Ben Carson’s Odd Relationship With Truth
As Ben Carson rises in the polls, it's worth noting his many examples of having what can only be called a very odd relationship with truth and the basic facts of history.
Going back to even before he was a candidate for President, Ben Carson was making the news in the U.S. thanks largely to his history of making inflammatory and bizarre statements about American politics and American political figures. For example, he has equated the Affordable Care Act to the September 11th attacks, made frequent use of Nazi analogies to criticize the President, and said that “progressives” want to turn the United States into Nazi Germany. He has also compared abortion to human sacrifices by civilizations of the past and claimed that prison rape is proof that being gay is a choice. More recently on the campaign trail, he has talked about using the Federal Department of Education to police and crack down on so-called “political bias” on college campuses across the country,” and has generally displayed an extraordinary amount of apparent ignorance even on things one would ordinarily expect a candidate for President to be familiar with on a passing level, such as how the Federal Government actually works. Despite all of this, or maybe even because of it, Carson has risen steadily in the polls since the first Republican debate in August to the point where he can legitimately be said to be a co-frontrunner with Donald Trump both in national polling and in early primary states such as Iowa and has put forward rather impressive fundraising numbers for a candidate who had never run for office before. Finally, and perhaps most relevant to the subject of this post, he has become, along with Trump the candidate that Republicans trust the most on issues like the economy, foreign policy, and control over the nation’s nuclear weapons.
In the past several days, though, Carson has been in the news thanks in large part to claims that he made in the past, and during the course of the campaign today. Some of these statements are important, some are unimportant, but the fact that Carson seems to have little regard for what truth and facts actually raises serious questions about him and the candidates who support him.
One example dates back more than two decades when Carson was not really a political figure and provides a window into the man’s theology and faith. In this case, Carson makes claims about the famous Egyptian Pyramids that simply don’t scare with historical reality:
Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson believes the Egyptian pyramids were used for grain.
In a college commencement speech 17 years ago, Carson told the graduates of Andrews University in Michigan that it is his “personal” belief that the pyramids were built as storehouses for grain and not, as archaeologists say, for the interment of dead pharaohs.
“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said in taped remarks first reported by Buzzfeed on Wednesday. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it.”
On Thursday, Carson defended his views on the campaign trail in Miami.
“Some people believe in the Bible, like I do,” Carson told reporters. “And don’t find that to be silly at all and believe that God created the earth and don’t find that to be silly at all. The secular progressives try to ridicule it anytime it comes up and they’re welcome to do that.”
At another stop, he said, “I think that’s a plausible explanation to how they got built…I happen to believe a lot of things that you might not believe because I believe in the Bible.”
Carson questions authenticity of Trump’s faith
Asked about his pyramid theory a day earlier, Carson explained his reasoning.
“The pyramids were made in a way that they had hermetically sealed compartments,” he said. “You wouldn’t need hermetically sealed compartments for a sepulcher. You would need that if you were trying to preserve grain for a long period of time.”
The Washington Post has a more detailed look at Carson’s stated beliefs about the Pyramids, and to say that it clashes with what most of us has come to understand what these last remnants of the Wonders of the Ancient World is something of an understatement. Most of us, I would imagine, were taught or came to understand through some form of popular history that the Pyramids were meant to be tombs for one or more of the Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt, a burial monument that differed from later tombs that were placed in more secure location but nonetheless intended to be similar to those tombs the place where their deceased God-Kings would journey to what they believed was the afterlife. Carson, though, ties the Pyramids to the Biblical story of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph who allegedly became the second most powerful man in Egypt in his time and was said to have anticipated a major famine and saved Egypt by ordered grain to be stored in granaries. Leaving aside the fact that many historians doubt if this Joseph actually existed or if any part of his story is true, Carson’s theory, based in the same literal interpretation of the Bible that causes him to believe in Young Earth Creationism and reject Evolution, the simple fact of the matter is that his claims do not withstand even rudimentary scrutiny. As Kristina Killgrove has pointed out in Forbes, Egyptologists have pointed out that the Ancient Egyptians left behind written records in the form of heiroglyphics that make it clear that the Pyramids were in fact elaborate burial chambers. Asked about all of this during the course of this week, Carson has simply said that this is what he believes and that there is evidence to support his claims, even though there actually isn’t, and that questioning his statements amounts to an attack by “secular progressives.”
