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Ben Carson’s Pyramids

Actually, they were built to hold Little Debbie Swiss Creme Rolls  (Waj/Shutterstock [1]

Actually, they were built to hold Little Debbie Swiss Creme Rolls (Waj/Shutterstock [2]

Have you heard that Ben Carson believes the pyramids were built for grain storage? I had not until yesterday, listening to a caller to a public radio show, who went to pieces over what a freak like that might do if he got into the White House. Tyler Cowen tells everybody to calm down [3]. Excerpt:

Besides, our Founding Fathers had some pretty strange notions about pyramids [4].  Most of them did a pretty good job in office.

What Ben Carson has done is to commit the unpardonable sin of talking about his religion as if he actually takes it seriously.

Loyal MR readers will know that I am myself a non-believer.  But what I find strangest of all is not Ben Carson’s pyramids beliefs, but rather the notion that we should selectively pick on some religious claims rather than others.  The notion that it is fine to believe something about a deity or deities, or a divine book, as long as you do not take that said belief very seriously and treat it only as a social affiliation or an ornamental badge of honor.

Bully for Ben Carson for reminding us that a religion actually consists of beliefs about the world.  And if you’re trying to understand his continuing popularity, maybe that is the place to start.

Read everything Cowen said about Ben Carson’s pyramids here. [5]

He’s right. Cowen, I mean.

83 Comments (Open | Close)

83 Comments To "Ben Carson’s Pyramids"

#1 Comment By panda On November 8, 2015 @ 12:16 am

This is in the end my problem with Carson: that’s not that he is an MD who has the gull to run for President. Rather that he is running for president without bothering to learn about public policy, talk to experts, or learn anything about the world that is not contained in medical textbooks, chain e-mails, his own peculiar reading of the Bible, and the collected works of David Burton and Cleon Skousen. If that means I am a liberal elitist- so be it.

#2 Comment By Eamus Catuli On November 8, 2015 @ 12:49 am

I stand corrected. Carson didn’t personally embrace the space-aliens theory. What he was actually saying, it seems, is that this a respectable theory affirmed by scientists (by which he seems to mean “occultists” like Erich von Däniken), and as a man of science himself he is therefore inclined to take it seriously, but ultimately, as a man of faith, he recognizes that even good, solid scientific findings like “the pyramids were built by space aliens” must yield to the higher truths known through divine revelation.

OK, yeah. That’s much better.

What a total doof. This guy actually graduated from a reputable college, let alone medical school? If he were a Democrat, the Right would be screaming “affirmative action” so loudly that the pyramids themselves might topple over.

#3 Comment By Phil On November 8, 2015 @ 12:51 am

Carson’s story is very inspirational and he seems like a fine man with many impressive accomplishments, but that doesn’t make him qualified to run the executive branch of the government or to negotiate with congress or to make sound military decisions with the best interest of all the American people at heart. And what Trump said about him is true – he’s not high-energy enough. The presidency is not a prize or reward for high achievement or for being a swell person.

B-b-b-b-b-b-but Obama! Yea, so? Does that change anything?

At the end of the day, the POTUS has to govern.

#4 Comment By American in Istanbul On November 8, 2015 @ 5:28 am

[Rod — Too many typos in the original comment. Please post this version.]

Cowan says Christian religious beliefs are weirder & *less defensible* than the mistaken theory that pyramids were used to store grain. They certainly are weirder (in one sense), but I hope not less defensible! So why do you say he’s right?

I mean, Cowan is surely right that Carson’s unhistorical bit of trivia about the pyramids is not disqualifying for the presidency — that good political rulers can have some wrong bits of knowledge (as we all do), or even a few outlandish beliefs. However, he’s ignoring that this is a pattern with Ben Carson. Carson seems to have a lot of nutty, unsourced beliefs that he picked up somewhere over the years — I guess from reading fringe publications? — and swallowed without question. Now that he’s high in the polls, his long string of nutty statements is getting attention.

This is troubling for three reasons:

(1) Carson doesn’t seem very rational. If he had only a few outlandish beliefs, that would be normal. But because he accepted so many patented falsehoods without any investigation (apparently), it implies he’s too quick to believe whatever is congenial or whatever a source he otherwise respects says.

(2) Now that his outré opinions & nutty factoids are getting challenged by real experts (because they are in the news), Carson refuses to back down. It doesn’t matter if a dozen professional Egyptologists say the pyramid-grain-storage theory is wrong. No, Carson is happy sticking with something he read in Signs of the Times magazine back in 1991.

