When Life Sciences Meets Creationism
God’s Biologists by Park Hyung Wook
The age-old question of how the universe began is notoriously unresolved. As most of us are aware, there are two major opposing schools of thought that have emerged from this ongoing debate. The first is creationism, which purports that the universe must have been born out of a divine act. On the other hand, the notion of evolution, founded upon Darwinist ideas of natural selection, is now taken to be scientific fact. However, what becomes of this binary when scientists themselves rebuke evolution and instead advocate creationism? It is this seeming paradox that Assistant Professor, Park Hyung Wook (History), explored in his seminar titled ‘God’s Biologists: Creationism and the Life Sciences in South Korea’.
Although not a creationist himself, Park took interest in the movement from the perspective of a historian, after observing that the Korean Association for Creation Research (KACR) had been steadily growing since its inception in 1981. Indeed, as of 2015, KACR has amassed 1,115 fee-paying and permanent members. A decade earlier, Ronald Numbers, a preeminent believer of science, had already coined South Korea the ‘creationist capital’ of the East, with a density of believers that far surpassed that of Eastern Europe and South America, other regions where creationism receives a large amount of support. More curious, however, is the fact that several members of KACR are also life scientists, with several elected as presidents of the association. This information prompted Park to question why life scientists are taking to creationism rather than evolution, and what KACR has gained from this unlikely patronage.
The roots of creationism, Park explained, can be traced to Christianity and considering the fact that about 45% of the South Korean population is Christian, it is not surprising that there would be scientists who subscribe to the faith. At the same time, he observed that evolutionism as a school of thought did not take root within South Korea as it did in places such as the United States; according to a 2012 Gallup survey, 32% of South Koreans reject evolution altogether. Since the concept of evolution was deemed irrelevant to the development of the modern state, creationism survived and has managed to grow without serious contestation.
Since entering KACR, life scientists have used their professional knowledge as a means of scientifically verifying and validating creationism. For example, Lee Eunil, a scientist of preventive medicine and one of the presidents of the organisation, sought to investigate why ancient people from the Old Testament lived for a much longer time (a stunning 900 years or more). He then published a scientific study in which he theorised that ancient people had lived under a thick layer of water in the air (an idea borrowed from preceding scientists), which exerted a significant amount of air pressure that prolonged their lifespans.
Life scientists from KACR have also taken up leadership positions within churches and are spreading their science-inflected ideas on creationism to laypeople of the Christian faith. While this appears to be some manner of reconciliation between science and faith, Park does point out it could be problematic because it may render laypeople incapable of “serious belief” and thus similarly incapable of taking on top positions since they are likely not to possess the same bevy of scientific knowledge.
Park’s seminar focused on establishing the idea that the opposite threads of evolution and creationism have begun to overlap and intertwine in the Korean context, giving rise to new areas of investigation and discussion. While he offers no solution, since a solution in and of itself is an impossible order, it is perhaps in line with the humanities to revel in the wealth of possibilities, the grey areas, rather than definitively pick sides.
Park Hyung Wook is academically trained as a historian in science and medicine, and has taught in the UK, South Korea, and Singapore. His book ‘Old Age New Science’, an exploration of biosocial visions shared by early gerontologists and was published in 2016 by the University of Pittsburgh Press.