Reasons to Believe

Curriculum Review - Exploring Creation Series by Jeannie K. Fulbright

Texts Reviewed:

  • Fulbright, Jeannie K. Exploring Creation with Astronomy. Anderson, IN: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., 2004.
  • Fulbright, Jeannie K. Exploring Creation with Botany. Anderson, IN: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., 2004.
  • Fulbright, Jeannie K. Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day. Anderson, IN: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., 2005.
  • Fulbright, Jeannie K. Exploring Creation with Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. Anderson, IN: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., 2006.

The popular Exploring Creation series is the elementary school component for Apologia publishing. Homeschool mom Jeannie Fulbright blends together the Charlotte Mason and classical methods of narration and notebooking to increase retention and aid in record-keeping.

Integration

One of the real strengths of Fulbright's series of textbooks is that she frequently draws students attention to God's great designs and the forethought involved in His creative process. Her casual writing style helps her smoothly transition between discussions about science and the Bible. She also includes Scriptures where relevant. Many lessons contain sidebars called "Creation Confirmation" where the author offers tidbits connecting the Bible with science.

Ms. Fulbright consistently points out the many and varied ways God created Earth to sustain the life-forms that inhabit it and notes that this could not have happened by chance. For example, in Astronomy she makes frequent use of a scaled-down version of the anthropic principle; the idea that Earth has been fine-tuned to be able to sustain complex life-forms. Typical examples include:

  • God put the sun the perfect distance from the earth. If it were closer . . . If the sun were further away . . . (p.13)
  • Many scientists believe that sunspots affect the weather here on earth. . . . Without sunspots the earth would be cooler than it is today. . . . In the same way, if there were too many sunspots, the earth would get really hot. (p.17)
  • Our planet is so special, so perfectly suited for people, plants and animals to live, that it would be impossible for it to have happened by accident. (p. 52)
  • Jupiter is like a protective mother to Earth. . . . Do you remember the Shoemaker-Levy comet you learned about in Lesson 8? Its pieces hit Jupiter when it broke apart. They did not hit Earth. Just think what might have happened had Jupiter not been there! We can thank God for making Jupiter so huge and far enough away that the comets do not fly into the earth. (p. 104)

In a few instances, however, the author misses prime opportunities to direct the student to critical pieces of evidence for astronomical design. For example, when discussing the phases and structure of Earth's moon, Fulbright fails to devote any discussion to its miraculous origin—a real pity, since it would offer such powerful scientific evidence for a divine Designer. Likewise, during the discussion of eclipses (Astronomy, pp. 24–25), there is no mention of the fact that Earth's location is uniquely suitable for observing these breathtaking events (see The Privileged Planet). This reviewer was also disappointed that several key passages of Scripture related to cosmology were missing, particularly as they relate to God "stretching out the heavens."

The omission of the Moon's origin, as well as other key topics, are most likely rooted in the author's young-earth bias. She reveals this tendency early in the Astronomy text:

The first chapter of the book of Genesis tells us that the heavens and the earth were created in six days. . . . Then, on the fourth day (before he made any animal on earth), He made the stars and planets in the sky. (p. 3)

This omission is one of a number of tip-offs that Ms. Fulbright is writing from a young-earth perspective. The impact of her method of biblical interpretation is particularly seen in her explanations of astronomy. For example, she offers no explanation of the scientific problems involved in the young-earth assertion that the Sun, Moon, and stars weren't created until the fourth day of creation.

Of particular concern are the somewhat confusing statements Fulbright makes regarding carnivorous activity. The mainstream young-earth position is that predation is a result of Adam's sin. But they don't consider insects as part of predatory activity. They also don't necessarily consider insects to be "alive." Although these fine distinctions are not explained in Fullbright's text, it might be more than a coincidence that she only mentions predation within the context of insects.

  • [Birds] eat insects because insects are full of protein, and birds (in fact, all animals) need protein to survive. If birds didn't eat all those insects, just imagine how many insects there would be! One of the jobs God gave to birds is to keep the insect population from getting too large. (Zoology 1, p. 23)
  • Can you guess why God made the megapode able to fly so early in its life? It is because megapode parents do not care for their young at all once they are hatched. As a result, a young megapode must take care of itself very quickly, or it will die. (Zoology 1, p. 99)
  • Most animal-eating bats eat insects, which keeps the insect population under control. Some animal-eating bats can eat more than 600 insects in one hour… (Zoology 1, p. 104)

Unlike Dr. Wile's middle- and high-school texts, Fulbright makes no attempt to lay out the young-earth and old-earth creation positions in a fair-minded manner. Instead, she regularly characterizes people who believe in an ancient age of the universe as "confused," resistant to the "best explanation," and "wanting" to believe something in the face of evidence to the contrary. A few typical examples include:

