Teaching evolution in South African schools

From this year, high school students will be taught evolution as part of the official curriculum for public and private schools.

It just couldn’t happen soon enough. I was surprised this morning when I heard the results of Gareth Cliff’s recent poll. I have transcribed the results here because the 5fm Opinion Polls page is generated dynamically and will no longer contain the poll results on the front page after a few weeks (but may be available in the archive).

To which Gareth Cliff responded …

Which means that there are only 29 percent of people who read and are educated ... or understand evolution.

I won’t get into this now but we should remeber that it’s an opinion poll …

It just seems strange to me that evolution wasn’t part of the school curriculum when I went to school. I know that I had an understanding of evolution (perhaps a rough, misguided view of it) when I was in high school. I know that we were taught about DNA and mitosis/meiosis and the transmission of genetic information from generation to generation. That was when I had biology as a subject back in standard 7 (err, grade 9). Perhaps the evolution discussion that we may or may not have had (memory fades) was not actually part of the curriculum but was mentioned as being related to genetics?

Unfortunately I didn’t take biology beyond standard 7, looking back now it would have been interesting to do so, instead I opted for maths, science and geography.

Does anybody else have memories of their biology class? Is this official position on evolution actually all that new? Perhaps 29% of people who went to a South African high school may have been introduced to evolution in a similar way to the way that I was.

P.S. The church of Scientology should stop denying the Xenu myth, it seems they could get a foothold in 4% of the population!

Evolution wasn’t part of our curriculum either, nor was it mentioned as far as I remember (high school was many, many moons ago). What I do remember is that creationism was never put forward as an alternative theory for life in biology classes in any way or form, biology was taught from an entirely scientific basis.My ideas on evolution were already established, so I just took it for granted that evolution and religious instruction were totally and absolutely seperate and that they should never mix. Religion was never mentioned outside of the R.I. (religious instruction) class by any other teacher, I didn’t know what their personal beliefs were - it just wasn’t discussed.
And I agree with you AAH, it couldn’t happen soon enough.

I cannot really remember how much evolution we got taught in school, I also only had biology until std 7. But I doubt the curriculum included much about evolution. But I also cannot recall it being dismissed on religious grounds, and I came from quite a religious background, although that quite possibly happened.
I do remember that there were a lot of documentaries and other such things in the media, especially after the Jurassic Park movies, and that was probably where I got my biggest exposure to the ideas of evolution.

I do think that most educated people accepted the theory, and that the genesis story was always understood as a sort of metaphor, so there was not that much conflict. It is only recently, with the creationist movement getting more exposure in the USA, that the really hardcore Creationism vs Evolution ideas spilled over to our country. But of course, thats my opinion based on my limited experience.

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by the 29% belief in evolution. I would expect it to be much less. If we assume that evolution is only so far been taught at university level, which is probably not many of those people, then it means that even with no official evolution education, almost a third of the people got to know about it through other channels.

4% for an extraterrestrial explanation seems quite high… Those probably were all the Scientologists voting for that one :wink:
What other religion teaches this idea?

I also wonder if the 60% believing in a higher power includes all the Pastafarians :wink:

You know, I think you’re onto something. 1993; the first Jurassic Park movie was a milestone in my life. It was (coincidentally) my standard 7 year. I went to see that movie three times at the cinema, later rented it on tape and it was the first recreational book that I read. It opened my eyes to reading (which, at that age, was a chore for most of us). Specifically it interested me in Michael Crichton (still one of my favourite authors) and the common thing in all his books is the heavy reference to concepts in real science and a reference section at the back - of a fiction book? I’d never heard of that before Crichton. None of that translates to the screen and the shift started from me watching the movies to rather reading the books. (Don’t get me started on the disasterous films “Sphere” and “Timeline” - both excellent books).

I wonder how many people Jurassic Park turned on to science / genetics / evolution / palaeontology.

Some info here.

P.S. Got my “Junior” star a coupla days ago and it went straight to my head, so I’ll be unbearable for the next few days ;). Outlook: posting storm will continue.

Personally, I attended a private school whose curriculum was set up collaboratively with overseas education authorities to cover both SA’s matric requirements as well as the overseas ones because a significant number of pupils attended for a few short years (usually two, three or five) while one or both of their parents fulfilled a contract. Many of the teachers were thus similarly seconded from overseas. Evolution was taught in broad strokes as the great unifying principle in biology. Curiously enough, our biology teacher was a South African and a christian with fairly staunch beliefs. She taught evolution only because she had to; in one-on-one interactions with us she would often decry it, perhaps exceeding somewhat her mandate. However, her vacillations and private convictions were unproductive in at least one case… ::slight_smile:

While this isn’t entirely news to me, it is still pleasing to see. The greater picture – and I’m sure the point has been made better elsewhere – is that if evolution was to be suppressed or avoided as a topic in science, there’s a good chance that children will acquire or foster the impression that some phenomena (e.g. the diversity of life) are beyond any naturalistic account and that it is therefore okay to introduce irrational concepts by way of explanation whenever you get tired of thinking or investigating. This threat to reason would be especially relevant in schools or institutions where religious instruction isn’t offset by any kind of scientific thinking.