Carson has made claims of more recent historical vintage on the campaign trail, specifically the idea he set forth in a Facebook post early in the week, and that has been repeated in campaign speeches he has made in the past, that the men who drafted the Declaration of Independence had no elective office experience when they drafted that document in the summer of 1776. In many respects, this claim on Carson’s part fits neatly within the kinds of myths that many on the right spread about the Founding Fathers that also include the ideas of David Barton regarding the nature that religion played in the nation’s founding, which have been widely rejected by historians, and the long history that many politicians have of relying on quotes from Colonial Era leaders that have been misattributed or simply made up out of thin air. As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler pointed out yesterday, though, the idea that America’s Founders had never held office before or had no political experience is simply untrue. Indeed, of the 51 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, at least 31 had some previous political experience. Carson has subsequently edited his Facebook post to state that none of the men had any federal office political experience, but this attempt to cover an obvious untruth is nonsense because, of course, the Federal Government would not exist for another thirteen years at the time the Declaration of Independence was signed in July 1776.
In addition to claims about history that are simply not true, Carson has also apparently made claims about his own personal history that are at the very least wholly unverifiable. When he was first starting to rise in the polls, for example, Carson claimed that he had once been threatened at gunpoint at a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant in Baltimore and told the story about how he diffused the situation by talking to the man. Attempts by some reporters to try to verify the story, which admittedly may be difficult to do with a decades old incident that apparently never resulted in an arrest or even a police report, have proven entirely unsuccessful. More recently, Carson has been talking about incidents that form the core of his most well-known book in which he recounts a history as a youth in which he was violent and threatened both friends and family. Once again, efforts to try to verify any elements of this story have proven not to be fruitful, and Carson has questioned the motives of anyone who would dare to question his own well-crafted biography.
As I said, some of these claims of Carson’s less important than others. In the grand scheme of things I’m not sure that the fact that Dr. Carson believes something completely false about the Egyptian Pyramids is especially important. Along with his beliefs on evolution, cosmology, and religion, though, it does open a window into the extent to which Carson’s faith influences both his thinking and how he perceives the world, something that I would argue is important in understanding how he or any candidate thinks. Carson’s claims about the Founding Fathers are somewhat more concerning in that they reveal either a lack of basic knowledge of American history or, more likely, a willingness to spread half-truths and lies about America’s Founding Generation when it fits a political narrative, something that conservative politicians of recent vintage seem to have a habit of doing. Finally Carson’s claims about his personal history are concerning largely because of the way that he has used them to shape the image that he projects to the public. While it’s generally been true that politicians often exaggerate elements of their past to create an image, when it is done it says something about the character of the person doing it that, at the very least, Americans should know about.
It will be up to voters to decide how to evaluate all of these claims that Carson has made that have debunked, questioned, and discredited. One suspects that many of his most die-hard supporters won’t care at all, and will dismiss those who question him as being part of a conspiracy to silence him. This will likely be especially true of those attracted to Carson because for religious reasons, to whom the reports by the media regarding Carson’s comments about the Pyramids, or about Evolutionary Theory and Cosmology, will seem like another “secular” attack on people of faith. Arguing with such people, I have found, is largely pointless. Nonetheless, that does not mean that Carson should not be called out for his fabulist nonsense. This man is running for President of the United States and currently leading or sharing the lead for the nomination of one of the nation’s two major political parties. The fact that he believes in nonsense and appears comfortable with making up facts or basing his historical understanding on myth is important because it shows how he thinks, and why he doesn’t belong anywhere near the Oval Office.
