You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2014 10 03Article 328127

Opinions of Friday, 3 October 2014

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

Ghana's Many Problems: The Promise of Humanism 3

We are back yet again to the subtle relational dynamics between science and superstition. This question requires further clarification as superstition gradually begins to gain hold on public psychology, systematically replacing analytic thinking and threatening Ghana’s development economics. The scholarly work of Dr. Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences awardee, linking gender equality, social justice, political liberalism, welfare economics, and poverty may have snippets of theoretical correlations to the general outline of our arguments.

That having being said, we do also acknowledge the fact that in the ancient world (Egypt, China, India, Rome, Greece, etc) especially, science and religion never stood severally as antagonistic next-door neighbors in the philosophical investigation of the natural world, with the two coming across as Siamese twins instead.

We may have to add that the Age of Enlightenment (Age of Reason) and the Industrial Revolution, expansion of knowledge about the natural world, growing need for specialization, internecine tensions between science and religion brought about by vigorous scientific discrediting of superstition, modernity, etc., all contributed to complete decoupling of science from superstition. What we do also know for a fact that science, unlike superstition, makes adequate room for dialectic episodes of revision, repudiation, and debunking of established theories, laws, and hypotheses found operationally problematic in the event of new information, revelations or discoveries.

As a matter of emphasis, superstition permanently finds itself fixed in time with all possibilities of theoretic renewal closed to new discoveries. For instance, scientists are presently looking for new innovative theories to explain new cosmic conundrums that have risen in the field of physics. Dark energy is one such good example of the handful of cosmic puzzles that currently has arrested scientists’ investigational attention and which the Theory of Relatively does not seem to sufficiently account for (See Prof. Eric Verlinde’s scientific paper “On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton”).

Can we find a fitting parallel example elsewhere to account for the juxtaposition of scientific flexibility? Let us see. A typical Christian has no problem gullibly accepting the miraculous birth of Jesus. But will that same Christian accept the miraculous birth of Buddha as divine revelation? Probably not! In fact the righteous hypocrisies go in the other direction as well. Again, are Christians willing to accept evolution as the quintessential backbone of the universe and life forms rather than St. Aquinas’s Five Proofs (Quinque viae) establishing the existence of God? Probably not!

Charles Darwin took God out of the equational blueprint for the evolutionary parturition of the universe and life. The well-accomplished Christian scientist Dr. Francis Collins, in contrast, appends a divine signature to the evolutionary process, ultimately bringing back God from the abyss of obscurity. What were Charles Darwin’s and Friedrich Nietzsche’s reasons for killing God? And what were Francis Collins’ reasons for bringing back God from the land of the dead?

These questions are interesting for a number of reasons. We ask: Did they all look objectively at the same scientific evidence? Why did one make the evolutionary process entirely atheistic, the other entirely theistic? Our point is that religion and superstition are very powerful tools for mind control. They are exceedingly powerful in their controlling influence on human psychology because spirits, hell, deities, devils, heaven, fear, and other paranormal structures are involved. Cheikh Anta Diop and Albert Einstein are mortal. Enoch and Elijah are immortal.

God and the Devil are immortal. We are also familiar with some of the world’s infamous dancing faces of the devils of science. Let us mention them here: Dr. Wouter Basson (South Africa), Dr. Joseph Mengele (Germany), Drs. Eugen Fischer and Stabsartz Bofinger (South-West Africa, now Namibia), Dr. Shiro Ishii and Otozo Yamada (Japan), Dr. Raymond A. Vonderlehr (America), etc., and the pain they collectively wrought upon the world via diabolical acts of human experimentation. Some may have a hard time trying to juxtapose or reconcile the atrocities wrought on mankind via science and superstition. Who are the Gods of science? None.

Thus it is superstition, not science, that ultimately puts man in close contact with the paranormal structures of transcendence. The fear factor which we mentioned earlier incidentally plays into ready, gullible acceptation of superstitious absolutism as a defined point of spiritual contact with the dreadful mystery and intimidating caprice of transcendence. Superstition therefore constitutes an avenue through which man takes advantage of opportunities offered him by his mind to understand or explain an extension of his environment whose ontological appreciation is otherwise narrowed by scientific materialism.

The scientific approach to understanding the natural world operates likewise though the means and ends of scientific inquiry passes through the testable conduits of rationalism, verifiable observations, and empiricism. Nonetheless, the repressive intolerance of superstition and its un-amenable tendencies toward historical revisionism constitutes a major obstacle to advancement. The imagined or perceived threat from paranormal hellfire in the case of Christianity and Islam is not encouraging, either, given man’s conscious experiences with the chemistry of fire, thus making acceptance of superstitious absolutism an easy undertaking to many.

