Reasons to Believe

Curriculum Review: Exploring Creation, Apologia, Middle School

Texts reviewed:

  • Exploring Creation through General Science (7th grade), Dr. Jay L. Wile, Anderson, IN: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., 2000.

  • Exploring Creation through Physical Science (8th grade), Dr. Jay L. Wile, Anderson, IN: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., 1999, 2000.

Integration

Dr. Jay Wile's text for seventh-graders, Exploring Creation through General Science, describes the amazing intricacy of design displayed in this world while drawing attention to the power and forethought of a Creator. This significant validation that Earth and the life it sustains could not have happened by chance represents a major strength of this curriculum. Further, it makes evident a consistent effort to connect various aspects of science with Christian theology. In a few instances, however, Wile misses prime opportunities to direct the student's attention to critical pieces of evidence for design, especially in the biochemical realm. For example, when discussing the cell's workings and structure, Wile fails to emphasize the apologetic significance of their complexity.

Wile makes no secret of his bias toward a young-earth position. Unlike many other homeschool curricula written from this perspective, however, Wile admits a few problems with the young-earth model. He also largely refrains from unnecessary polemics against fellow Christians and attempts to lay out both the young-earth and the old-earth creation positions in a fair-minded manner. Unfortunately, Wile's often fails to accurately summarize the old-earth creation position and, in turn, draws unwarranted conclusions.

One example appears in his discussion contrasting the "uniformitarian" and "catastrophic" interpretations of the fossil record. Wile lumps old-earth creationists and evolutionists together as uniformitarians. He concludes:

One thing that a uniformitarian must have faith in is that the Bible is NOT literally true. After all, if the Bible is literally true, then there was a worldwide flood, and that would radically alter the geology of the earth in a single, non-repeatable event. . . . Another article of faith for uniformitarians is that the earth is old enough to allow for the hundreds of millions of years that they need for their view. There is no solid evidence that the earth is that old (you will learn more about that in physical science), so that must be taken on faith. (emphasis in original, Jay L. Wile, Exploring Creation through General Science, 185)

Wile's approach (pp. 137-216) creates a false either-or dilemma, which permeates his discussion of geology and the fossil record. His presentation of the uniformitarian approach to geology differs from the position promoted by the mainstream geological community, the supposed adherents of uniformitarianism. Currently, geology is taught as a combination of slow layering over time and local—and sometimes even global—catastrophes.

Further, it does not necessarily follow that everyone who believes that Earth is old disbelieves that the Bible is literally true. Scholars at Reasons To Believe make a solid biblical case for a geographically regional flood that was universal in God's judgment against all of humanity. Finally, the statement that there is "no solid evidence that Earth is that old" is simply false. The unfortunate result of such misstatements may well be that students studying them come to believe that young-earth catastrophism provides the only biblical option.



Science

Exploring Creation through General Science begins with a history of modern science (eight chapters), starting with its origins in the Christian worldview and its progressive domination by Darwinian evolution. This discussion lays a critical framework for studying science that is virtually absent from most other junior-high-level texts.

Other modules contain an overview of the scientific method (including how to analyze and interpret experiments), the fossil record, and geology. Wile devotes the second half of the book to life science, including DNA and the cell; basic anatomy and the digestive system; the respiratory and circulatory systems; the lymphatic, endocrine, and urinary systems; and the nervous system.

The eighth-grade text, Exploring Creation Through Physical Science, is a general introduction to the principles of chemistry, physics, and Earth science. Modules cover such topics as atoms and molecules, air, the atmosphere, the properties of water, Newton's laws of motion, gravity, sound waves, light, and astronomy.

Wile presents the majority of the data in a straightforward manner and consistently draws out the apologetic significance of scientific facts. Unfortunately, this discussion is woven together with a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) anti-science establishment subtext, a Christians-vs.-scientists tone. Wile says that those who disagree with him have been subjected to academic "brainwashing" and are "fearful" of contrary evidence. He casts doubt on the ability of the scientific community to perform credible research and makes broad statements against the endeavors of science itself. For example, he writes:

Although science is incredibly interesting and has produced an enormous number of improvements in people's lives, it is not flawless. As I mentioned in the beginning of this module, science really cannot prove anything. It can provide evidence that a certain idea is true, but it cannot prove any idea. It is also not 100% reliable. As the history of science clearly shows, scientific laws continually get overthrown as the result of new information and ideas. (General Science, p. 49)

This statement relies on an overly narrow definition of the word prove, which means "to test" when used in a scientific context. More importantly, Wile's inaccurate comment about scientific laws being continually overthrown appears to contradict his previous statement that science can, in fact, help individuals arrive at verifiably true beliefs.

In accord with his personal adherence to a young-earth perspective, Wile relies heavily on selective, and at times incorrect, scientific literature. The General Science text departs from established geology. The Physical Science text casts doubts on the reliability of radiometric dating methods—mostly on carbon-14 dating (pp. 337-340)—and briefly promotes the cosmology of Dr. Russell Humphreys (pp. 426-427). Again, these discussions overlook alternative, rigorously tested theories proposed by Christian scholars. As a result, they could be a source of confusion for students.

This reviewer appreciates Wile's desire to teach critical-thinking skills to homeschool students. Such skills ought to be emphasized in any sound educational program. Wile models appropriate skepticism in his approach to radical environmentalism. He challenges the student to ask probing questions in response to popular claims about the effects of greenhouse gases and the depletion of the ozone layer. He also emphasizes the need to verify scientific claims and question faulty assumptions and less-than-objective observations. While this reviewer applauds Wile's efforts, reservations remain as to the veracity of some of the research he uses to support his conclusions.



The Art of Teaching

The very thought of guiding children through the travails of high-school chemistry and physics can be daunting to parents. Wile deserves commendation for his commitment to enabling Christian parents to homeschool their children all the way through the twelfth grade. Equipping parents to give their children a solid science education integrated with the Christian worldview (in a user-friendly manner) characterizes his goal. Wile believes that all parents, even those who do not possess a rigorous scientific background, have the ability to give their children a quality science education at home. His conversational style reads more easily than typical science textbooks, and his nontechnical approach is intended to enable parents to learn the material alongside their children.

The downside, however, is that this style can be tedious. For example, the chapters of the General Science text open with lengthy discussions about the history of science. Not many middle school-aged children are likely to find this information fascinating enough to warrant page after page of explanation. The placement of this discussion seems ill-timed and could be a real turn-off to students, which would be a shame so early in the school year. Every homeschool parent dreads hearing the words, "I hate science." The road back to loving it can be a difficult one.



Supplementary Materials

Each textbook includes a supplementary workbook that contains the answers to student exercises and periodic exams. Because Wile specifically wrote his texts for use in homeschool situations, he deliberately geared his lab exercises for the home setting. Written in simple language, instructions can be interpreted easily by students with occasional help from parents.



Concluding Thoughts

This reviewer finds much to be positive in Wile's middle-school curriculum. His expressed desire to present both sides of the creation-date controversy is appreciated. Nevertheless, though Wile is not openly anti-old-earth creationism, he casts enough doubt on the credibility of the old-earth position that a student would be discouraged from seriously considering it. These concerns prevent this reviewer from giving a wholehearted endorsement of Wile's middle-school curriculum. However, highly motivated and scientifically savvy parents may decide his texts provide a valuable launching pad to discuss age-of-the-earth issues with their children.

Subjects: Educators/Homeschoolers

This article was originally published in the resource, Teaching Science from a Christian Worldview.