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Posted : 2012-06-15 16:38
Updated : 2012-06-15 16:38

In defense of evolution curriculum in Korea


By David K. Wright

The removal of certain aspects of natural history from Korean biology textbooks is regrettable, including references to the Jurassic period theropod, archaeopteryx, and the staged progression of ``Eohippus to Equus” in the evolution of the horse as reported by Park Soo-bin in Nature on June 5, 2012.

The move demonstrates the willingness of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to kneel to the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which is affiliated with the Korea Association for Creation Research.

I would like to share my perspective on why such changes are detrimental to science education for Korea, and threaten to undermine the foundation of its research-based economy.

First, evolutionary theory is the lynchpin of scientific knowledge about earth systems. Simply put, evolution is the understanding that organisms reproduce and survive at different rates and that, over time, this effect can change the ways in which organisms appear and adapt to their environments.

In a sense, environments can shape the reproductive (and survival) success of all organisms, and, in turn, these organisms shape and mold the environments they inhabit.

By removing evolution from our children’s science curriculum, they lose the perspective that they are part of a process that is much bigger than humans alone, and that the choices we make can reverberate throughout the natural world.

Examples of the significance of this factor ranges from understanding why microbes develop resistance to drugs to how all humans on this earth share common ancestry and can work together to solve important problems facing our species.

Second, since evolutionary theory underlies all scientific research, removing this component of the science curriculum deprives our children of the basic knowledge they need to undertake careers in science. Korea has become a global leader in basic science research primarily because the foundations of scientific education begin at an early age and are rooted in the fundamentals of the disciplines from which they are drawn.

Careers in science and biotechnology are among the most highly paid and have the highest job satisfaction rates compared to other professions. Last year, leading trade publication The Scientist conducted a survey of life scientists and found that the median salary of a full-time professional was $90,000.

Applicants for these types of positions are expected to understand fundamental scientific principles. If changes to scientific curricula are taken to the STR’s logical end, Korean research institutes will have difficulty filling positions with indigenous scientists and Korea’s stature will fall on the global scale.

Finally, removing facts about evolution from textbooks weakens our children’s ability to think critically and solve problems. Science is based on a system of presenting an idea, designing tests to evaluate the merit of that idea and then presenting the results to the world for open evaluation of that process.

Creationism follows none of these steps. Instead, creationism presents untestable, a priori assumptions, discredits data that does not fit these assumptions and offers only historical legends as ``proof” of their arguments. Such reductionist logic discourages innovative thinking and can have dangerous side effects.

You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable having your doctor restricted to using methods vetted only in a medieval medical manual. Similarly, the television you watch, the materials used to build your home and the car you drive were constructed using the same sets of scientific principles used to prove the theory of evolution.

As Korea continues to make the transition into a knowledge- and research-based economy, replacing vetted, scientific theory with 2000 year old allegories of no scientific merit represents a threat to the country’s climb up the socio-economic ladder. Keep science in the textbooks of our schools and let the churches and parents teach Bible stories.

The writer is an assistant professor at the Department of Archaeology and Art History at Seoul National University. His email address is msafiri@snu.ac.kr.

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