Ben Carson is just the most visible, high profile example of a phenomena that I think many of us have seen too often in real life: Otherwise perfectly nice, intelligent, and even successful people who hold some absolutely batshit beliefs; primarily because of their religious affiliations, choice of information sources, or more often a combination of both.
I know people just like this. We were friends back in the 90s before the Internet. They were sane then. Now we can’t even be associates on FB because they want to argue about everything, and a rational discussion is impossible because most of what they’re pissed off about isn’t even true. It’s sad.
I know the type of which you speak.
I, for one, question the judgement of anybody who claims to get their wisdom from an invisible friend in the sky. If you are not making rational decisions based on the facts on the ground, you lost my vote. If you willfully ignore actual data because it conflicts with your preconceived notions, then you have lost my vote. If you actively discourage free thinking and self awareness with yourself and your staff, then you have lost my vote.
Yes, I realize Obama is as religious as any of these candidates. I long for the day an ‘out’ atheist can run for office without being accused of eating babies in their free time.
I don’t know why you felt it necessary to single out poor Dr. Carson.
The Republican candidates across the board are a group of mendacious f’ers.
As someone said about the last Republican debate…it was a river of lies flowing out of the TV.
No…Dr. Carson is not unique in his tendancy to lie when it comes to this group.
Doug, bravo. Ben Carson epitomizes the problem with a certain mindset–one that is so cocksure about the reality that it chose to create inside its own head that it never stops to think it might be wrong. Or to even look at the data out there.
It’s a form of solipsism.
I very strongly doubt that he is, at least compared to “any” of them.
More moral, compassionate, empathetic, etc.? Sure? More willing to live by the Golden Rule? Absolutely. But more “religious”? Doubt it.
I’m not sure if they’re not looking at the data, or if they just have this automated filter that comes up whenever the data contradicts the bible, or their interpretation thereof. After all, you can’t prove that god didn’t bury dinosaur bones to test our faith, and messed with isotope ratios to ensure “we can’t know”.
I’m reminded of the Kevin Drum piece cited by a poster here yesterday, in which the two Republican candidates with the most tenuous relationship to the truth, Carson and Trump, are the most popular, while the most truthful, Bush, is the least popular.
OT…271,000 new jobs.
Public sector employment unchanged. Again.
Remember….a good majority of Republicans trust this man with the nuke codes.
Carson is, speaking plainly, a hyper-religious fruitcake. He is reported to be, like Glen Beck, a devotee of Cleon Skousen. He is leading in polls for the GOP nomination. Draw your own conclusions.
Doug, you left out the most obvious lie: “I had no relationship with Mannatech”.
Someone on here bought up the “The Last Liar” phenomenom. The modern Republican base does not punish their candidates for getting caught in out and out lies. (In fact, quite the opposite.) So the last Republican candidate to speak has the advantage. If Bush says he has a secret plan to grow the country at 4% for 8 years (something never seen before in our history), then Trump just waits until everyone else has put theirs on the table and reveals one that tops them all (in this case a secret plan to grow it at 6% for 8 years) and he therefore wins the electorate. As long as the Republican base is happy to accept lies at face value, then the biggest liar, in this case, the last liar, wins.
Apparently Carson cited Skousen in one of his books.
The (likely false) story about how he was a violent young man until reading the Bible caused him to settle down seems to support peddling his biography books to Christians. CNN checked this out, the story about him almost stabbing someone seems bogus, and people who knew the young Carson say he was really more of a bookworm.
His behaviour in general seems oriented to selling books and giving paid speeches.
This campaign seems highly oriented toward enhancing fringe benefits like mailing list building.
Consider this …
Carson actually makes Sarah Pailin look sane by comparison. An insane former neurosurgeon – not a pretty picture.
“I am a person of faith.”