Superstition also neutralizes serious investigational or exegetical tendencies toward Koranic inerrancy or Biblical inerrancy, making either sacrilegiously unmentionable. It could as well be that superstition may, perhaps, represent a mythologizing of life actualities and cultural normative in the distance past whose practical correlation to contemporary existential instances is lost in the remoteness of time. The metaphysical fluidity and crushing weight of this question may be beyond the empirical grasp of scientific affirmation.

On the other hand, this and other questions drive a section of humanity to pursue the ideals of atheism, agnosticism, ignosticism (igtheism), and deism. Further, the ideological battle raging between proponents of creationism and evolution largely stems from superstitious impositions of grotesque epistemology and the realistic imperatives of science. The irony is that a significant portion of evolutionary theory itself is built on the infrastructure of superstitious absolutism.

The contrasting ideological animus between proponents of pro-life and anti-abortion (the right to life) directly translates into a connotative derivation of the philosophical conflict between creationists and evolutionists. Evolution is partly science, partly superstition. And science itself is partly infused with elements of superstition. Dr. Chandra Kant Raju, a world-famous Indian computer scientist, mathematician, historian, physicist, and statistician has written extensively on this subject (See his scholarly books “The Eleven Pictures of Time: The Physics, Philosophy, and Politics of Time Beliefs” and “Mathematics and Religion: Essays on the Relation of Religion to Mathematics, Logic, and Probability” and his scientific paper “Cultural Foundations of Mathematics: The Nature of Mathematical Proof and the Transmission of the Calculus from India to Europe in the 16th CE”). Thus we do ourselves a great disservice at the very point we exclude this useful knowledge, the subtle and not-so-subtle marriage between science and superstition, from general discussions on superstitious absolutism.

On another level the historical evolution of science is deeply intertwined with the absolutist charisma of superstition. Alchemy and psychoanalysis readily come to mind! Yet the metaphysical contestation between God and man, exactly as St. Augustine’s advanced it in “The City of God” and exactly as the Persian Prophet Mani developed it through Manichaeism, reflects in our treatment of girls and women at trokosi shrines and witch camps.

An immediate cultural instance is the ritualistic auguries used to single out individuals believed to be doused in demonological mud, ritualistic strategies we deem methodologically sexist and therefore operationally problematic. Sadly most of the human outcomes of these questionable auguries are girls and women. Perhaps the deities involved in these divinatory rituals are female. Perhaps the numerical representation of women in the traditional priesthood may have to see a proportionate increase in order to bring about telluric and transcendental balance in gender relations.

Unfortunately the plight of girls and women is further deepened by the twin legacies of Biblical and Koranic patriarchy and male chauvinism! Humanism, at least in theory, does not condone sexism or discrimination of any sort. The cultural practices of trokosi and witch camps are antagonistic to the spiritual, psychological, emotional, and anatomic integrity of girls and women. Consequently, a self-styled democracy like Ghana’s should not countenance any form of abuse against innocent girls and women for religious or cultural excuses.

The leadership of Ghana should not be apologetic or sentimentally political about this entrenched problem, bearing in mind to scrape off these shameful abusive structures from public psychology before the righteous cataract of some members of the international community hand it an indelible stain of isolation. The integrity of Ghana’s national balance sheet of moral accountability is at stake here.

Importantly scraping off these entrenched cultural structures from public psychology may not be an easy undertaking. We have already mentioned the emotional factor of fear as one of the necessary roadblocks to likely institutional success of resisting the absolutism of superstition. In a sense the poetic, rhetoric denseness of gods and deities or the allegorical, metaphoric circumlocution of transcendence may, undoubtedly, have something to do with possible misapplications of divine wisdom in human lives.

It does not help the cause of humanism whether Biblical and Koranic literalism is an effective response to divine denotation or transcendental intension. The claims of transcendental intension and divine denotation are such they are open to multiple interpretations, good and bad. African Religion and religions of the Far East, especially Hindu, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, and Shintoism, are not exempt from the labyrinthine intricacies of divine denotation and transcendental intension.

Now, given that all scriptural structures of religion are raised on the infrastructure of superstitious absolutism, how do individual members of the laity confirm or disconfirm the veracities of varied interpretations and prophecies proffered by self-righteous men and women on behalf of God, individuals who claim to have divine backing in their sacred representation of transcendence? A parallel question is: How does the uninitiated appreciate the veracity, or otherwise, of scientific findings?

