Christopher Hitchens Was Right- Religion Does Poison Everything: Ghanaians And Our Worrying Dismissive Relationship With Science

Christopher Hitchens- Author of 'God Is Not Great- Religion Poisons Everything'

Christopher Hitchens- Author of ‘God Is Not Great- Religion Poisons Everything’

MTN has this ‘generous’ offer for calls, where you pay for the first three minutes of an MTN-MTN call, and then you and your girlfriend can talk as long as you want about all the sappy things that you think keeps your relationship exciting.

But they’re not stupid, MTN; so what they do is they cut off the call after an hour. This forces you to call back, hence pay for another three minutes, and then speak for another hour, and so on….

This mechanism recently probably saved my friendship with one of my oldest friends, someone I’ve known since 2004 when we both first entered the first year of Senior High School. We were in a heated debate over whether churches should be taxed, which somehow segued into a atheism vs theism debate, and which led me to a long rant on why science is the greatest means of answering questions humans have deviced.

That’s when my friend said he disagreed, but God is the greatest means of answering questions in this universe. That got me stumped for a second, and when I composed myself to give a sufficiently vitriolic response, MTN had cut the line.

Neither of us called the other back. It was perhaps for the best.

Since then, I have been mulling on an article to try and decipher this weird Ghanaian relationship with the method we call science. In typical me fashion, I have been procrastinating the entire thing, until I came full face with another bout of stupid during an online conversation.

A guy was displaying all sorts of scientific ignorance under a thread on gay rights, thus I politely pointed out that ‘he should learn some science’. He came back at me with something along the lines of ‘I don’t believe in that sh*t’. This buffoon in one sentence, encapsulated the way religion has annihilated science in this country and why perhaps we are headed towards a darker future symptomatic of civlisations steeped in scientific ignorance and denial of nature.

The fact that two presumably educated Ghanaians (my friend I know for a fact, the other guy I can only guess) can hold such contemptuous, derisive view of the one method that has drastically changed human existence over the past two centuries says a lot about this weird relationship with science I’m talking about. And it’s by no means an isolated incident, I’ve had several other such encounters online, and I’m pretty sure a huge chunk of my readers would identify with these two gentlemen above.

But that’s the erroneous impression that would lead us down a rabbit hole deeper than anything Alice ever entered. Science is not something you ‘believe in’, it is a method of solving problems that’s incredibly efficient because of the built in mechanisms to eliminate the very human tendency to be subjective. And it works exactly because of that elimination of bias, as virtually aspect of modern life proves, as this very computer I’m using to type this article and the phone or tablet you’re probably using to read proves. As medicine and architecture and astronomy and virtually every other aspect of modern science shows. The human race has achieved so much because of science and technology, and that is something that is not up for debate unless you’re a Ghanaian Christian.

you deny this happened and you're a buffoon

deny this happened and you’re tagged a buffoon…

The problem is our strict, fundamentalist interpretation of scripture, and the high and mighty pedestal we think God should be placed on. Most Christians the world over have discovered that one cannot win a battle against science, because science actually works- so what they do is to co-opt the findings of science and use it as proof of God’s existence. William Lane Craig does this brilliantly and infuriatingly, as does Frank Turek to a lesser extent, Michael Behe, and many other ‘enlightened’ Christians who use the work of science against itself. As an atheist I can find that problematic, but it is undoubtedly a better position to hold because you actually acknowledge the reality of things.

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But somehow the Ghanaian Christian feels that making that admission is a sort of blemish on the record of God. The Ghanaian feels that all of the bible must be true or none of it is true. Ghanaians are fundamentalists in the truest sense of the word, and it is that fundamentalism that informs the need to deny scientific progress for the sake of scoring, what is in their minds (cheap) points for God. But it is a dangerous mentality to have, because it is so ubiquitous in the culture and kids pick it up, and thus we produce very few people actually interested in science because ‘they don’t believe in that sh*t’

Take evolution, for instance. Ghanaians are indoctrinated with religion right from birth, and are taught the infallible truths of the gospel, and told that doubting the word of God is the worst thing they can ever do. There is no doubt in Ghanaian Christianity that Adam and Eve ever existed, that the flood or the Exodus took place, or that the gospel writers were Jesus’ buddies. Doubting is wrong and immoral, and therefore anything that contradicts the word of God is by definition garbage.

