Ben Carson, Science, and Seventh-day Adventists

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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a campaign rally at the Henderson Pavilion on November 15, 2015 in Henderson, Nevada. Carson is battling Donald Trump for the lead in polls for the Republican presidential nomination.

Source: Religion & Politics

Presidential candidate Ben Carson’s scientific views might seem out of place for a renowned neurosurgeon. He is uncertain on global warming, opining toBloomberg: “We may be warming. We may be cooling.” He is strangely agnostic about the age of the earth, but believes it was created in six days and life is recent. In 2011, he told a Seventh-day Adventist audience that he was not “a hard and fast person who says the earth is only six thousand years old. But I do believe in the six day creation.” He added that “the earth could have been here for a long time” before God started creating. On evolution he does not mince words: Darwin’s theory “was encouraged by the adversary,” meaning the Devil, as he told another Seventh-day Adventist group in 2012.

Carson isn’t alone. According to the Pew Research Center, a sizable chunk of the U.S. agrees, with 31 percent rejecting evolution entirely. Even among doctors, typically equated with scientists in the public mind, 22 percent reject evolution, according to asurvey from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Regardless of one’s employment, opposition to evolution is driven by religion, and usually by certain readings of the first chapters of Genesis; the fact is, there just aren’t a whole lot of atheists who reject evolution, because the science is so overwhelming. In an earlier study, Pew found that 87 percent of atheists and agnostics agreed with the statement that, “evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life.” The same study showed that 58 percent of Catholics, 77 percent of Jews, and only 35 percent of Protestants agreed. Clearly, religious belief is not an impossible barrier to acceptance of evolution.

Carson’s faith has been coming up on the campaign trail, due both to Carson’s expression of Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) beliefs and to Donald Trump, who has cast aspersions on them. A Presbyterian himself, an affiliation that he described as “down the middle of the road,” Trump engaged in fear-mongering of sorts: “I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about, I just don’t know about.” Indeed, few know about Seventh-day Adventism, which was officially organized as a distinct denomination in 1863. Taking its name from the emphasis on worshipping on Saturday (the seventh day) instead of Sunday, its roots were in the Millerite movement, best known for its failed predictions of Jesus’ return, known as “the Great Disappointment.” Today, Seventh-day Adventism counts 18 million followers globally, most of them outside the United States. Raised by an Adventist mother, baptized SDA at age 8, and then again at 12 by his own request, Ben Carson has been an Adventist virtually his entire life. And his religious inheritance puts him close to the sources of the creationist movement.

Many believing scholars today argue that the first of two creation accounts in the biblical book of Genesis, with its familiar structure of days, took its current form around the sixth century BCE. As a minority group in Babylon after the destruction of Israel, Israelites were pulled in two directions: cultural assimilation or divergence. In writing Genesis 1, Israelite priests split the difference, reshaping Israelite creation traditions in Babylonian ways to demonstrate their respectability, while simultaneously arguing against Babylonian religious ideas about polytheism and the nature of humanity. In spite of its seven-day structure, this priestly remix of creation had no interest in the age of the earth or the length of creation; they just wanted to survive by appealing to their cultural and political overlords while keeping as much of their religion as possible in a foreign land. Many believers have little problem squaring this with their beliefs. C.S. Lewis, for example, once wrote that he had “no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.” The important takeaway is that Genesis 1 did not represent Israel’s earliest or only understanding of creation, nor was its particular mode of expression completely without human context.

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