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Taylor Halverson: Teaching faith and science to children

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 23 2016 5:00 a.m. MST

This painting shows Eve and Adam after the fall.

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One evening after dinner and playing games with my kids I sat down in my comfortable La-Z-Boy chair in the family room. I had not intended or planned to have a serious or significant conversation with my kids moments later.

But as many parents know, that is how teaching moments happen as a parent, at moments not of our choosing.

On my iPad, I began scrolling through science documentaries on YouTube. I found one produced by NOVA PBS titled "What Darwin Never Knew." Intrigued, and always up for learning, I started watching it.

As soon as they heard the show starting, they stopped their activities and came running over to see what was happening on the iPad.

Five-and-half-year-old Rachel watched for about 20 minutes before she went to read books with my wife. David, who is 8½ years old, continued watching for 40 minutes, until it was nearly time for him to be in bed. But first, I took a few minutes to help David understand the principles of evolution.

Like other parents, we have always expressed trust and love to our children and in the warm embrace of that love and trust, have always talked to our children openly about difficult topics.

For some context, soon after David’s eighth birthday we had “The Talk” with him. The book "How to Talk to Your Child About Sex" by Richard and Linda Eyre encourages talking sooner rather than later with children. Because of “The Talk,” David understood how humans and animals reproduce and share their traits with offspring, which are important principles in evolution.

Science topics, including evolution, can seem like complex topics. So contrary to my expectations, David understood the basics of evolution from watching the video. For example, we talked about how dog breeders created a rabbit hunting dog from a greyhound and a terrier. David realized “when a fast dog and a hunting dog create a baby dog, that baby dog will love hunting and will be fast enough to catch rabbits!”

We then talked about another example. And at the end, David was able to articulate in his understanding and vocabulary a key principle of evolution: natural selection can equal change through competition (David called it “continually balance”).

Taylor: David, which zebras do lions catch and eat?

David: The slow and sick ones.

Taylor: So what types of zebras are left to create new zebras?

David: Only fast zebras are left to reproduce.

Taylor: Right, what then happens to the slow lions?

David: The slow lions die so only the fast lions are left to reproduce.

Taylor: Right.

David: (with dawning comprehension) So the animals continually balance.

Taylor: Exactly.

Truth is simple, beautiful and delicious.

I helped David to see how amazing the ideas of evolution are and how fun and exciting science and learning can be.

We then talked about Adam and Eve. I told David that I didn’t know how to fully explain the relationships between evolution and Adam and Eve but that I believed in both.

I then talked about how some people only accept religion and scripture or just science.

Taylor: David, if you were playing with a large puzzle full of many pieces and you found two beautiful pieces that didn’t seem to immediately fit together, what would you do?

David: I would keep playing and look for other pieces that would help the other two fit together.

Taylor: Good thinking. Science and religion are just like that, two beautiful pieces in a larger puzzle. We can accept all the beauty in the world, even if sometimes it doesn’t seem to fit together. We shouldn’t throw any of it away. Rather, we should be inspired to keep seeking and learning.

Taylor: Sometimes people throw away the science or the religion piece. What do you think then happens?

David: They get angry because things don’t fit together.

Taylor: Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. But you are right! I know people (typically on Facebook) that get angry about lots of stuff, typically because they are missing puzzle pieces or they have thrown away pieces that they once had like religion or science.

We can accept all truth. We can love all truth. Even if the truth sometimes doesn’t seem to fit together. God is truth, and if we are persistent he will help us to “know the truth of all things” (see Moroni 10:5).

Taylor Halverson (Ph.Ds: Biblical Studies; Instructional Technology) is a BYU Teaching & Learning Consultant. http://taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.

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