as the size of the frontal lobe has little, if any, to do with the “superior” cognitive capabilities that the human brain is claimed to have been endowed with. According to a recently published study, this frontal region expansion in humans is tied in to related increases in other areas of the brain (Barton and Venditti, 2013) and that the phylogenetic branches leading to humans were in fact superseded by faster changes in other branches as well. So, our frontal lobes are not that special. It would be quite subjective indeed to ascribe a large frontal lobe to a certain species, without taking into account how this scales up to the overall size of the organism. Thus, it would make more sense to attribute the higher human functions to the way in which the brain regions are interconnected with each other and the way in which those structures are used.
Evolutionary mechanisms could very well explain how humans evolved to become the smartest animals. It would be relevant that I point out this recently published study as it fits the context of the matter being discussed. According to the study published in the August 20 issue of Science, human intelligence could be explained through a single molecular event that occurred (Gueroussov et al, 2015). It discusses how alternative splicing of the PTBP1 protein could have contributed to evolutionary differences and morphological complexity in mammalian nervous systems. This could well hold the key to how humans evolved to become the smartest animals. But, based on Dr Carson’s tone, I am inclined to think that he would rather attribute something that appears to be designed (human brain and us) to some sort of premeditator, without even considering any other hypothesis because he has determined already what he will accept as true.
Ben Carson then goes on with digressive experiences that he has had in the past as proof for his religious beliefs. He mentions an incident where an extremely complex conjoined twin operation that took 22 hours became a success using only 3 units of blood. Therefore, he argues, God exists. It is quite odd why he digresses to this anecdote because it does not follow from his initial argumentation and what he set out to do (present the flaws in evolutionary theory). What does this say about evolution?
He then talks about “Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) – the so-called missing link” and argues why there is only one example of such. But, there is no such a thing as “the missing link”. Evolutionary relationships are really a tree of life and are exemplified by common ancestry relationships rather than a linear progression from existing species. It is not like these branches separate and set off on their course. Since all organisms in all species are related by common ancestry, using Carson’s reasoning, there should be a plethora of missing links! (even the most exotic that you can imagine). Indeed there are transitional features and they have all been found. Fossils indicating evolutionary transitions for reptiles to birds, birds to mammals, and mammals to whales have all been found. Modern species are not descended from each other. And, we did not evolve from apes, gorillas or chimps. So, Carson’s argument that scientists are trying to fill in the missing link with Lucy is flawed because there is no “missing link” in the first place. Scientists are not looking for it and evolutionary relationships do not predict it.
Carson then mentions the 6 day creation myth and attempts to support it, even though there is immense geologic evidence against this. Similarly, Carson also attacks the geologic dating technique of stratigraphy (determining age of rocks based on age of fossils) as a form of circular reasoning. This is absolutely ridiculous as the principles of stratigraphy were set out long before Darwin published his theory of natural selection. So, the argument of initial prejudice doesn’t hold water at all. Radiometric dating which is another technique has so far supported the interpretations gleaned from the stratigraphic techniques and verified relative ages.
If there is anyone here who has initial prejudice, then it is Ben Carson himself. He has already determined that he will accept his beliefs as true and so he is going to try to pull any nonexistent inconsistencies out of thin air or keep searching for any, just to refute the empirical evidence. If anything contradicts his beliefs, then “these scientists don’t know anything”. It is quite ironic therefore for Carson to refer to evolutionary biologists as “evolutionists”. He is implying that they have this predisposition that they want evolution to be true. This absolutely not true as all what evolutionary biologists and scientists do is look for the balance between data and theory.
Carson also mentions that it would make sense to attribute the changes within a species to an intelligent designer who gives them the opportunity to adapt than to attribute them to evolutionary mechanisms. How ironic! And, then he states that there is no evidence for species change to another species. This is another ridiculous argument because speciation is gradual and we would need to observe a population over thousands of years. But, nevertheless, there are lots of examples of plant and insect speciation from the literature. For instance, in 1990, William Rice and George Salt bred fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) into a habitat maze. Two strains were subjected to different environmental conditions. After 35 generations, the two strains were reproductively separated and each strain developed mating preferences for flies that were only from the same habitat condition.
Carson also mentions how he is perplexed by the fact that if plants came before bees, then how did plants reproduce? Has he ever heard of wind pollination?
Carson not only indulges in misrepresentations in evolution and biology but even moves on to physics and cosmology too! He claims that the Big Bang violates the laws of thermodynamics, which is a terrible thing to say.
If there is anything that Ben Carson proved by the end of his talk, it is that even neurosurgeons can sometimes be STEM illiterate.