Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Creationists in Korea: They’ve hit the big-time!

June 6, 2012

Updated again: Ask A Korean has looked into the changes and feels, as Gord Sellar does (below), that the changes are more cosmetic or for purposes of updating the texts.

The group that represents these creationists, called Society for Textbook Revise (STR), has attempted to attack the references to evolution in Korean science textbooks in any manner possible.

What STR did manage to pull off with three textbook publishers was this: STR convinced those publishers that two diagrams in their books — one about the evolution of horses, and the other about archeopteryx — and the text accompanying them were scientifically incorrect. Notice the claim here:  the claim was not that the diagrams were against creationism. The claim was that the diagrams were scientifically incorrect.

Updated: Resistance to the proposed changes has emerged:

Conflict between pro- and anti-evolutionists has escalated half a year since several major publishers were approached by a local organization to delete or revise examples explaining the process of evolution from science textbooks for high school students. 

In turn, the dormant evolutionists and biologists here have mobilized. On Wednesday, academics and researchers from the Paleontological Society of Korea and five other scientific associations gathered for the first meeting of the Committee to Promote Evolution to debate the issue in question, which is whether or not the archaeopteryx, a prehistoric bird from the Jurassic Period, was a transitional species between reptiles and birds. 


Two weeks ago, I wrote about changes to Biology Textbooks in Korea.  At the time, I was of the opinion that the changes were merely updates: one example of evolutionary change being replaced by another.

Gord Sellar recently wrote about the changes and earlier errors – were at least partially the result of conservatism among the publishers.  The industry receives five-year contracts  and if a publisher has won such a contract, it won’t want to make any changes beyond what is required.

The problem, as a friend explained Miss Jiwaku, is that a lot of Korean biology textbooks have outdated material when it comes to evolutionary theory; the explanation of horse evolution was so old that it had actually been badly needing updating. This, of course, is a deadly situation when you have religious nuts around fighting a holy war against science.

So they struck. Sometimes it’s embarrassing how ignorantists can be so coordinated, so organized, so clever about this stuff.

…[big ellipsis here]…

textbook companies normally do not take risks when it comes to content and their potential inclusion on the Ministry of Education’s textbook lists for public schools. They are, indeed, so risk-averse that they will publish outdated material just to avoid being left off the list. This is because exclusion from the list means a loss of billions of won (ie. millions of dollars) of revenue

Well, this morning, my Google Newsreader was full of international attention to the subject.

The Friendly Atheist:

The National Center for Science Education isn’t surprised by the move — acceptance of evolution in the country is relatively low compared to other countries… (excluding the U.S., because we’re full of science denialists)

The Sensuous Curmudgeon (quoting from Nature) (SC added the bolding):

The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the “error” of evolution from textbooks to “correct” students’ views of the world, according to the society’s website. The society says that its members include professors of biology and high-school science teachers.

The relationship between Korea and the journal Nature is an interesting one.  I wonder which report is more embarrassing for Korea: This or the Hwang Woo-seok cloning scandal?

Draw Muhammad Day

May 21, 2012

This is my most controversial drawing of Muhammad. Previously, I had him playing soccer and arguing with Harold Camping (2/3 of the way down – the third ‘Brian’).  My previous drawings were relatively innocent but this one picks the low-hanging fruit of his marriage to a nine-year-old when he was in his 50’s.

I have also discussed burning the Koran(do).

The goal here is not necessarily to be blasphemous but to point out the absurdity of demanding people in other religious groups follow your teachings in all cases.

Blasphemy: its a victimless crime.

Supporting scientific research and education

May 20, 2012

Updated again: From io9, comes news that Korean scientists are contesting the restrictions.  Ah, they link to a Nature blog, which says this:

A group of 30 South Korean evolutionary scientists and palaeontologists has released a statement condemning a successful campaign by the creationist group Society for Textbook Reform (STR) to remove some examples of evolution from high-school biology textbooks

According to the scientists, the STR petition contained so much unverified data, intentional distortion and biased quotes that it would not normally be worth their time to engage with, but because it had been successful, they felt they had no choice but to make an official response.

Updated: Gord Sellar expands on the subject and offers an explanation.

