Monday, January 19, 2015

How to Teach Catholic Kids About Creation and Evolution

More from the mailbag! This time it's a homeschooling faith vs reason question I received on the Catholic All Year Facebook page from reader Karen.


Question:
We are new to homeschooling and love your blog! We are starting our journey through the history of the world . . . we have found wonderful resources but I continue to struggle with how to teach creation in align with our Catholic faith. How old do we believe the world is? Do we think that creation really was over seven 24 hour days? And when really did those big dinosaurs roam the earth? How about the theory of the continental drift? What do I believe as a Catholic? Do you know of any text that address this at an elementary level? Our beloved pastor has told me that we as Catholics are free to believe good science as long as it is all from God. I know we did not just show up here. I get that, but still find some unanswered questions when attempting to teach it to our children. Any possible resources would be much appreciated. I do have the catechism and have read the section on creation. Thanks!

 Answer:

Hey Karen, I went through this EXACT SAME THING when I first started homeschooling my oldest son. He's really into science, so it came up early. I didn't know the Catholic teaching about creation either, I just had this vague sense that "Christians think evolution is bad."

When I did finally look into it, it made me so proud of our rich Catholic faith that loves both faith and reason, both religion and science. Some of the greatest scientists in history (including Father Georges LemaƮtre, who first proposed the Big Bang theory) have been devout Catholic priests. And it's not just history.

Some (not all) Protestant Christians have painted themselves into a corner with the sola scriptura thing and can't believe anything that isn't literally in the Bible. That's not how we view it. We view the Bible as, not a book, but a whole library, full of different genres, some of which are meant to be taken literally, and some of which are not. So we Catholics have the freedom and confidence to follow scientific exploration wherever it leads us.

We aren't scared of science because we know that good science is the pursuit of truth and ALL truth leads to God.

So, what does that mean for kindergartners? Well, mostly, that Adam and Eve were real people created by God, and that we are all descended from them. God made all creatures and all creation, but we don't know exactly how, or on exactly what timeline. It's possible that it happened exactly how it is in Genesis, but that doesn't look like the most likely explanation now. And we are truth seekers, so we want to know the truth and that will point to God.

It looks like there has been evolution, at least on a small scale, and that just means that was God's plan, and how he decided to make things work. The truth of large scale evolution, where one species turns into another is less clear. Could be true, could not be true, we just don't know yet. IF (big if) someone were ever to prove that humans were descended from apes somehow, it would mean that Adam and Eve were the first to be truly human, and the first to be endowed by God with immortal souls.

Fortunately, homeschooling moms do NOT have to have all of the answers. Sometimes it's good enough to just have the right questions.

I hope this helps, and I hope you'll encourage your little scholars to love science and truth. We need a new generation of faithful Catholic scientists to help us sort all this out! Catholic Answers is a really good resource for more detailed answers to Catholic science issues. I've never found a Catholic science book I like for younger grades. We use Mother of Divine Grace, and Mother of Divine Grace uses Abeka, which is Protestant, but it's fine, as long as YOU know how to steer particular conversations.

Good luck!
Kendra

Here is some related reading . . . 

HOW TO TALK TO LITTLE KIDS ABOUT THE CRUCIFIXION

WHY I HOMESCHOOL LIKE THAT



And now it's YOUR turn. Any one know of any good resources for Karen?


Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or a child psychologist or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

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25 comments:

  1. As G.K. Chesterton puts it in Orthodoxy, (because he is the best) :"If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time."

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  2. One thing that helps me understand, and I don't know if this is "correct" or not - just a theory - is to look at human development as a microcosm of our "evolution". A child starts out as a single cell, multiplies, divides, and grows into a multi-cell organism. At times it looks a lot different than what we see now - but it's no less human than it was when it looked kinda like a chicken. Our bodies may have grown and changed over time, but they became what they always were destined by our Creator to become... fully human. So maybe never an ape, but an early human? Sure. With Adam and Eve being the first fully developed humans with human souls. The pinnacle of that evolutionary change over time.

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  3. I struggle with this a lot as well. Mainly because we really like Apoliga for science..EXCEPT for the heavy-creationism aspect. But, it's actually a REALLY good way to teach kdis about bias and recognizing how just about everything written has some sort of bias in it and how authors weave their own viewpoint throughout a text..sometimes in more or less subtle ways, but it's almost always there.

