A Trojan Wall of Separation: The Battle Over South Korean Textbooks
Kim Lee Homme gives his take on the victory of science over creationism in school textbooks. No, this is not a story about America, it’s a story played out right here in the ROK.
BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA -- This last spring, the Society for Textbook Revise [sic] managed to sneak up on us and attack evolution theory as it was presented in South Korean high school textbooks. In effect, they got through security and hijacked the secular word science by means of the sectarian adjective creation. With passports thus forged, creation scientists presumed it proper to put a dead pilot in the cockpit, since He, they claim, drew up the flight plan in the first place.
Aboard His plane, there are to be no science textbooks sporting profane pictures of cross-dressing dinosaurs, like Archaeopteryx. Birds were created birds, and fossils sporting fashionable feathers are, well, inconvenient, and even downright embarrassing.
Having got around security, and having got their “scientifically” licensed pilot into the cockpit, The Society for Textbook Revise expurgated from Korea’s science textbooks both the feathered Archaeopteryx example, and the example of the horse’s evolution. They created, in effect, a Family Darwin, in which nothing is added, but those things are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.
On that fateful day of the hijacking, the weather was fair, and Korea’s scientific community was, as usual, busy doing a certain secular something behind laboratory walls, which they call “double-blind experimentation”. Thus busy and blindfolded, the scientists did not see the coming of this bold and brazen Bronze Age attack.
Who woulda thunk it possible? I mean, there are children in those school houses! Even twins! Such attacks, these scientists thought, happen only in “backwards” nations like America; if not in New York, then in Tennessee. But who would bring down the textbooks?
But out of the blue, they came. Textbook terrorists.
Yet there is good news. But let’s pause first. As a US citizen, it is with some measure of irony that I call the US “backwards”. I love that my country’s core values include freedom of speech, which is necessary in order that we have freedom of thought. Paradoxically, it is in the US that creation science was conceived as a political movement. And this movement is a threat to the separation of church and state. It threatens this separation by fusing theology with science.
Science, like the US Constitution, is a product of the Enlightenment, and depends on the free exchange of ideas. This requires that we defend the freedom of speech, and that we erect a wall of separation not only between church and state, but also between church and science, both in the US and in here in Korea.
As the 17th-century philosopher Spinoza put it: “The real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannize over.”
By the Enlightenment ideal, nothing is beyond the reproach of criticism--not even Darwin. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of free-thinking minds. No blasphemy is too profane in the pursuit of knowledge. No one is special: not you, not me, not Jesus, not Mohammad. All people, and all ideas get a shot. The best ideas--the ideas which work--get put down in textbooks.
I say much here which does not settle well with my more religious fellows, whose right to worship even my blasphemy defends. Allow me my mindless babblings, and I’ll you yours. Where we cannot find common ground, let us tender our arguments to the impartial judge: science.
Now, to the good news. The Society for Textbook Revise failed to sway a special government panel which recently convened to review the changes. Before the panel, Korean scientists showed reason and restraint. They did not rally up a coalition of the willing and invade Texas, where such plots are planned. They did not invade and leave lone-star education board members’ mouths agape with a scientific display of shock and awe. No, these scientists did better; and we have the Enlightenment vaccination program to thank for it. This Enlightenment vaccination program had pumped up and prepared their immune system with critical-thinking skills.
Let’s look more closely at this assault on reason, and see how disaster was averted.
The Society for Textbook Revise scouted for years, looking for weaknesses in the security system. They found legitimate scientific debates. They found ways distort these legitimate debates in order to suit their messianic mission.
In particular, they isolated two textbook examples of evolution: the evolution of the horse, and the example of the Archaeopteryx as a transition species. The horse example, the Society argued, is too simplistic, and is unreliable evidence of evolution. There is, they say, a wholesome “alternative” explanation, which does not involve sexual selection. And the Archaeopteryx, they claimed, is an unsettled issue, and therefore should be excluded and dismissed as scientifically invalid.
But the kicker is that the Society did not consult with experts in the field. Rather, they snuck through security with their creation-science passports, and hijacked the scientific process. They went directly to the publishers.
With their distorted evidence, political pressure, and perhaps some friends on the inside, they successfully got the textbook publishers to exclude the examples. Presently, they began to work on omitting examples of human evolution. We are, after all, not bonobos.
Therefore they disguised their motives, repressed them; and, if you will forgive me for shifting metaphors, they put these repressed motives into the horse example, and snuck their Trojan arguments into Troy as a Greek gift: ΙΧΘΥΣ.
When the Korean experts in the field of evolution got word that their city-wall had been breached, they organized and set the antediluvian fossil record straight. The publisher will now retain the Archaeopteryx example, and has rejected the creationists’ argument as invalid. Go figure. The horse example they have agreed is too simplistic and not convincing enough. So, with tongue in cheek, the scientists have now prepared for Jonah a Great Fish, and look to substitute the horse example with an even more convincing example. Hast seen the white whale?
“Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me. This fundamental thing settled, the next point is, in what internal respect does the whale differ from other fish.” - Ishmael in Moby Dick, 1851.
You can also read Kim Lee’s previous piece on the topic: Buffoons of Truth: Evolution Under Attack in South Korea.
The opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Haps.
Read more from Kim Lee Homme