(3) How will a person like that wade through the various competing options about what should be done, once in office? He will go with whatever feels right, regardless of evidence. He might even act on patently absurd information. Haven’t we seen this story before?

The parallel case is Ronald Reagan, who also had a reputation for trotting out howlers picked up somewhere or other. Obviously America didn’t crash & burn in the Reagan years. In fact he handled foreign policy supremely well. But his domestic policy looks more & more tarnished, in retrospect, as the years go by. Could Reagan have done better for the country if he paid more attention to where the evidence leads?

#5 Comment By Lord Karth On November 8, 2015 @ 5:39 am

I’m a little more interested in Dr. Carson’s views on taxes, entitlement spending and illegal immigration than I am about what he (apparently) culled from a centuries-old writer about the Pyramids.

That having been said, I am in no wise a supporter of Dr. Carson for President. The office of the Presidency is not an entry-level position. Surgeon General ? He’d be outstanding. Secretary/Assistant Secretary of HHS ? Very possibly.

But NOT President.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#6 Comment By Johan On November 8, 2015 @ 9:07 am

Odd religious beliefs… compared to what? Carson’s religion is no more absurd than any other and less so than some. The religion I find the weirdest and immediately most threatening to some of my family members is the one that says that penis-having people can “identify as women” and should be able to use women’s restrooms. Hillary Clinton adheres to this religion. I will vote for someone grounded in reality regarding the human body, even Dr. Pyramid, rather than Hillary.

#7 Comment By Just Dropping By On November 8, 2015 @ 9:31 am

@ MH – Secular Misanthropist: I agree, but there aren’t any Scientologists running for president in 2016, AFAICT. I’m pretty sure that if one did, we’d be hearing quite a bit about wacky Scientological beliefs relating to history. In any event, as others have noted, Carson’s beliefs about the pyramids aren’t even an actual part of any strand of Christian theology that’s he’s identified himself with. This is in the nature of a folk belief.

#8 Comment By grumpy realist On November 8, 2015 @ 10:33 am

And now it’s looking like Dr. Ben Carson likes making up all sorts of stories….that notorious psychology exam at Yale? There’s no evidence that a photo of him was ever taken, nor that a course with that name ever existed. “Most honest student”? Right.

Oh, and now he’s claiming that the Secret Service on their own decided that he “needed protection.” The Secret Service says differently–that the request came from Dr. Carson’s side.

This guy seems to like to make up stories about himself.

#9 Comment By Carol On November 8, 2015 @ 11:49 am

“It shows a pattern of puffing his life story and getting mighty defensive when called on it.”

If only Barack Obama had been called on the puffing and inconsistencies in his two memoirs instead of the media drooling over his life story. I don’t mind Dr. Carson, Marco Rubio, or Sarah Palin having their lives/beliefs questioned, but an unknown Obama seemed to have gotten a pass. Question his past ideologies or associates or the persona he crafted for himself? Racist. His educational records sealed? No problem. A 1991 biographical booklet written by Obama, touting his forthcoming book, and published by his editor stating that Obama was born in Kenya? Oh, a young Obama just wanted to seem more exotic. Nothing to see here.

#10 Comment By Isidore The Farmer On November 8, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

“My beef with Carson is not his particular religious beliefs (whether or not pyramids contained grain or UFOs or the entombed remains of dead pharoahs or a large stash of weed is not teribly relevant to the office of the Presidency), but that he continues to believe that his particular beliefs should be privileged over others.”

You do realize that your belief that no belief should be privileged over others is in itself a belief you believe should be privileged over others, right?

#11 Comment By BlairBurton On November 8, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

Dr. Carson’s bizarre belief about the pyramids
– and this isn’t a religious belief as far as I am concerned – isn’t as disturbing as what it says about him.

He’s a surgeon, and surgeons by nature are arrogant. As my best friend who is an MD has said, humility is not a notable quality of physicians in general, but surgeons are in a class by themselves. Of course he’s arrogant, one has to be arrogant to have the temerity to do surgery. The same thing is true of Presidential candidates in general. One has to be at least a little bit arrogant to think he or she can do that job.

