I don’t have children yet. But I’m told this is a question I will hear: “Daddy, where do babies come from?”
I used to think, depending on how old the little tyke was at the time, I might answer by saying something like this: “Well, sweetheart, believe it or not, babies comes from inside their mommy’s tummies. And babies are made when a mommy and daddy come together in a special way because they love each other very much.”
Thanks to my years of studying the works of young-earth creationism proponents like Answers in Genesis president and masked hero Ken Ham, I’ve learned exactly how foolish and cruel such an answer would be.
My friend K-Ham may not expound much upon the nuances of discussing intercourse and conception with children, but he does frequently share his wisdom on the “correct” interpretation of the Book of Genesis. And I think there’s a strong parallel between the two. (Stick with me for a moment; I’ll explain.)
In the one case, you have a young child coming to his or her parents and asking where babies come from. In the other, you have a pre-scientific ancient culture coming before their heavenly Father and asking (or perhaps just wondering rather than directly asking), “Where did the world come from?”
My proposed answer to the hypothetical kid is roughly in line with my understanding of how the Holy Spirit revealed the truth of the first few chapters of Genesis. In both instances, we have reasoning, intelligent beings contemplating matters that lie beyond the scope of their knowledge and, in some cases, their ability to comprehend. And in such cases, it seems best to put a premium on the important, simple truths (my child is loved and special and was born because its mother and I wanted it to be) over the incidental mechanics of sex and pregnancy that — factual though they may be — tell an empty story.
As for Genesis, I had imagined a similar principle at work: that it had been deemed of the utmost importance to teach that God was one, that the universe had proceeded at his command alone and that he had made everything very good. Such distinctions were especially necessary to contrast with the creation myths of the Babylonian culture that scholars believe the Israelites were immersed in at the time the Pentateuch was completed. Unlike the orderly account of Genesis, these narratives were often bloodier and more chaotic than an episode of “Jersey Shore” (and had almost as many characters).
I reasoned that, just as a small child doesn’t need to know that babies actually form in their mother’s uteruses (a word they most likely couldn’t pronounce), not their stomachs, God’s chosen people didn’t need to know that mankind’s physical bodies developed from lower organisms, or that the process took hundreds of millions of years. But they most definitely did need to know that God is powerful and good, and that he made humanity and all other life on earth with care and purpose in mind. And so, that was what was conveyed to them, in a way they could easily understand.
Makes sense, right? That’s what I thought. But K-Ham sees it differently.
Responding to an “attack” on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy earlier this year, the Blunderer from Down Underer points out that the only way a story can be True™ is if it’s literally, historically and scientifically true. Encasing a transcendental truth in a simple, but ultimately inaccurate metaphor (like saying babies come from a mommy’s “tummy”), is the same as lying.
And as K-Ham says, “I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust a God who intentionally lies to me just to teach me some truth about Himself.” Of course not! Would you? (Yes, K-Ham actually wrote that — see for yourself.)
I’ve learned much from this powerful lesson. You, dear reader, are free to do as you like, but I know I, for one, am not interested in lying to my kids. So when they ask me where babies come from, they better be ready for a lecture. A long, boring one. Better yet, I’ll march them straight down to the public library (it’s safer than the Internet when it comes to this particular field of inquiry), where we’ll check out every college-level textbook on anatomy and biological reproduction we can find. I’ll have them writing 10,000-word essays on the human gestation period before they hit first grade.
And, if — in the endless talk about meiosis, fetal development, labor, delivery and so on — the kids miss the point about them being unique and deeply loved by their mommy and daddy, who cares?
What really matters is that they know what a placenta is, right?