Original post:

Someone on Facebook linked to this article about the teaching of evolution in Korea.  Apparently, two icons of evolution will be removed from the updated textbooks: Archaeopteryx (spelled it right on my first try!) and the series of horse transitional fossils.

The article claims that the move is due to pressure from a Christian organization and the article tries to show how the education of evolution is being diminished, but also explains that the series of whale transitional fossils will be added so I am not sure how much of a difference there is.

It seems that Haeckel’s  phylogeny recapitulation theory is included in current textbooks (and has long been known to be false) and will be removed in the new books.  I wonder about this claim:  Haeckel used diagrams of featae ( what is the plural of ‘fetus’) and deliberately drew them looking more similar than they actually were.  On the other hand, modern texts -for reasons other than the recapitulation theory- often use photos so the the similarities shown are actual and relevant to the discussion on their own merits.

A day after reading about evolution education, I noted a Nature article about a research institute being considered in Korea.  An excerpt:

The government last year enacted a law to develop a project called the International Science and Business Belt (ISBB), of which the IBS is one of the main initiatives. The ISBB project will have 5.17 trillion won (US$4.4 billion) until 2017 to run the IBS and build the nation’s first rare-isotope accelerator, among other projects.

Thinking big

The IBS plans to attract 3,000 researchers and staff members to 50 research centres in Daejeon and around the country. Each centre will have an average annual budget of 10 billion won, and will be directed by a world-class scientist, employed on a 10-year contract. The directors will be given a great deal of autonomy to decide on a research focus, recruit staff and run their centres.

Athletic fundraisers in Muskoka that I am missing.

September 28, 2011

I have participated in several ‘marathons’ – in Korea, that is any distance beyond five kilometres – and have found my training improves as I prepare for them.  A few years back, I carefully, but relentlessly piled on the kms in preparation for a Terry Fox run in Seoul only to find it cancelled*.  The week before I learned of the cancellation, I ran more about thirty km.  The week after, about five km.

There were two events in Muskoka that I wish I could have been home for.  The Terry Fox run was ten days ago and a ‘Ride For Refuge‘ occurred last weekend.  I agree with the motivations for these events, but would probably have joined either one for the athletics alone.  The “Ride for Refuge” helps various charities that bring aid to impoverished regions in Africa.

There were two strange things about the write up for the Ride for Refuge that I want to touch on.  First, the opening to the article tells us that cyclists will be “putting their pedals to the metal”.  I wonder how precisely they do that?  Like the write-ups for the swim team that seemed required to include “made a splash”, “making waves”, “Dive in to competition”, or, I don’t know, some reference to “wet behind the ears”, this is a valueless cliche and unlike those latter ones, the ‘pedal-metal’ isn’t even a bit fitting.

Secondly, one featured charity, Listen to Learn, will “bring Bible resources via mp3 players to impoverished regions of Africa”.  ‘Feeding the homeless’ or ‘housing the hungry’ would be far better than supplying bible resources via mp3 players.

I imagine “Hello to the people of drought-stricken Malawi.  I heard that someone in this country has supplied a little electricity for his town (1, 2).  I propose you use it to recharge our mp3 players so you can listen to stories that will not fill your belly nor put a roof overhead.  You’re welcome!”

As I wrote in the previous post, I do enjoy Christian and religious culture, but think the poor in Africa would prefer food first.  Then they would feel more inclined to listen to the MP3s.


* I do understand why the people in Seoul cancelled the Terry Fox Run.  The run is far less well-known here and the requirements the Canadian leadership made regarding safety and insurance were overly costly.


Not Really Related:

The Gravenhurst Town Council is working to provide various non-profit organizations free meeting rooms.  I approve.

Religion for Atheists

September 28, 2011

The Herald hosts an interview with Alain de Botton, who has recently authored a book, Religion for Atheists. With the understanding that my views are based solely on this interview and that I have not seen the book, I am at a loss for who he thinks his book is for.

Some excerpts:

“(My family thought) if you are intelligent, you believe in science. … And with respect to my parents, I nevertheless moved away from that position. And even though I am still an atheist, I am now much more sympathetic to many of the lessons and traditions of religion.”

The newly released Korean edition, published five months ahead of the English edition, is de Botton’s philosophical account on how “people who don’t believe in supernaturals” can also benefit and learn from religious teachings and practices.

