Retired neurosurgeon turned presidential candidate Ben Carson has doubled down on his crazy theory about the pyramids. Not only is it false, his idea also minimizes the wonder of God's creation by implying that human beings are not creative enough to build the majestic Egyptian landmarks on their own.
At a commencement address at Andrews University in 1998, Carson argued that the biblical prophet Joseph built the pyramids as grain silos for the seven fat years recorded in Genesis. Scholars of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, feel free to laugh now. Everyone else, go ahead, join in.
The archaeological evidence is solid -- from ziggurats in modern Iraq to smaller pyramids in Egypt, the record shows how kings built tombs for themselves, larger and larger, until Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure built the three pyramids at Giza. While medieval scholars invented the "grain siloâ theory -- thus connecting Seventh-Day Adventist Ben Carson with the old Roman Catholic St. Gregory of Tours -- they were dead wrong on this one.
More nefarious, however, is Carson's alternate theory. If you don't believe Joseph raised the pyramids with God's help, what's your only other option? Aliens. "Various scientists have said, 'Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that's how-' you know, it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you," Carson said.
What's Behind the "Alienâ Theory?
Despite what you might hear from "scholars" on the History Channel, archaeologists know that the Egyptians built the pyramids -- they have even uncovered a work site nearby, with texts documenting a strike, among other things. Nevertheless, History Channel plays "Ancient Aliens." In a similar vein, the Stargate Sci-Fi universe, which is based on the theory that the pyramids are landing pods for alien space ships, extended through three TV shows, one with ten full seasons. Where did these alien theories come from and why are they so popular?
The Egyptian pyramids form merely the apex of the "Ancient Alienâ theory. Astounded by the detail and impressive scale of pyramids, Mayan temples, and large pictures of animals only visible from the air, some scholars assumed that the native people could not possibly have built these structures on their own.
Forbes' Kristina Killgrove documents the latent racism and low view of humanity in many of these false archaeological -- or pseudoarchaeological -- theories. Killgrove quotes archaeologist Eric Cline, explaining that "pseudoarchaeologists cannot accept the fact that mere humans might have come up with great innovations such as the domestication of plants and animals or built great architectural masterpieces such as the Sphinx on their own.â
"Rather, they frequently seek or invoke divine, or even alien, assistance to explain how these came to be,â Cline notes. Carson seems to have bought into this idea for the Egyptian pyramids. While he gives far too much credit to the alien theory, Carson ends up dismissing it, saying "it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you.â
Carson implied that the ancient Egyptians could not have built the pyramids. And he suggested that as Christians, he and his audience did not need to accept the "Ancient Aliens" thesis because God was with Joseph.
Historical Problems With Carson's View
Carson's view seems based on the biblical story of Joseph. One of twelve sons of Judah (also known as Israel), Joseph had dreams that one day his brothers, father, and mother would bow to him. Joseph's unappreciative brothers staged his death and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Through many trials, Joseph ended up becoming Pharaoh's right hand man and storing grain during seven fat years to prepare for seven upcoming lean years.
As The Daily Beast's Ana Marie Cox explains, Carson seems to have presented himself with a riddle. "Joseph's grain silos were so big, how can they have disappeared?â But the pyramids' greatness also presents a riddle. Eureka! The pyramids must have been the grain silos.
One small problem -- archaeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian grain silos, and they don't look like pyramids. The pyramids have hieroglyphs in them -- which, sorry Stargate, do not correspond to constellations and a stargate address -- and historians can read those hieroglyphs thanks in large part to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.
Evidence of forced labor to build the pyramids emerges in many ancient sources. Herodotus in his "Historiesâ and Josephus in his "Antiquitiesâ write of Egyptians and Jews being forced to work on the pyramids. They also name Khufu (Cheops in Greek), the name of the first pharaoh who built the pyramids.
An Insult to God's Creation
Finally, Carson's view that the pyramids required direct intervention from God Himself may prove an insult to the Creator's genius. God created men and women in His image, and so they bear some of His own marvelous creativity.
Could beings made in the Creator's image and given free will build something as awe-inspiring as the pyramids? Absolutely! We can do better, too -- from the Parthenon to computers, airplanes, and smart phones.
"When I look at humankind's great achievements, I also see the hand of God, and what astonishes me isn't that He had to literally and specifically intervene - it's that he didn't,â Cox declares. Which creation is more miraculous -- a direct intervention by God to teach men to create a masterpiece like the pyramids, or God creating a being in His own image, who then proceeds to mimic God's awesome creativity through impressive architectural feats?
Carson's view of human creativity may be stunted by this understanding, but more importantly it reveals a sort of intransigence in the face of scientific evidence that gives conservatives a bad name, and would hamper the great man's leadership skills as president. There are good scientific arguments against global warming, for example, and when Carson tries to make the GOP platform a baseless pyramid scheme, he brings down the seriousness of the enterprise.
Finally, how can a man who believes such a ridiculous theory of the pyramids take a leadership role in the Middle East? If Carson wants to be taken seriously, he should rethink this position.