- Science Shepherd: Biology (Grades 10–12)—Student Text, Answer Key, Parent Companion, and Test Booklet. Scott Hardin, M.D. (Pewaukee, WI: Ohana Life Press, 2008).
- Science Shepherd: Life Science (Grades 7–9)—Student Text, Answer Key, Parent Companion, and Test Booklet. Scott Hardin, M.D. (Pewaukee, WI: Ohana Life Press, 2008).
The Science Shepherd curriculum is written by physician Scott Hardin. These ambitious biology texts for middle school and high school students have been tailored for the homeschool environment. Hardin’s goal is to offer a rigorous alternative to standard secular texts. However, educators should be aware that Hardin writes from a distinctly young-earth perspective. Although the impact of that paradigm is more limited in the discipline of biology, it definitely penetrates throughout the texts.
Hardin is a dad of six who homeschools his children and writes from a Christian point of view. References to God and creation are woven throughout his two texts. For example, when discussing the issue of genetic birth defects, Hardin integrates a discussion about the ethics of genetic testing on fetuses and the potential for abortion (Biology, 273).
The author spends considerable time addressing the creation/evolution controversy. His stated goal is to look at the various facets of this question in an “objective,” “straightforward and easily understandable” manner (Biology, 3). As a physician, Hardin has a genuine appreciation and respect for the scientific process. I applaud his reasoning behind the importance of students’ understanding evolution (Biology, p. 297). Unfortunately, Hardin’s efforts fall short of being an objective presentation of the creation/evolution debate and it is quite clear that he has been heavily influenced by young-earth sensibilities.
Hardin’s preliminary remarks about creationism in the text’s introduction are vague. He does not differentiate between young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism, or even theistic evolution. He lumps all people into one of two categories: creationists or atheists/agnostics/evolutionists (Biology, 3). Hardin defines a creationist as anyone who believes “that the Bible is unerringly accurate word of God and that the earth and stars were created, as was life on this planet, through the act of God speaking” (Biology, 3). Old-earth creationists might fit into Hardin’s definition, depending on how he or she understands creation “through the act of speaking.” Later on, Hardin makes his definition of creationism more clear, and excludes old-earth creationism altogether.
The other main belief of how life arose is creation…We will specifically be referring to the literal interpretation of creation in that God created everything in six literal, twenty-four hour days…Strict interpretation of the Biblical account of creation leads to the earth being about 6,000 years old. (Biology, 295)
From this picture emerges the framework on which Hardin builds his curriculum and directly interprets the data for students: young-earth creationism.
Also troubling is the way Hardin characterizes evolutionists. He describes Darwin as a “non-believer, if not an atheist” and that he “did not believe in a Creator” (Biology, 294).Such a description is debatable, at best. Although it’s true that Darwin struggled with his Christian beliefs, largely as a result of the tragic death of his daughter, I’m not convinced this characterization is totally accurate and would like to have seen a more carefully nuanced description. But such statements appear to be part of Hardin’s larger agenda: to characterize evolutionists in general as nonbelievers/atheists.
While certainly not everyone who believes evolution to be true is an atheist, my point is that the prominent evolutionists of the past and present are largely atheists. (Biology, 294)
Such statements help to explain Hardin’s periodic lampooning of all beliefs involving billions-of-years. Here is just one (of many) examples:
The [evolutionary] theory is that earth and all of the stars and other planets were formed in the big bang. At some point in time, 15 to 20 billion years ago (there is no specific agreement among evolutionists as to the time frame, but what is a couple billion years among friends?)… (Biology, 293)
For this reason, Hardin’s mocking of beliefs rooted in billions of years would make these texts challenging to use in the old-earth creation Christian home. Students would no doubt be confused by this periodic conflation of old-earth creationism with atheism/evolutionism.
There is good news and bad news in evaluating the quality of science education offered by the Science Shepherd curriculum. First, the good: The science is mostly sound. The texts cover a wide array of topics that students will need in their future education. The information included is appropriately detailed. Here is an overview of the major topics covered in the high school version of the text: basic biochemistry, cell structure, photosynthesis, cell reproduction, genes and heredity, origin of life, biological classifications, human anatomy, and physiology. You can view a sample chapter here. The middle school text covers similar material in a more abbreviated fashion.
Unfortunately, the creation vs. evolution component to the high school Biology text takes over the discussion of the science at times. Chapter 19 on “Speciation and Adaptation” serves as a great example of this problem. Rather than presenting data on current discoveries and trends in this active area of research, students are subjected to a rather protracted back-and-forth between the creationist and evolutionist perspectives about genetics and heredity. Although the point-counter-point format between creationism and evolutionism has the potential to be helpful, the content itself lacks two key ingredients. First, while the texts contain periodic information about creation, they lack sophisticated arguments in favor of creationism.
Second, the texts also lack accurate information on evolution. Christian students need to be equipped with rigorous, timely, and accurate arguments in support of evolution so that they will be able to hone their critical thinking skills. Hardin fails to deliver on his desire to provide an “objective” and “straightforward” presentation of evolution’s arguments. He mostly succeeds at presenting straw-man arguments for evolution and then easily knocking them down with young-earth rebuttals. This does not provide Christian students with a rigorous defense against evolution and makes them quite susceptible to adopting the evolutionary paradigm in college.
Overall, students are given fairly simplistic versions of evolutionary arguments, which are then rebutted by simplistic answers from a creation standpoint.
The Art of Teaching
The key benefit of the Science Shepherd curriculum is that it offers a traditional biology curriculum for the homeschool environment. The middle school text contains 19 lessons, while the high school text has 34 lessons—more than enough to fill an entire year of study.
The texts have a content-heavy and artless layout. Simple line illustrations and small photos are present throughout each book. The font is small and the text is dense. The focus is on content, rather than entertainment. Overall, the layout and design are fairly uninspiring. Each chapter ends with a glossary of terms and some helpful study questions that can be used for homework or exam review purposes.
One of the more unique features of the high school text is the availability of a Biology Lab DVD. This helpful resource provides 19 step-by-step lab demonstrations, including pig dissection, fish dissection, earthworm dissection, microscope experiments, and more. This provides a way for students to get experience in doing traditional lab experiments. You can watch a sample lab demonstration here. (Reviewer’s note: This DVD was not included in our review materials.)
The Science Shepherd curriculum also includes a test booklet that can be used for assessments, as well as an answer key and discussion guide. The teacher’s edition and lab worksheets are an essential part of the curriculum and should definitely be purchased.
Overall, there is much to praise in Dr. Hardin’s efforts. The Science Shepherd texts are essentially a creation science biology curriculum that aims to present both sides of the evolution and creation debate. This curriculum will mostly appeal to parents who want to go in-depth into biology. But educators should be prepared to address the conflation of old-earth creationism with atheism. Instructors who aren’t confident in their ability to address these concerns might want to consider another curriculum choice.