“It’s my story in relation to religion even though I don’t actually discuss myself in it,” he said. “It is the personal journey of someone travelling in this unusual direction from complete atheism to respecting, not for the supernatural sides of religions, but the institutional, aesthetic, and educational side (of religions).” 

I am not convinced his view is so unusual.  Dawkins is on record as enjoying the singing of Christmas Carols.

I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.

“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.

I personally enjoy visiting Buddhist temples and see real value in meditation and the way monks live their lives, without granting any credence to their claims of reincarnation.  I am hugely impressed with the way the Catholic church in Wilno, Ontario dominates the town.

I have frequently heard the strawman argument that atheists hate all that religion has made and it is not true at all.  Perhaps de Botton’s book will assist in explaining why not.

Religion in the Korea Times

May 23, 2011

I am torn: there are two articles, pro and con, regarding religion in recent issues of the Times and I approve of neither.

I want to agree with Shin Chul-ho and his article, “Delusions about religion” but I don’t like the way he picks and chooses his representatives for religion.  He describes a few hypocrites who practice Christianity, but every group has good and bad examples. There being around two billion Christians, one is likely to find many with unpopular or disturbing views.  I do agree with his main, and final point:

I do not think that moral behavior came from religion. Long before any types of religion, morality existed. This is the product that was made over an infinite amount of time. People cultivated morality as they came to realize the principle of reciprocity benefits them. 

People are born with the ability to act morally and capable of acting toward the world full of love and peace.

…but I don’t agree with his build up to that point.

I need to be careful.  Judging from his name, I feel that the man is Korean and possibly English is his second language.  And yet, it is not his language -his article displays far better grammar than most of my posts here – but his weak arguments, that bother me.  I could probably give him a pass, based on my assumptions about his primary language but that seems as unfair and racist as if I judged him harshly for hypothetical language errors.  Whatever the case, I may use his essay at some future time to show how weak arguments, even well-written, weaken the central point of those arguments.

I presume Bradley McDonald is a native speaker and again find no grammar errors in a quick study.*  Indeed, a large part of his argument seems based on semantics (Questions about religion):

Also in the third paragraph, the author calls himself a “nonbeliever.” This must mean that he regards nothing as believable. As for his question about whether there’s any universality in religion, the open-minded reader will look that up for himself or herself and find that there most certainly is (but if there wasn’t it wouldn’t matter). 

He or she will also find there’s a very broad spectrum of beliefs and stances in atheism and agnosticism. As for his question “Were any wars waged for the extension of atheism,” I’d like to inform him that Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro were all atheists. The death toll of religious fanaticism doesn’t come close.

“Nonbeliever” is a common term for non-religious and McDonald’s attempt to win debaters points by extending and distorting it’s meaning is disappointing.

I am more upset by his bait-and-switch with the “Were any wars waged for the extension of atheism” question.  People, religious or not, have started wars for variety of reasons.  Looking at Hitler, it is possible that he was an atheist, but clear that he used Christian and religious claims to support his war.  “We’re atheists: let’s kill the Jews and gays” doesn’t have the same clarity of purpose as starting the same phrase with “We’re Christians…”  Hitler may have been an atheist, but he drove German citizens to war using Christian beliefs.

To look at a counter example, and I am afraid I am leaving the articles behind as this is ground they did not cover, consider slavery in the US. Christians were divided on the subject and used religious rationales for both sides. One group that was outspokenly pro-slavery, were a group of Baptists.  They split their church over the issue, specifically on the issue of slavery, with the Southern Baptists of the time being pro-slavery for religious reasons.  The American Baptists, to their credit, were equally opposed to slavery, again for religious reasons.  These were clergymen, expected to be knowledgable about their religion, making these claims.

I bring  this up to counter McDonald’s argument that atheists like Stalin fought wars for specifically religious reasons.  I don’t believe that is true.  They were merely non-religious people who started wars. Wikipedia has a post about religious wars, which are defined as ” A religious war is a war caused by, or justified by, religious differences”.  The Second World War, for reasons I have described above, might fit that  criteria; I am not sure that McDonald’s other villains started wars that do.

* This is remarkable in itself as the Times, and the Herald – see the previous post- are known for poor editing.

I want to agree with this guy, but…

March 22, 2011

Roar Sheppard (poor guy, his parents doomed him from the start) is a “New Humanity Culture leader” and director of the Overseas Seon Culture Life Museum.