We pose these comparable questions on the preponderance of evidence where categories of superstitious and scientific interpretations have resulted in the deaths of civilizations and millions of people. We face a similar dilemma in the witch camps and trokosi shrines. Perhaps underdevelopment, poverty, scientific and technological ignorance, environmental challenges, and lack of opportunities for personal and community advancement may be part of the unfolding mystery of human gullibility in the face of transcendental vicissitudes.

Job creation, industrialization, expanded educational opportunities for boys and girls, de-emphasis of religion, promotion of gender equality, increased enrollment of women in the traditional priesthood, and expanded involvement of women in politics in these designated hotspots can arrest some of the problems.

Of course, African Religion and Bahá’í Faith may come across as more accommodating of other religious faiths and cultures than of Christianity and Islam, say, although negative practices such as trokosi, ritual amputations of albinos, witch camps, and false prophecies threaten the institution of African Religion (See Wole Soyinka’s four-part essay “A Choice of Chains,” “Not a ‘Way of Life,’ But a Guide to Existence,” “The Spirituality of a Continent,” and “Thus Spake Orunmila: Africa as Arbitrating Voice”). One wonders what has become of divine omniscience and divine philanthropy when more and more human heads fall under the sweeping sword of superstition!

Still, the question of improving gender relations in Ghana ties in with the imperative of providing universal quality maternal health services to a section of the population. Expanding and improving the quality of public services, reducing preventable medical accidents, and curtailing the debilitating side effects of polypharmacy are therefore a must. Ghana also needs to work hard at the creative arts. The movie industry has a moral responsibility to sell screenplays that truly reflect the cultural actualities of the people.

Too many Ghanaian movies are poorly done, are poorly executed artistically, and are poorly scripted to the point where they reinforce transcendental stereotypes, of which witchcraft and ghostly renditions topically dominate. Nigerian movies are no different. The music industry is guilty of the same charges. Science, technology, industrialization, development economics, environment pollution, corporate or multinational corruption, gender equality, religious terrorism, ethnic supremacy, underdevelopment, judicial and political incompetence are hardly subject matters of many a movie screenplay.

Then there is also the sacrilegious controversy of female university students’ bartering away their womanhood for grades. And as if that is not enough Ghana has recently come under various attacks from a marginalized constituency of mostly individuals at war with their sexuality, specifically sexual orientation, and from a section of the Ghanaian community fiercely opposed to the demands of sexual revolution. In other words, there are covert and overt moral wars raging from time to time between proponents of sexual conservatism and sexual freedom.

This moral battle recalls the complex epistemologies of St. Augustine’s “The City of God” and of Prophet Mani’s Manichaeism, creationism and evolution, the usual moral dichotomies, to say the least. The position of Ghana’s constitutional conservativism on the matter of homosexuality as well as presidential and parliamentary rhetorical ambiguity do not make for constructive engagement with the national conscience.

Who has the right answers to the moral dilemma? Various reasons have been adduced by each side of the ideological divide either in support or rejection of homosexuality. One such scientific attestation of homosexuality has come from the animal world (See Dr. Bruce Bagemihl’s book “Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity”). Dr. Bagemihl’s research was based on a study involving close to three hundred species of animals.

Significantly, we have not seen or read a serious critique of the book by other scientists in the field although it did make a successful appearance in a case that came before the United States Supreme Court (See Lawrence vs. Texas). On the contrary, it has widely been acknowledged by other scientists that animals which would otherwise not have exhibited homosexual tendencies in the wild do so in the laboratory because experimenters’ either destroy laboratory their brain tissues or manipulate levels of their hormones. This may cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of scientific experimentation programs designed specifically to provide empirical attestation for homosexuality.

Whether homosexuality has genetic, neurological, or physiological origin, we believe, is open to debate, a position beyond the scope of this three-part series. Moreover, there are important instances of genetic, physiological, and neurological expressions that do not enjoy the explanatory comfort of mutual inclusion in the empirical realm of behavior science as far as animals and human beings go.

For instance, male sea horses carry eggs and bonobos use sex for purposes of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation, two traits hardly observable in human experience. Others have also claimed the homosexual lifestyle is a learned or acquired behavior. We raise these questions because we believe they are of great importance to the project of humanism. However, we also do firmly believe it is not our place to argue in favor of or against public acceptance of homosexuality.

It is a moral exercise which we believe is worth the moral preserve of national consensus. Homosexuality and heterosexuality in particular and sexual orientation in general should be a matter of privacy fit for the bedroom, the bathroom, and the secrecy of one’s clothes. Individuals cannot decide for a social collectivity on such sensitive matters. We argue that initiatives for change should come from the collective conscience of Ghanaians and Africans, not from the West.

This ends the three-part series!