Skip to main content

deadstate-Ben-Carson25 years ago Dr. Ben Carson’s gifted hands performed a delicate procedure on an extended family member—and his name has been spoken with great fondness, even reverence, in family gatherings ever since. He’s done great things and judging by those who know him, I am certain he is a kind and decent man I would be privileged to know.

But speaking as a fellow Christian, I wish Dr. Carson would get a second opinion before he brings up the Bible again. Or perhaps better yet, stop bringing it up altogether.

I’m not a Bible hater. The opposite. I love the Bible. I am a professor who deals with the wonderful complexities of the Bible and who teaches others to do the same. I help guide young Christians to maturity in their reading of the Bible so they can respect its voice rather than drag the Bible into strange places where it simply doesn’t belong.

Which brings me back to Ben Carson.

In a now famous Tweet, Carson recently claimed that his outsider status in Washington is analogous to Noah building the ark without prior carpentry experience:

“It is important to remember that amateurs built the Ark and it was the professionals that built the Titanic.”

I wish this was simply rhetoric to appease the Christian fundamentalist vote—though that would be bad enough—but I deeply suspect there’s more going on here.

I’d bet good money Carson really does think that, as God’s man, and based on a Bible story, God will be sure to raise him far above his current level of incompetence and endow him with needed ability and insight to be POTUS. Just elect him and you’ll all see.

Such a quizzical merger of humble dependence on God’s help and self-assured confidence that God will no doubtCIc6vWhUYAAp0r4 give it—not to mention a childlike, flannelgraph handling of a complex, adult, and horrific story from the book of Genesis.

Carson has also put forward a “biblical” system for taxation—the Old Testament “tithe” where the Israelites set apart 10% of their crops and cattle as an “offering” (i.e., sacrifice) to God. Hence, Carson reasons, a tithe is God’s biblical economic template and therefore a 10% flat tax rate is sure to work.

Has Carson run the numbers? Has he thought this through? Has he even understood what a tithe is in the Bible? Or is he content to trust the Bible to give him God’s Iron Age plan for a 21st century global economy?

I wonder, too, who exactly plays the role of “God“ in this modern biblical remix. The state, which gladly receives the tithe from the worshipping masses? Carson’s beginning to sound like those dratted Communists (Socialists, Democrats, etc.) who erased God and put themselves in his place.

I’m not sure what’s informing Carson’s reading of the Bible here, but it seems more of a “off the top of the head” comment encouraged in an evangelical Bible study: “And what does this verse mean to you? What do you feel God is telling you?”

No thanks. I don’t even know where to begin to make sense of what Carson is thinking here, and I sort of resent the fact that he’s putting me in the place to do so.

More disturbing to me is that Carson feels his grasp of the Bible also makes him competent in matters of science.

Evolution, Carson assures us, is the work of the devil. The Big Bang doesn’t fare much better. (And I don’t have the energy to bring up global warming.)

Carson knows these modern theories are wrong because the Bible tells us that God made the cosmos in 6 days and formed Adam from the dust of the earth and Eve from Adam’s side. Nothing can contradict this plain language God has given us, and so evolution and astrophysics are of the devil precisely because they are so devilishly convincing.

God’s Word always trumps evidence, no matter how apparently convincing. Just ask Galileo.

The issue here isn’t simply Carson’s failure to grasp science, as many note. The problem is his unexamined  assumption that the Bible is simply “there” for him to use as he sees fit, that a simple reading of Bible verses is enough to qualify him as an authority on everything from tax policy to astrophysics.

The Bible doesn’t work that way, and if this intelligent and gifted man expanded his sphere of Christian conversation partners, he would know that.

Does Carson not know or does he not care that there are roughly a bazillion deeply devoted and educated Christians out there who know a lot about the Bible, the ancient world, and how science works, and who are working overtime to rid American culture of the kind of biblical naiveté Carson is promoting?

What is disappointing to me in all this is that Ben Carson is, as I said, a good a decent man, with a gift to cut open your body and repair a spinal column with less effort that it takes for most of us to unjam our zippers. But this kind of “I’m just doing what God says” vibe may be quaint in private, but it is horribly irresponsible of an adult with a public voice—and disastrous as blueprint for running the country.

Carson’s handling of the Bible is as convincing to me as a faith healer would have been to Carson in that operating room 25 years ago.

brazen-serpentHad someone come in and gently suggested that Carson cancel the procedure because God heals those who cry out to him (Psalm 30:2) or push the high tech equipment aside and simple erect a bronze serpent so the patient look upon it and be healed (Numbers 21:9), he would have called security. And rightly so.

I’m glad Carson isn’t beholden to his own rhetoric in his own profession. I wish he would extend the same courtesy to areas outside of his expertise.

And as for me, I’m getting a bit weary of  breaking eye contact when someone brings up the latest Carson quote.




Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.