Friday, March 4, 2016

Sixth Grade Geology with A Doorway of Amethyst

A Doorway of Amethyst by Mary Daly

A Doorway of Amethyst is recommended at Mater Amabilis for sixth grade, Level 3 Year 1. As far as I know, it's only available at the Hedge School (linked above). Mary Daly is also the author of Genesis 1, which I wrote about here. Her ideas about Creation and the intersection of faith and science are apparent in all of her writings.

I was excited for First Son to study geology this year. He has very little exposure to this subject and we're planning a camping trip out west for later this year.

This book was one of the more challenging ones for First Son this year. The text is rather dense with definitions and new vocabulary introduced quickly. At only twelve chapters, I had planned to read half a chapter a week, once a week, and still finish in only 24 or 25 weeks, but it was quickly apparent he wasn't able to ingest that much new material in one sitting. I adjusted our schedule a little bit so he was still usually reading half a chapter a week, but spread over two days each week. His "narration" consisted in a written page of notes and drawings for each reading. His pages of notes were often his favorite part of geology, as he was free to make silly drawings and goofy jokes


There are crossword puzzles in many of the chapters, sometimes more than one per chapter. At first, I asked First Son to complete these puzzles as extra practice with the vocabulary, in addition to his written notes. He found them very difficult and I sometimes agreed. Every once in a while, the answer would be a geological term even I couldn't find in the text. They were easier if I provided a list of the answers, but after awhile, I simply dropped the crosswords and was satisfied with his note pages.

In addition to the crosswords, most chapters have a review section at the end with suggested projects, questions, or activities for further exploration. Usually we skipped these, but they could be useful in showing work in a portfolio or for those who do not use narration. There is also an extensive list of internet resources, none of which we used because I didn't really pay attention when someone mentioned them, but hopefully I'll remember them next time around.

First Son improved dramatically at his comprehension of this textbook over the course of the year. I believe this was a combination of practice, maturing, and a decreased level of stress once we set aside the crosswords and I spread the readings over two days a week.


The book is spiral bound, which makes it easy to hold open and lay flat. The illustrations are in full color and clearly illustrate the geological formations. There are some mispellings and typographical errors in the text, but usually it was still understandable. First Son was quite disturbed at a mistake on the date for the Jurassic era on one table, but it was easily corrected with a quick search online.

Most important to know is that the text is overtly anti-Creationist and specifically Catholic. In chapter 11, the author describes Glenn Morton's paper on the geologic column found in the Williston Basin of North Dakota (which may have once been online, but it doesn't seem to be at the time I'm writing this review). This paper specifically counters those who believe all sediments were laid down during a great flood. Apparently, he was ostracized by his former friends when he began to question his faith in the flood and wrote this paper partly to explain his scientific understanding of the geologic column and to bolster the faith of those who choose to believe in God who created the world over a great length of time. Mary Daly writes:
Our Catholic faith does not teach that we must believe that the Flood of Noah actually covered the entire earth, only that there was a flood of very great extent, that it was God's doing, that it changed real history, and that God saved some number of men who "walked with him" for the purpose of deepening his covenant with mankind.
Chapter 12, "Geologist and Catholic," is a brief history of the most important geologists over the history of the field, including the most important who were not Catholic.

There is also an appendix on Evolution in which the author leads the reader through an exploration of Roemer's table of vertebrate development (published in 1933). I failed to find this table available online, but it's an interesting one showing eras on the left and evolution from the bottom to the top (earlier times to more recent times). It "shows how various backboned animals emerged in the geologic record," beginning with the jawless fish. For each type of phyla, there is a branching off relatively early in its existence and then...nothing. No new families.

According to Mary Daly, Roemer's belief in Darwinian evolution is not supported by his own representation of evolutionary history because it "exhibits evolution as a process both lawful and directional" which suggests it is directed by a "mind" and suggests mankind was the final and intentional result.
Evolutionary creativity has wholly collapsed through the phylum chordata, and since evolutionary creativity has always been greatest in the youth of any class of creatures, not in its final speculation, there is no scientific reason to expect a new surge of creativity.
She continues later:
National evolution certainly appears to be over. For whatever reason, or without any reason, it stopped when mankind arrived, and seems destined to continue, if at all, only under the designing hand of mankind.
While the appendix on evolution could be skipped, the theories developed in that section underlie the entire book. I asked First Son to read it and narrate it orally. We had a fantastic discussion of Darwinian evolution, science, theories, faith, and how preconceived notions of all kinds cloud our ability to study the world and discern truth, a discussion that did not depend on agreeing with the author on all of her points. (I actually think I do agree with the author, though I hesitate to be quite so explicit in dismissing the views of those who may disagree with me as unreasonable. I may think they are unreasonable, but I don't like to say so directly.)

We will definitely use this resource again when my other children.

Links to the Hedge School are not affiliate links. I purchased this copy of A Doorway of Amethyst.

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