Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Happy Equinox!



Astronomical summer is over! Speaking of astronomy, I heard a good one this morning. I’m sure GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is far from alone as an American who dismisses principles widely accepted by academic and professional scientists, but this one is just too much for me not to comment on. Apparently, in a 2012 speech Dr. Carson said:
"Well, I mean, [the Big Bang is] even more ridiculous than that [because] our solar system, not to mention the universe outside of that is extraordinarily well organized, to the point where we can predict 70 years away when a comet is coming," he said. "Now that type of organization to just come out of an explosion? I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing."
Of course it sounds ridiculous when reduced as such, but Big Bang Cosmology is a much more nuanced and robust explanation about the formation of the early Universe than that. As the prevailing cosmological model, it’s supported by solid theoretical considerations and observational evidence. Having earned his BA from Yale University and MD from the University of Michigan, what’s truly amazing is the level of science denialism and motivated reasoning on Dr. Carson’s behalf given his education. Beyond any doubt, Carson is a highly intelligent individual and a brilliant neurosurgeon, but it’s astonishing to me he can deny such well-established science. But millions of Americans do, so he’s in good company with respect to that demographic.

Apart from using a fallacy from personal incredulity, Carson is playing a couple of Christian apologetics cards, namely the cosmological and design arguments, which I don’t need to refute here because they were destroyed by David Hume over 200 years ago. Just as Carson unfairly portrays what the Big Bang is, I could sum up his view as this: We know of no natural explanation for the order observed in the Universe, therefore there must be a supernatural one. In other words: We don’t know, therefore we do know. It's an interesting way of processing a mystery and might even qualify as ridiculous. Naturally, the good doctor also denies biological evolution (apparently one of Satan's deeds). Oh, and climate science, too. His stance on vaccinations is also under scrutiny.

Recently Dr. Ben Carson said he wants people to stop criticizing him for calling the Big Bang Theory a fairy tale. He said, “I’m not gonna denigrate you because of your faith and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine.” But there’s far more than faith at work here; it’s blatant anti-intellectualism and science denalism inspired by his religious dogmatism. To be sure, Carson has every right to believe whatever he wants, and I respect his right to do so, but his ideas regarding the aforementioned scientific principles are unworthy of it. In fact, for someone of Carson's education they're downright embarrassing.

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