Wednesday, November 7, 2007

South African high schools may soon teach mandatory evolution theory

Transcript of today's show:

In 2008, public and private high schools throughout South Africa will begin teaching evolution. This recent decision has already ignited a tremendous uproar among parents, teachers and religious groups. Those responsible for these new standards say that evolution teaches students to think critically and analytically. Critics say, however, that it may be confusing to some students because of their religious beliefs.
[source: Thabo Mohlala/The Guardian]

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from Josef de Beer of the University of Johannesburg:
There is an urgent need to train teachers to deal with this complex issue in the classroom. My experience in teaching evolution in a foundation-year program at the University of Pretoria is that many students find evolution problematic because of their religious beliefs. I do not think that all teachers are ready for the challenge to teach evolution in grade 12 life sciences next year.

comment posted at
As an African, I can vouch for some of the sentiments expressed in the Guardian article. I was born and spent the first two decades of my life in Cameroon, a country with a fast growing Christian fundamentalist population. All my parents and siblings but one would describe themselves as biblical literalists, and thus creationists. I have relations and close Cameroonian friend, who although are in the most rational of professions (doctors, scientists and engineers) are totally unpersuaded by the evidence of evolution largely for religious reasons.

To the best of my memory, evolution was only given a cursory glance in our biology programme in high school. I have two reasons for that; the poor preparedness of the teachers and secondly the dissonance it would have caused to teach a subject that contradicts the basis of fundamentalist Christian ethos. When I last traveled to Cameroon 10 years ago, I was appalled at the rampaging inroads Christian literalism was making into the fabric of the society. My personal impression is that if this is left to continue unchecked, the intellectual fibre of the population may be irreparable damaged. I know these are strong sentiments, but we all know how long it takes to correct societal malaises (think of slavery, prejudices - racial, gender, sexual, etc).

This Christmas I have resolved to give as present to close friends and family the brilliant book by Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin's God. All I can hope for is that it gets read, since this is a book by a Christian scientist.

from the science blog of Chris Rowan, geologist at the University of Johannesburg:

I'm starting to think that South African schoolchildren would be better off if they weren't taught about evolution; they're about to be caught between the clashing rocks of creationist straw-men, and the treacherous whirlpool of post-modernist baloney, and the chances of them actually coming out the other side with any sort of understanding of science, or evidence-based reasoning, seem rather slim.... [more]

from Claidheamhmor's Blog:

I'm glad that it's being introduced (and a little surprised it isn't being taught already); I'm afraid that opponents are just going to have to deal with the fact that it's science, and the prime underpinning for most of biology. Countries in Europe have also recently been stopping any teaching of Creationism (which is really something that should be taught in Quackery or Philosophy classes).

This quote is daft: "No child would be compelled to “adopt” or “defend the viewpoint or any way subscribe to evolution”. So there could be no reason for parents to take legal action, Vinjevold said." People should not be compelled to adopt the viewpoint of evolution any more than they should adopt the viewpoint of gravity. It's there. Deal with it.... [more]