‘How do I talk to my kids about evolution?’

Tyler’s note: If you are not devoted to a particular religious faith, answering that question is easy. If you are Ken Ham, answering that question is also easy, because you just tell them evolution is bad and they don’t even have to worry about it.

But if you are like me, and you care about your Christian faith and scripture, and you also value science and being honest with your kids, that question becomes a lot trickier. The following is how one parent handled it. I hope you enjoy this guest contribution from GOE community member Blaine Bowden.

A couple nights ago, while watching “Star Wars: Rogue One” with my six-year-old son shortly before bedtime, he randomly paused the movie to ask me a massive question.

“Dad, how did humans come into existence?”

My eyebrows raised, though I should not have been surprised since he is one of the most scientifically curious children I’ve ever known, especially with astronomy. He could probably tell me more facts about our dwarf planets than I could remember about our major planets, all thanks to wonderful science videos for kids on YouTube. But nonetheless, knowing my bright little thinker who always asks twenty thousand detailed questions about anything he’s unsure of, I took a moment to contemplate how I should explain the creation story in an evolutionary framework, in a manner that a six-year-old could grasp.

I started by explaining that it’s hard to only ask about humans when there are natural evolutionary processes that had a starting point, proceeding over millions of years to produce many kinds of life and eventually humans. So as we were already snuggled up in a blanket on the couch, I unpacked Genesis 1 for my son in the following manner.

“In the beginning of time, there was always God, who is uncreated and outside of time. He wanted to build a special universe that had an Earth. Through God’s Word, who is Jesus, and by the work of God’s Spirit, God somehow caused a gigantic bang in the darkness of space, and all the energy and elements of matter that make up the entire universe somehow came into existence. At first it was unformed, but worked together over time to eventually create light in the darkness. To do something like this was only like a day’s work for God, because He is powerful and can do anything.

Over billions of years, all the matter and energy came together in different forms to give us all the galaxies, stars, planets, moons, nebulas, comets, and everything we see when we look up at the stars. And it all moved together like clockwork to give us time and the seasons as we know it. To do this was also only like a day’s work for God.

Eventually, the Earth and our solar system were formed. Somehow, water was all over the Earth. Maybe a massive comet of ice hit the planet and melted, but we don’t really know. Lots of water evaporated from the heat of the sun and formed clouds. This also was only like a day’s work for God.

As the water evaporated into clouds, the dry land was uncovered and small forms of vegetation developed on the ground, which would eventually change and evolve over millions of years into the different plants we have today. This also was only like a day’s work for God.

Within the water, very small forms of life developed, changed and evolved over millions of years into the different types of boy and girl sea creatures we have today. The same happened with very small forms of life that developed to fly in the air, which eventually changed and evolved into the different boy and girl birds and insects we have today. This also was only a like day’s work for God.

On the dry land, as vegetation first developed, so also other small forms of life developed, changed and evolved over millions of years into the different boy and girl animals we have today. Yet somehow through this process of evolving animals, God wanted to create a very special kind of creature that was like God, who could think, speak and do great things. So certain types of animals evolved into upright standing creatures that kind of looked like humans, but weren’t quite human yet. Then over hundreds of thousands of years they changed little by little into many different types of the same kind of creature until eventually there were boy and girl humans. Since humans were made to be like Himself, God wanted humanity to be in charge of the world and everything on it, to take very good care of it. This also was also only like a day’s work for God.

Then since God had a very busy work week, He rested for a day, because rest is very important after working hard. The way God seemed to work on ‘different projects’ on different ‘days’ is where we get the idea for the work week that we have now.”

While my son seemed to understand what I was saying, he was actually more interested in a specific question, “But who was the first human?”

Of course, this is where the biblical rubber meets the evidential road. I did not want to pass off the entire Adam narrative as complete myth—since I have no problem with an actual historical guy named Adam existing at the beginning of the genealogy of Christ, whom Paul also believes was an actual man, without necessarily forcing the entire Genesis 1-11 prehistory to be an accurate historical account—but I could not in good conscience tell my son that the biblical Adam, as written, was the first of the human genome.