Oh, well then you probably have some ideas that are different than mine, but I look forward to a rousing good conversation on the nature of reality, spirituality, and man’s place in the universe.
“I believe in the bible.”
Oh. So this conversation is going to be coocoo bananas.
Kevin Drum asked How Honest Is Your Favorite Candidate? a couple days ago. The results probably won’t surprise many around here, but what those results say about today’s GOP is rather frightening:
Among Republicans, honesty is the exact inverse of popularity. Jeb Bush is the most honest, and he’s got the lowest poll numbers among the serious candidates. Donald Trump and Ben Carson are the least honest by quite a bit, and they’re also leading the field by quite a bit. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are in the middle on both honesty and popularity.
Ah yes, Steven Taylor covered the Mannatech story last week.
I wonder at what point believing in nutty things makes one a nutter? Carson seems to be closing in on that point quickly.
A question for those in the know -how: What would the military do if a President Carson orders a nuke strike on Moscow because Jesus said so?
I’m kinda hoping that call gets “disconnected”
An Adventist university. No doubt many in the audience agreed with Carson.
Here’s an insightful piece in the Guardian by Ryan Bell, a former Adventist pastor who recently left the church.
Seventh-day Adventists put faith over science and reason. I know this first-hand
And even Carson admits he is not telling the truth on the details:
“He then divulged a little more information about “Bob,” whom he’s previously said was a friend, in a Thursday night interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. Carson said that “Bob,” which is not the victim’s real name, actually is a “close relative.””
Bobby Fischer Syndrome: high IQ, absolutely batshit crazy.
Carson’s perfect to lead the GOP base which is low IQ and absolutely batshit crazy.
Well, Carson … like Cain and Santorum and Bachmann and other last time … moved to front-runner status because he said things people liked and was a relative unknown. Now he’s being properly vetted and … wow.
Related note: you can be very religious and not crazy. The Catholic Church, for a long time, has accepted evolution, cosmology, climate change and other scientific concepts as real. In fact, one of the seminal papers in my field came from a 1950’s Vatican conference when they would gather scientists in various fields to work out a unifying theory (and one of my students once worked at their astronomical observatory). Almost all except the most radical Jewish sects accept science as well. My Bible is the official version used my most conservative congregations and has long sections of commentary on the historicity of the Bible, varying interpretations and how to square what it says with what we know from science and modern ethics. I’ve met and worked with numerous devout Mormons who have no problem reconciling faith and science.
What I’m saying is that Carson is out there on a limb by the standards of deeply religious people.
Seventh Day Adventists are not the intelligentsia of the religious world. They’re a notch above snake handlers, about six notches below your average Jesuit or reform Rabbi.
@michael reynolds: I wouldn’t put them just a notch above snake handlers. Maybe two notches.
There is a tremendous incongruity in Adventism, which comes from the church’s very prominent focus on the health sciences. Because so much of the church’s teachings come from a single source–the “prophet” Ellen G. White–and White put great weight in healthy living, the church does, too. Also, health care work is a kind of “loophole” within which work on the Sabbath is permitted, so many Adventists go into the health sciences.
They become nurses, PAs, and physicians, and happily make fine careers in medicine, despite having to evade or deny some rather significant underpinning principles of biology. These are not stupid people, by any measure, but they voluntarily create big gaps in knowledge.
This is why I say Adventists are the undisputed heavyweight champions of compartmentalization. They have to be, because if they weren’t, the pain of cognitive dissonance would be lethal. I couldn’t do it, so I ended up leaving the church.
@charon: A lot of this should call into question the frequent claim I see that Carson is a “nice guy.” What exactly is this based on? Is he kind to strangers? Volunteer in soup kitchens? When he justified torture on the grounds that we’re not fighting a “politically correct war,” those weren’t the words of a nice guy–they were the words of someone with a fundamentally warped value system in which the yardstick of something’s moral worth is its capacity to piss people off.