What is most disturbing about Carson is that he apparently doesn’t recognize expertise in other fields. He’s not an archaeologist, or an historian, or an economist, or a meteorologist, and I don’t expect him to be. No one short of a polymath on the level of DaVinci is capable of that sort of broad spectrum knowledge. But Carson doesn’t seem to realize that he might need the knowledge of experts in other fields, and that their knowledge should be respected. It’s disturbing on a lot of levels. God help us if he somehow is elected to the Presidency.

#12 Comment By Isidore The Farmer On November 8, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

Pretty sure that most of the criticism of Carson from the left is inspired by racism. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last 7 years it is that criticism of a black candidate for President is racist at its core.

Shaking my head at all the racists on this board reveling in the destruction of a black man.

#13 Comment By Andrew W On November 8, 2015 @ 12:59 pm

Panda by that rationale of yours sooner or later we’d have to disqualify almost the entire federal government because they have some unworkable ideas about what the government should do and make decisions about things they have no training in. Foreign policy alone would eliminate almost the entire Congress and the White House.

#14 Comment By panda On November 8, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

“Question his past ideologies or associates or the persona he crafted for himself? Racist. His educational records sealed? No problem. A 1991 biographical booklet written by Obama, touting his forthcoming book, and published by his editor stating that Obama was born in Kenya? Oh, a young Obama just wanted to seem more exotic. Nothing to see here.”

You do realize you are repeating lies, right?

#15 Comment By Mr. Pickwick On November 8, 2015 @ 5:15 pm

What’s the difference between a neurosurgeon and God? God doesn’t think He’s a neurosurgeon.

There’s a surgeon in my family, and he is absolutely convinced that he is an Authority on all subjects, foreign and domestic. Carson is a particularly nutty example of this (all-too-familiar) genre.

#16 Comment By Mr. Pickwick On November 8, 2015 @ 5:19 pm

Okay, I can’t resist one more comment….

What is it with particular occupations, and how some voters think those occupations qualify a person for elective office? Carson supporters think his work as a neurosurgeon earns him electoral brownie points. I don’t get that. Here in Montana, the voters (in their infinite wisdom) elected a guy whose main qualification (in the eyes of many voters) was that he was a Navy SEAL. Huh?

#17 Comment By Intelliwriter On November 8, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

Listen to Carson for more than 10 minutes and it’s undeniable the guy is a loon and not qualified to be the most powerful person in the world.

#18 Comment By Stephen Gould On November 8, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Carol: for your edification [6]

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 8, 2015 @ 7:58 pm

No, Cowen is wrong. Religious beliefs are not, per se, relevant to serving in public office, but when your religious beliefs, or your bi-polar disorder, or any other impulse whatsoever, leads you to rely on patently absurd factual claims, you are disqualified (not that the mob may not elect you anyway).

If makes no difference to conduct in office whether you believe that Mary, mother of Jesus, is reigning as Queen of Heaven, or is buried in the cold, cold ground. Nor does it make any difference whether you believe in abstaining from meat on Tuesday, Thursday, and every third Friday, or eat raw oysters, or whatever.

I suspect that there are much better qualified Seventh Day Adventists who don’t show promise of going stark raving mad on matter of public policy and history. (I’ve known a few in my life).

#20 Comment By TR On November 8, 2015 @ 8:50 pm

This discussion should remind us that there are lots of weird ideas out there (and I am not talking about religion or the distinction between sex and gender) held by otherwise intelligent people. We make fun of Young Earth creationists (and we should) but the attempt to square natural selection with religion and/or sentimental beliefs in progress has led to all sorts of distortions of Darwin and the implications of genetics.

And I would remind everyone that before the end of Reagan’s presidency, we found out that his wife–an otherwise admirable woman, in my opinion–used to consult a fortune teller.

#21 Comment By jamie On November 8, 2015 @ 9:13 pm

Surgeons have a certain reputation for being intellectually arrogant, brain surgeons more so, and peds neurosurgeons would seem to form a superlative tier if this man is an example.

I take Tyler Cowen’s point but the founders lived in an era where there could be debate over what the pyramids were for. Today, in order for you to hold the belief that pyramids held grain, you’re also obliged to believe that thousands of archaeologists and Egyptologists are engaged in a massive conspiracy.

Also to Cowen’s deeper point, (1) the belief that pyramids are grain silos does not appear in the Bible (nor am I sure it’s a 7DA doctrine) so I’m not sure how it qualifies as a “religious” belief, and (2) the assertion that “all” religions make claims about the material world is sorta western-Euro-Judeo-Christian centric.9

#22 Comment By Glaivester On November 8, 2015 @ 9:55 pm

I think people here are missing the point. Those pyramids may currently have dead bodies in them, and may have originally had dead bodies put in them, but they told me that they identify as grain silos.