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  4. My husband actually wrote a blog post discussing how Catholics don't need to be afraid of the science of evolution. It's actually the faulty philosophy (ie that somehow evolution disproves the existance of God) that gets attached to it that we need to fight. http://sweetheartsseekingsanctity.blogspot.com/2014/05/evolution-it-doesnt-matter.html

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  5. I have had a heck of a time finding anything good for science for the elementary grades. Obviously by middle or high school we can delve into the original sources and talk about bias and things like that. But for my 6-9 year olds I'd love to just have a simple textbook outline where they can learn about the beauty of God's creation and how he created through the process of evolution, etc. Alas, nothing like that exists yet. A Catholic friends' husband teaches evolutionary science at the local university, I should talk them into writing a Catholic science text for us ;)

    But yeah, so far I like to use individual books for elementary to teach science. The Let's Read and Find Out Science series is really cute and perfect for K-4th grade kids. And you can also always go the Charlotte Mason route and focus on nature study and things the kids can see up through about age 10 and save the harder sciences and discussions and cells and evolution and such for middle and high school when you can discuss the different theories and what your family believes to be true.

    In related topics, do you know how hard it is to find a dinosaur unit study for homeschoolers?!?! My 6 year old really wants to learn all about dinosaurs and I'm having to make the silly unit study myself.

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    1. Yes! This really is a void in available curriculum. Someone should do it!

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  6. This is a really interesting conversation for me given that I have a biology degree and now I'm a mom too. My husband (who is also Catholic, but grew up Mennonite and Baptist) is a Bible-literalist/creationist though. This disagreement doesn't affect our life in any practical way, but we're trying to work out how we'll handle it with our children. Recently a Dominican priest and biology professor gave a talk at my college that goes into more detail on how the Bible and modern evolutionary science are not contradictory, it's on youtube if anyone is interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWrU2mh5mEo
    He explains everything you need to know/doesn't assume you're a biologist so it's very accessible.

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  7. I grew up in circles that toted the "Jesus rode a dinosaur" kind of approach and honestly, the compatibility of Catholicism and Science was a huge draw for me when I started my conversion process. I'm with you - small scale (micro-evolution, which I don't believe is theory anymore technically) totally works in the grand scheme; large scale (macro-evolution, which is still considered theory) still needs some work, but I figure if it is ever definitively proven Catholics would be the firsts to be able to rectify it with our beliefs.

    I love that Catholics, in general embrace, science and logic. The nerdy side of me loves that I can talk about things like physics or biology and the real presence of the Eucharist or miracles and have it all have space in my mind (if not work hand in hand).

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  8. This has been a significant topic for me to look into, since my own dad is a strict creationist and I knew it was going to start coming up with the kiddos in science and hanging out with Papa!

    I've done a fair amount of reading on it - my mind is still up in the air about it, but my gut tells me that if God wanted to create and love people in his image and likeness he wouldn't have wasted time doing it. I also think that there's weird issues to consider with human evolution - like when would God decide that an animal was finally "right" enough to add a soul. In general, w/o scientific inquiry, I just feel more comfortable with the idea that God wanted humans and so created them very specifically, intentionally, and pretty much right away :)

    When we first started looking into it, my husband and I really appreciated this article by James Stenson (whom I believe you're familiar with!) ...

    https://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/EVOLUTN.TXT

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  9. Honestly, you will find NO serious biologists who believe that evolution happened only on a small scale. So many different lines of evidence point to the notion of evolution, from geology to gene mutation rates to radioactive decay, that it simply is irresponsible to not teach that humans evolved from earlier
    creatures. I say that as someone who went to public school and whose teacher simply skipped evolution in 8th grade. I felt so cheated when I went to college and realized that no one had bothered to teach this to me, and I had a lot of catching up to do in science classes. Even Pope John Paul II and Francis have said evolution is highly likely. All Catholics need believe is that the soul was put into humans by God; there is no contradiction in believing that anatomically modern humans evolved from early Homo species.

