If you pulled over one hundred people on the street, and asked them to state a religious belief they hold, I’m not sure you would get any answer more plausible than “the pyramids were built for the storage of grain.” Would you now?
Yet we mock Ben Carson for this, but we do not make fun of those who believe openly in the Trinity, Virgin Birth, ex cathedra, and many other beliefs which are to my mind slightly less plausible claims. It’s not so different from the old prejudice that Mormon beliefs are somehow “weirder” than those of traditional Christians, except now it is secularists picking and choosing their religious targets on the supposed basis of sophistication. The Seventh Day Adventists, Carson’s church, are of course weirder yet.
I doubt the storage claim is true as a dominant explanation, but should there not be some storage — of something — in a profit-maximizing or rent-maximizing model of pyramid supply and inventory management? Maybe Ben’s economic intuition confirmed what he had heard in church. And what about Coase’s durable goods monopoly model? In that treatment the monopolist stores grain, admittedly for the pyramids variable Coase was hermetic in his exposition, perhaps properly so given how much is at stake here. And “remains of storage pests have been found in grain recovered from pyramid tombs.” Further argumentation along these lines can be found in F. Zacher’s classic 1937 article “Vorratsschädlinge und Vorratsschutz, ihre Bedeutung für Volksernährung und Weltwirtschaft” (Cowen’s Second Law), which by now has been cited over nineteen times (twenty in fact).
The Quran notes that the pyramids were made of baked clay, when instead according to many standard accounts much of the pyramids are made of quarried limestone (yet even that question is murky and I would not entirely count out the Quranic exposition). Presumably many Muslims, who ascribe a holy status to the Quran, would defend the baked clay proposition in some manner. How often is that thrown in their faces?
Might Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, possibly hold some views about Joseph which are not literally true? After all, those stories do come from the Torah.
Besides, our Founding Fathers had some pretty strange notions about pyramids. 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.