Thursday, 7 June 2012

Intelligently designed ignorance gets a boost in Korea

Having just said that the Why Evolution is True website is a bit too anti-religion at times, Nature News has just reported some worrying developments in South Korea that make it clear why the likes of Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins continue to take the fight right to the door of those trying to spread misinformation in the name of religion.

The piece, "South Korea surrenders to creationist demands" (Nature 486, 14), reports that high-school textbook publishers have agreed to remove examples of evolution from their books following pressure from Creationists in the country. (A group using that old oxymoron of "Creation science", which demonstrates that the people involved understand "science" in the same way as they understand "evolution": through a twisted misrepresentation of the underlying principles and mechanisms of action.)

I feel sorry for some Creationists - I used to be one - as there are those that have been fed lies by people they trust and, therefore, believed them. (Often, the lies are passed on in ignorance and without malice for several "thought generations".) I have no such sympathy for the spawners of such nonsense, though. You need to be pretty damn sure of yourself to start imposing your thoughts on others by trying to influence textbook content, so these people are either wilfully deceitful or woefully ignorant. (Ignorance itself is not a crime, until you start try to teach others your ignorance. If you don't understand evolution, leave it to those that do. I don't try to teach quantum mechanics.) This is doubly true if what you are trying to teach flies in the face of the well-established scientific consensus.

The focus seems to be on the removal of Archaeopteryx as a possible avian ancestor and the fossil series evidence for the evolution of the horse. I am all in favour of specific examples of evolution being updated in the light of new data, or replaced with clearer ones. (Archaeopteryx may not be the ancestor of modern birds and may instead represent an extinct off-shoot of feathered dinosaurs. Plenty of other fossils and species exist, though, and it does not change the overwhelming evidence that modern birds evolved from therapod dinosaurs.) The crucial thing here, though, was that the Korean biologists say they were not consulted, and the move was made in response to a petition from the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), an independent offshoot of the Korea Association for Creation Research (KACR) that:
aims to delete the "error" of evolution from textbooks to "correct" students' views of the world, according to the society's website.
In other words, you should teach what we want because we don't like the scientific consensus.

One of the most worrying aspects, as pointed out by the authors, is that (next to, say, America), Korea is not a particularly religious country - according to the article:
About half of South Korea's citizens practice a religion, mostly split between Christianity and Buddhism.
The article cites a 2009 survey in South Korea, which found that less than one third of respondents did not accept evolution. (Compared to over 40% in the US, for example.) Less than half of those denying evolution, however, claimed to do so for religious reasons and instead cited a lack of evidence and/or understanding. This is both depressing and encouraging, I think. It is depressing to think that Creationist liars are spin doctoring so well that the central tenet of biological science for the past 100 years can still be poorly understood in the 21st Century - especially with all the good online resources now available. (It only takes a Google search and an open mind to debunk most of the Creationist fallacies.) It is encouraging, on the other hand, because the solution seems obvious: better education.
Until now, says Dayk Jang, the scientific community has done little to combat the anti-evolution sentiment. "The biggest problem is that there are only 5–10 evolutionary scientists in the country who teach the theory of evolution in undergraduate and graduate schools," he says. Having seen the fierce debates over evolution in the United States, he adds, some scientists also worry that engaging with creationists might give creationist views more credibility among the public.
I wonder how much it would cost to put a copy of Why Evolution Is True in every school library in South Korea?

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