  • Amazingly, parts of Mercury have no craters. The fact that parts of Mercury are craterless is difficult to understand for those who believe that the solar system is millions or billions of years old. You see, over millions or billions of years, every part of the planet would have gotten hit many, many times by falling asteroids. Scientists know that the chances of some parts of Mercury never getting craters over billions of years is next to impossible. The best explanation for why Mercury has sections with no craters is that the solar system is not millions or billions of years old. However, scientists who want to believe that the solar system is that old have come up with another explanation. (Astronomy, p. 33, emphasis added)
  • The same side of the moon is always facing the earth. We call that side of the moon the maria . . . the maria has very few craters. This is a bit confusing to scientists who want to believe that the moon is billions of years old. If the moon were really that old, there should be craters all over its surface, since there is no atmosphere to protect the moon . . . Of course, if you really want to believe that the moon is old, you can always come up with some reason to explain the fact that there are few craters on the maria. (Astronomy, p. 71; emphasis added)
  • The fact that comets burn off their ice as they approach the sun is a problem for those who want to believe that the solar system is billions of years old… If they [comets] were millions or billions of years old, the ice would have all burnt off by now. Of course, if you want to believe that the solar system is billions of years old, you can find some way to get around this problem. (Astronomy, p. 93, emphasis added)

The implication is that scientists have no real evidence for their beliefs. This assumption illustrates the author's subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) antiscience-establishment subtext. At times, she casts doubt on the ability of the scientific community to perform credible research and makes broad statements against the endeavors of science itself. This kind of Christians-vs.-scientists tone could lead students to believe that scientists will go against all data in order to cling to an atheistic worldview. Although worldviews can certainly play a profound role in how scientists wrestle with data, it’s unfair and inaccurate to portray certain beliefs as nothing more than atheistic loopholes. The goal of scientists is to pursue the truth about the natural world. They carefully examine each others' findings, which provides a self-correcting mechanism for exposing errors and frauds. Fulbright seems unaware of the many ways that scientists have studied various phenomena. It's far from a speculative hypothesis.

Also troubling is the inclusion of the "Gospel in the stars" hypothesis (Astronomy, pp. 4, 153). This idea suggests that God arranged the stars in the sky into constellations that told the story of Jesus in pictures. The promotion of this kind of folksy, speculative apologetics is unfortunate, especially in light of the fact that the text omits so many solid scientific evidences for the God of the Bible.


Science

As with almost every creation science text, there is good news and bad news in terms of the Exploring Creation series’ presentation of the scientific data.

The real delight of these texts is that by focusing on a single subject for an entire year, the texts can cover a wider array of topics. Here is thumbnail of topics covered in each text of Fulbright's series:

  • Astronomy—What is Astronomy?; Sun, Planets in our Solar System; Earth; Moon; Space Rocks; Kuiper Belt; Stars and Galaxies; Space Travel
  • Botany—Seeds; Flowers; Pollination; Fruits; Leaves; Roots; Stems; Trees; Gymnosperms; Seedless Vascular Plants; Nonvascular Plants; Nature Journaling
  • Zoology 1—What is Zoology?; Birds (types, nests, eggs); Bats; Flying Reptiles; Insects
  • Zoology 2—Aquatic Animals; Whales; Seals and Sea Cows; Primeval Reptiles; Fish; Sharks and Rays; Crustaceans; Mollusks; Cephalopods; Echinoderms; Cnidarians

For the most part, all of the texts promote the dual principles of good science and good faith. Probably more than 90 percent of the scientific information included in these volumes is correct. Fulbright's inclusion of a scaled-down version of the anthropic principle in the Astronomy text is especially valuable.

Unfortunately, Fulbright's adherence to young-earth ideology results in several scientific errors. This ideology presents the least amount of problems in Botany. The other texts require a good deal more caution. For example, one of the "Creation Connection" sections in the Zoology 2 promotes a popular "scientific" evidence for a young earth:

Did you know that the oceans are getting saltier and saltier? This is because rivers and volcanoes dump salt into the ocean continually, but it is very hard for salt to leave the oceans. Because of this, the amount of salt in the ocean keeps rising. This actually tells us that the earth is not billions of years old, as some would have you believe. If the earth were really billions of years old, the amount of salt in the oceans would have building [sic] up for billions of years, making them much, much saltier than they really are. In fact, the amount of salt in the oceans indicates that the earth's oceans (and the earth itself) are very young. (Exploring Creation with Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day, p. 12; emphasis in original)

Fulbright is mostly correct in her assertion that the oceans are getting saltier over time. But this commonly cited evidence for a young earth isn't as simple as it seems. The reality is, over the course of Earth's history the location where water has resided has changed. In some cases, ancient lakebeds (like the Salton Sea in California) have now dried up. But they left behind the remains of evaporite (sedimentary rock and salt) deposits. Also, there are a number of places on Earth where continent-sized reservoirs of salt and salt derivatives have been stored up in the planet's crust over the last few billion years. Some of these are over 1,000 feet thick! This salt is very heavy and up to seven times saltier than modern ocean water. Another consideration that should be factored into this discussion is that the salt in the oceans is recycled through plate tectonics. Once these additional sources of salt are factored in, the scale tips in favor of an old-earth interpretation.

