Victory for Darwin
The Education Bureau has announced that creationism and intelligent design will form no part of the senior secondary biology curriculum.
The move has been hailed as a victory by leading scientists at the University of Hong Kong, who in February called for curriculum guidance on evolution to be upgraded to reflect current scientific thinking.
The four scientists, who include dean of science Sun Kwok and science faculty board chairman David Dudgeon, accused the bureau of encouraging schools to promote creationism in biology lessons through the guidelines.
The Concern Group for Hong Kong Science Education, which is lobbying for changes to the guidelines, has also welcomed the paper but says it does not go far enough.
The calls were prompted by a clause in the biology guide, which comes into force in September, that states: 'In addition to Darwin's theory, students are encouraged to explore other explanations for evolution and the origins of life.'
The bureau's paper was drawn up for the Legislative Council's education panel, after the Concern Group called for a panel debate on the issue. The panel demanded a report from the bureau and postponed a decision on the debate. Last month, the row intensified when the 'group of 64' mounted a counter-offensive calling for the clause to be retained.
The bureau's paper points out that the curriculum aims to strengthen students' understanding of scientific inquiry in biology and its links with technology, society and the environment.
'In the topic 'Evolution', the emphasis is put on Darwin's Theory, as it is currently the most widely accepted scientific theory on evolution,' it states. 'Students are expected to understand the process and mechanism of evolution based on Darwin's Theory. Students should recognise that biological knowledge and theories are developed through observations, hypotheses, experimentations and analyses and [be] aware of the dynamic nature of biological knowledge.'
The paper also states: 'In the biology curriculum framework, creationism or intelligent design, which was mentioned in the recent submissions to the Legislative Council panel on education concerning the biology curriculum, is not included. In addition to Darwin's Theory, students are encouraged to explore other explanations on evolution such as that of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Sir Alfred Russel Wallace.' It stresses that non-scientific explanations are not included.
Professor Dudgeon said: 'Th bureau has recognised that the Darwinian theory of evolution constitutes the core of modern biology and that intelligent design and creationism have no place in the modern science curriculum.
'It is a victory for the students and it will help to ensure that our science teaching remains world class. Clearly this guidance needs to be circulated to all secondary schools before the next semester.'
Concern Group founder Virginia Yue Wai-sin, said the paper only partially met demands in its petition for action by the bureau. 'It is moving in the right direction,' she said. 'They have excluded creationism and intelligent design from the curriculum and they also emphasise scientific methods in greater detail. Yet they have just failed to take the critical step of saying that intelligent design and creationism are not science. We will continue to pursue answers to these questions with the bureau.'
The 'group of 64', which includes 40 academics and seven teachers, argued that there was no universally accepted definition of science. But spokesman Stephen Tsui Kwok-wing, a molecular biologist at Chinese University, said yesterday: 'We accept and respect the clarification of the biology curriculum guidelines from the Education Bureau. We reiterate that the purpose of our letter was not to promote the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in secondary schools.'
However, 'group of 64' member Chris Beling, an associate professor in HKU's physics department, said: 'The EDB's response has many good points but its tacit approval of Darwin's theory, which has so many blatant errors, is not commendable.
'Understandably, Bible-based creationism is not to be taught as science, but it is regrettable that intelligent design is lumped in the same basket, seeing it has all the characteristics of good science. Fortunately, these are only guidelines and we live in a free society.'
An Education Bureau spokeswoman said the paper was based on the 138-page biology curriculum and assessment guide for the new senior secondary curriculum and its interpretation demanded a 'holistic' understanding of the guide.
Cyd Ho Sau-lan, chairwoman of Legco's education panel, said: 'I find paragraph five enough to tell the stance of the administration. It says very clearly that intelligent design or creationism is not included.'
She hoped the debate was now over. 'I don't think the panel is in a position to engage itself in a debate between theologians and scientists. It could be an endless one,' she said.