Reviewed by Jacqueline Pfeiffer
3rd Grade Teacher
This thin book is extremely thought provoking and unique. I reviewed with an open mind and was not disappointed. The creation controversy is explained in great detail in neutral terms differentiating science and religion. The book provides science teacher with extensive information about this issue as well as useful techniques for teaching evolution and other controversial issues. Most importantly, it is respectful of the way of knowing which is religious, distinguishing it clearly from the scientific way of knowing. I highly recommend this outstanding book for all current and future teachers of science.
The two basic premises are “science is a method of explaining the natural world” and that “evolution in the broadest sense can be defined as the idea that the universe has a history: that change through time has taken place.” These underlying statements form the backbone of this volume that seeks to provide readers with an understanding of the nature of science and the relationship between science and religion. The three sections: Modern Science and the Book of Genesis, Effective Strategies for Teaching Evolution and Other Controversial Topics, and the National Science Teachers Association position statement, The Teaching of Evolution, complement each other and develop a well-rounded model for teachers who are in a quandary about how to or whether to teach evolution.
James W. Skehan, author of Modern Science and the Book of Genesis, has a deeply religious background including a Master of Divinity degree. He is also thoroughly grounded in geology and geophysics. Skehan believes both scientific and religious educations are important in our society, but we must not use one to explain the other. They are two distinct entities, and we can learn from both.
He presents evidence concerning creation, the age of the Earth and universe, and the evolution of life forms as studied through fossils. A comparison of the creation chapters in the book of Genesis to the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, is outlined and paralleled. The three traditions in Genesis--J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), and P (Priestly)--are explained along with the literal history of Genesis and the other early books of the Bible.
The dating of the Earth using isotopes in rocks provides concrete evidence as to the age of the Earth. A model using a 30-day calendar to illustrate the age of Earth is very dramatic; the most eventful divisions happen in the last three days. Humans appear in the last ten minutes of the last day, and recorded history is the final thirty seconds.
Skehan presents a massive collection of evidence tracing the process of evolution throughout Earth’s history. He concludes that the Bible must not be interpreted as a scientific presentation, but rather as the theological document it is. The role of science, on the other hand, is to investigate the universe and how it came to be. In this way, religion does not conflict with science.
The second section, Effective Strategies for Teaching Evolution and Other Controversial Topics by Craig E. Nelson, complements the first. Nelson states “...we too often teach science as a set of conclusions. We should instead teach science as a set of processes for thinking critically about alternatives.” Teaching science is teaching critical thinking. A chart lists potential problems that may be encountered when teaching controversial topics in science and suggests specific strategies for addressing them.
Nelson uses an outstanding metaphor to illustrate the underlying processes of reasoning and comparison--a burger with three bun layers and two meat layers. The bun layers are areas where there are currently no solid scientific answers, only speculation. These are the origin of consciousness, the origin of a genetic system, and the origin of the universe. The meat layers are the age and physical development of the universe and the diversification of life. In these two areas science has provided relatively solid answers.
Science teachers must integrate all layers in their teaching and not be content to cover the materials in their curriculums to get definitive answers. Active learning will help students understand the processes of scientific critical thinking. According to Nelson, “Evolution is as good as science gets.” Evolution provides great opportunities to interconnect areas of knowledge, test theories, make predictions, and compare patterns and processes about disparate areas of science.
The final section is the NSTA position on the teaching of evolution, which “supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept of science and should be included as part of K-college science frameworks and curricula.” According to the statement, teachers should be nonjudgmental about the beliefs of students and should neither advocate any religious view about creation nor advocate the opposite. “Science is a method of explaining the natural world... Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance.”
Review posted on 1/17/2001