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Curriculum Review: Mainstream Science Textbooks (K–12)

Curricula Reviewed:

  • Harcourt School Publishers Science (Grades K-6) Harcourt, Inc. Corporate Headquarters: 6277 Sea Harbor Drive Orlando, FL 32887 (407) 345-2000
  • Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Science (Grades K-6) Publishing Group of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 1221 Avenue of the Americas New York, New York 10020
  • McGraw-Hill/Glencoe Science (Grades 7-12) Publishing Group of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 1221 Avenue of the Americas New York, New York 10020
  • Pearson/Prentice Hall (Grades 6-12) Customer Support: 145 S. Mount Zion Road P.O. Box 2500 Lebanon, IN 46052


The use of secular texts exposes students to mainstream science and avoids the problems associated with young-earth creation science, but it also presents its own unique set of challenges.

Given the public school policy to keep religion separate from science, it’s no surprise that mainstream science curriculum offers no religious content. These textbooks present the worldview of practical atheism, where only natural explanations are considered. Thus, Christian educators will need to help students explore the limits of science, as well as look for creative ways to incorporate discussions about the ways science points to the God of the Bible, as appropriate for their particular classroom setting.

Although secular science texts don’t promote a particular religious worldview, the use of Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the origin of life can have profound worldview implications. Questions such as the history of humanity, the value and uniqueness of human life are answered differently within a Darwinian context versus a Christian worldview.


Textbooks used by public schools generally contain a solid presentation of the scientific data, interspersed with occasional, frequently veiled, references to naturalistic philosophy. The topics covered are nearly identical. Even some illustrations are the same. A list of general topics covered during middle school in each series is included here:

  • Life Science – Cells, Genetics, Evolution, Bacteria, Plants, Fish, Reptiles, Birds, Mammals, Human Body and its Systems, Ecology
  • Earth Science – Minerals, Rocks, Plate Tectonics, Volcanoes, Weather, Erosion, Trip through Geologic Time, Water, Oceans, Atmosphere, Astronomy
  • Physical Science – Atoms, Basic Chemistry, Basic Physics, Sound Waves, Light Waves, Electricity

The topic of biological evolution generally isn’t covered during the elementary school years, but becomes more of a content focus during the middle school and high school years. It should be noted, however, that biology textbooks generally confine their remarks about evolution to one chapter, which could be strategically skipped if desired. The issue of evolution normally doesn’t enter the discussion in chemistry, physics or astronomy texts.

When evolution is discussed, several so-called “icons” are universally used as evidence. These include:

  • Miller-Urey experiment to produce the chemical building-blocks of life;
  • Evolutionary tree of life;
  • Similar bone structures in a bat’s wing, a porpoise’s flipper and human hand as proof of a common ancestor;
  • Pictures of similarities in early embryos of amphibians, reptiles, birds and humans as evidence for common descent from a fish-like animal;
  • Archaeopteryx as a missing link between ancient reptiles and modern birds;
  • Peppered moths;
  • Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands;
  • Fruit flies with an extra pair of wings;
  • Branching tree-pattern of horse fossils;
  • Ape-to-human diagram.

Rather than avoiding evolution, however, incorporating evolution into the curriculum will provide educators with the unique opportunity to work through the challenges of Darwinism with students before they transition to a mainstream high school or university setting. Inevitably, students will encounter sophisticated pro-evolution arguments. They question is, will the sophistication of their answers match? Students who confront these challenges for the first time when they are away from home are vulnerable to eventually adopting some degree of skepticism concerning the historical reliability of the Bible.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that many of these “icons” have been disproved or are known exaggerations, they remain textbook staple evidences. At this point, it is our recommendation for educators to choose a solid mainstream biology text and then use the book, Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism, as a strategic adjunct.

The Art of Teaching

One major advantage to using one of the major secular publishers, such as Glencoe or Prentice-Hall, is that they offer a full-scale K-12 curriculum. This means that there is coherence with the scope and sequence as students progress through the system.

Another advantage of using texts from larger publishers is that they offer a wide variety of supplemental tools, including teacher’s manuals, audio textbooks, lab manuals, quizzes, tests and online resources. The downside is that the cost of such supplements can add up quickly, which may be a concern for those educators who constrained to a budget. Many smaller publishers don’t offer assessments so there is frequently no way to objectively gauge how well the student comprehends the material. In these instances, educators will need to either provide their own assessments.

One of the biggest challenges in using mainstream science textbooks concerns meeting the lab requirements, especially at the high school level. Few homeschoolers have access to quality microscopes, an array of chemistry supplies, or equipment to perform a fetal pig dissection. Yet these are the kinds of experiments that are generally required, as they are viewed as being necessary components for a solid high school science education. Fortunately, companies like and others are helping to fill this gap by providing a range of materials that would otherwise be inaccessible for the homeschool or co-op environment. Even so, these supplies can quickly add up, which could present some challenges for budget-conscious families.

Concluding Thoughts

The use of secular texts exposes students to mainstream science, while also avoiding the pitfalls of young-earth creation science, such as global flood geology. Although they can be somewhat expensive, the large secular publishers do provide a wide array of supplementary materials and assessments. Smaller publishers offer less expensive texts, but with fewer options and extras. Some Christian educators may find it challenging, however, to provide their own biblical integration and help students adequately respond to the scientific challenges of Darwinism.