FAITH AS THE FOUNDATION OF A LIFE IN SCIENCE
A Book Review by Lindsay Barrett
TITLE: TAKE THE RISK
AUTHOR: Ben Carson, MD
PUBLISHER: ZONDERVAN, Grand Rapids, Mich. USA
Dr. Benjamin Carson is one of America’s and indeed the world’s most celebrated neurosurgeons. His expertise in this most challenging branch of the medical profession has been proven countless times by his successful participation in several dangerous operations on the brains of patients who were considered to be certain to die otherwise. In spite of this the first operation that he describes in this work is one that ended in the death of both patients. He was one of the lead surgeons in the famous attempt to separate adult conjoined twin sisters Ladan and Laleh Bijani from Iran. The highly publicised attempt took place in Singapore in 2003 and Carson was a key figure in the international team of surgeons who had agreed to undertake this precarious and unprecedented operation after years of deliberation among themselves and consultation with the patients and their family. The choice of this famous medical event to illustrate the central thesis of this inspirational text is based on a set of principles that the author explains in a carefully thought-out narrative over the seventeen chapters of a work that is part biographical memoir and part advisory manual. Although he simplifies the explanation of the complex procedures involved in carrying out the operations that have made him famous, he also retains a sense of the dramatic unpredictability of the outcome of the most carefully prepared medical procedure. Because of this he explains the Bijani twins own decision to risk the failure of the operation to separate them as being the equivalent of having the courage to die rather than continuing to live a life of unimaginable discomfort. This, he is convinced, justified the medical team’s decision to take the risk.
Confronted with this uncertainty in all facets of life he attributes enormous power to the efficacy of faith and maintains that his belief in prayer and the intervention of divine grace is as responsible for his success as any intellectual prowess with which he is endowed. With this belief as the foundation of his theme he exhorts his readers not to be afraid of taking risks in life but rather to approach all challenges as being deployed to test their faith. He explains that his own life experience has taught him to see all obstacles as problems that have solutions rather than as reasons for not overcoming, or simply avoiding, them. In coming to this conclusion he has had extraordinary experiences right from youth that have helped to reinforce his beliefs rather than to lead him to doubt them. He refers to the enormous disadvantages that his racial identity as an Afro-American youth growing up in the underprivileged inner city ghetto of a large American metropolis placed on his shoulders, but as he tells it the moral strength and courage of his mother were the forces that combined with her devout trust in God to save him from a descent into living hell. Because of this he asserts that he was able to identify and attain goals that were considered almost unattainable for someone from his background at an early stage in life. By adherence to the tenets of good conduct and a strong link to the exhortations of the faithful he overcame temptations that might have derailed his plans. This he defines as being a demonstration of the power of self-determination and will-power two of the most important attributes that anyone must cultivate in order to achieve success in life.
By the judicious insertion of anecdotes about exciting and challenging events gleaned from his professional life Carson keeps the average reader engaged with his narrative but the bulk of this work is not dedicated to telling the story of his professional trials as much as it focuses on his spiritual convictions. As such it is a work that endeavours to fulfill the specific task of inspiring its readers to follow the path of faithfulness that the author attributes his own success as a scientist to. He discusses the perennial controversy of faith versus science especially where the origin of the human species is concerned. He explains that he has been able to develop an unshakeable body of rational argument in favour of combining personal faith and scientific performance rather than trying to use religious dogma to combat scientific theory in his interaction with illustrious members of the scientific community over the years. In describing this aspect of his career Carson reveals himself to be a clever psychological adversary as he defends the cause of faith in order to explain the origin of his scientific prowess. While he displays a sharp and seasoned familiarity with biblical texts he also exhibits a profoundly confident trust in the record of his combination of faith and scientific knowledge to justify his convictions. In that light he is able to reduce his personal convictions to a set of general principles that he outlines as being the basic foundation of a risk analysis formula which he describes as the process of Best/Worst Analysis or B/WA for short.
According to Carson whenever he is challenged by a difficult decision he formulates a B/WA fitted to the specific objectives associated with the particular problem. Invariably this will guide him in deciding whether to accept or reject the challenge placed before him but from the evidence that this narrative provides it is clear that in most cases he is inclined to accept the challenge no matter how difficult the circumstances. As a consequence this procedure could be regarded as a means of building the confidence needed to overcome obstacles. In that event it will not be a surprise if faith and prayer should play a vital role in the decision-making process that emanates from the formulation of the B/WA. As the work progresses Carson places profound and prolific emphasis on the process and towards the end of the book he relates it to even the simplest issues of personal decision-making that might affect family life. In doing this he actually elevates the role of rational planning in daily life to the level of a moral principle. The overall principle on which the main theme of this work is based is that all of life’s activities should be guided by a strong moralizing force. For Carson his deep-seated Christian values provide the foundation for this attitude towards living. He promotes the values that he says have served him so well in his professional life as being indispensable for a successful life at all levels.
In carrying this theme to its logical conclusion Carson relates the issue to affairs of state and economic policy. He proffers some surprisingly radical suggestions for the future of American monetary strategy, which he insists are inevitable even though totally at variance with existing realities. This is the only point at which the reader is offered a glimpse at what might have led Carson to throw his hat into the ring in the early stages of the American Presidential race when he surfaced as a black conservative seeking the ticket of the Republican Party. However while his political trajectory so far tends to portray him as something of an opportunist this book depicts him as a pragmatic and practical person who understands the fundamental principles of his profession but believes that these principles do not work without substantial help from divine intervention. In adhering to this belief he displays a profound conviction in the belief that even his talents as a scientist are God’s gift to him and mankind. It is hard to argue with one who is as successful as Ben Carson and the Rainbow Book Club’s choice of this book as its recommended reading for April has certainly provided him with an opportunity to influence many new followers.