south korea’s schools buckle to creationists

June 8, 2012

South Korea is one of the most advanced countries in the world. Its blazing-fast internet helps fuel its citizens’ insatiable additions to MMORPGs and StarCraft, its economy is powerful and well-diversified, and education and good grades are prized, sometimes to a fault. However, this well educated nation is taking a bizarre step backwards by allowing its version of the Discovery Institute to revise its biology books to omit evidence of evolution, which sounds much like a judge allowing a prosecutor to throw away a defense attorney’s proof of his client’s innocence to skew the case in the prosecution’s favor. What’s even worse is that nearly half of the nation rejects biology in favor of creationism, putting it more or less on par with the U.S., which was second from the bottom in evolution acceptance polls conducted in Western nations; Turkey was the only country that scored lower. Why does half of South Korea reject evolution? Call it a success of proselytizing and apathy on the part of its biologists, academics, and the public at large about the integrity of their science education. Not enough people stepped up to defend their school system from the encroachment of religious zealotry.

Creationists’ predictable response to criticism of South Korea’s educational surrender has been to declare all those who strongly disagree with censoring science textbooks a pack of vicious atheists persecuting anyone with faith in a bid to promote their own beliefs. Or in other words, with huge, steaming piles of organic fertilizer that fail to address the problem at every level. If evolution is on such shaky ground, why go out of your way and censor books about it? And if skeptics are supposed to stay out of the believers’ realm (even though evolution has many proponents who still want to or like to believe in a deity or an unspecified higher power), then why a religious intrusion into the scientific realm permissible? Glaring double standards anyone? Or would they like to tell us that they’d welcome scientists lobbying to censor or edit their holy books to better fit with evidence of how the universe really works and petitioning school boards to teach Sunday School classes? Really, should we need to explain how this whole secularism thing works for the hundredth time for those who don’t get it? If you have a dear, long-held belief, you’re welcome to have it. Just don’t force it down people’s throats. If you call scientific evidence "just another kind of belief," then you simply don’t understand how science works.

What especially gets me is that the modern strain of "educated creationism" accepts that adaptations happen constantly, and mutations can cause beneficial changes over time and with selection at work. But then they’ll proceed to call the adaptations "microevolution" and demand proof of "macroevolution" while declaring that it would be impossible for the latter to happen and scientists who claim it does are just making it up as they go along. They think it makes them look refined and well informed. In reality, it makes them look desperate while they cling to their beliefs. If you accept that mutations can be beneficial in a certain environment, with enough time and the right selective pressures, you have accepted the entire scientific basis for evolution. The only big difference between bacteria evolving in a lab and animals evolving in the wild is the number of mutations. The supposedly refined creationist position is like declaring that the principle of internal combustion is sound and works in lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and go-karts, but there’s no way that it could work in a car, much less an aircraft, or a ship, or a rocket. Why the hell not? It’s the same exact thing adjusted for scale! But creationists in a desperate bid to hold on to their beliefs will find their way to move the goalposts and butcher the concept so they can keep their eyes and ears closed to the fact that they’ve already accepted scientific proof.

Even worse is that I’m sure that the creationist group that pushed so hard for the changes in South Korea has no clue what it’s doing wrong, assuming that it has the absolute divine truth on its side so all its machinations aren’t a breach of a social contract but merely correcting a world gone astray. They read about creation in very respected holy books, how could it not be true? Instead of realizing that evolution is a result of hundreds and hundreds of years of scholars asking questions and making new discoveries that challenged their views and represents the best explanation for the development and diversification of life we have today when we take all the evidence into account, they fervently latch on to the idea that evolution is a product of hundreds of years of intellectual debauchery and crazy people seeking to distance themselves from their deity. This is why they go out of their way to demonize Darwin as a precursor to the Nazis and immediately declare evolution to be an atheist religion. But considering that as we saw, they can’t argue with the evidence behind evolution without a logical fallacy involved or outright denialism, they decided to simply excise the evidence to help make a false argument. And hey, is a step back for a nation’s school system really too steep of a price to help a little group of creationist zealots quiet their cognitive dissonance and sleep soundly at night? They don’t think so.

[ photo illustration by D’Arcy Norman ]

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  • Brett

    Korea, unfortunately has a pretty big contingent of evangelical Christians – the same group that is a big part of creationism here in the US.