If these recent revelations are any indication, then his problem goes beyond ignorance–he frankly sounds like a sociopath (which is not, by the way, a contradiction to his having made positive contributions as a doctor).
Just because he doesn’t shout like Trump doesn’t make him a “nice guy.” We’ve lowered the bar for niceness to the point that it’s almost meaningless.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder comes to mind, based on some anecdotes I have seen.
I dunno, maybe … maybe we’ve just misinterpreted the hieroglyphics? (That’s my best attempt at excusing his pyramid theory.)
For now this is all entertainment.
We’re what, about 12 weeks into this campaign, and not a single vote has been cast and not single caucus has been convened. All we’ve had are “debates.” The long run up allows candidates to “out” themselves to the voters – a very good thing. Not that it matters much, because on a partisan basis, a guy like Carson may in fact out himself as an untruthful neurosurgeon-presidential candidate, but partisans will claim him as their untruthful guy, most likely the victim of biased media reporting.
Be that as it may, I hope Carson is in it all the way to the GOP Convention next Summer.
Given the nature of the OTB commentariat, it’s understandable that they would like Doug’s attacks on Carson’s religious beliefs. But let’s think a little deeper.As. C.Clavin has posted out, all of these guys are telling whoppers. Trump’s promise that he will build a wall on the Mexican border and have Mexico pay for it is as crazy as anything Carson has said about the pyramids. Ezra Klien has characterized the leading candidates’ tax plans as being ludicrous and irresponsible, singly and in toto. And what of the standard Republican beliefs that upper income tax cuts can cure all economic ills and that unregulated free markets always produce optimal economic results? These are really faith statements, as discredited as the theories that the earth is only 6000 years old and that Noah’s flood carved out the Grand Canyon. These economic faith statements serve to bolster a conservative political mythology in the same way as Carson’s beliefs about creationism bolsters a conservative religious mythology. It’s the same type of thing, aimed in a different direction.
The conservative base is so receptive to Carson because for 35 years conservatives have been telling them comforting lies designed to reassure the base that their mistaken beliefs are correct and shouldn’t be adjusted to take account of reality. Thus they are told that evolution is “only a theory” in order to assuage their religious beliefs , that upper income tax cuts will “trickle down” in order to enlist their support for conservative candidates, and that the reason that they suffering economically is not that the economic game is stacked against them, but because the minorities are getting all that “free stuff.”
As an aside, I do find it interesting that while Doug has rightly debunked Carson’s religious statements, he has passed over in silence Carson’s equally ludicrous economic program, based on a mathematically impossible “flat tax” and his call for dismantling much of the social safety net. Perhaps this is because it’s closer to Doug’s conservative economic beliefs? Anyhow, the point is that Carson’s program , like that of most of the Republican candidates, isn’t just fantastical in the religious sphere-it’s fantastical all the way down, and that it’s a systemic problem, not limited to Carson alone.
@stonetools: nah, I think it’s because the batnutz crazy economic stuff just sounds like all the other stuff we’re getting from the right. It’s the pyramid stuff that caused Doug to say “holy sh*t, this guy is freakin’ weird.”
@stonetools: @grumpy realist:
The pyramid stuff is indicative of a larger point – that Carson is tailoring his campaign to appeal to the same demographic he has a history of scamming with his bogus biographies, Mannatech etc. – gullible Christians.
I haave no idea what fraction of fundamentalist Christians already subscribe to the grain storage idea, but it clearly is significant based on the amount of that stuff available on the web. I would think that even fundies who not believe that particular idea are supportive of Carson standing by his beliefs and not backing down, because not backing down is a virtue to them.
The bias towards not backing down extends to other political topics, which is one reason our political system has become so dysfunctional with the GOP’s unwillingness to compromise on much of anything.
@charon: Actually, it’s the opposite. The grain storage idea is a medieval theory dating from 1337 or so. It’s just that these religious nuts never heard of archeology or accept any of it.