So I then explained how we have no way of knowing who the first genetic human was, or if there ever was only one human. But we do know where the story God and man began, that there was a particular man that our story began with, and that everything we have learned up to today started with his thoughts and experience. So I continued to unpack Genesis 2 in this way:

“Even before there was vegetation on the ground, when the dry land was still wet from the waters, it was God’s plan to create humans to be like Him when He first created life. To be in charge of the Earth and take good care of it. Once nature eventually evolved to form humanlike creatures, there was a man named Adam who was the first to be aware of God, and talk with God.

 Adam realized the goodness in nature and how it all was intended from God. He saw the purpose in the fish of the sea, the birds in the air, and the animals on the ground, and how it all worked together. Adam used a speaking language and even named all the animals that he saw. Where he lived, there were four different rivers that flowed in different directions, and with the land, provided everything he could ever need. It was like a perfect garden to him.

There was only one rule for Adam to keep his life in harmony. To ‘do what is right in God’s eyes’ (tree of life), and ‘don’t decide for yourself what is right and wrong, thinking you know better than God’ (tree of knowledge of good and evil). God is your Father who loves you and provides life for you. So when you decide your own right and wrong, it is selfish and hurtful toward your Father who loves you and knows what is good for you. Doing this is like running away from home, leaving life for death.

Adam thought about how some of the animals were good helpers, like the cow for pulling things and the horse for riding. But none of the animals could be an equal partner for him. Adam met a certain girl named Eve and loved her so much he couldn’t imagine being without her. She was such a perfect friend to him, he believed she must have been made from him, because it certainly seemed like she was made for him. He realized that boys and girls were alike enough being human, but different enough that when they come together, they provide what each other doesn’t have and become complete like one person. This is why grownups get married.”

I asked my son if all that made sense.

“Wait,” he said. “So nature made all kinds of life, and we don’t really know who the first humans were, but we know that Adam was the first important human?”

To which I replied, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Woohoo! New GoE articles!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Tyler’s finally getting back to the blog after the long diaper derby!

  • Donald Johnson

    I never had to do this, but I think I would try to explain things in a full accommodation mode, not using any attempts at a partial concord with science.

  • Well educated kids, as yours seem to be, will take this in stride.

    I remember, in discussion of religion in high school, someone asked who did Adam’s children marry. And the person leading the instruction suggested that maybe he found a wife at the next town. That gave me a whole new way of thinking about it. Maybe Adam was the first of the Israelites, but there were other humans around too. Note that this was in Australia, where we knew that the Australian aborigines had been around since well before the time of Adam.

  • Rather than trying to come up with a “Genesis version” of human evolution, why not just explain what evolution is and leave it at that?

    If the kid wants to bring Genesis into it, that would be a good time to explain that the name “Adam” in Hebrew actually means “man” or “human” – a great introduction into the nature of allegorical genres like the early chapters of Genesis. Teaching children that the topic of Genesis is the scientific origin of the universe is misleading at best.

    Speaking of explaining evolution – this narrative never does it! The parent confuses the matter by blithely mixing an informal use of the word evolution (as in the evolution of the universe) with the specific biological meaning of evolution. And when he gets to biology, he never explains that evolution is descent with modification. This basic idea is one that children can grasp with just a few examples.

    Trying to merge Genesis with the science of human evolution simply misses the point of Genesis and dumbs down the science of human evolution.

  • Matthew Funke

    I’ve gotten a fair amount of mileage with my kids by explaining that there are all kinds of ideas about how the Genesis story of creation and evolution reconcile. Some people think there were people, and Adam was a special one that God pulled aside. Others think that Adam was the first creature we would call “human”. Some people think that it’s a story, meant to show how the Hebrew God was different from other gods if people bothered to compare and contrast the story in Genesis with other creation stories.

    I don’t know exactly why that story is in there, myself — I have some ideas, but nothing definite. Regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, I don’t think it was to teach us science. If you want to know why it’s there, I’m more than willing to look at the matter with you; it’s more than likely that I’ll learn some things I never knew, and have to change my mind.

    They haven’t made much of a fuss since then. My girl and I have even had some really cool talks about the evidence for evolution, and how big God evidently must be in order to work with such a concept.