Radio Freethinker

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South Korea Creationist Controversy

Posted by Ethan Clow on June 13, 2012

In all time science fails committed on a national scale, this one has to be near the top. South Korea has banned evolution from its text books across the country, giving into pressure from creationists.

Nature reported on this shocking national “dumbening” (my words) of S. Korea.

It began when a petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks succeeded last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx. Not surprisingly, the country’s leading biologists were not consulted.

The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the “error” of evolution from textbooks to “correct” students’ views of the world, according to the society’s website.

The STR is an independent offshoot of the Korea Association for Creation Research (KACR), according to KACR spokesman Jungyeol Han. Thanks in part to the KACR’s efforts, creation science — which seeks to provide evidence in support of the creation myth described in the Book of Genesis — has had a growing influence in South Korea.

In a 2009 survey conducted for the South Korean documentary The Era of God and Darwin, almost one-third of the respondents didn’t believe in evolution. Of those, 41% said that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support it; 39% said that it contradicted their religious beliefs; and 17% did not understand the theory. The numbers approach those in the United States, where a survey by the research firm Gallup has shown that around 40% of Americans do not believe that humans evolved from less advanced forms of life.

About half the people of South Korea practice religion, of which the two most popular are Christianity and Buddhism.

Specifically, references to Archaeopteryx (one of the most famous transitional fossils ever) have been removed. The Society for Textbook Revision also plans to have references to human evolution and finch beaks as well.

As I was reading more about this story I saw a few comments from South Koreans who were taking issue with some of the phrasing of the story. A few have suggested this is at most a hollow victory for creationists. They attest that evolution will still be taught in South Korean high schools and the removal of material from the text books is small in comparison to the amount of science that is being taught.

I can understand that. This clearly isn’t a death blow to science. It’s not like universities are being closed down and biologists are being fired and locked up in prison. That being said, this is a big deal. We’ve seen the direction that creationist activists in the US have been working to undermine the science in America. They frequently infiltrate school boards and rely on support from their conservative religious public to help them manipulate the system.

They also disguise their attack as scientific criticism, referring to creationism as “creation science” or “intelligent design”. These tactics are meant to sew doubt amongst moderate believers. Give them the impression that perhaps there is scientific debate about evolution. This manufactured controversy then fuels more “revision” and “debate” which further drives this wedge of misunderstanding and undermines the teaching of evolution.

South Koreans should be very worried about this and not try to shrug this off as a small victory for creationists.

I saw something else while I was researching this. Have you heard of the TIMSS? Beginning in 1995 and every four years thereafter, The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has been conducted. TIMSS tests fourth, eighth and 12th grade students around the globe on both science and mathematics and the huge data set allows knowledge levels to be compared by country.

In science, students in the United States ranked third at the fourth grade level but fell to 17th at the eighth grade level and rose slightly to 16th at the 12th grade level. Students from South Korea, in comparison, were first and fourth in fourth and eighth grade, respectively. (South Korea didn’t test their 12th grade students.)

to quote Dr. Michael Zimmerman in his article on the Huffington Post

“Koreans will soon realize that when biology education removes evolution as the organizing principle for the discipline, students will no longer be able to make sense of the science. Without evolution serving as the central idea tying all facets of biology together, all that’s left is a collection of random facts and experiments. Teaching biology without evolution is akin to teaching history simply by asking students to memorize dates. No context, no integration of ideas, no learning.”

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