There are two approaches to viewing global problems. The first is seeing them as natural human problems caused by humans and their natural environments, and as such should be solved by human effort. The second approach is to believe global problems are caused by gods, God or the devil.

Yesterday a religious physician asserted that God allows the death of millions of children that die from preventable causes every year because, perhaps these children might become terrorists in the future if they were allowed to live. This is a higher reason which mere mortals cannot understand because we are humans and the ways of God are inscrutable to humans. Only God has all the information, and these his decisions will never make sense to mere foolish mortals.

Apart from the fact that this kind of belief has zero evidence to support it, it shows a complete lack of empathy, an inability to understand the fact that every single child who dies has a family that griefs for his/her death, which is a result of human failure to prevent it. Such grief and sorrow can be appreciated in full by imagining that you, a physician, has to visit all the millions of families to inform them of the death of a child, and witness them grief.

Beliefs like this are also fatalistic. They take away our agency and resolve to solve human problems. They make us overtly dependent on unseen supernatural forces to solve human problems. I shall show very shortly with an hypothetical example why this belief is inimical to society’s development and progress.

There is abundant evidence that public health measures work in reducing global mortality. Let us for the sake of argument say that malaria killed 15 million children in year 1 in a certain country. The inhabitants say well God allowed the death because the children might grow up to be terrorists. But a sensible public health physician in the country ignores that nonsense, knowing fully well that this is not about God and terrorists. It’s about plasmodium and anopheles mosquitoes. And in year 2 he institutes a nationwide campaign to cut bushes where mosquitoes hide and drain stagnant water. At the end of year two, death reduces to 10 million. Only 10 million would-be terrorists had died.

By year 3, insecticide-treated nets are added, and death reduces to only 5 million. We have helped God to reduce the number of would be terrorists to 5 million. By year 5, after the introduction of malaria vaccine, improvement in urban living conditions, good nutrition, rapid diagnosis, and available and affordable antimalarial treatment within a 3-km radius of every child, death has reduced to zero. We have helped God to eliminate every would-be terrorist.

This is precisely why critical thinking is important in forming beliefs, in formulating questions around societal problems and solving same. It is the reason why we challenge these unreasonable beliefs. They are dangerous beliefs; they take away our humanity in our bid to uphold certain base religious beliefs and holy books as the absolute truth, at the detriment of human development.

This is not to ask everyone to jettison their beliefs in whatever makes them happy. It is an appeal to reexamine our strongly held beliefs critically from time to time to see if there lurks within them inherent harms that were never apparent as at the time they were being formed.

Global health challenges are not due to gods or demons. That used to be the thought of our primitive ancestors. These challenges are due to our environmental neighbours: biological, chemical, physical, psychological, human. No gods will solve them for us. It is our responsibility to solve them.

Ayinde Olatunde Olayinka.