I know, because I grew up in it- and I continue to see it around me every day.

So later on in life, perhaps through the beauty of the internet, one learns of this phenomenon known as evolution (I don’t remember learning it in junior or senior high, maybe it’s all those classes I missed) and what is the automatic reaction- this contradicts the bible and thus is wrong. It is automatic and it is visceral, and it is implanted at the deepest subconscious level and would probably never be uprooted for most of us.

But it doesn’t end at evolution, does it? Such a well planted prejudice would affect every other bit of scientific knowledge one comes across that might contradict the bible. So homos*xuality is natural (f*** off), the big bang (apuu), the age of the universe ( say what?)- and it goes on and on and on.

...yet the foundation of biology is the butt of jokes

…yet the very foundation of biology is the butt of jokes

And we might not realise it, but it probably contributes immensely to the problem we have with science in this country. Aside math, science is the subject senior high students fail the most, probably even more- and with that kind of foundation, one wonders what direction this country is headed in? No country in the world ever enjoyed real progress without innovating, and the first step towards that is a process we do not even believe in because ‘God’.

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Last week we heard  the story of a Ghanaian psychiatrist who used to work in the UK and who once told a patient to go and see T.B Joshua because she was possessed. That’s how deep the indoctrination runs, that someone who’s spent a huge chunk of his life outside the country practicing psychiatry, is still in the grips of the demons (no pun intended) implanted in him as a child. He rightly faced disciplinary action, because you’re either a psychiatrist or you aren’t. You cannot mix science and religion, it leads to disastrous results- like psychiatrists telling mentally ill patients they are possessed by demons.

This is a rallying cry I want to issue, because I love my country despite all its attempts to make me hate it. Hundreds of millions of Christians the world over do not believe the bible is infallible, or that science has to be false for religion to be true. They acknowledge the reality of things, and embrace the science that demonstrably makes all our lives better, and acknowledge the hand of God in it. They tell themselves the bible was written and assembled by man, so it’s possible mistakes and distortions have entered into it. They do all these, accept the authority of science, and aren’t poorer Christians for it. The pope, the f*cking pope, accepts evolution, as does the Archbishop of Canterbury (both institutions they head have accepted it for a while)- and God has not stricken either of them dead yet, so get over yourself already.

There is a name for the kind of Christians we breed in Ghana, and they’re called ‘young earth creationists’, who fall under the broader fundamentalist label. In the developed world where the awesomeness of science is accepted, these people are derided and laughed at for being deluded in their thinking. Because all the evidence we have points towards a certain conclusion, but to stay true to their own strictest fundamentalist interpretation of the bible, they totally reject it- even though majority of the world’s Christians do not share their view. But if most other Christians reading the same bible as yourself do not hold your ignorant positions, from whence cometh your confidence?

Yet we hold to those same positions, and hold them with pride. Believing in evolution is a minority opinion, and one that is likely to get you laughed at in Ghanaian discourse- but believing that gay people are possessed by demons is a more mainstream one. Obviously something is broken not just in formal, but religious education as well. The people who brought us the bible and forced us to believe in it literally have not written to inform us that it’s teachings have been updated to metaphorical.

I do not know where the change is supposed to start, but it has to. Breeding adults who ‘do not believe in that sh*t’ is not going to take this country, or any other country, anywhere. Neil DeGrasse Tyson likes to tell of the history of the once great civilisation the Arabians built on the back of science and math, but which then collapsed due to religious fundamentalism, and they regressed so much in the knowledge arms race. We have not even achieved anything on that scale yet, and we would remain mired in the third world until we realise the need to innovate, innovation which, like it or not- starts and ends with science.