A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on why parents who teach their children creation science or intelligent design in a way which elevates those teachings to a fundamental of the Christian faith are putting their children’s long term spiritual well being at risk. In the comments on that post (which were remarkably civil for this topic BTW, thank you to all who commented!), someone asked how I teach my kids to be faithful Christians while also accepting the science of evolution and geology and such. I think this is a good question and figured I would share how it works in our house.
The first thing I tell my kids is that God is always willing to meet us where we are. He doesn’t wait for us to get it all together or have a good grasp of life to reach out and reveal himself to us. Thousands of years ago the ancient Hebrews had no numbers for billions. They did not know what elements or atoms or DNA were. They did not know where sickness came from or what the stars were. It would have been literally impossible for them to understand a universe which was billions of years old, stars made out of burning gas shining many billions of light years away. They could not have comprehended that life was composed of atoms linked together into molecules which linked together to make macromolecules which worked together to create all the tissues, fluids and such of the human body. They could not have comprehended what DNA does, how it replicates itself, how it gets passed down from generation to generation while various mutations occur which can, over time beyond their words to even name, result in a diversity of life they weren’t even aware of.
In other words, it would have been impossible for the one true God to reveal his role in and purpose for creation to the ancient Hebrews in a way which reflected the scientific reality of this amazing creation. So he told them a story. Some call it a myth, an allegory, a metaphor, whatever. It’s an amazing story. It tells us everything we need to know about the nature of creation, of God’s role in it, our place in it, the basis for human nature, both good and bad, and so much more. And it tells us all of that in terms that people -from the very primitive to the very advanced – can readily understand. No need for an understanding of science or possession of the number zero required. So, the first thing that I taught my kids is that God met the Hebrews where they were and gave them an explanation which would serve us all well regardless of our lack or abundance of scientific understanding.
Some people insist that by allowing for something less than the literal truth in the bible, one undermines all of scriptures. However, it is intolerable to limit God to our understanding of His book. Our understanding is in turns imperfect, immature, narrow and confused. To think that the bible must fit with how WE think things should be and then form ideas about God and His ways from this assumption is just wrong, IMO. Additionally, we need to be humble enough to realize that we are bringing a lot of cultural and philosophical baggage and assumptions to our reading of scriptures. If scriptures do not change, then they cannot have been intended to convey one meaning to the people for whom it was originally written and something entirely different today. The creation stories of Genesis are an excellent example of this as ancient Hebrew conceptions of time, the earth and humanity was entirely different than our own. Insisting that the creation stories of Genesis are meant to be taken literally and that a literal interpretation of them is necessary to the authority of scriptures is an excellent example of us imposing our linear, Hellenistic thought processes to the stories.
As far as what I teach my kids about God’s involvement in creation, I of course point out that scientists don’t have any good explanation for the first cause which set events in motion. Secondly, the universe, even with the inherent chaos which exists in it, is an extremely organized place. Everything runs by rules with one event setting off the next. This, to me indicates design with God as the designer. God’s role in creation, as I understand it, was to front load the whole process with the rules and materials needed to bring about His ultimate purpose. I suppose that the simplest way of thinking of it is as the ultimate game of dynamos or the best Rube Goldberg Machine ever, although I think it’s probably more complicated than that.
In this view, scientists are involved in discovering the ways of God by uncovering the rules by which He designed the universe to work. When scientists trace evolution or figure out ways that the first organic molecules may have been created, they are tracing the pathways laid out by God. If God never has and never does intervene directly in this process of creation unfolding, that only highlights the astonishing feat which only an astonishing God could achieve in bringing life about through this process. Far from taking away from God, or marginalizing faith in God, the science of the life and the universe reveals how amazing God and His way’s are.
There’s more to it, of course, but there’s my basic explanation on how I am raising my kids as Christian evolutionists. Thus far the biggest problems we have had have come from overly strident creationists who have tried to tell my children that faith and mainstream science are incompatible. The first couple of times this happened, it did cause a real crisis of faith for my oldest son. He is very interested in science and knows that the evidence for evolution and an old earth is incontrovertible. So when he was told that he must either choose to believe what he knew to be true about science or to be a Christian, this was a real problem for him. Thankfully, I found out when these things happened very quickly and was able to talk him through it. Now, I have instructed my children in how to deal with this stuff. (Basically say, “I guess we just see things differently. Say – did you see my new Pokemon cards?” and leave it at that.)
I’m still without internet, so I’m very short on time and haven’t been able to edit this properly. Please excuse any typos and grammatical errors!