  • The analogy is a little off. The prosecutor, while not playing fair by getting the judge to toss out the defense’s evidence is also working with evidence of their own. Creationists have zero evidence to support their claims. It’s always awful to see evangelical Christians making strides like this. I seriously worry about the future of our country and the world when things like this happen.

  • Paul

    There are about 6 billion human beings on the earth, and evolutionists have observed mankind for several hundred years.

    I all those human beings that are alive or have lived, can you show me one beneficial mutation that has ‘improved’ the human race?

    I think evolution was a way to get rid of our accountability to God…

    We didn’t want there to be a God… the unproven over-generalization of evolution allowed us to dismiss him from our world-view.

  • Bruce Coulson


    The ability to digest lactose (milk) as adults. (That’s the only one I can think of…as a layman. I’m sure there are others.)

    It’s always interesting to me that Creationists can cheerfully accept and embrace scientific advances in many other fields; but when the same principles of science come up with conclusions that contradict belief in evolutionary biology, suddenly those scientific principles are mere ‘belief systems’.

    But then, since you aren’t going to be using any modern antibiotics, Paul, I think the problem will resolve itself. (You ARE refusing to use modern anti-biotics, aren’t you? Because if you are using the latest drugs, then you’re acknowledging evolution. Which would make you a hypocrite. I’m sure that’s not the case…)

  • Paul, evolution takes a whole lot longer than hundreds of years in a species that reproduces as slowly as humans. So major evolutionary changes, especially ones that show up as changes in phenotypes, are very unlikely to occur in that amount of time.

    But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any examples of variation among human beings that end up being beneficial in particular environments. This study shows populations that have been at higher altitudes for a number of generations have actually adapted to the thinner air with increased lung capacity, better circulation, a greater capacity to process oxygen from the air they intake, and several other things that get complex enough that it may not mean much to those of us without a medical degree.

    And, of course, if we go back just hundreds of thousands of years (a blink of the eye compared to the billions of years of life evolving on this planet) we see some very obvious evolutionary changes like skin color. Populations closer to the equator (in Africa) had darker skin because of the greater exposure to vitamin D from the sun. Populations moving north into Northern Africa and the Middle East and southern Asia have slightly lighter skin than that, as they are exposed to less vitamin D and of course populations moving into Europe developed even lighter skin as their exposure was even less. There was a clear gradient of skin colors going from the furthest reaches northward to the populations in Central Africa that coincide with how much exposure these groups had to the sun. These patterns were thrown out of whack once humans started sailing and crossing great distances more quickly, which led to the mixing of gene pools and the greater diversification of our our species’ genetic make up.

    And, of course, we see evolution in animals and insects and especially in viruses and bacteria. So we know it exists and how it works. It’s one of the most heavily supported theories in all of science (even more so than gravity), so calling it “unproven” is flat out incorrect.

    The problem with your stance is that you are working from a literal interpretation of the bible… a book written thousands of years ago by dozens of authors, and then edited again later by a small group of men who decided which parts of the bible were true and which were not. A book that was translated across several languages early on, then over 400 today with multiple versions appearing even after the translations. Never mind the fact that you also have major philosophical differences between major religious bodies like Christians, Jews and Muslims about the basics of that literal word of God, which is all derived from the same source material.

    Taking a literal interpretation of any particular version of the bible is ridiculous when you take into account the history of how that version of the bible came about. And once you remove the literal interpretation and accept it as a book of stories and instructive parables rather than an instruction manual, the inherent conflict between a religious world view and accepting the Theory of Evolution lessens significantly.

    Of course, we’re ignoring other areas in which organized religion is impacting the world, but for this particular issue, most people who accept evolution as a biological truth have little or no issue with those who also accept it as a truth but want to say that God is pulling the strings from a far every tiny step along the way. That’s not really an accurate way to look at it, but it’s harmless enough that it’s not really worth fighting about.

  • venqax

    And our faces are getting smaller. I don’t think they know why, but I for some reason I like that one. Facial features have been getting more “gracile” overall. Who knows what the survival advantage is, but it’s nice to think the past was populated by big-faced primitives and the future will be much better looking. Of course supermodels mating with ugly millionaires may continue to set things back. :)