I received the following e-mail from a DRE in Iowa who is dealing with a question that often comes up. (The book she is referring to is God’s Library: A Catholic Introduction to the World’s Greatest Book). Following the e-mail is my reply:
We have so many issues with children and adults interpreting the Bible literally! I am often unsure how to answer them because I don’t want to think that the Bible is just stories! It’s so tricky. So I am writing to you for some advice. Our latest question comes from an 8th grade student in our Catholic school but it’s been asked before by some of our younger students too! The question is: how do dinosaurs fit into the creation story? I would like to have your perspective on how to answer this question for middle school, elementary school and adults. I talked with the 8th grade religion teacher and tried to explain what you said in your book and I also copied the information on Biblical inerrancy from the Finding God website. I would appreciate any help you can give me!
I understand the problem that you are addressing. It is indeed tricky. At the same time, I think some straightforwardness is needed here as well. I recommend the following:
I would affirm the 8th grader for realizing that dinosaurs are not mentioned in the creation story.
Tell him/her that this is a clue about what kind of book the Bible is
Explain that science strives to explain the truth of HOW creation happened
Explain that the Bible teaches us the truth about God’s relationship to creation (the WHY of creation)
Point out that scientists didn’t really “discover” the existence of dinosaurs until the early 1800’s. When the Bible was written, there was no scientific understanding of dinosaurs
The bottom line is, as Catholics, we don’t have to choose between evolution and creationism. We can accept the truth that both teach as long as we realize that they are teaching different types of truth.
Steer clear from suggesting that Adam and Eve walked around with dinosaurs…that’s trying to bend the creation story to explain science.
To be blunt: dinosaurs DON’T fit into the creation story other than the fact that Genesis tells us that God created “all kinds of living creatures.” (Gn 1:24)
However, the creation story teaches us what God has to do with evolution and dinosaurs! God is the creator of all things and all things are created good!
I hope this is helpful. It’s not always easy to answer such a complex question in a short time but sometimes less is more! Good luck. -joe
When this and simular issues come up with my older students I take some time to talk to them about the difference between Truth and facts. I point out to them that facts and our interpretation of them can change over time change as we grow in our understaning both persaonally and as the human race. For example in the last one hundred years we went from learning about cells as the building blocks for living things to thinking of them as the smallest definable elements to talking about quarks all based upon facts.
Truth on the other hand does not change in the same way. Truth while we may come to understand it more deeply ultimately does not substantially change.
So for example with the creation story the “facts” that define the story i.e. 7 days of creation may seem out of date and inaccurate according to our scientific understanding of the world. However the Truth of the story that God with great loving care created all things and is the author of all life doesn’t change.
Maura, very well said! Thanks for contributing another very effective way of responding to this issue.
When I have to do the creation narrative, I always point out that no human was alive to witness and write it down as it happened. God has to give the visions to His witnesses according to images they can understand (the deep eg.). I lead them through some of things that science tell us (big bang, photosynthesis, etc.) and point out how much the descriptions in the creation narrative fits those as well (big bang: let there be light; photosynthesis leads to O2 in atmosphere: making it transparent and allowing sun, moon and stars to be seen, and so on) Then I simply say, “Even though this creation story is meant to show us “why” God created us and is above/outside of all created things that other people worshipped as gods, it is still amazing how well it still describes our present understanding of “how.” Most people can easily see the images, which makes it no surprise that most people believe in a Creator.
Well said, Mallys!