Be that as it may, I think South Africa is going to see some ructions over the issue in the near future because as much as 90% of SA’s population believes in some kind of special creation. It is then in a sense fortunate that the SA school curriculum is decided centrally and parents have little say in the subject matter that is covered. The long-term effect, say 20 years plus, may be a very small number of competent SA biologists if parents, by way of backlash, simply discourage their children from taking biology as a matric subject.


It’s funny. I grew up in Zimbabwe and did biology up to A’ Level’s, then 1st year university and anatomy etc. as part of a pharmacy degree. I must have been really sheltered or just plain lucky - I didn’t know there were other theories that had even been proposed, until fairly recently. I suppose I was an inactive atheist for many years and just avoided discussing things that seemed obvious to me. Since finding out about creationism/intelligent design - I am slowly becoming more and more active in helping to educated those less fortunate than me! 8)

I went to Teachers Training College back in the “good” old days and was taught that evolution happened with animals but not with humans. God created us. This was the official viepoint (or so I understood it at the time) and was one of the reasons I never finshed my studies

Hmm, that makes sense. This way you don’t have to explain away all the evidence for evolution, just the special cases that involve humans.

Guys. Do you believe in evolution? Evolution has always been an interesting RELIGION to me. You can’t have RELIGION in science books though. Keep preaching to your blind brainwashed followers

How ironic ;D

How exactly did you get to the conclusion that evolution is a RELIGION? From someone preaching to blind brainwashed followers perhaps?

“Believe?” Yes, in the same essential way I “believe” that the sun will rise tomorrow. Not, though, in the way you believe in your god.

What bluegray V said.

Just like you can’t have facts in church.

Preaching is superfluous. Not so intellectual honesty. It’s essential.


This exchange reminded me of a blog post I read a couple of days ago (I have been frantically searching my usual haunts to see if I could find it again to attribute the idea to someone - but no luck).

The blog entry simply asked what the purpose is of labelling the Theory of Evolution as a religion. If, by labeling it as a religion, you are trying to say that it holds no truth value (you are “knocking it down” from being a science) then you are pissing on your own feet because you’re admitting that your religion equally holds no truths and religion a lesser level of understanding than science.


It reminds me also of a post from a Theist website:

I can sum it up in 3 words "Evolution is a lie!"

It’s all coming together now though, the earth being Centre ;)of the universe and all!

I’m just saying that there are a lot of religions out there. I know that I can’t proof that one religion is the correct and the other not. Evolution is part of the atheistic and Scientology religion, although some Christians also believe in evolution but see it as the process of creation.
Science lesson- The change in the internal energy of a closed thermodynamic system is equal to the sum of the amount of heat energy supplied to the system and the work done on the system. (I wonder who did all the work to create the universe)

Atheism is not a religion, it’s right there in the name.

Do you know what Scientology is? There a no supporters of Scientology here as evidenced by our criticisms found here, here, here and here ::slight_smile:

TalkOrigins has an article about this where they state an excellent counter-example" “From quantum field theory, we know that something does indeed come from nothing: to wit, ‘vacuum fluctuations’. In the simplest case, an electron, a positron and a photon can appear effectively out of nowhere, exist for a brief time and then annihilate, leaving no net creation of mass or energy.”

Good point. Myself, I wonder who did all the work to create the creator. And the creator’s creator. And the creator’s creator’s creator. And the…


“leaving no net creation of mass or energy”. My point exactly.

The universe might have a zero nett energy content, including that “locked up” in the form of mass. If true, the universe, in the words of Alan Guth, is “the Ultimate Free Lunch.”


I have seen the warning and my post will probably come to nothing. But if not, what the person said there about “the energy of a closed system being equal to the amount of energy supplied to it plus the word done on it” is bunk. That’s only the one side of the equation: the other side naturally substracts any “energy” or “work” (which come down to the same thing). So: The energy of a closed system is equal to the energy (or work) supplied to it MINUS the energy (or work) done by it.

I know this topic is old but there is no mention in the threads of the research/ book by the Human Science Research Council about Evolution and Education in South Africa entitle “The Architect and the Scaffold” It is free to download on pdf http://www.hsrcpress.ac.za/product.php?productid=1923&freedownload=1