A while back, another mother asked my advice:
Tonight my five year old asked me, “Where did the first people come from?”
“Well,” I replied, “Different people believe different things. Scientists think that humans evolved from gorillas.”
“What is evolved?”
“That’s when things change from one thing to another, like a caterpillar to a butterfly. Other people believe in God, that he is up in the sky watching over us all and he created the first people. . . .”
So, what do you say when your child asks you about God for the first time? How do you incorporate scientific evolution?
These big questions are daunting! Try not to worry about giving the perfect answer the first time; kids come back to these questions again and again.
My son Nicholas asked where people come from soon after he turned 3. First he was asking how babies are made; I gave a basic explanation that satisfied him for the moment. Then he asked about death. A week or so later, he thought of “the chicken or the egg” question and asked how the FIRST baby could ever have been born. I said something like this:
“Well, we can’t know for sure how that happened because the first people hadn’t invented writing yet, so they didn’t have any way to write down their story. Scientists who have studied the fossils say that all animals are related, and over millions of years, one family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like people than their parents were, and another family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like cats than their parents were, and another family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like turtles than their parents were, and so on until each kind of animal was very different from the others. There are some things that are still the same among lots of animals, like backbones and fingers. God is very smart, and maybe God made one main pattern to turn into all the kinds of animals and people.”
That gave Nicholas a lot to think about for a while!
Next time we talked about it, I asked if he would like to hear a story about the first people, and I told him the story of Adam and Eve. This is consistent with my personal belief that the stories of the Old Testament are traditional legends of our people that contain important truths for us today but are not literally true representations of exactly what really happened. Nicholas requested “the story of before the beginning” on a regular basis for several years; he enjoyed both my telling the story and my reading it from the Bible. Not only is it a satisfying story of humans originating from the loving care of God, but it goes on to an important lesson about temptation, obedience, and experiencing the consequences of one’s actions, which led to lots of interesting discussion for us.
As for “when your child asks you about God for the first time” . . . all his life I have spoken of God as if we both know God and God’s existence is simply an underlying fact of reality. We’ve discussed specifics of belief and practice as they come up, but Nicholas has never asked who/what/where is God. He did not seem aware that there are people who believe God doesn’t exist until he was in kindergarten, when he commented to me that it’s funny how some people believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy but don’t believe in God–gee, that’s wacky, huh? (We never spoke to him of Santa or the Tooth Fairy as anything other than fun traditions of pretending.)
I know that many people struggle with the idea that evolution and God-creation are two separate viewpoints. To me, it’s easy to believe in both: Evolution is God’s Plan. I love to read the creation story from Genesis because, although I don’t believe it all happened in six days as we understand days, I believe that it unfolded in that general order (there was light, and then there was matter, then water separate from solid land, then plants, then animals, all before people came to be) and that every moment of it was planned, presided over, directed, loved, and approved by God. All the science is true. But there’s More.
(By the way–evolution is not like the transition from caterpillar to butterfly. That’s one individual changing from one form to another the same way her ancestors did it and her children will do it. Evolution is a species changing in a way that makes future generations different from the previous ones.)
Telling my child that we are both evolved from animals and created by God worked for me!