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By 
Elizabeth Fernandez
 on August 22, 2023

A Letter to My Kids about the Universe, Faith and Science

For astronomer Elizabeth Fernandez teaching our children about science and talking to them about God are some of the most beautiful gifts we can give to them.

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Kids looking closely at stream of water using magnifying glass

istockphoto.com/wundervisuals

Teaching our children about science is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give to them. Science helps us to understand how our natural world works. Not only does science help children understand cause and effect, but it also helps develop critical thinking skills and imagination. Science helps with reasoning. And perhaps most importantly, science teaches children that knowledge is a process. The first part of this process is the acceptance of our ignorance. We do not know everything. But, we want to learn! We make a hypothesis. We test. We challenge and question the results in an attempt to understand them.

We also seek to understand why the universe was created. As people of faith, we want to teach our children about the love of God and how they can establish a personal relationship with him. We teach them the power of prayer, how they are never alone, and how every one of them was created with intention and love. The challenge is how to allow both of these lines of thinking to flourish within our souls. We need to wrestle to align our “hows” with our “whys”. While it’s tempting to believe that this type of thinking is reserved for adults, it’s important to address these issues early in life.

So many college students show up in introductory physics, astronomy, biology, or chemistry classes without having considered these ideas before. Suddenly, they are bombarded with a plethora of new ideas and viewpoints, without ever having a chance to develop their own. It’s a gift to help our children develop their knowledge, to work out their critical thinking and analytical “muscles”. They thirst for knowledge and already have some big questions. Children are sponges and we, as parents and educators, are their first teachers.

Science helps us to understand how our natural world works…We also seek to understand why the universe was created…We need to wrestle to align our “hows” with our “whys”.

So here’s a letter I wrote to my kids, Jude and Marielle*, who are just starting elementary school. Perhaps you may find it useful for the children in your life. Or perhaps it will inspire you to write your own letter to your kids or start having faith and science conversations with them.

* The names of the author’s children have been changed for this article.

Dear kids,

Let me start this letter off by telling you how awesome you are. We just got back from the science museum, and you both just loved it. Jude, you loved the section that described how astronomers find planets around other stars. And Marielle, you were entranced by the video of baby cockroaches hatching. I admit, I was a bit more interested myself in the former rather than the latter, but I’m so proud that you both love learning!

A Cosmic Creation

I love learning too. Particularly about astronomy and where we come from. Do you know that when I was in graduate school, I studied when “God made light”? We know that God created the universe, and on the first day, God made light. Have you ever wondered what that means? Well, very early in the history of the Universe, light couldn’t travel very far. It was like light in a fog, bouncing around like an incessant ball in a pinball machine. The Universe was literally filled with light! Eventually, all that light broke free and traveled to us. We have a baby picture of our universe at this stage—it’s called the Cosmic Microwave Background. After that, the universe was dark for a long time, but then God made light again! Those were the first stars—lighting up the darkness around them and changing the Universe forever.  Those were the ones that I learned so much about in graduate school.

Of course, God created the Earth too. Jude, you’re right. He made it with his “materials,” sort of like your box of art supplies. God’s art supplies were what’s called a proto-planetary disk—a swirling circle of rocks, dust, and gas around the baby Sun. His artistic method was a bit unconventional—crashing giant rocks into one another—but it worked! He made all the planets, asteroids, moons, comets, and the beautiful world in which we live.

But God didn’t stop there. Next up was life! Palm trees, sharks, slugs, squirrels, mushrooms, bacteria, sunflowers, pandas, even baby cockroaches, and of course us! This life was all interconnected in huge ecosystems. It interacts with and depends on one another. The materials that God used to make life are the most beautiful materials of all—life itself. It’s a process called evolution—a complex but fascinating artistic method that involves tweaking something here and adjusting something there. It all plays out exceedingly slowly as more life arises, blooms, and unfolds. Eventually, we humans came into being.

