A blog post on the BioLogos website last month explored the question, “When should you introduce your child to evolution?”1 Because the author presented evolutionary ideas “as describing how God went about developing life,” his overall answer to when to teach our children these things emphasized his high regard for this dogma. He asserted, “Evolutionary theory is certainly important and foundational and as Christian parents we want to expose our children to great science from a young age.”2
The blog post referenced an NPR article written on this same question,3 though that article was primarily an endorsement of the children’s book titled Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution.4 In contrast to the perspective of BioLogos, which at least appeals to God, the NPR article upheld evolutionary ideas as the appropriate corrective to the unsophisticated notion that God created the Earth and its inhabitants:
We all know by now that more than 40 percent of Americans say that God created human beings in our present form in the last 10,000 years. That is, 4 in 10 Americans reject the knowledge that anchors our scientific understanding of the world and all its creatures. That dismal situation cries out for big efforts in science education.5
But both of these views misrepresent evolutionary ideas as science and even make these ideas a prerequisite to performing any scientific enterprise. Evolutionary ideas seek to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of all it contains according to natural processes occurring over a long time. The term evolution can refer simply to change over time, which we can observe in nature today. But when the term evolution is used to describe the origins of all living things from a common ancestor, we are now speaking of something that we can neither observe, test, nor repeat in the present world. We regard the evolutionary viewpoint as an erroneous, humanistic worldview that contradicts the testimony of Scripture and that misconstrues observable science.
A seemingly innocuous rebuttal to a biblical creation viewpoint suggests, “Couldn’t God have used evolution?” But as Ken Ham says, “It’s not a matter of what God could have done, but what He said He did!”6 For example, the record of Genesis presents an order of events quite at odds with the process asserted by evolutionary ideas. Also the millions of years of death necessary for the evolution of life directly denies God’s warning that death came as a punishment for Adam’s sin (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12–17; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22). Evolutionary ideas do not harmonize with biblical creation and undermine the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Early Training in the Truth
This is not to suggest that parents should not teach their children about evolution. Evolutionary ideas pervade our culture, and we may not ignore it. We should teach our children to think critically, evaluating assumptions and arguments for and against evolution. As Ken Ham states,
[E]volutionary ideas should be taught—but warts and all. There are many inconsistencies within the evolutionary framework and many disagreements about how to interpret the evidence. When appropriate, point out that many scientists, both creationists and evolutionists, do not believe that Darwinian evolution is adequate for explaining the existence of life on earth.7
Our approach toward teaching our children ought to be filled with truth of God’s Word first, then incrementally identifying and refuting false ideas. The apostle Paul recognized that Timothy had been taught the truth of the Scriptures even from his childhood:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14–15, emphasis added)
The word childhood can refer to young children, infants, and even unborn children. A child’s understanding and discernment certainly grows with age and maturity, so parents can and should be very careful to expose their children to the truth of God’s Word from the earliest ages and continue throughout their lives. This training in the truth will serve them well as they navigate through a sinful and deceptive world.
Sometimes parents are afraid of conversations with their children, especially on important or controversial topics. We might lament, “Oh, no! How have I failed my child that he would even ask this question?” Parents can also repudiate their children’s God-given curiosity and sense of wonder by ridiculing them. Additionally parents can answer a question too simply, almost dismissing a child’s thoughtful question. But if we don’t provide substantial and satisfying answers, our children will search out these answers themselves.
The long-term goal of parenting should be that our children would be able to govern themselves under God in their thoughts and actions.
Instead we must be willing and equipped to engage them on various levels of understanding and in various situations. While the long-term goal of parenting should be that our children would be able to govern themselves under God in their thoughts and actions, they need physical and intellectual help to follow Christ’s example by growing “in wisdom and in stature” (cf. Luke 2:52).
Parents should answer children according to the depth of their questions and their level of understanding. Provide as much truth as they are interested to hear and able to comprehend. Consider also the context of the question as you determine how to answer. Sometimes answering a question with a question can be helpful because it promotes understanding by both parent and child, especially of underlying assumptions and arguments.
Preserve your credibility by stating the truth that you do know and avoid speculation beyond the facts. Be willing to say “I don’t know,” but then go and study to find the answers. Also beware of some arguments against evolution that we make in error and be careful to present evolutionary arguments properly and not as caricatures. Parents do not have to understand evolutionary ideas entirely, but neither should we make evolutionists say what they do not say.
Contrasting Narratives of Evolution and Creation
Our children should acquire an understanding of evolutionary ideas, particularly as it contrasts with a biblical creation viewpoint. Here are a few essential ways in which evolutionary ideas and biblical creation present a different narrative of life:
|Evolutionary Ideas||Biblical Creation|
|Starting Point||Man’s fallible ideas||God’s infallible Word|
|Age of Universe||Billions of years||Thousands of years|
|Origin of Life||By natural processes beginning with nonliving matter||By the immediate action of the supernatural God|
|Diversity of Life||All life came from a common ancestor by cumulative natural processes including genetic mutations and natural selection||All life comes from inherent genetic diversity within created kinds|
|Genetic Information||Built through addition via mutations and duplications||Built by an intelligent God|
|Disease and Death||Part of the natural order||A punishment for sin and not part of God’s original creation|
|Purpose of Life||Personal survival and reproduction||Love God and love others|
|Humanity||Highly developed primates expressed in various races||Being made in the image of God distinct from animals/all ethnic groups have descended from Adam and Eve|
|Fossils||A chronological record of once-living organisms||A record of death and rapid burial mostly as a result of the Flood|
|Ice Age||Periodic occurrences over millions of years||Following the catastrophic conditions of the Flood|
Each opposing viewpoint carries its own assumptions, affirmations, and implications, so parents should help children realize that real-world evidence will be interpreted according to these biases.8 It is not sufficient to simply look at the evidence since all evidence is interpreted according to the observer’s starting point. For example, the NPR article suggests the following activity for you and your children:
On a starry night, we may take our child outdoors, point out the Big Dipper, and talk a little bit about the long, long time it takes for the light of distant stars to reach our eyes.9
This narrative presupposes that distant starlight takes millions and even billions of years before we can see it on Earth. The child would likely conclude that the universe is unquestionably older than the Bible suggests. But these vast astronomical distances are a problem in an evolutionary viewpoint as well. An alternative commentary—presupposing the truth of God’s Word—during this suggested stargazing event could flow this way:
Wow! Look at these beautiful stars that God made for us to enjoy. The Bible says that God made the stars at the same time as our sun and moon, on Day Four of the Creation Week. Some of these stars are millions of light-years away. But remember that a light-year is a measure of distance, not time. We are not sure how light can travel such great distances even over billions of years, but scientists who start with God’s Word have developed several ideas to explain how starlight could have traveled here in a short amount of time.
In short, parents should not be intimidated by “the science of evolution” or its proponents. As the Proverbs say, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). Adherence to God’s Word does not require blind faith as belief in evolution does. The God of the Bible is faithful and His Word is sure. We should make every effort to encourage our children to fear the Lord and greatly delight in His commandments (Psalm 112:1).