At first, I was excited to see that both Zoology texts contain sections about the dinosaurs: ancient flying reptiles and primeval sea reptiles. For the most part, the scientific information contained in these sections is correct, and teachers won't have to endure the usual secular series of pictures illustrating whale evolution. Unfortunately, intermingled with that the good science, Fulbright promotes all of the common young-earth errors concerning the time frame in which the dinosaurs lived, including the assertion that medieval legends about dragons and sailors' tales about sea monsters are solid evidence that dinosaurs cohabitated with humans.

The young-earth science errors are most numerous in the Astronomy text. For example, Fulbright explains that the Sun burns by thermonuclear fusion. Correct. But then she adds that "thermonuclear fusion makes the sun brighter and brighter each year" and that this increasing illumination shows there could not have been life on Earth billions, or even millions, of years ago because the Sun would have been too dim to have provided enough warmth for earth life (Astronomy, p. 20). Not correct.

The author, possibly naïvely, also promotes supposed scientific "evidences" against big bang cosmology. On several occasions, Fulbright endorses the idea that certain anomalies in the orbit and rotation of various solar-system bodies, such as the planet Venus's "backwards" spin, are evidence against the big bang model (Astronomy, pp. 43, 123, 134). The author apparently lacks familiarity with some of the more sophisticated and well-understood aspects of planetary mechanics. Equally confusing is Fulbright's discussion of short-period comets as evidence for a young universe. She manages to avoid one common young-earth error by affirming the existence of the Kuiper Belt, but then goes on to make this unfortunate comment: "We have never even seen the Oort cloud, so we don't even know whether or not it exists. Even if it does exist, it probably doesn't have enough dirty snowballs, either. In the end, it seems more reasonable to believe that the solar system is only a few thousand years old" (Astronomy, p. 91). Neither of these assertions is true. The evidence for the existence of the Oort Cloud is solid and a belief in its ability to replenish the solar system with short-period comets is justified.

One of the most disturbing examples, however, involves Fulbright's discussion of light travel (Astronomy, pp. 149–150). She begins soundly enough:

Light travels at 186,000 miles per second . . . So, when you see the sun each day, you are really seeing what the sun looked like 8 minutes ago! . . . What's really incredible is that most of the stars in the sky are hundreds, thousands, millions, even billions of light years away from us.

Unfortunately, this sound science gives way to young-earth ideology. Thus, Fulbright explains this data away:

Some people claim that since some of the stars are billions of light years away, the universe (and therefore the earth) must be billions of years old… They do not understand that God is so wise that He could create things to be exactly as He wants them to be… He could create an earth with starlight that was already upon the earth, even starlight from billions of light years away. After all nothing is impossible with God.

While it may sound pious to say that nothing is impossible for God, the original context for that statement is in reference to salvation (Matt. 19:22–30). In other words, to be saved by faith is not impossible for God. The author resorts to a form of the "appearance of age" argument in order to get around a more rigorous analysis of the data.

On other occasions, Fulbright doesn't seem to realize the implications of what she is saying. For example, she acknowledges that the conditions on Mercury are such that the planet preserves the scars of asteroids hitting its surface (Astronomy, p. 33). Then, later on she discusses the "Exploded Planet Hypothesis" (Astronomy, pp. 97–98), in which some of the comets and asteroids in Earth's solar system are the result of a former planet that exploded. But a good follow-up question might be, When did this happen? If the universe is only a few thousand years old and humans existed for all but five days of that time, how could such a colossal explosion happen in Earth's neighborhood without wiping out all humanity? Even if just one of those rocks hit Earth it would be catastrophic. Yet the old-earth creation model easily accommodates the period known in scientific circles as the Late Heavy Bombardment, in which the inner solar system was hit with debris for several million years. And the Moon and Mercury still bear its scars.

Another confusing example occurs in the context of Fulbright's discussion of supernovas:

What is really interesting about supernovas is that they leave behind a "footprint." The gases and dust that are thrown from the exploding star form a cloud that spreads out . . . Thanks to the detailed records of Chinese astronomers from nearly 1,000 years ago, we now can see the [crab] nebula that is the "footprint" of the supernova that they saw (Astronomy, p. 146).

