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Intimidating Darwin Doubters? Emory University Shows the Way

You can be a brilliant, innovative pediatric neurosurgeon at a sky-scraping top medical school, in addition to being a generous philanthropist with an inspirational up-from-dire-poverty personal story, plus a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, and a best-selling writer whose memoir was turned into a TV movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
All that, but if you once shared your critical thoughts on evolutionary science and its moral implications — everything else about you suddenly dwindles to very little.
Dr. Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins University is that man. He’s scheduled to give the Commencement address and receive an honorary degree at Emory University but close to 500 faculty members, students and staff protested, drawing up a gravely serious letter to the student paper expressing their “concerns.” Over what? Carson had no intention of speaking about evolution but someone dug up an impromptu interview he once gave to a publication associated with his Christian denomination (he’s a Seventh Day Adventist).
Carson explained why he’s not impressed by the evidence on offer for Darwinian theory and why a materialist philosophy is at odds with the idea of free will and therefore makes it tough to offer a coherent account of moral principles. The interview is casual in tone and it’s not clear whether his views are more along the lines of theistic evolution, intelligent design, or some other perspective. Not that the protestors seemed inclined to make any careful distinctions.
Emory isn’t withdrawing the invitation and the letter’s signatories don’t demand that the university do so. But they do distort his opinions and make him sound far less thoughtful than he actually is. Because he says you can’t, under materialism, give a sound rationale for morality, they claim he said that evolutionists are therefore morally defective, which is of course absurd.
At the First Things website, Princeton University moral philosopher Robbie George comes to Carson’s defense. Professor George agrees with Carson:

But of course Gentle Ben (and he is indeed one of the gentlest, kindest people one could ever meet) doesn’t believe that his Darwinist friends and colleagues are necessarily unethical. What he believes is that Darwinism is necessarily materialistic. (This is a view about Darwinism that he shares with some devout Darwinists themselves.) And he believes that materialism, if true, is incompatible with free will and with ethical norms (which must be, after all, norms for the guidance of free choices, if they are to have any standing, force, and validity at all). Now, he knows perfectly well that people who believe in materialism are in many cases decent, honorable, ethical people. But he thinks that they lead lives that are much better than their formal philosophical beliefs would require them to lead. He believes that their commitment to materialism makes it impossible for them to give a sound account of the ethical norms which they themselves, to their credit, live by. Of course, he might be wrong about that (though I don’t think he is), just as he might be wrong about the validity of Darwinism as a scientific theory, or the compatility of Darwinism with the rejection of materialism. But it’s certainly not a mean or crazy thing to believe or say. It’s scarcely a cause for “concern” about having him as a Commencement speaker.

Emory, meanwhile, has struggled to explain how a Darwin-critic could possibly have received such an invitation, as Inside Higher Ed reports:

Campus spokesman Ron Sauder said Emory wasn’t aware of Carson’s views on evolution until after extending the invitation. The invitation isn’t necessarily an endorsement of Carson’s opinions. “Our position is to follow the research and the scientific method where it leads,” Sauder said. “Our leading life scientists would define our views on evolution, and the number of signatories on that petition would probably speak to that.”

Beyond the specific episode involving Emory University and Ben Carson, the general point needs to be emphasized. Dr. Carson is protected both by his renown and by the fact that a Commencement address, however high profile, is still just a one-shot event. It’s not an academic appointment.
If Carson’s brief comments on evolution drew this kind of harsh and distorting criticism, imagine the results if he were someone else: a young scientist seeking a strong start to his career, a not so young but still untenured scientist with his livelihood to protect, even a tenured academic worried about his reputation and the future careers of his own grad students.
Imagine one of those folks harboring private doubts about Darwin — as, in fact, we know that plenty do. He would have to be nearly suicidal, in disregarding his future job prospects — either that or fantastically brave — to breath a word about his opinions.
This is, once again, how Darwinists maintain the fiction that the scientific community has reached a freely determined “consensus” in favor of Darwinian evolution and against competing scientific views like intelligent design. The consensus is maintained by intimidation. It’s a farce — but for vulnerable people in academic life, a scary farce.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.