Devotional Biology was first created for undergraduate college level students or high school students earning dual credit. This unusual course puts more emphasis on what I would call a theological philosophy of biology rather than all of the content of a traditional biology course. As the textbook explains, “It was written to look first at Christian theology as found in the Bible. It then applies that theology to what we see in living organisms. Finally, it examines what that means to how we live our lives. Each chapter will start with a section on God and His attributes, move into the scientific material, then end with a discussion about our responsibility to the creation” (p. 4). This means that each chapter moves from the whole to the particulars rather than the reverse approach used by most biology textbooks. Even when it gets to the particulars, it does not take the vocabulary-intensive approach common to most biology courses.
The course is taught by Dr. Kurt Wise who received his PhD in paleontology from Harvard University and is currently Professor of Biology at Truett-McConnell University. His viewpoint is presented clearly in the “Preface & Introduction” to the text as well as in the second video. Students understand at the beginning of the course that the intended audience is Bible-believing Christian students who believe in or are open to a young-earth perspective.
The course includes access to video lectures which can be streamed or downloaded. It is presented in 15 chapters, with each chapter consisting of a number of sections, each with its own video presentation. Lectures vary in length from 12 to 35 minutes.
Enrolled students also receive digital files for a 423-page student textbook, a teacher guide, a lab manual, a test key, and slides from the lectures. (The slides should be useful for review purposes since they outline key points of each lecture.) You can purchase print versions of the lab manual and the textbook, and this might be worthwhile since you will have to print out copies from the digital files anyway. A Devotional Biology Lab Materials kit is also essential for those who plan to complete the lab work.
Dr. Wise spends a great deal of time on the nature of science at the beginning of the course since this is critical to the entire course. He explains that scientific knowledge is always tentative rather than presenting absolute truths as found in the Bible. Dr. Wise believes that biology deals with particular aspects of life—the physical, but it cannot address all aspects of life since living creatures have both a physical body and a “soulish” dimension.
According to Dr. Wise, learning biology has an overarching purpose beyond be able to control, manipulate, and use the material world. Dr. Wise says, “Thus we have a responsibility to worship God, to share God with others, to guard and keep the creation He gave us, and to enhance the divinity-illustrating characteristics of the creation so as to bring God more glory” (p.18). To that end, most chapters end with sections on our responsibilities to God and to creation in relation to the topics covered in that lesson. For example, in the chapter on the glory of God that focuses on the beauty of God’s creation, the concluding lesson emphasizes our responsibility to preserve and enhance its beauty.
Dr.Wise sometimes contrasts his presentation with naturalism, the prevailing view in secular science. However, evolution is such an important topic that he addresses it more directly and extensively in a supplemental 32-page appendix dedicated to that topic. This appendix might be considered an additional chapter for the course because of its length and the inclusion of potential test questions.
At the end of each chapter in the text are Advanced Discussion Topics and Potential Test Questions. Discussion topics can be used between students and teachers or between a homeschooling parent and a child. Potential Test Questions are important since, aside from lab reports, they are the only other means of assessment within the course. Consider this typical Potential Test Question at the end of Chapter 2: “2. Compare and contrast biblical life and biological life / divine life and creature life / life of spirit creatures and biological life / human life and animal life / nephesh life and plant life / spontaneous generation and abiogenesis / spontaneous generation and law of biogenesis.” This question reflects both the content of the course and the nature of the questions. As with this question, all questions require sentence or paragraph answers, so assigning all of them is likely to be overwhelming for students. Parents or teachers should choose which ones to assign for each chapter. The test key included with the course has suggested responses for most questions. Students are not required to memorize extensive vocabulary lists and detailed information.
A great deal of the more-traditional biology course content is conveyed through lab activities. The 145-page lab manual presents 14 labs, and the lab manual lists required equipment and supplies and detailed instructions. The Devotional Biology Lab Materials kit designed especially for this course includes the specialized equipment and supplies that students will need. Among items in the kit are a microscope, microscope slides, a DNA Model Kit, a pocket balance, needle-point pipets, graduated cylinders, Methylene Blue, and Lugol’s Solution. The kit even includes plastic cups, baking soda, and cornstarch, so you won’t need to search for hardly any items at all. Students will also be using mostly household products rather than dangerous chemicals.
As they complete lab activities, students need to take notes and sometimes make sketches and fill in data tables. Sometimes they will write up a full lab report.
The first four labs are based on observations and field work rather than lab work. The fifth lab uses blocks, measurements, and quite a few math calculations; it is much more involved than the previous labs. Only with the sixth lab do students begin to use traditional lab equipment as they study diffusion and osmosis. Labs 6 through 13 are more challenging scientifically. The final lab on bioethics has students consider and write about ethical principles that influence decisions in bioethics dilemmas. The teacher’s manual shows when labs best fit in with the different lessons, although this is not a strict schedule to be followed. Some labs fit closely with lesson topics while others do not. Students need not complete every lab.
This course has tremendous value in that it teaches Christian students how to think about and understand biology. Because God uses the physical world to illustrate his nature, most chapters look first at an attribute of God, then look at the physical world for those illustrations. Students learn to see God in all of creation. However, Devotional Biology does not cover details of biological science to the extent found in most courses. Both the perspective and the scientific content differ significantly from standard biology courses. Yet, this information frequently turns out to be foundational for deeper study of biology (and other sciences) in that it helps students to learn how to think about science. So while the course differs from standard courses, it is fully as challenging.
Consequently, I envision two options for this course. It can be used as a full-credit Biology lab course if students complete most lab activities along with watching the videos, reading the text, and answering a significant number of “Potential Test Questions.” Alternatively, if you are more interested in the philosophical and theological aspects of the course in relation to science, it might be used for religion and partial biology credit, possibly skipping many of the lab activities.