What is a Good Catholic Science Curriculum?

May 6, AD 2016 16 Comments

I get this question a lot. “Can you recommend a good Catholic science curriculum?” Here is my answer.

Use a good secular science textbook. Pearson/Prentice Hall and Holt textbooks are my favorite. Teach the scientific fundamentals well. Do not let your child become an adult who never experienced the awe and wonder of science, who never stretched his or her mind to learn the details of biology, chemistry, and physics, and who never saw the beauty in the mathematics of nature. That is a tragedy. It happens far too much in secular institutions because without any belief in God the Creator, kids do not see science as the study of God’s handiwork. Science does not come to life. They do not think it matters unless they want to become scientists, and then, sundered from faith, they ultimately have no explanation for why they even care about science.

Separately, teach kids about our faith. Do not include theology or religion in the science class, just as you would not include algebra in grammar class. It confuses the basics. Kids need a firm and distinct grounding in both science and religion.

Then, as they mature, teach kids how to sort through scientific conclusions (and everything else) “in the light of faith.” Doctrine is a guide, a light. “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” (CCC 89)

No scientific evidence can possibly contradict defined dogmas. God created everything. Humans are body and soul. There is a beginning in time called Creation. Most of the challenging questions belong to areas where various theological opinions can be held and explored. How do we understand humanity? How do we interpret Genesis and evolution? What happens at the atomic realm, and how does it relate to our macroscopic experience? How big is the universe, and why should we care? What is the difference in animate and inanimate matter? How does the mind affect the body and vice versa? These questions are debated because they have no clear answers, at least at this moment in history.

People need a process for sorting through modern difficulties in faith, without losing themselves to popular culture’s sway. This is why I wrote Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The book does not tell you what to think, but how to think systematically with an unwavering confidence in Christ and His Church. The book is for any Catholic who wants help understanding and sorting out scientific issues of our time. (Sorry for the book plug, but seriously, that is why I wrote the book—to explain the process.)

As it relates to science, however: Teach the science. A young adult cannot very well navigate science in the light of faith if he or she does not know the basics. If we believe that God created everything before we ever get to science, then we are free to roll up our sleeves and see what textbooks have to say. Natural science only studies the physical and biological realm, and we already know there is much more to reality beyond its grasp.

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  • WHB

    Another simply stated yet profound statement on faith and science. It should be read from every pulpit in the land. If children, and especially pre-teens were treated this way, we would have far more scientists of faith and a greater understanding of faith and science among young adults. Thank you, Dr. Trasancos for this piece.

  • Therese

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Do not be afraid to maintain your firm belief that God created the universe and all that is in it, THEREFORE, real science will never find any contradiction in facts and Church teaching – only confirmation.

  • Adrienne

    You make great points, and I wholeheartedly agree. We are in our second year of homeschooling. For science, we are using Building the Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Bernard Nebel. It is designed for classroom use, but is certainly adaptable for our situation. There are three volumes covering K-8. This book delivers on what the title promises. The first lesson? Classification. Lessons are divided into four strands which roughly correspond to Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Earth Science. Each lesson rests upon previous lessons. We just finished Kinetic & Potential Energy, which builds on a previous lesson about types of energy-light, heat, movement, etc. There is also a forum connected with the curriculum in which the author is quite active and will answer questions. I cannot recommend this curriculum highly enough.

  • Micha_Elyi

    Faithful Catholics invented modern empirical science. There is no genuine science that a Catholic need worry that it contradicts the Faith.

  • Dhaniele

    In general, I would think that any science textbook should show how the scientific knowledge of the West is the result of a long process going back primarily to the Greeks, Babylonians, and Egyptians. If that is done, the true role of Christianity in all of this would emerge — i.e., that the Church had a positive role in the development of modern science. Obviously, for the very young, only a few touches would be needed to get them off on the right foot.

  • Barry Peratt

    I very much appreciate your insights, Stacy. I would like to humbly add an observation. I teach applied mathematics at Winona State University, and I find a tremendous deficiency among my students, and some of my colleagues, regarding the philosophy underlying science. As Anthony Rizzi says in his book, The Science Before Science, many scientists (I also know this from personal experience) do not attend to their underlying philosophy at all. Therefore, it is not that they do not do philosophy, it is that they do it unconsciously and therefore very poorly. While I agree with you about allowing children to develop wonder at the natural world and grounding in scientific basics, I find most secular science textbooks imbued with an underlying scientism that is disturbing. It is not discussed but simply assumed, and presenting the study of the scientific world as if it is a completely disconnected entity from faith or philosophy is a significant hurdle to be overcome, in my opinion.

    In homeschooling our five children, we have chosen to use (and I realize this will likely be controversial) the Apologia curriculum. Yes, it is from a Creationist perspective, and this concerned us at first. However, it is not suffocatingly so. The content is challenging, it places science properly within a philosophical framework, nurtures an awe and wonder at the integrity of creation, and is absolutely engaging (it takes a Charlotte Mason pedagogical approach). All of our children love science; it is one of their favorite subjects! They are in awe of the potency of the scientific method as a way to develop naturalistic explanations of the physical universe, but from day one, they are also keenly aware of its limitations and the importance of other ways of knowing truth. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that they don’t view scientific inquiry as something completely disconnected from other methods of knowing, but as one way of discerning truth that is interwoven with and dependent on other valid forms of inquiry and thinking.

