Creationism: it’s not just for Americans

Interesting report from Nature about the teaching of evolution (or rather the lack of it) in South Korea.

Mention creationism, and many scientists think of the United States, where efforts to limit the teaching of evolution have made headway in a couple of states1. But the successes are modest compared with those in South Korea, where the anti-evolution sentiment seems to be winning its battle with mainstream science.

A petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks claimed victory 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. The move has alarmed biologists, who say that they were not consulted.

One interesting contrast between US and Korean creationism:

However, a survey of trainee teachers in the country concluded that religious belief was not a strong determinant of their acceptance of evolution.

It’s not totally clear to me what the reason is if not religious belief.

Another interesting nugget:

It also found that 40% of biology teachers agreed with the statement that “much of the scientific community doubts if evolution occurs”; and half disagreed that “modern humans are the product of evolutionary processes”.

I’ve always imagined that relatively few biology teachers are actual creationists: I imagine that they actually know that there’s a complete scientific consensus that evolution is right, even if they don’t teach it in class as much as they should (often due to external pressures). But according to this, lots of South Korean biology teachers are sincere creationists. It started me wondering whether the same is true in the US.

Here’s a survey of US biology teachers that addresses the question. Almost all of the survey has to do with what teachers teach in class (and is very interesting). As far as I can tell, there’s just one question that’s about what the teachers actually believe:

The questions are different, so it’s hard to do a head-to-head comparison between the US and South Korean teachers. Clearly everyone in the last group would disagree with the  statement that “modern humans are the product of evolutionary processes,” and everyone in the second group would agree with it, but what about the majority in the first group? I suspect that many of them would agree with the statement, but it’s hard to know for sure.

This is a depressing subject for most scientists, so here’s one little ray of sunshine from the survey:

Or does the fact that I’m encouraged to see that “only” 13% of science teachers believe this simply show how depressingly low my expectations are?

Anyway, if you’re interested in this stuff, it’s worth browsing around the rest of the survey results.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!