by Dan Phelps
Daniel Phelps is a retired environmental geologist for the commonwealth of Kentucky. He has also taught part-time in Kentucky’s Community College system. His work to expose the pseudoscience behind Ham’s Ark Encounter was featured in the award-winning 2019 documentary, “We Believe in Dinosaurs.” In 2021 the Paleontological Society – the world’s leading scientific organization devoted to studying invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology, micropaleontology, and paleobotany – awarded Phelps the prestigious Strimple Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in paleontology by someone who does not make a full-time living from paleontology. Phelps is founder and president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society.
Science: Earth and Space is an Abeka Book 8th grade textbook (https://www.abeka.com/) written by Greg Parker, Delores Shimmin, and Dewitt Steele. Abeka Books is associated with Pensacola (Florida) Christian College, and is very popular with fundamentalist schools and homeschoolers. Abeka’s science textbooks promote Young Earth Creationism (YEC), and are rather strident on the topic.
I was shocked by the number of private schools in my area that use at least some of Abeka’s products. You can find which schools in your area that use Abeka products here. (Note from blog editor: Using this link, I discovered that there are nine schools in a twenty mile radius from our house that use Abeka books.)
One problem with teaching science at any level is finding suitable textbooks. Students can be unprepared for a number of reasons, but adequate textbooks can help immensely. No textbook is perfect; most contain errors and misconceptions about their subjects. Often, these errors can be pointed out to students and can even be an opportunity for getting students to think critically. At a minimum, however, one usually trusts the authors of textbooks to have the integrity to at least attempt to accurately describe the subject at hand.
Alas, this is not always true.
I recently found a copy of Science: Earth and Space at a local Goodwill Store for the whopping sum of 99 cents. I paid a bit too much, but was spurred to write this review because of the egregious, and often appalling, content of this textbook. This review can only represent “the tip of the iceberg,” since there are so many bizarre, wrong, and misleading pieces of information in the text.
Science: Earth and Space purports to be a science textbook covering geology, oceanography, atmospheric science, astronomy, and environmental science. Problems begin early in the book, with a discussion of how science is done.
On page 3 is an inset box summarizing “Scientific Habits.” Most of the “Habits” do not seem unreasonable. After telling students to be intellectually honest, skeptical, and open to new ideas, the authors state, seemingly oblivious to any contradictions or irony, that: “As Christians, we must also remember that the Bible is God’s perfect Word. We can always trust what the Bible says about science and must reject any scientific ideas that contradict the Bible.”
I had to reread the text of this block insert several times to convince myself that it wasn’t a joke or parody of YEC thinking. Why didn’t the authors or editor notice such an odd contradiction?
Chapter 2 discusses the “Foundations of Geology.” We soon learn that “Unfortunately, some areas of geology, especially the study of fossils, have become dominated by evolutionary philosophy.” And that “…the great Flood in Genesis 7 and 8 is undoubtedly responsible for most of the earth’s present features and fossils, although evolutionists reject the Flood as a myth.” (emphases in the original).
And there’s more:
- The text promotes an unusual creationist version of plate tectonics, called “catastrophic plate tectonics.” In this version the earth was created with the Rodinia Supercontinent, which in turn is broken apart during Noah’s Flood, and is reassembled into the Pangea Supercontinent underwater. It is claimed that “…we know from the scriptures that if the continents were once together, the separation had to occur much more quickly than evolutionists believe.”
- Students are also told that “The Bible seems to indicate that at the end of the Flood, God caused the sea floor to sink and the continents to rise, allowing floodwaters to recede from the land and collect in what are now the deep ocean basins (where the waters remain to this day).”
- In an “A Closer Look” inset on page 102, the formation Providence Canyon, Georgia and Burlingame Canyon, Washington, both of which formed recently in unconsolidated to poorly consolidated sediments, is compared to the formation of Grand Canyon, Arizona in an attempt to show the Grand Canyon formed in either Noah’s Flood or a post-Flood Ice Age “within the last 6000-8000 years.”
- Another “A Closer Look” inset on page 106 attempts to show that caves and dripstone formations were made shortly after the Flood.
- Ice Cores are discussed in yet another “A Closer Look” inset. Apparently, “evolutionists claim that ice cores from Greenland have over 110,000 layers. With each layer representing a year.”
Regarding the latter, the textbook greatly expands what the definition of an “evolutionist” is by linking the word with scientific concepts that have nothing to do with evolution. Moreover, the text ignores that Greenland ice cores actually cover much more than 400,000 years (and Antarctic cores that document longer time scales are unmentioned). This denial of ice core data is a convenient way of denying evidence used in climatology and climate change studies.
Moreover, the book once again makes the bizarre claim that there was only one ice age and that it lasted a couple of hundred years after Noah’s Flood.
The ensuing pages of the physical geology section of the text contain similar descriptions of geological phenomena mixed in with an occasional odd theological claim. Surprisingly, at least in the physical geology section of the book, descriptions of mineralogy, and of how igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks form, are not marred by odd creationist claims found elsewhere (such as rapid formation of granites or ad hoc-based explanations of limestones and evaporites forming during Noah’s Flood).
At a minimum, however, such a mix of disjointed claims about physical and historical geology can only confuse and discourage students who are interested in science and bore those who are not.
Much of the above may sound bizarre, and may in itself represent educational malpractice, but it does not compare to what is found in Chapter 5: “Interpreting the Fossil Record.” This incredible chapter is devoted to attacking historical geology, paleontology, physics, biology, and paleoanthropology. It also attacks Christians who accept theistic evolution as accepting ideas that are not “compatible with either the biblical record or established principles of science” (emphases in the original).
