south korea tells creationists to back off

September 12, 2012

trilobite fossil

A while ago, creationists in South Korea persuaded textbook publishers to start removing entire chapters discussing proof for evolution in a move I likened to an overzealous and very dishonest prosecutor in court demanding that the judge refuse to admit evidence exonerating defendants simply because he would lose his case if such evidence were introduced. After a campaign by scientists with the relevant credentials, the South Korean Ministry of Education and Technology decided to formally review the creationists’ complaints and told them that science classes won’t be factually neutered at their request. Dismissing their arguments about dinosaurs being the starting lineage for birds as vague and invalid, the ministry did agree that a chapter about the evolution of horses was lacking in proper scientific rigor. But whereas the creationists tried to excise the chapter completely, the ministry said that the chapter should be rewritten with a more current picture of how horses evolved. In other words, their solution to creationist’s complaints of poor evidence is to have textbook publishers update the books with better science.

Of course no science will ever be good enough for creationists when it comes to biology, but it’s the right approach. If the proof presented in the textbooks isn’t compelling enough, we should be presenting better and more accurate evidence rather than bow to the Nirvana fallacy espoused by so many creationists. If we don’t know how every molecule in living things interacts with every other molecule, something we can never know for certain unless we were to manifest Laplace’s Demon and ask it some questions, it doesn’t mean that the other 95% of the theory isn’t a solid body of facts and has to be discarded. After all, you don’t rewrite an entire term paper if you find out you misspelled a word, or quoted something incorrectly. You fix the mistake and continue, revising along the way until you get a more accurate body of work. But to the fundamentalist mindset, that’s cheating. They’re used to a text they believe hasn’t changed for thousands and thousands of years — don’t tell them that it was rewritten numerous times and was edited by a self-appointed group that rejected more than a hundred parts and pieces of its first drafts — and when we correct our theories with better facts, they think we’re changing our story.

And yes, we are to an extent but our goal isn’t consistency, it’s accuracy, whereas to a religious adherent, perceived consistency means that the text must be accurate in a twist on the ad hoc, ergo prompter hoc line of reasoning. No one changed the holy book, therefore it must be true in the first place and when science revises its ideas, it must mean that the ideas were flawed from the start, otherwise they wouldn’t need correcting. And again, there’s a point there because few big ideas have been only expanded; many have been outright rewritten. Newton’s work was not replaced by general relativity, as popularly claimed. Without Newton, there would be no general or special relativity in the first place, and without Darwin’s natural selection and Mendel’s punnet squares, genetics wouldn’t have the kind of context that lets us decipher genomes to the extent we can today. We can also cite atomic theory and electromagnetism as examples of science that was updated rather than rewritten. But these are the exceptions. The aether gave way to mostly empty space, plate tectonics turned geology on its head, miasmas and the four humors fell to germ theory, ancient astrology lost the metaphysics and became astronomy, etc.

Where we see progress, however, the fundamentalists see heathens who either lack the proper spiritual guidance to see the truth, the way, and the light, or nefarious heretics who only want the righteous to falter in their beliefs and abandon their faith, constantly changing their story when caught on a mistake or missing something important from their theories. This is why they seldom even bother to understand what the theories they so fiercely reject actually say, going so far as to constantly use an argument that actually provides evidence for evolution as a criticism of it if not just blithely dismissing it as fairy tales for adults as compared to the eternal truth of a talking snake and a naked woman dooming humanity to mortality and disease. Why bother learning the science if it’s just going to change? Seeing the massive flaws in this kind of reasoning, those in charge of education and scientific advancement in South Korea defaulted to the science, prone to change as it may be, but ground in proof, evidence, and able to revise itself as new facts come to light rather than the kind of intellectual cowardice that believe it’s just fine and dandy to censor the evidence it doesn’t like, and then prey on the subsequent factual vacuum.

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  • venqax

    I would agree with everything the ROK is reportedly doing in this regard, and with your opinion of how these things should be handled. In the US, there is no centralized Ed Ministry, but rather a couple thousand local school boards and 50+ state/territorial entities that make these decisions. It woud be beneficial to education if they all adopted standards that dealt with all subjects in a rational manner.

    With science specifically, it is the lack of teaching what science IS, fundamentally, and how it differrs from “other” means of doing things, that causes the problem. Creationists are able to convince themselves and others that their positions are “scientific” and that science doesn’t meet its own standards because they and their audience simply don’t know what science or the scientific method are. How many times have we heard that evolution has never been “observed”, and since science is SUPPOSED to be based on observation, etc, etc,

    It would be much harder in our tech-centered society to get people to reject science outright, in favor of fabulism, which is in fact what creationists do, if people really understood that that was what they were doing by embracing creationism. People, generally, fancy themselves to be rational and reasonable. As it is, the state of scientific illiteracy enables them to think they ARE being so while rejecting evolution.