Emory University posted a video of Ben Carson’s Commencement speech from Monday — you know, the one that led to Emory president James Wagner’s assuring faculty that henceforth the university would institute a background check on honorees like Dr. Carson, lest another Darwin doubter or other undesirable escape detection.
In the end, President Wagner introduced Dr. Carson gracefully. Carson gave a beautiful speech (no notes or text either), funny and inspiring and eloquent. I got choked up when he talked about Francis Scott Key composing the words that became the lyrics of the “Star Spangled Banner” as he observed the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814. Key saw how the American troops, defending Baltimore Harbor, would not let the flag fall despite being showered by upwards of 1500 cannonballs along with rockets and mortar shells, a lesson in persistence. But I’m not doing justice to the way he tells it. Watch for yourself.
Yes, he addressed the evolution flap and gently but firmly put his critics in their place:
I know there was some controversy about my views on creation and somebody thought that I said that evolutionists are not ethical people. Of course I would never say such a thing and would never believe such a thing nor would anybody with any common sense. So that’s pretty ridiculous.
How could the four professors who drew up the petition of complaint seriously think he meant to say Darwin believers are morally defective, as opposed to acknowledging what’s obviously true — that Darwinian evolution undercuts any coherent defense of moral principles?
Better still, later in the speech and without referencing the Emory dustup, he made an unapologetic pitch for reasoned debate over enforced dogma. “Political correctness,” he said, “threatens the prosperity and the vitality of our nation.”
Many people came to this nation and they were trying to escape from societies that tried to tell them what they could say and what they could think and here we come reintroducing it through the back door. And we need to remember that it is not important that we all think the same thing and the emphasis should not be on us all saying the same thing. The emphasis should be on learning how to be respectful of individuals who have a different opinion.
That’s one of things that made America great, the ability to engage in dialogue. And I’ve always said if two people think the same thing about everything, one of them isn’t necessary. We need to be able to understand that if we’re going to make real progress.
There was a time in the history of the world when there was great intolerance for anybody who thought differently than the mainstream. It was called the Dark Ages. And there are some things that can be learned even in places and societies where we think we know everything, because if you look over the course of time you will find a migration of what is thought to be the truth. And if we all engage in appropriate intellectual discussion I think we will get there much faster.
That’s a quite a statement, even without making the slightest allusion to intelligent design or Darwinism. He’s saying that history amounts to a groping yet persistent search for truth. To assume you’ve got it all figured out is na�ve. “Appropriate intellectual discussion,” an unhindered airing of competing views, will speed the search even as suppressing opinions you don’t like impedes it.
Great stuff. Take that, academic bullies.
Dr. Carson described his personal intellectual and professional trajectory, one that led from a Detroit childhood of dire poverty and challenges to his own self-esteem, to medical breakthroughs as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins. He talked about separating a pair of conjoined Siamese twins at South Africa’s only black teaching hospital, a triumph that left black South Africans exultant and full of well-deserved pride. When the surgery was successfully completed, people were literally dancing in the streets. This month, Dr. Carson said, the twins will graduate from ninth grade.
What a wonderful story.
“True success,” he told the Emory graduates, means “using the talent you have to elevate other people.” That too is a thought on which his critics, who are very good at tearing people down, would benefit from meditating.