The awesomest thing about my child’s Lutheran School so far is that every day they focus on very core questions: How do we treat others? Where did we all come from? Where do we go when we die?
We were riding the bicycle back from school yesterday afternoon and Rhett asked me: “Who made you?” I said “Grandma and Grandpa.” He says, “Well, who made all of us?” OH! At school all day, they talk about how Jesus/God made everyone and everything. He was asking about that. I say that no one can really know for sure because there wasn’t anyone around when it all began, so we don’t have any easy way of getting information about what was going on back then. It has occurred to me now that the information and a “story” about what was going on back then is somewhere, it is just hidden in our universe. If we know what things to look for, then we certainly can “read” that “information” and know what made all of us. And is that what science is about? Maybe science is like reading a bible that the universe wrote which tells us how we came to be…?
I was in thought about what to say next, when he interrupted me with, “Well, it wasn’t Jesus.” “Jesus didn’t make me, I made myself.” I said, yeah, you make yourself strong by exercising and eating good food and you are always growing and learning. He seemed to still be thinking about the “Who made us” question and I told him that some people believe that we all started out just as information stored in different chemicals and those chemicals got together and started making more complicated things like bacteria. This kid knows all about bacteria and colds and stuff like that, so as soon as I said that we might’ve been bacteria at some point in time, he was on board. Then I said that I wasn’t really sure about what people think, but I would read about it and then we could talk more. I guess I was just living my life having no explanation at all. Too busy, I suppose, to wonder about the origin of everything in the universe….it’s a good thing I have a curious four-year-old, or I might’ve died without catching up on the current consensus regarding our evolutionary origin.
He asked me all this yesterday, and being the child that he is, I know he is going to ask me about our origins again today. I needed to have something prepared, so I decided to take a few hours and try to find out what I believe about where we came from. This is essentially the story that I’m comfortable enough transmitting to my child:
A long time ago, there was a really really really big star. This star was a gigantic ball of energy. The energy was organized into little packages that scientists call particles, but we can call it stardust. At some point, this star had so much energy that it just couldn’t contain itself any longer and it had to let some of the energy out. All the energy could not fit into the space that the star was in anymore. So, it exploded. And all of the energy from the star shot all of the stardust out into space.
That stardust was flying through space and started to lose some of its energy and cool off. As it cooled off, it started to group together into more complicated things that we call atoms. Atoms make up everything in our world. And atoms get together in different amounts and make elements. Elements are just groups of atoms that all have different characters. Oxygen is an element. We breathe oxygen in the air. Carbon is an element and that makes up a lot of our bodies and the food we eat. And Helium is an element and helium makes our balloons float. There are all kinds of different elements and they all can do different things. Some elements are attracted to one another kind of like magnets.
Eventually, some elements started to be attracted to one another and form collections of elements, called molecules. And some of these molecules started to be attracted to other molecules and form crystals like the ones that you find on the ground and the crystals that are rock candy (my kid knows about rock candy, and candy references always get a lot of mileage). But some of the molecules were attracted to one another and they formed patterns that could store information. The information was like a secret code that told a message of how to make a copy of the pattern from other molecules in the world. It’s like when you get a box of a bunch of parts, but there are instructions inside and when you read the instructions, you can take the pile of parts and make something useful out of it. It just so happened that the instructions stored by the pattern molecules was for taking other molecules and making things like bacteria and other simple living things. We call all the living things organisms. Organism sounds a lot like the word “organize”. When the stardust from the explosion finally got all organized, it turned into an organism, or a living thing!
Scientists think that the first organisms formed at the bottom of the ocean near a place where the water is very very hot. But there are so many places for things to live on the earth, that a few organisms started trying to live in other parts of the ocean and they had to grow and change to be able to survive. This is called adaptation. So, eventually the organisms in the ocean got more and more complicated in order to survive and they ended up looking a lot like fish. Then the fish changed and adapted and some of them grew legs and started to live on the land. And once animals and plants were living on land, all kinds of changes started happening and eventually there were primates. Primates are like monkeys and gorillas and humans. We are the humans and we are only part of the process of evolution. Evolution is what you call it when there is a change in the information of a group of organisms from one generation to the next. So as the days go by, we are still evolving into more complicated organisms, just like the bacteria started evolving a long time ago.
So, no one knows for sure, but scientists are still discovering clues about how people came to exist. Some people do not believe the scientists and they choose to believe that a person or god made all the humans. That is not what I believe, but you will have to hear all of the stories and explanations and choose what you believe is the answer.
I looked around for some resources on this topic of what to say to your kid about evolution and the origin of humans, but that information was not readily available to me. It’s likely that my version is incomplete, and I have definitely left some things out on purpose for the sake of keeping it simple, but I feel like this explanation is one that hits the main points and can be revised a little and augmented as my son wants to discuss it more. It occurred to me that this story I’m going to tell my child is really different from the story or lack of story that was told to me and the generations before us. And no one can even be sure that my story is the right one. Last week, someone told me: “parenting is a constant do-over.” I think that telling the story of our origin should also be a constant do-over.