    In high school, we have our children use the awesome, excellent, incredible book (I cannot be enthusiastic enough about this text), Faith , Science, and Reason by Christopher Baglow (from the Midwest Theological Forum). It is deep (I even read it devotionally) but written to be accessible to a high school student. It weaves together the beautiful Catholic perspective on the harmony that exists between scientific inquiry, Divine revelation, and philosophy. This potent text highlights the deficiencies of a strictly Creationist perspective and of Materialistic Reductionism, but it also goes much deeper to provide an integral worldview and highlight the vital contributions of many great Christian and Catholic scientists and the philosophical framework from which they emerged. In my mind, it adeptly fills a most important deficiency in the modern high school and college curriculum: placing science properly within a coherent philosophical framework.

    There’s my two cents, for what it is worth.

    • Thank you Barry! I agree, and also know firsthand, that the philosophical acumen of scientists can be lacking. I was such a scientist before studying theology and philosophy. I had no idea what I missing! So I totally agree that kids need to be taught how to unite all three, science, philosophy, and theology.

      I know Dr. Baglow (met him last February). I agree that his book is excellent. I have read/studied it. That book is indeed a treasure!

      • Barry Peratt

        Thanks for replying, Stacy! Looking forward to your book. I pre-ordered it today.

  • Barry Peratt

    Oh, and I will definitely be checking out your book as well!

  • Ana

    Love it! My husband is a scientist and Apologia was never used in our homeschool. Your advice is spot on, and also one we have been asked. Let’s not confuse disciplines! For science we mostly followed Kolbe Academy as their science was consistently strong and their online course well-organized!

  • pl1224

    Faith and science have nothing to do with each other. Faith is subjective and, for all intents and purposes, blind. Science is brightly lit, empirical and objective. If demonstrable, replicable, provable science differs from faith, then faith needs to readjust its viewpoint. All things considered, science does a much better, job of demonstrating the beauty, power, and consistency of God’s creation than faith ever could.

  • john654

    Hi Stacy,
    It’s been a while since I received an article from you, maybe I missed them. I’m going to tell my daughters about your book. They are the ones who told me about you. I have 13 grand kids now. I’m always so impressed with your incites and with the people who post here.

    The last paragraph really says it all.

    I’ve been writing some Catholic songs. Here is one I wrote for Mary. I hope you enjoy it. My songs are all little conversion stories and are apologetic. My daughter Amanda and her husband Nathan recorded me at the Fathers of Mercy the other day.

    Peace, Joy, Love, Kindness, Obedience,
    John

    • John! Hello, yes it’s been a while. I am writing for other sites only about once a month now. You make me wish I devoted more time to my own site though. Maybe when things settle down. We are moving to TX in a few weeks. Big change!

      WOW 13 grandkids?? You must be one busy grandfather. THANK YOU so much for sharing your songs! It is really good to actually see you and hear you. Your presence reminds me of Pope Francis, connecting with people, showing love, and living a “remembrance of the future”.

      In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis said that of Abraham, how he followed God’s call to a new life, an exodus which led him to an “unforeseen future”. And he took it because faith allowed him to “see” forward and lead his people. Here’s the rest in paragraph 9.

      “The sight which faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward: faith “sees” to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word. This word also contains a promise: Your descendants will be great in number, you will be the father of a great nation (cf. Gen 13:16; 15:5; 22:17). As a response to a word which preceded it, Abraham’s faith would always be an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken. We see how faith, as remembrance of the future, memoria futuri, is thus closely bound up with hope.”

      Gratefully,
      Stacy

      • john654

        Dear Stacy,
        Thank You so much for you kind response. I bet you’re REAL busy. Moving can be a difficult time. I know from experience that it takes faith to move. I will pray for you.

        My son in law, Nathan, posted a new video this morning. When I introduce the song I say, “ladies and Gentlemen, this is a story about Sacking Up! OK, maybe, I don’t really say it that way….But, that’s what is is about…Living in Sin…..

        Peace, Joy, Love, kindness, Obedience,
        John

  • Fine article Stacy, and I heartily approve of your program–teach the science. One other thing I think that’s important and is neglected in all but a a few places at both high school and college level, is to teach the history of science. It is in this that a student will learn that science is provisional–that theories and explanations universally accepted have gone by the board in the face of new evidence or the failure of the theory to account for just a few things. In particular, I think a history of thermodynamics would do the trick. Starting off with the Count Rumford’s showing that the caloric theory of heat on up to Boltzmann, and the controversy about molecules actually existing, to Planck’s explanation of black body radiation, and finally to the thermodynamics of black holes, the Second Law and Cosmology. Gee….maybe I should write that book.. : > )

    • Hey there’s an idea!! Thank you, Bob. I don’t know what happened here. WordPress mysteriously reposted this. I wrote this back in May, but then didn’t keep up with blogging as I hoped to. School started and life got crazy last fall. Kids are older — much more work these days. It’s good to hear from you anyway!