In an article for the Korea Times, he writes about the earthquake in Japan and links it to other recent natural disasters.  Then:

I wanted to ask nature, what is the reason for abnormal conditions of the Earth to appear all of a sudden? This was the answer I received.

How can we say all of these are separate phenomena? The one organism, the Earth is showing the signs here and there. Human death and shortage of grains ― these are only the result. Take a look at the fundamentals that are giving rise to these.

What is the present condition of the Earth? When people and nature are uprooted from their homes like in Japan, swept away by extreme rains in Pakistan, how do you think the Earth feels which is the basis of all of these?


If you live on the Earth ― no ― if you are a being with a heart, when you stare at the Earth in this situation, you should wail. Are glaciers melting? Do you know what it will cause to the Earth? It means the immune system and basic circulation of the Earth is collapsing.

If your digestive system has a disorder even slightly, you can’t perform normal activity, can you? Even though the Earth has serious disorders in all of its organs, especially serious damage in essential organs, it is still circulating its blood here and there to send nutrition even now. That is nature.

I sorta agree that we need to take better care of the Earth, but even my so-common-it’s-cliched phrase bothers me.  Whatever happens to humans or living things, the Earth will be okay.  Well, as okay as any inanimate, non-responsive, non-thinking thing can be.  A big rock is okay, after all, even after you break it.  It is now in two pieces but the change doesn’t matters to the rock.

There are some useful lies out there.  Perhaps belief in Santa does make kids better behaved in December and the companies that make Christmas donations to charity might not if there were no Santa.

… I’ve decided to leave religion out of this argument as much as I can.  The author is director of a Buddhist organization so I have to bring it up but I guess I don’t need to connect it with useful lies.

Anyway, there are useful lies and metaphors can carry important ideas.  If we think of the Earth as a living thing that we need to better care for, perhaps we will behave better: we might, for example, work to reduce fossil-fuel use, fight acid rain and other forms of pollution, and be more careful of just how much we harvest out of the ocean.

So long as we keep in mind that we are only discussing a metaphor and not truly thinking of the Earth as sentient, I am satisfied.

However, Roar continues in the same vein and overworks the metaphor – if it is, indeed, a metaphor for him.  I do not believe it is.

However, it is not that the Earth will just watch humans do this forever, because the Earth also has to maintain its balance as a member of the universe.

The events happening now are nothing in fact. It’s already in the state where the balance has begun to crack, and the imbalance will only speed it up and the rate will get even faster.

Even though you know we are headed toward a cliff, we can say it’s a runaway car that cannot be stopped. Please understand the Earth’s situation where it has no choice but to take action.

I’ve questioned in the past whether I let Buddhism get away with such claims, as I do not offer such latitude in my consideration of Christian claims,  but this is far enough into the realm of science that reading it bugs me.  How much does it bug me?  Enough to break my nearly month-long silence on this blog, that’s how much!

Anyway, in addition to disliking Roar’s statements even as metaphor, I also dislike them if uncritically accepted.  I imagine an angry mob with pitchforks driving them into the ground while chanting, “Earthquake, huh?  Take that, jerk.”  After all, if we accept the Earth is actually deliberately quaking or that the previous quakes, and other entirely explainable-through-meteorology natural disasters were twitches of a waking beast and could deliberately quake again, we should obviously be ready to counter attack or try to blackmail the Earth into good behavior.

I am an environmentalist but I can only see improvement in our situation coming through better education, but nightmarish threats of the Earth itself fighting against us don’t help.

Atheism and autism

November 19, 2010

According to a Scientific American article, people with autism are less likely to invoke God to explain events in their lives.

Bethany T. Heywood, a graduate student at Queens University Belfast, asked 27 people with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild type of autism that involves impaired social cognition, about significant events in their lives. Working with experimental psychologist Jesse M. Bering (author of the “Bering in Mind” blog and a frequent contributor to Scientific American MIND), she asked them to speculate about why these important events happened—for instance, why they had gone through an illness or why they met a significant other. As compared with 34 neurotypical people, those with Asperger’s syndrome were significantly less likely to invoke a teleological response—for example, saying the event was meant to unfold in a particular way or explaining that God had a hand in it. They were more likely to invoke a natural cause (such as blaming an illness on a virus they thought they were exposed to) or to give a descriptive response, explaining the event again in a different way.

