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Curriculum Review: Jay Wile’s “Science in the…” Series

Dr. Jay Wile, who has a PhD in nuclear chemistry from the University of Rochester, is well known for writing science textbooks for Christian schools and homeschoolers. His latest series, Science in the…, is designed for fourth through eighth grades and includes Science in the Beginning (2013), Science in the Ancient World (2014), and Science in the Scientific Revolution (2015). These installments take an eclectic approach to science education, in that instead of focusing on one particular subject, such as biology, the books cover a wide array of subjects. As the series, and individual volumes, progress one can see the development of science, and to an extent also, the evolution of thought and philosophy of those periods. In this way, science is being learned alongside history and philosophy. As part of this historical approach, the reigning philosophies affecting scientists’ thoughts and investigations are uncovered. Students learn how the scientists’ discoveries affected the world at the time, and how these discoveries influenced the scientists to come.

Historical Progression of Science from 500 BC to the 18th Century Of the three volumes that have been released, this review covers the latter two installments: Science in the Ancient World and Science in the Scientific Revolution. (The first volume in this series, Science In the Beginning, was previously reviewed here.) Science in the Ancient World covers scientific advancement from Pythagoras around 500 BC to Leonardo da Vinci in the early 16th century AD. In this era there were few known scientists compared to the scientific advancements, so many early thinkers are covered over several lessons. There are a wide variety of topics, however, from sound and vibrations to phlegm. One lesson shows how incorrectly atoms were visualized back then, and also gives a good idea of the modern conception. Some other concepts covered include pitch and viscosity, Hippocrates and blood, Aristotle and the heavens, Hero and steam, Roger Bacon and lenses, and about 20 lessons with Leonardo da Vinci.

Science in the Scientific Revolution covers more scientists, and I appreciate the biographical information that is included with the lessons. This volume covers the period from the early 16th century to the early 18th century AD.

This historical approach makes for an interesting backdrop for learning science, and it provides an important context in which to see what kind of science was done and how science was understood in their time. With our modern understanding, we have some ability to see where these historical scientists were wrong and why. Although it has not yet been mentioned in the series, our modern worldview must also affect how we interpret scientific data. Some obvious limitations for our time would be mainstream science’s devotion to naturalism and Darwinism. Even some within the Christian community are influenced by the young-earth creationism worldview, which affects how they interpret scientific data.

Although the vast majority of lessons are well done, the last one in the Science in the Scientific Revolution text about the speed of light refers to Ole Rømer’s calculations of the speed of light after observing Jupiter’s moon Io. Not only is Rømer outside of the chronology of the volume, but the explanation of his work is so simplified that someone not already acquainted with what Rømer did would have no hope of understanding this lesson. Moreover, one of the statements in this section is actually wrong, perhaps due to the oversimplification of this lesson. The unfortunate fact is that there are errors in most textbooks, and this did seem to be an aberration compared to the other lessons. Other lessons focused on Nicolaus Copernicus, human anatomy, Galileo Galilei and physics, Robert Hooke and fossils, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and the microscope, and several on Isaac Newton’s discoveries.

Neutrality on the Age of the Earth

This series strategically avoids the topic of young-earth creationism. While at times this limits the science explored, it also makes this series friendly to a wider audience. Dr. Wile seems to support young-earth creationism on his blog, but seems to be somewhat restrained, and thankfully doesn’t show the typical animosity toward other creationist views. The series is published by Berean Builders, which seems to be an outlet for Dr. Wile’s textbooks. Dr. Wile founded Apologia, another Christian school and homeschool textbook publisher, but sold the business in 2008. The new owner of Apologia is now overtly aligned with young-earth creationism. Dr. Wile left Apologia’s staff in 2010 for this reason.

The text points out that Christians founded much of modern science due to their belief in an unchanging, orderly, logical Creator who sets up laws by which creation operates. Still, although there is an emphasis on Christian scientists throughout history, the textbook doesn’t shy away from highlighting scientists from other religious perspectives. This even-handed approach stands in contrast to most Christian educational materials, which often give the impression that only Christians did worthwhile science. As Romans 1:20 says, creation speaks to all of humanity.

Use of Interactive Projects

The strengths of this series, besides Dr. Wile’s intriguing writing, are its hands-on activities, accuracy, an eclecticism that keeps students interested. The hands-on activities (included in all 90 lessons) are especially helpful for homeschoolers, as well as students in traditional classrooms who like to learn outside of a lecture. These activities, including the construction of a model human spine with rubber bands and spools, only require simple materials, many of which are available in most homes or arts and crafts stores. These activities hone in on understanding not just what the scientists’ discovered or invented, but why it worked.

The variety of topics, which generally change lesson by lesson, helps keep students interested in the material. This is not to say that teaching science with an emphasis on a single topic is wrong, but I’ve found in my own teaching experience that interest can wane when keeping the focus on one subject for many weeks. This point is even more important for younger students in upper elementary, who tend to get restless easily.

Credible Research and Helpful Details

Dr. Wile’s writing is excellent, and only a few typographical errors were encountered. The historical accuracy shows he has a good understanding of the history of science, and he uses the history of science to guide the lessons. Dr. Wile also does not talk down to his readers, as other Christian educational materials at this age range do. Indeed, the lessons are age appropriate, but the text itself could be utilized in higher level courses.

The quality of the book’s binding and beautiful cover and interior design could compete with any textbook in the secular market. There are 15 bonus lessons per volume, which offers flexibility in that 75 to 90 lessons can be used depending on school schedules. There is also a Helps & Hints booklet available containing notes for teachers and optional test materials. The notes emphasize important points for each lesson, and the test materials provide sample questions instructors may wish to use in tests. These tests are short, and cover about six lessons at a time, so they likely wouldn’t be adequate for testing older, more advanced students.

Overall, I can endorse these books and am very happy such high quality textbooks are available to the Christian educational community. So far in the series my only quibble is with the silence that occurs when discussing astronomical distances and the ages of fossils. However, in their historical contexts, these issues weren’t known. Even with this omission, these books are excellent resources, and they do not explicitly or implicitly endorse young-earth science or unfairly impugn mainstream science. I look forward to the next installment due next year.

Dan Bakken

Dan Bakken is an amateur astronomer and an instructor for Reasons Institute. Dan has taught astronomy courses at the high school and community college level. Dan holds a BSc in physics, MA Christian Apologetics, and MA Science and Religion.