The author seems to have some understanding that supernovas act as clocks in the universe. Yet she seems unaware of the profound implications of supernova events for calculating an ancient age of the universe.

Fulbright omits entire sections of knowledge that are key to understanding astronomy. Although stars are mentioned and their various temperatures briefly explained, there is no mention of the physics involved in star formation. Likewise, there is no information about planet formation or galaxy formation. Such omissions are examples of tragic neglect, since they have the potential to provide powerful scientific support for a Creator. And not surprisingly, there is no discussion about the origin of the universe, except in an unfavorable manner:

You see, some scientists think the universe began by a big accident in space. The way they describe this accident is that all the planets just formed out of a huge explosion (they call it the "big bang") that sent particles into space. Those particles then eventually formed stars and the planets that orbit around the stars. Well, if this were so, all the planets would have been formed spinning in the same direction. . . . Try to remember that when someone tells you they believe that everything began as a big accident in space. (Astronomy, p. 43; emphasis added)

At the very least, this explanation reflects a rather unsophisticated concept of big bang cosmology. Perhaps Fulbright is unaware that there are now 17 independent tests that demonstrate a big bang universe. Nor does she demonstrate awareness that the discoveries from the WMAP project offer amazing insights into the design of the universe. (The WMAP provided detailed maps of the radiation left over from the big bang creation event. See Hugh Ross, "WMAP Offers Spectacular Proofs of Creation Event.")

Although Fulbright occasionally encourages students to consider careers in science, it's hard to understand why they would want to, given all the disparaging remarks she makes about the profession. One sad example, in particular, is her explanation of the Galileo mission:

Galileo had one big problem when it got out into space. Its big antenna would not open! . . . The astronomers down on earth tried everything to get the antenna to come up . . . but nothing would work. Finally, they had to learn to make do with the little bitty antenna, so they did not get as much information as they could have gotten had the large antenna worked. (Astronomy, p. 109)

One of RTB's board members, Dr. David Rogstad, is a Christian physicist who worked on the Galileo mission. Dr. Rogstad's group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory actually came up with an ingenious scheme to recoup the mission. They invented what is now commonly referred to as antenna arraying. Far from "making do," the scientists involved in the Galileo mission showed remarkable ingenuity and salvaged the operation.

The Art of Teaching

Fulbright continues Dr. Wile's commitment to providing Christian parents with a user-friendly science curriculum. The texts are both nicely bound in hardcover and filled with colorful pictures, much more so than Wile's middle school and high school offerings.

Homeschoolers using the classical approach (e.g., Well-Trained Mind) will appreciate the development of an grade school science text that uses the single-subject immersion method. Because Fulbright also uses the Charlotte Mason approach, each lesson is organized with a narrative, notebook work, an activity, and a project. Given the author's narrative style, her intent is for the parent to read these texts aloud to elementary-aged students. Students with a fourth grade reading level should be able to read the texts independently. The cornerstone of this curriculum, however, is the student's notebook. This resource, in addition to the activities and projects, brings each lesson to life. An extensive list of supplies is listed at the front of each text, most of which are common household items or objects that can be obtained inexpensively at a local craft store. Notebooking and some of the activities may seem a little elaborate or impractical for some, but creative parents may find these kinds of activities valuable.

Although both texts are filled with colorful photographs and clip art, in several instances diagrams would enhance key points. For example, explaining the relationship between the Earth, Sun, and Moon in forming eclipses is rather complex to visualize. Unfortunately, Fulbright does not include a diagram to illustrate this concept on the pages where eclipses are actually discussed (Astronomy, pp. 24–25), but she does include a small one in the "Activity" section (Astronomy, p. 26). Likewise, the proposed activity related to Earth's axis and how it affects the changing seasons would be greatly enhanced by more adequate diagrams (Astronomy, p. 59).

Conclusion

This reviewer finds much to be positive about in Fulbright's efforts. The real strength of these texts is the abundance of scientific content. The author's writing style will have great appeal for those parents who lack a specialized scientific education but still want to give their children quality exposure to some topics that are frequently omitted from standard science texts. And many of the activities look like they are just plain fun! Despite the texts' scientific errors, especially in Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 90% of the content is accurate. However, the scientific record with regard to the age of the universe is much more robust than the Astronomy text leads students to believe, which could cause serious confusion for students later in life. Moreover, unless teachers possess knowledge of typical young-earth science errors, they could be misled by some of the books' statements. The texts' frequent pejorative comments about belief in an ancient universe would most likely discourage a student from seriously considering an old-earth creation perspective.

Subjects: Educators/Homeschoolers