Our Little Brothers and Sisters

These animals and plants around us are quite literally our little brothers and sisters. We are all connected. We all need each other. Plants help to give us the air we breathe. Bacteria in our tummies help to digest our food and help our bodies work in the way they’re supposed to. Bees pollinate the food we and other animals need to eat and help plants develop their own seeds. Each and every type of animal and plant has a role to play.

We have a role to play too. We are the older brothers and sisters. So what should we do? We take care of them! We don’t only take from them. We don’t simply use them for our own benefit. They deserve our love and respect. God even told us in the beginning that we are stewards—not conquerors.

The Creation of You

And of course, God made you. God made you out of love, with the help of Mommy and Daddy. And God continues to create you every day, with your help. You and God are working as a team on the most amazing masterpiece—you. Together you are creating, molding, and developing the person who you are and who you will become. Don’t ever forget your role in that creation—or God’s.

 

A closeup of a kids hands holding crayons of various colors

Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

God continues to create you every day, with your help. You and God are working as a team on the most amazing masterpiece—you…Don’t ever forget your role in that creation—or God’s.

 

Don’t Lose Hope

You kids are amazing, and I hope you put your talents to good use. I’ll be honest. Sometimes, life is hard. There are problems that are really tough to solve. There are diseases that we don’t know how to cure. There are places where people don’t have enough food. The climate of the world is changing, and we don’t know how, or even if, we can stop it. And there are entire groups of animals and plants disappearing every day.

But God did not intend for us to be hopeless. He gave you gifts and talents. He gave you your creativity, your intelligence, your compassion, and your love. Use them the best you can. If everyone did this, who knows what problems we might solve?

The Vastness of Creation

Do you know why I studied astronomy? Well, for one, it’s fascinating and beautiful. The Universe is big. Really BIG. How the Universe works is hard to understand, but it’s so much fun to figure out! But what’s also amazing is that God created this Universe. Studying this Universe tells me a bit about God. One thing that I’ve learned is that he’s really creative. He would have to be to create something so mind-bogglingly big and beautiful. He could have made just our Earth. But he didn’t. He’s committed to this Universe. He didn’t spare any of his creativity or energy. That speaks to his overabundance of love, and a profusion of creative power.

Then there’s math. This underlying structure to, well, everything. God didn’t make things willy-nilly. He did things with great care and thought—and we have the beauty of mathematics to prove it.

 

A young child wearing a lab coat and goggles looking at a bucket overflowing with steam (likely from liquid nitrogen or dry ice)

Photo by YY TEOH on Unsplash

…learn about God and creation in all the ways you can…Through the Bible. Through science. Through math. Through other people. Through your own heart. No matter how much you learn, there is always more. God is infinite and never-ending, yet knowable.

 

The universe is big. God is bigger. I believe that God is bigger than any one way of thinking, book, or even species can comprehend. That’s why I think it’s good to learn about God and creation in all the ways you can. Through religion. Through the Bible. Through science. Through math. Through other people. Through your own heart. No matter how much you learn, there is always more. God is infinite and never-ending, yet knowable. He wants you to get to know him, to question him, to have fun with him. He’s the best friend you will ever have and your parent in heaven.

And he loves you more than you can ever imagine, just like I do. 

Love,

Mommy

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About the author

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Elizabeth Fernandez

Elizabeth Fernandez is a science writer and communicator who is interested in the interface between science and technology in society. She often writes about science and philosophy, science and religion, astronomy, physics, and geology.  Her work appears in Big Think, Symmetry Magazine, Sky & Telescope, Space.com, Freethink, and Forbes.com. Because of her work on the intersection of science and religion, she was named a Sinai and Synapses Fellow from 2019 to 2021. She has a PhD in astrophysics and has worked around the world, using telescopes both on the ground and in space. She also was the host and producer of SparkDialog Podcasts, a podcast on science and society.  Besides science, she loves trying out different forms of art, enjoys pretty much every genre of music in existence, and seeks out bizarre and unique musical instruments.  She has a passion for interfaith relations, working with people from many countries and backgrounds and promoting dialog between faiths. You can learn more about her at sparkdialog.com or follow her on Twitter @sparkdialog.