evolution surprise

(Image credit: zanzibar via Flickr.com)

So I didn’t post at all last week, and now it’s Friday. What’s up with that? Well, there was this school break, and the laptop got sick and had to go to the computer hospital, and then there were one, no two, no THREE snowstorms…yeah, so the dog ate my blog post. Except we don’t have a dog. Never mind. Let’s get to it.

Seven-year-old “Emmie” has been thinking about her origins lately. No, this isn’t an adoption post. She’s been thinking about her origins as a human being–about our collective origins. Early in the week, she approached me with this question:

“You know how God made the world? Well, when did the dinosaurs come in?”

You’d think I would have an articulate answer for this one at the ready. After all, we’ve been through this with eleven-year-old “Jack,” who was obsessed with dinosaurs between the ages of two and eight. He long ago had to work out the inconsistencies between what he read in his encyclopedias on prehistory and what he learned in Hebrew school.

But that’s just it: Jack worked out that dichotomy on his own. He never came to us with questions, never seemed troubled that both the Genesis story and the theory of evolution couldn’t both literally be true. One was Science, one was Not. That’s always been good enough for him.

But kids are different.

Not wanting immediately to discredit too much of what Emmie had learned in Hebrew school, and feeling a corresponding need to ease her into the science, I explained about dinosaurs preceding humans and talked about the allegorical nature of the Genesis story. She nodded, and didn’t ask any more questions.

But Emmie always has more questions. Sure enough, she just needed some time to cook them.

She found her opportunity a few nights later when dinner conversation turned to plate tectonics. (Don’t ask.) Emmie found the concept of a moving Earth fascinating. (“Wait. You mean we’re moving, on the Earth, all the time? Whoa.”) Geology led to discussion of life on the planet, and before long, I found myself saying, “Yes, we came from apes.”

Emmie stopped eating. Her eyes popped, and stayed that way. Slowly, she said, “I don’t see myself as an ape.”

Emmie’s. Mind. Blown.

Once she recovered, I explained evolution (in terms a seven-year-old could understand), and Emmie poured out an endless fountain of questions:

So we were apes?
What did [the pre-humans] look like?
How did they change?
How tall were they?
Can we change? Will we change?
Did they live when there were dinosaurs? 
How did they communicate?
Let me see pictures.
How did they die? Did they all die? Are those pictures models? Do those models have teeth?
Oh, they look like us! They look like people!
And, of course, But what about Adam and Eve?

I think it’s fair to say that by the end of the nearly hour-long discussion, Emmie had acquired a wholly new understanding of where she came from. She still wore a slightly stunned expression on her face when I sent her to bed.

I worried a little about how Emmie would handle these revelations. Would she have nightmares (as she’s prone to do)? Would she distrust everything she would learn in the future in Hebrew school? Would she be consumed with the fear that she might evolve into some future form of hominid when she wasn’t looking?

But there were no nightmares that night. Following her initial shock, Emmie seems to have incorporated evolution into her world view, as just one of the things that make our existence so fascinating every day. After all, you never know each day what you might learn.

If only we adults could take a similar approach whenever our worldview is shaken. Maybe we should learn from our kids.


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