There is at least one sense in which Nigeria and the US are very similar: having a remarkably high proportion of religious people – or as the present fad expression goes, people that “have a personal relationship with God” – and of course also having a high proportion of creationists, which follows, so it seems, quite easily.
This was the first thought that occurred to me last year when during the heated US presidential campaign I saw John McCain and Barack Obama on the TV, apparently appealing to the American religious conservative right, both of them at the Saddleback Church, engaged in what could hardly pass for a mild debate moderated by the pastor, Rick Warren. I remember thinking to myself: the only other place where this could possibly happen is right here in Nigeria.
It is in my experience quite safe to assume that by being a Nigerian, you are simply religious by default, until confessed otherwise, and that you believe yourself to be a creationist even without having as much as a half-hearted look at the evidence for evolution by natural selection. With this premise, I have discovered what has become for me a most favoured pastime, which is to bring up the theory of evolution and Darwinism and related scientific concepts easily associated with atheism, agnosticism and all sorts of ungodly tendencies to spark up discussion amongst colleagues in Nigeria.
I hope we could have one such exchange here on NigertansTalk. Painfully, competing and admittedly often more pressing issues generally trump whatever space we might have for science in our politics and national life.
In the discussions that have resulted, I have found that roughly half of the people I’ve encountered fall within the category I refer to, for the purpose of this post, as “the fundamentalist,” and the lowest watermark of such argument will be: “I would cease to believe in the existence of other planets and solar systems and galaxies if I find a remark in Bible (or the Qur’an) that so much as suggests that the earth is all there is in the universe.”
The other half are about equally divided into three groups: “the open minded” (“Well, it seems there is some good evidence that I’ll have to spend some time to consider more carefully.), the “I don’t give a damn” (“Whatever it is, I don’t think it matters.”), and “the malleable,” those that get convinced after a lot of discussion, only find that they have reverted to creationism at the next encounter (“What you said the other day, I really don’t think it can be true.”).
There is an American student from Texas here, with whom I’ve had two long and interesting discussions on evolution and creationism. She is an avowed creationist and a Christian, and like most of my Nigerian friends, she possibly couldn’t accept that being a Christian and an evolutionist at the same time are not fundamentally conflicting positions. For her, they are simply mutually exclusive: the exact same argument that my Nigerian friends would make.
It actually got me wondering how similar Nigerians must indeed be to Americans in this regard and why would that be? It is for me, as for most scientists a persistent puzzle as to why Americans are so religious and how creationism is so widespread and evolution is taken with so much negative seriousness in the US. I could easily explain the situation in Nigeria. I was never taught the theory of evolution in primary or secondary school, although of course more because there were no teachers to teach it than because there was a legislation against teaching it.
Looking back however, I think not having been taught evolution in secondary school was indeed a blessing because then I was left to study it all be myself and so had the opportunity to weight the evidence against my knowledge of the Biblical account of creation which I was raised in, and was, as I still am, also very well versed in. I am almost certain that even if there were teachers, it is unlikely that any will teach it well enough to present the evidence and allow the pupils make up their mind.
My comparative anatomy lecturer in medical school after discussing all the interesting and beautiful evidence for evolution, ended the lecture by saying it was all crap, and that we should take none of it any seriously beyond the point of recanting (sic) them during exams. Might that be the reason: the lack of unbiased exposure to the basic tenets of evolutionary theory? Might this be what some Americans are protecting against when they say they don’t want evolution taught in their schools?
What do you think? Are you an evolutionist? Why, if yes, and why not if not? Were you introduced to the theory of evolution by natural selection in secondary school? What do you think the effect of that might be if you were or might have been if you were not? Do you think an evolutionist could at the same time “have a personal relationship with God?”