It started with the skulls sitting side by side on the table at the paleontology display. Neanderthal skull, human skull, other stages-in-the-evolutionary-process skulls. The college students were earnestly trying to explain who came from where, who lived where, and how that finally became us. Alex was drinking it all in, his face a study of interest and concentration. And then, out of the depths of his year of sacramental training, and all the Bible reading we’ve been doing, popped the question. “So this is what Adam and Eve’s skull looked like?”
The trouble with the hard questions is not that you can’t answer them. Mostly, you know the answers. Or at least, having to answer them helps you crystallize answers inside you that you might never have been able to put your finger on. The problem is, you aren’t ready at the moment they’re asked. You never know at what age they’re going to get asked, so you can’t prepare your age-appropriate answer ahead of time.
The two people behind the table gave me a sympathetic wince as I stumbled through some woefully inadequate explanation about historical fact vs. stories told to relay a truth about God, which he only sort of got. I knew we’d have to talk about it again later. For a couple years already I’ve had to bite my tongue on trying to teach this distinction, because I knew it wasn’t time yet. Too many people plant themselves firmly in a place of Biblical literalism that can only be supported if you stick your head in the sand and refuse to admit the validity of science. I refuse to let my children go down that path, but you also can’t explain this concept at too young an age. It requires a more mature intellect. Otherwise it just gives rise to doubt, laying the seeds for rejection of belief in God altogether.
High stakes, indeed.
Christian, when he heard the story, rolled his eyes. “Just tell him God’s time is not our time,” he said. “That’s the simple explanation.”
(Why can’t I think of such simple explanations? I use too many words.)
By late afternoon, when Alex and I were headed home from Confession (something I’ve been trying to do about monthly with him), I had figured out how to approach the subject. We had the children’s Bible with us, so I had him open it up to the Creation story as we drove. “What’s the first thing God said in the creation story?” I asked.
“Let there be light.”
“Exactly.” I talked about the Big Bang–the origin of everything. We then followed the Creation story, explaining how animal life on Earth began in the oceans and then evolved onto land (which, if you notice, parallels the Creation story beautifully–right there is an argument for divine inspiration; they got the order right without having any science to draw from); that animals came before humans, and humans are the crowning of creation, made in God’s image to love as He loves. It took a bit of a light touch to make the leap from apes to humans, and come to think of it I’m not sure we ever adequately addressed the business with Adam and Eve, but at least I achieved my primary purpose: to lay the foundations for understanding that faith and science are not at odds.
(I hope he got it!)