In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.”

Some experts theorize that certain schizophrenia symptoms (for instance, paranoia) arise in part from a hyperactive sense of social reasoning. “I’d guess that they’d give lots of teleological answers; more than neurotypical people, and certainly far more than people with Asperger’s,” Heywood says.

As an atheist and probably not an …autist, I much prefer the responses of respondents with Asperger’s Syndrome to those of the atheists.  A very reasonable response to “Why were you sick?” is “I was exposed to a virus.”  The atheist’s “There is no reason why”, is ridiculous.

I enjoy reading Scientific American and respect it but I have to wonder about the reporting in this case.  The article reports there were two studies and I would want to see the actual questions asked.

I am not disputting that people with Asperger’s Syndrome and atheists may have similar worldviews, but I, well, hope, that atheists can provide better answers than those given.

Is this from one of my students?

November 18, 2010

If this survey had been written by one of my students, I would have been very impressed.  it wasn’t, but rather written by a native English speaker living in the US and completing her masters Degree.  This survey is part of her degree work.


I should admit that my own blog is full of little errors and I even spent a little time before writing this post in making corrections. Still, there is nothing formal about this blog.

I should also admit that I wouldn’t have noticed or picked on it if it weren’t written about religion.

Alright, enough with the disclosures.  Here are the three questions that bothered me (the most). I copied and pasted them and lost a lot of the formatting.  I am unable to take the survey again so I cannot return for a screen shot.

6. Please select if your degree is in one of these medical-related areas:

Please select if your degree is in one of these medical-related areas:

Medical Degree (eg, MD, DO, DDS, other)

t.gifNursing Degree (eg, LVN, LPN, RN, NP, other)

t.gifProfessional Doctoral Degree in Science/Medicine/Health Services (eg, PharmD, PhD, other)

t.gifComplementary & Alternative Medical Field Professions

t.gifNone of these

14. Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating your routine medical care?

Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating your routine medical care?

Strongly Agree




t.gifStrongly Disagree


15. Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating end-of-life medical care?

Should your physician ask about your beliefs and spirituality when coordinating end-of-life medical care?

Strongly Agree




t.gifStrongly Disagree


Question 6 asks me to select one of the choices IF I am involved in medical-related areas.  The survey then refused to go on to the next page unless I selected one of the choices.  The question is clearly poorly written.

The next two questions, #s 14 & 15, are should questions which surely require a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.  I could agree that it is a good question, but not respond to the question itself in terms of agreement.  What a mess.


Via Pharyngula

Don’t burn the Koran…D’oh!

October 3, 2010

This afternoon I listened to a BBC World Service interview with Rev. Terry Jones.*  He had publicized a plan to burn many copies of the Koran on Sept 11, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.  Eventually, he cancelled the event, saying that in simply planning the event, he had generated enough attention to the issue of militant Muslims.

Many people asked Rev. Jones to stop and he did.  Others, such as PZ Myers, applauded the idea, although more as a way to show that one person’s holy item need not have value to others.  Drawing Muhammed is only blasphemy to Muslims and Christians should not be afraid to do so.  Myers is (in)famous for desecrating a Roman Catholic Communion wafer so, if Jones had burned copies of the Koran, Myers might have followed up, in the spirit of inclusiveness, by burning copies of the bible.

I disagree with Myers.  Don’t burn the Koran (click to embiggen)!

I listened, as I wrote, to the interview this afternoon.  In an early evening walk, I saw this SUV and knew I had to photograph it.


*I really enjoyed the interview.  While both the pastor and the interviewer were civil and allowed each other to speak, it was not a softball interview.  Jones was questioned vigorously but politely and he kept cool throughout.  His answers were sometimes weak, as I will soon describe, but he spoke calmly and clearly.

The interview drifted into other religious issues and homosexuality was brought up.  Jones stated that the bible was against it.  When questioned about other things the bible was against – wearing mixed fibers and shaving, for example, he backed away, saying he was not a theologian.  It was as if he had decided he had read enough of the bible to lecture others but not enough to challenge any previously held beliefs.  If he is not a theologian, why does he feel to comment on any part of the bible?