By Douglass Anele
According to Olatunji, the claim that religion, and in particular Christianity, discourages scientific inquiry is â€œpure fallacy.â€ But rather than justify his assertion by demonstrating historically how religion has encouraged the growth of scientific knowledge or that documented cases of persecution of scientists are inaccurate, he went into irrelevances.
Logically and epistemologically speaking, science and religion are irreconcilable. Scientific propositions must be empirically falsifiable, whereas religious doctrines are not even empirically testable, let alone falsifiable (how can the dogma that Jesus died for our sins be tested?). Systematic experimentation is fundamental to scientific method whilst faith is the life-blood of religion.
Additionally, a healthy dose of scepticismÂ or critical attitude is necessary in science, and scientific theories are tentatively accepted on the basis of evidence. Religion is basically dogmatic, and encourages the feeling of certainty regarding the articles of faith even in cases where science has shown that the doctrines are unfounded.
The Dark and Middle Ages in Europe were periods of arrested development in scientific knowledge; they were also the era of unrivalled religious orthodoxy. If Olatunji had studied the history of science properly, he would have realised that religion and religious authorities constitute the greatest obstacle to the growth of scientific knowledge.
To cite a well-known example, Galileo Galileiâ€™s travails in the hands of the Catholic Church because of his open support for Copernicusâ€™ heliocentric theory tragicallyÂ ended his scientific career. Nevertheless, since the 16th century, as Bertrand Russell remarked in his book, Unpopular Essays, the clergy have fought a losing battle against science.
After being worsted in astronomy, they tried hard to stifle the emergence of geology; they vigorously campaigned against the theory of evolution, andÂ presently they are up in arms against the application of recent biomedical breakthroughs (stem cells and cloning, for example) to the treatment of health problems.
His claim that Albert Einstein was a creationist is definitely false. If Olatunji was not too eager to claimÂ a prominent physicist like Einstein to his side, he would have cross-checked his information to avoid factual errors.
In a telegram Einstein sent to a jewish newspaper in 1929, he affirmed that: â€œI believe in Spinozaâ€™s God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and action of men.â€
Twenty years later, Einstein reiterated his earlier position on God in one of the most authoritative sources of information concerning his world-view entitledÂ Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, published by the Library of Living Philosophers in 1949. Spinozaâ€™s pantheistic concept of God which Einstein accepted is far different from the God of simple religious faith like Christianityâ€“which was why in his time Spinoza was repeatedly accused of atheism.
Therefore, it is evident that Olatunji completely misunderstood Einsteinâ€™s wisecracks about God. It is true, as Nigel Calder stated in his work, Einsteinâ€™s Universe, that Einstein exhibited a religious urge which reflects a deep reverence for nature.
However, EinsteinÂ never identified with any religion and he repeatedly distanced himsellf from the anthropomorphic deity of conventional religions. Although Marxist philosophy is not my area of specialisation, IÂ know enough about it to be sure that Olatunji cannot provide any credible source to back his claim Karl Marx supported war on the ground that â€œbetterment of the unfortunate might hinder the selection by survival of the fittest.â€
In fact, Marxâ€™s total commitment (in most cases at great personal cost to himself and his family) to the exploited and oppressed classes (by no means the fittest in the social ecology) and to the revolution that should better their lot makes him one of the greatest humanists of all time.
Olatunji claims that it would be the height of wickedness to introduce the theory of evolution in our primary or secondary school curriculum, and that the alarming increase in the rate of abortion, divorce, drug addiction etc in the West is directly linked to (caused by?)Â the teaching of evolution.
But how and why will it be the height of wickedness to teach our young children the theory of evolution?
What statistics have â€œproved again and againâ€ that increases in abortion and so on are due to the teaching of evolution?
I challenge Olatunji to publish any well-documented evidence showing that majority of those who committed the vices he listed were evolutionists not creationists. It is a sad indictment of our university system that we have people in the sciences and science-based disciplines who have no idea of what the scientific outlook is about. I suspect that Olatunji is a lecturer in the department he cited in his article.
If so, he did not display the rigour expected of an academic, even if she or he was writing for a newspaper. How can any thinking person claim that teaching school children the best corroborated scientific theory concerning the emergence and dynamic continuation of life here on earth is the height of wickedness, implying that it is better to indoctrinate them with the world-view of ancient agricultural and pastoral peoples?
If the alarming rate of increase in the social problems Olatunji mentioned is â€œdirectly related toÂ the teaching of evolution,â€ how come the same phenomenon has been observed in religion-intoxicated countries like Nigeria, Brazil, Philippines and other developing countries where evolution is not well known, where also the spread of AIDS is by far worse than the situation in the West?
What has evolution got to do with divorce, sex, abortion etc? Olatunji believes that humans need a superhuman moral policeman in order to have a conscience, to know what is good or bad.Â ButÂ he forgot that Adam and Eve, the first humansÂ created directly by God, according to Genesis, did not know that they were naked and had no knowledge of good and evil, which suggests that God originally intended humans to be amoralÂ just like animals!
Besides, philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists have accumulated enough evidence which demonstrate that our sense of morality is part and parcel of our socio-cultural evolution, part of our adaptation to both natural and man-made environments. Immanuel Kantâ€™s Critique of Practical Reason and Erich Frommâ€™s Man For HimselfÂ are very useful in this regard.
In conclusion, Wallace and Olatunji should realise that we are living in a knowledge-driven world. Obscurantism, deliberate distortion of facts, faulty logic, and sententious platitudes backed by shoddy research cannot rescue their antiquated beliefs from the baggage of cognitive dissonant fundamentalism.