Bridging the Gap in Children's Books
Many children receive young earth teaching by default. An increase in children's literature about faith and science can help address the conflict narrative early.
I first considered writing a children’s book dealing with the intersection of science and faith when my daughter had just turned 10. She went to a state primary school that is sympathetic to Christianity (it observes all the Christian festivals, says the Lord’s prayer in assemblies, and has a nativity play each year) but is not a Christian school, and she also attends a Baptist church. There was no academic interface between science and religion at her school—which is the normal situation in state schools in Britain—while at Sunday School she was mainly exposed to young earth creation teaching. Although the church did not preach young earth creationism to adults, material for the youngest children still did, by default of the materials used.
In my observation, many Sunday Schools don’t teach young earth creationism as a deliberate ideological stance, but rather end up doing it because the resources available to them follow that narrative. Pre-school picture books for children tend to be intersectionally educational, teaching numeracy, literacy and “naming” of objects, animals, colours, etc. The seven days of creation are an easy framework for an author to follow, allowing for all these educational elements, so it’s the default setting for religious books about “how the world was made.” I would suggest parents check out what resources are being used in their Sunday Schools and point the teachers and organisers to alternative resources (there are some excellent ones produced by Faraday Kids) where the focus is on the fact that God made, rather than the numerical seven-day approach. Some of these resources also include pictures of dinosaurs in the early creation stories, so will help lay the foundation for discussions at a later stage about how old the earth really is.
I admit to not have been aware that there was a problem with creation resources until my daughter was seven, and she started hearing comments from her classmates saying they believe in science not God—no doubt repeating what they have heard at home and she needed assurance that being a Christian does not mean she believes “stupid stuff” like some children had suggested. We then had conversations about how the world was made, whether Adam and Eve really existed, whether the world really was only six thousand years old, whether or not science disproves God, and that many scientists also believe in God. At the time, I had no age-appropriate resources to draw on. As a result of my experience, I decided to contribute to a project initiated by the Faraday Institute of Science and Religion to produce resources to help parents, children and teachers positively engage in discussions around issues of science and faith.
I conducted a survey of commercial secular and Christian bookshops, and libraries, to determine what was readily available to parents and children. The findings indicated a clear separation between science and faith in both secular bookshops and libraries, which came as no surprise, but what was more surprising (and disappointing) was the almost complete absence of books for children with any kind of scientific content in Christian bookshops.
Although my previous experience was in writing picture books for 3–6-year-olds, my publisher (SPCK, in collaboration with Faraday Kids) asked me to instead produce a graphic novel for 7–9s, as this was a key age group in which, as my daughter’s experience showed, children were considering the conflict narrative for themselves.
I decided for my first story to focus on Charles Babbage, the father of computing, who in his own time dealt with conflict between established church teaching and new scientific discoveries. My second reason for choosing him was a narrative and didactic one: I could show how his discoveries and inventions paved the way for the computing technology with which children are familiar today.
Fast forward five and a half years and my contribution to Faraday Kids has finally hit the shelves. Charles Babbage and the Curious Computer is the first in the Time-Twisters series about a school science club that travels through time to meet scientists who have a Christian faith. The cast of characters is racially diverse and includes children with disabilities. One of them, Meg, is an autistic child, based on my daughter. Alongside the educational content, it’s written as an adventure story, with there being a threat that the children could be stuck in time forever.
The Time-Twisters series is compatible with the UK Key Stage 2 (US grades 4-6) science curriculum and teaches children about scientific discoveries or inventions and how they impact the world today. They also look at what the scientists believed about God and their Christian faith. In the case of the first book, that Charles Babbage believed God programmed the world in advance, like his computing machine, and that the recent discoveries about evolution could be accounted for as something that God had allowed for in his plan. The faith element is very subtly presented and this, and the science, can be followed up with free resources on the Faraday Kids website, where you can also find other books published as part of the project.
I am very proud to have been part of this effort to end the conflict narrative for children and wish that I had been aware of more science-friendly Christian resources when my daughter was younger. I hope that new contributions will help parents start healthy conversations about science and faith and affirm that there need be no conflict between the two.
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