What’s the matter with South Korea?

South Korea is one of the so-called ‘Asian tigers’, a modern, rapidly developing, and highly educated country with a large and still-growing role in the world’s economy. So it was a surprise to me to read that they are purging the teaching of evolution from the country’s textbooks.

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 reasons are a bit mysterious. The country is not as religious as the US but its levels of non-acceptance of evolution are comparable.

In a 2009 survey conducted for the South Korean documentary The Era of God and Darwin, almost one-third of the respondents didn’t believe in evolution. Of those, 41% said that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support it; 39% said that it contradicted their religious beliefs; and 17% did not understand the theory. The numbers approach those in the United States, where a survey by the research firm Gallup has shown that around 40% of Americans do not believe that humans evolved from less advanced forms of life.

The roots of the South Korean antipathy to evolution are unclear, although Jeon suggests that they are partly “due to strong Christianity in the country”. About half of South Korea’s citizens practice a religion, mostly split between Christianity and Buddhism.

Although creationist Christians are not the majority in South Korea they are, like in the US, heavily invested in promoting their religious agenda through the group the Society for Textbook Revise (STR).

The STR is an independent offshoot of the Korea Association for Creation Research (KACR), according to KACR spokesman Jungyeol Han. Thanks in part to the KACR’s efforts, creation science — which seeks to provide evidence in support of the creation myth described in the Book of Genesis — has had a growing influence in South Korea, although the STR itself has distanced itself from such doctrines.

The scientists in South Korea were apparently taken aback by this textbook decision and I hope it will galvanize them to fight the creationists aggressively, like what happened here in the US. It took awhile for the scientific community in the US to catch on that the creationists needed to be combated vigorously.

Update: I received a private email from reader David giving a link that said this story was quite wrong in many of its details and that far from deleting evolution from its textbooks, the South Korean government actually reaffirmed it. What happened was that errors in two evolution-related figures that had been pointed out by creationists were replaced with correct ones. South Korean creationists apparently trumpeted this minor change as a huge victory over evolution and this was the story that was picked up by Western media.

I apologize for contributing to the misinformation and thank David for correcting me.


  1. Sunny says

    I suppose I die every night and don’t realize it. Unfortunately, I seem to get reincarnated as boring old me every morning.

    The capacity of the human mind to believe just about thing never fails to amaze me.

  2. katkinkate says

    Humans most easily believe what they see and experience. It’s hard to go against that and accept the findings of science when they are not obvious. Especially if you have little science education yourself and don’t necessarily see scientists as valid authorities.

  3. mrp says

    One wonders if it is not also the case that the 41% who say there is insufficient evidence also do not understand evolution.

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