What makes this chapter so difficult to review is that almost everything in the chapter is wrong or bizarre. Just take, for example, the very first photo in the chapter, which shows Adam riding on the back of a lion in the Garden of Eden.
The first “A Closer Look” inset in this chapter is a short essay and list of famous scientists (a list that includes a number of mathematicians as well as people who could more accurately be described as engineers or technologists) provided by the late Dr. Henry M. Morris – co-author of The Genesis Flood and himself an engineer – entitled “Bible-Believing Scientists of the Past.” Apparently, Morris is arguing that because in the past a number of scientists (some living centuries before evolution was widely accepted) accepted creationism, then modern scientists should also.
Besides Morris’ bad logic, many of the scientists that I’m familiar with on the list were not young Earth creationists (for example Georges Cuvier, Louis Agassiz, and Lord Kelvin). I am guessing that the list probably includes others who were also not actually young Earth creationists.
There is also an odd attempt to equalize science with religion. We are told that since scientists didn’t observe the origin of the universe, then science “cannot make authoritative statements about the origin of the earth” (emphases in the original). According to the text, since creationism wasn’t observed by scientists, it also qualifies as a faith, but since God was there, then creationism “wins.” A classic (and nonsensical) YEC argument.
We also learn that a year-long Noah’s Flood (c. 2300 BC) is responsible for most geology. The creationist version of the geologic time scale is provided. In their version, the Precambrian is pre-Flood, and the Cenozoic is post-Flood. To limit the number of animals on the Ark, it is claimed that only “kinds” were taken onto the boat, leaving more than enough room for Noah’s family and provisions.
Not surprisingly, the usual creationist falsehood that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning is here, as well as strange attacks on radiometric dating.
I was most fascinated by the false claims that geologic strata are found out of order in various parts of the world (p. 134). These locations include the Lewis Overthrust near Glacier National Park, Montana, parts of the Swiss Alps, and the Heart Mountain mega-slide in Wyoming.
But it has been demonstrated that these examples have very clear structural geology explanations (thrust faults and overturned strata). The order of strata in these locations is not controversial or any way supportive of creationist claims. These claims were obviously incorrect when first promoted by the creationist George McCready Price in the early 1900s. I am surprised that this text is still promoting this hoary chestnut of a creationist argument. Even Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research have not promoted this claim for many years. For this old creationist argument, see here and here.
Other well-known and discredited creationist claims in this chapter involve:
- fossil graveyards
- polystrate trees
- living fossils
- the supposed lack of transitional fossil forms (Archaeopteryx is just a bird! Tiktaalik is just a fish!)
- the Cambrian explosion
The chapter ends with numerous attacks on paleoanthropology (every fossil hominin ends up being an ape or fully human). The text even claims that “Some evolutionists [unnamed] have even admitted that the “evidence” can be interpreted to show that apes evolved from humans!”
Like pulling a rabbit out of their hat, the chapter ends by claiming humans are a divine creation. However, the authors admit that “…we believe in special creation not because of the fossil evidence, but because God’s Word says that God created the universe.” The authors/editor must have missed their own (accurate) statement on p.133 that circular reasoning is a “logic error.”
Chapters 6 (Geography of the Seas), 7 (The Atmosphere), 8 (Water Vapor and Air Masses), and 9 (Storms and Forecasting) are a bit simplistic, but other than occasional odd statements, these chapters are not nearly as egregiously bad as the afore-discussed Chapter 5 (Interpreting the Fossil Record).
Same with Chapter 10 (Consider the Heavens) and 11 (Man and the Universe), which discuss the early history of astronomy, the solar system, constellations, astronomical instruments, time/calendars, and space flight. Again, other than a few odd statements, these chapters are not too at odds from reality. And there is a welcome attack on astrology, although much of this argument focuses on religious reasons, rather than on astrology’s bad logic and lack of actual evidence.
I was especially surprised and pleased that the text accurately describes the concept of light years and states that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away. Creationist astronomy often attempts to use ad hoc explanations to discount large astronomical distances that are inconsistent with a 6,000 year old universe. To its credit, none of the creationist claims about distant astronomical objects are repeated here.
All this said, in an insert on the origins of the solar system, there are attacks on the nebular hypothesis which claim that nefarious “evolutionary” astronomers accept the nebular hypothesis because “it avoids the need for a creator.”
The final chapter on Environmental Science (Chapter 12) is another problematic part of the text. After a religious discussion that labels much of environmentalism as “unbiblical,” specific environmental problems are discussed or dismissed. Some aspects of environmental science such as landfills, air pollution, and water pollution are very briefly, but at least accurately described. Acid rain, ozone depletion, and global warming are all oddly discussed and invariably downplayed, dismissed as mistaken, or portrayed as alarmist.
Obviously, Science: Earth and Space is inappropriate for any K-12 academic setting, although it is being used in many Christian academies and by homeschool families. Students taught from this text are learning huge amounts of falsehoods about the sciences discussed. Even more disturbing is the general attitude towards science and the false ideas about what science is and how it works.
The one group of educators I would recommend becoming familiar with this book are undergraduate college instructors. These educators should know the awful quality of science education their students could have grown up with.
I would never advocate banning this book from a library. However, any teacher or homeschool parent using this textbook to teach science is committing educational malpractice.
(And is it a surprise that an Abeka school sought to force a black honors student cut his locs for graduation?)