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    1. Dear Tia,
      this is simply not true. My father was a PhD in physics, and I grew up in academia. My husband is getting his PhD in Biophysics, (I did my undergrad in Physics at Upenn) and I know a many, many "serious biologists" (PhD's etc) who don't believe NeoDarwinism. I was a physics major, not a biology major, but I have studied evolution and information theory and cellular workings etc, and frankly, NeoDarwinism is shot full of inconsistencies and data-fudging. The biggest problem is the staggering levels of irreducible complexity on the cellular level, on a level which there would be no evolutionary advantage to the organism. (That you would need to get libraries worth of information, all randomly mutating AT ONCE, to give you even a small evolutionary advantage, and given accepted age of the universe using the Cosmic Background Radiation dating (around 13.7 billion years or so), there just isn't anywhere near enough time for evolution to occur. If evolution occurred, given Darwin's theory, it would have taken a miracle.
      When Darwin came up with evolution, we thought the cell was just a bag of water. Random mutations giving marginal advantages were thought enough. Now we know the cell is much more like a complex computer, containing libraries of essential information (what we used to call 'junk dna' hah...) and instead of needing just a single mutation to get a trait, we'd need libraries of it, all in conjuction with one another.
      But about "no serious biologist", I have watched awesome biologists who dared to question Darwinian orthodoxy being run out of biology departments (and even physics departments, where its not even hugely relevant). The amoutn of power-politicking and darwinian orthodoxy that gets enforced at the tenure level is staggering. A chinese biologist that came here once commented "In china, we are not allowed to criticize the government, but we can criticize Darwin. In America [academia] it is the other way around". If you want to know more about that Ben Stein made a documentary "Expelled" that interviews numerous academics on both sides of the issue and highlights the neodarwninist purges (emails, letters, there's a lot of it. It correlates with what I saw growing up in academia)

      But about the problems with NeoDarwinism, I am 5 years out of school and changing diapers, there are people that explain it much clearer than me. There are some awesome authors (all with PhD's in their fields, etc), like Stanley Jaki, "The Signature in the Cell" by Stephen C. Meyers,"The Edge of Evolution" by Michael Behe, William Dembski writes alot on informationm theory, etc.

      All that to say, there are plenty of "serious biologists" who question neoDarwinian orthodoxy, and I have met them myself :)

      Sorry that was so long. After growing up watching them getting denied tenure in academia, it's hard for me to see people dismissing them as "Not serious" when they do exist and have legitimate problems with Darwinism. I needed to get that off my chest.

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  10. There is a big difference between evolution and natural selection. I think a lot of people say evolution when they are really talking about natural selection. I don't believe in evolution but I do believe in natural selection. I believe God allowed for natural selection as a way for man, animals, and plants to adapt to changing environments.

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  11. Love this article. As for additional resources, I would highly recommend the Answering Atheists CD talk by Lighthouse Catholic Media. There's an extra on there about evolution and it's GREAT! It really gets into the source of evolution issues and details how contemporaries and co-authors with Darwin didn't jump on board when Darwin went off the deep end taking God out of the picture of evolution. The talk helps illustrate Kendra's point too, that a lot of great scientists are Catholic.

    As a side, my favorite discussion question on evolution - If evolution were completely true, why don't mom's have 4 arms?

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  12. I love this! The freedom and acceptance of the Catholic Church in regards to science was a breath of fresh air to me after being raised fundamentalist. I don't home school and my boy is a bit older than Karen's, it sounds like, but I saw a book on the Catholic Company store that looked good. It was called "God and Evolution? Science Meets Faith". Maybe she can read it and take ideas from it? I am no theologian, nor am I a scientist, but what I have explained to my 13 year old is that the events of early Genesis happened before there was written word, so the only way of record keeping was by word of mouth. Obviously, even if they knew all the details, our ancestors would not be able to memorize and recite the inner workings of the creation of the Universe over their campfires and then pass it on through generations, so they made a nice story that conveys the truth: God created the whole world and everything in it, including people. He made it out of love and he made it in His time, which isn't the same as our time. Adam and Eve are real people and the first "modern" people. There may have been earlier human-type beings, but Adam and Eve were the first true people and they are the father and mother of our kind. There may have been more people made by God after Adam and Eve, since Cain was afraid of being killed by these people...who knows? But Adam and Eve are the father and mother of the Jewish/Christian line (among other peoples) and we pay special attention to a line of their decendents because it tells the story of Jesus. The Great Bible Adventure Bible Study by Jeff Cavins is really good, if you haven't done it yet. The very first lesson about Genesis would be good to watch. I also saw two books online called "House of the Covenant" and "Creater and Creation" by Mary Daly that look promising :-)

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  13. Thank you for this great post! This is one early reason I was drawn to the Catholic church. I couldn't imagine a God who would ask me to chose between science and reason & faith.

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  14. Our pastor told a joke in his homily that has some connection to this question. "Two 2nd graders were talking about the Old Testament and some of the stories they had learned in religion class. First one said God is sure mean when he brings down fire and floods to kill so many people. Second one says yeah He sure was but that was before He became a Christian like in the New Testament."