So it’s transphobic to say they are not.

#23 Comment By Thursday On November 8, 2015 @ 10:01 pm

Hillary Clinton adheres to this religion. I will vote for someone grounded in reality regarding the human body, even Dr. Pyramid, rather than Hillary.

Yup. I agree: Dr. Pyramid is definitely more grounded in reality.

#24 Comment By Analyst On November 8, 2015 @ 11:19 pm

Although the Seventh Day Adventists have a number of beliefs that are heterodox in relation to other Christian denominations, I don’t think that the pyramids as grain silos is one of them. This seems to have come from some other source–Carson seems to be heavily influenced by a variety of crackpots who have nothing to do with the Adventists. So to praise him for standing by his religious beliefs in this and several other instances is misleading to say the least. In addition to which his claims are totally contrary to the simple physical characteristics of the pyramids. It is always worth going back to Augustin’s admonition in his commentary on Genesis, that Christians should not get into arguments on scientific issues with the pagans, because the pagans probably know more about the material world, and will therefore make the Christians look like fools.

#25 Comment By Rod Brown On November 8, 2015 @ 11:22 pm

Ben Carson’s odd views about reality are relevant to his possible role as a secular leader. But even more worrying is his personal behavior while claiming to be a religious leader:


His behavior is not Christ-like, to say the least.

The Benedict Option is needed as much for escaping false Christians like this as for escaping secular society. Or even more, because false leaders like this have more impact on other Christians than the secular world does.

#26 Comment By Erdrick On November 9, 2015 @ 9:16 am

I think Ben Carson has been playing too much Civilization III. As everyone knows, if you build the Pyramids, you get a free granary in every city on your continent. He just confused Civilization with real life.

Anyway, Carson is a joke candidate with no chance in the general election- he’d lose 70%-30%, and he’d take the whole Republican ticket down with him. He’s simply unqualified for the office. I would not vote for him, even to keep Hillary out of the White House.

#27 Comment By Nothern Observer On November 9, 2015 @ 9:44 am

The Carson Pyramids episode simply underlines the fact that fundamentalism and specifically biblical textual literalism is heretical and harmful to Christendom. If we are to be a house worthy for the Lord we must clean the room of Fundamentalism.

[NFR: I don’t know that we could accurately describe Carson as a Fundamentalist, and as others have pointed out, his theory of the pyramids is not Seventh Day Adventist dogma. My point in citing him is simply that people, even very smart and accomplished people, believe weird things, and that doesn’t necessarily obviate their ability to do a given job. Carson is not prepared to be president for many reasons, but his weird theory of the pyramids is not one of them, any more than Mitt Romney’s belief about gods and planets (which is part of Mormon teaching) disqualified him. — RD]

#28 Comment By Bill On November 9, 2015 @ 10:36 am

The following quote from St Augustine should really be tattooed on some people of faith;

“Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn… If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe our books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren, … to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call on Holy Scripture, .. although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. “

#29 Comment By Eric Prebys On November 9, 2015 @ 10:40 am

@jaime, it’s absolutely a “religious” belief. Carson didn’t make this theory up. It dates back to at least the 6th century, and for hundreds of years, it was the standard way to reconcile the story of Joseph in the Old Testament with the reality of the Pyramids. It faded a couple hundred years ago when (sane) people realized that the Old Testament was just stories, but it’s still pretty common among Biblical literalists. In a recent interview, an Egyptologist people approach him about it all the time.

Of course it doesn’t directly matter if Carson believes crazy things about the pyramids, but them it doesn’t directly matter that he’s a brain surgeon. Since he has zero political or leadership experience, his entire campaign can be summed up as “I’m a brain surgeon; therefore, I’m the smartest guy running.”, so any evidence regarding his general intelligence – or in this case *sanity* – is certainly relevant.

#30 Comment By Rusty On November 9, 2015 @ 11:01 am

To be very clear: the grain-in-pyramids thing is not even close to being a “religious belief”.

In the original video/presentation — and in subsequent presentations, including recently when he doubled down — he explicitly presents it his own “personal theory” about the pyramids. There is no scriptural support for this personal theory (Carson claims none) and plenty of evidence to contradict it, including the written records of the actual pyramid builders.