Frankly, that’s even more disturbing. I wonder how many of them secretly believe the Earth is flat.
Orac has some great commentary on that, specifically about how surgeons are often told they are the bees knees from the second they get into medical school. My dad’s a surgeon and I’ve hung out with surgeons and I would say … yeah, there’s quite a few narcissists in that crowd. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: you want the guy cutting you open to be very sure of himself. Shaky and uncertain surgeons make for dead patients. But it does mean I would probably exclude at least half the field from holding public office.
He supports torturing the truth, as well as torturing people.
Apparently he also said that he was accepted to West Point, when in fact he never applied. So we have to go with the assumption than Ben Carson is just a pathological liar. He’s like Brian Williams or Bill O’Reilly or that guy who said he was in the towers on 9/11. It probably won’t hurt him either.
You beat me to it. Here’s a Politico link to that story:
@Modulo Myself: @Mike in DC:
Sigh. I really did want to believe that Ben Carson was just a guy who uncritically accepted bulls*!t, not an active liar. But now the evidence is mounting that he really is a liar.Too bad. My wife has a video of the “Gifted Hands” movie, based on his autobiography. She has said that she has not actually watched it, and based on recent revelations, isn’t sure she wants to watch it. These latest revelations pretty much seal the deal for me. I’d rather watch something that clearly labels itself fiction, rather than a self-aggrandizing tissue of lies. About all we can say for sure about Ben Carson is that he worked himself up from poverty(with some government help) , and that he was a great neurosurgeon. All of that is admirable. What’s not admirable-and somewhat inexplicable- is that he embellished beyond that.
Another black celebrity, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has more:
IDK. Democrats seem to want to trust Hillary “I wiped my server with a cloth” Clinton. Give her the nuke codes!
And you’re still in love with Honest Bill “I did not have sex with that woman” Clinton. You trusted this guy with the nuke codes.
And I sure am glad everyone who liked their health care plans was able to keep those plans.
The current VP is a plagiarist.
Seems Democrats have no problem with habitual liars.
So I take it that your point is Republicans are as big a bunch of liars as you habitually claim the Democrats are?
OK. I accept that your worst interpretation of various Democrats is equally true of Republicans.
Well now…. The fellow was an outstanding high school ROTC cadet. He says that got him a dinner with Gen Westmoreland and the West Point folks in their comment say that seems reasonable to them in the statement that no application was found. If Westmoreland urged young Cadet Col Carson to attend the Academy, assured him verbally that he’d be accepted and described the Academy as being without tuition and such, I can make allowance for describing the encounter in a book 50 + years later the way Dr Carson wrote it.
But I’m kind of a softy.
If this is merely a crack in the dam and a later deluge of misrepresentations comes along, then we can drive Gentle Ben off of the island.
Come on, go full-on Republican. It’s a conspiracy! The hieroglyphics were probably translated by Climate Scientists…
@John: To the best of my ability to tell–and I’ve been around for a fairly long time–most people who run for office are either sycophants or venal self-serving weasels in suits. The number of genuine public servants is very small–infinitesimal, even–and probably always has been. Given that issue, the question of the honesty of the candidate is, I will agree, overstated. I am old enough to remember that at least for the time that I’ve been around, it was Rush Limbaugh who started the whole “character matters” route of bloviation that your comment seems directed at, so if you are not incensed at the thought that your guys are getting the “character matters” treatment, my heart bleeds for you.
Having said that, the fact that I don’t trust Hillary any farther than I can throw a potato chip matters less to me than having 4 more years of Dubya-esque fumbling and dithering, or worse. Do I wish that there were better candidates, especially on the right? Gawd yes! But to paraphrase a (sorta) brilliant-ish thinker from the Dubya era, you go to the polls with the candidates you have not with the ones you want.
Who you support is your choice. To persuade people, you need to be a better thinker than you appear to be.