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  15. I think the lack of good materials for homeschoolers in this area is something that is going to get addressed in the next few years (doesn't help those stuck now). There was an NPR article about a year ago about the growth of Christian homeschoolers who don't embrace young earth creation. I know of a couple textbooks (in astronomy area) that are in progress that will be both Christian and have the standard science community assumptions on age of the earth/universe.
    My family is protestant but my husband and I were both trained as scientists and the science coursework materials for homeschoolers currently available are rather grim. I taught a high school bio course to homeschoolers last year and the newly published book we ended up with doubled down on both no natural selection (macro or micro) and spent precious chapters in a biology book arguing that the earth was 6000 years old. I ended up skipping those chapters and with parental permission taught a natural selection unit instead.
    For my own kids, I've done the Charlotte Mason method (mentioned by a previous commenter) of focusing on all areas of nature study (animals, plants, weather, rocks and soil, moon, stars and planets) My older kids are now reaching middle school aged and are well prepared for whatever type of regular science they will have available in the future.
    Another great topic from the mailbag :)

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  16. Why do homeschool families need to rely on specifically homeschool curriculum in this area? Is it not workable to just get a regular school textbook, like Ken Miller's Biology textbook? I guess I just don't understand why it's not possible to adapt regular school curriculum.

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    1. They don't! It is! I'm not familiar with Ken Miller's textbook. Is it Catholic? That's not necessary of course, but it would be ideal to find a textbook that recognizes the role of the Creator as well as proposing all the scientific theories.

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    2. Kendra, the Miller and Levien textbook is just the default biology book found in most high schools I believe…now that I think about it, probably a bit too old for your set? But interestingly, he is a practicing Catholic, and one of the most vocal people arguing that there need be no contradiction between Catholicism and evolutionary theory. I could go on and
      on about all the separate and different lines of evidence that reinforce the notion of evolution, including that humans evolved from earlier species. But I won't bore you. I would say, however, that teaching alternate theories (like "intelligent design" or "young earth creationism") is sort of strange from a pedagogical perspective -- why would you teach your kids something that has very little chance of being true?Also, I don't think there needs to be a religious bent to science textbooks to point back to a creator. I know that one of the strongest, most certain feelings I had about the existence of God was in a graduate biology class, when we were learning about DNA methylation -- basically these chemical marks on genes that alter how they get turned on and off. I just marveled at how elegant, complex, intricate and completely above our understanding life was. I guess what I'm saying is that if you try to teach truth, the beauty and order of the world naturally points back to a beautiful and orderly creator. Obviously not all scientists get that message but if you're teaching your children that framework in other arenas and bringing up the notion of a creator yourself, I don't think a straight science textbook would do any harm.

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    3. You're right, it sounds like this book is aimed at older kids than we are talking about. I would choose straight science over unreasonable religion-based theories. But it would be nice to have both. We use some "vintage" history and grammar books that I admire for their no-nonsense approach, and while they are not about God, he's in there from time to time. It would be nice to find something similar for science. But so far, my kids love science and have a much better understanding of it than I ever did, even in high school. So I think we're doing okay.

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  17. Could you all follow the Pope and Catholic Religious doctrine?

    http://www.onenewsnow.com/church/2014/11/03/pope-backs-evolution-vatican-calls-creation-%E2%80%98blasphemous%E2%80%99#.VMF-Z0fF-T8

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    1. This is not a point of doctrine. The doctrines of the Church are those teachings which MUST be believed by the faithful. These include 1) dogmas, teachings which the Church has solemnly defined as formally revealed by God, and, 2) other teachings definitively proposed by the Church because they are connected to solemnly defined teachings.

      The Catholic Church's position on exact theories of creation and evolution has never been officially taught or definitively defined. Therefore, it is something about which good Catholics are allowed to disagree.

      I think you and I probably share similar beliefs on this topic, however, I don't think I much like your tone.

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  18. As a mom who was always a strong theistic evolutionist, it really rocked my world to find out that the Biblical story of creation could be literally true. Please, if you are looking for answers to this question of creation vs. evolution go to the Kolbe Center http://kolbecenter.org

    The information and scientistic articles will have a profound affect on how you view God's Creation and the science, real strong science, behind it.

    My husband has two degrees in science and went to grad school to get a Phd in Comparative Chemical Physiology. Talk about a creation story skeptic! However, he has been deeply impressed by the science behind Hydroplate Theory.

    Truly, take ten minutes to watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sD9ZGt9UA-U

    Dr. Walt Brown is an MIT Mechanical Engineer, so he's no slouch in the credential department! I

    f that peaks your interest, watch this series which will go into the science behind his theory in depth: Hydroplane Theory Overview. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hhE6tzJR_c

    I promise, it will be a most fascinating look at science. Even if you discard the theory, at least you will have stepped outside the box of Darwinism and evolution to see if the Genesis could really be true!

    Now a new question could be: Are there any Catholic science books which teach the creation?

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