Is every falsified personal theory now a religious belief, with all the protection and deference that entails?

Mitt Romney believes an angel disclosed the location of golden tablets to a dude in New York state in the 1820s

That’s a religious belief.

The tablets claimed that the American Indians are a lost tribe of the Hebrews — something that DNA evidence has definitively ruled out.

Well, technically, Joseph Smith claimed that the tablets claimed that, but still: part of the larger religious belief, broadly shared by co-religionists; not Mitt’s “personal theory”.

Frankly, I’d be more concerned about the alleged stabbing.

And don’t get the typesetter/proofreader in me started on “Poverbs.”

#31 Comment By Eric Prebys On November 9, 2015 @ 4:46 pm


Sorry, but you’re just wrong. He said that the Pyramids were the grain storage facilities *built by Joseph in the Old Testament*. Yes, he presents this as his “personal theory” – as if he invented it – but either he independently came up with a crazy idea that was common in the Church for hundreds of years, or he’s simply lying (smart money says the latter).

This belief was widely held in the Church from about the sixth century until the Enlightenment. There’s even a mosaic in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice that clearly shows grain being loaded into the pyramids!

Ben may be crazy, but he’s not crazy enough to come up with an idea like this unless it comes from his religion.

#32 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 9, 2015 @ 5:11 pm


My beef with Carson is not his particular religious beliefs (whether or not pyramids contained grain or UFOs or the entombed remains of dead pharoahs or a large stash of weed is not teribly relevant to the office of the Presidency), but that he continues to believe that his particular beliefs should be privileged over others.


You do realize that your belief that no belief should be privileged over others is in itself a belief you believe should be privileged over others, right?

To some extent, all politics is a belief that some positions should be privileged over others–by enacting them in law–but that doesn’t mean that all political statements are equally legitimate–that e.g. “I think we should raise taxes on the wealthy” is no more or less offensive than “I think we should kill all of those people”. Some opinions are within the legitimate realm of political discourse in our culture, some are not.

WRT Carson, I was speaking–specifically–of his stated belief that Muslims should be considered ineligible to hold the office of the Presidency. While that statement is somewhat moot given that no Muslims of note are seeking the office, such a view is contrary to longstanding US political norms–even before the First Amendment was ratified, the Constitution barred religious tests for public office.

When Carson then follows this up with complaints that his own beliefs are being held up to ridicule–as though anyone who talks crosswise about his views on the pyramids is a mean ol’ bigot–surely the hypocrisy here is apparent?

Or perhaps not–perhaps Carson isn’t a hypocrite. It may well be that he believes that Christianity should be privileged in law and politics, that America is a “Christian nation” and that the First Amendment and all the rest don’t really apply to Muslims (or Hindus or Buddhists or pagans or Santeria or various native faiths); but instead are only intended to keep no particular Christian faith from dominating the others. Denigrating Islam but protecting Seventh-Day Adventism (and/or Carson’s own peculiar beliefs that may well have nothing to do with 7DA doctrine) is entirely consistent with such a view, and Carson would hardly be the first prominent US political figure to articulate that viewpoint.

But whether he’s a hypocrite, a Dominionist, or merely a dumbass; either ways he’s not fit to be President.

#33 Comment By jamie On November 9, 2015 @ 5:41 pm

@jaime, it’s absolutely a “religious” belief. Carson didn’t make this theory up.

Well, the man himself said it was “his personal theory,” in so many words. I’m pretty sure a belief you accept to indulge your intellectual vanity is exactly the opposite of a “religious” belief.

I think this particular belief is one of those patently scandalous and unorthodox ideas Evangelicals use to test each other, and as a kind of shibboleth*. Born-agains and evangelicals are known to believe in a lot of things that directly contradict mainstream knowledge or beliefs, either to identify themselves to each other or as a pretext to start arguments with outsiders.

These beliefs may derive from Christian orthodoxy or teaching (original sin, the resurrection of Jesus), or may not (the power of intention, prosperity gospel, pyramid granaries), or may be merely consonant with longstanding Christian orthodoxy when that orthodoxy coincidentally aligns with their prior beliefs (intolerance of homosexuality, angels). All that matters is that it’s sufficiently different from what outsiders believe that it can be used as a watchword.

And Ben Carson seems to be the kind of guy that relishes arguing with people, so the more outrageous the belief the better, I suppose.

*grain joke there