Encouraging Children to Celebrate Creation and Science: An Interview with Matthew Paul Turner


Cover of When God Made the WorldTell us a little bit about your faith and career background.

I grew up in the small town of Chestertown, Maryland. I grew up in a really small, rural, farming community. When I was four years old, my family helped start an independent fundamental Baptist church in my hometown. I attended that church until I was 19, and went to the Christian school that was associated with it. I really wanted to be a songwriter, or go into Christian music on some level. I ended up becoming the Music and Entertainment Editor for Crosswalk.com, and then editor of CCM Magazine not long after.

The one thing that I learned in those roles was that, while I was not a perfect writer, I did have a writing voice. Putting that voice down on paper was very easy for me, and so I really enjoyed that process of writing and interviewing people—telling stories and engaging with my own story. So I became a writer and I wrote my first two books. However, because I didn’t have a background in theology and I wasn’t a pastor, I was struggling to find where I fit in in the Christian publishing world. Once I wrote a children’s book, that has been my path since then.

While growing up, in your church and school environment, did you experience a lot of science and faith tension?

The book of Genesis was our science book. A traveling evangelist in our denomination would go around talking about creation science. He would come around probably every year or so and he would bring this humongous imprint of a foot, that he said was like what Adam’s footprint was.

The church was where we learned all this stuff, but then it was in the school where it played out. In science class we had textbooks that were created by a school in the denomination. Our biology class was all very “biblical.” We loved science when it came to our health and what the medical community could do for us. But anything about how things began or where things came from, any mention of Darwin was just looked down on. I remember every time we would watch anything about wildlife or nature that was produced by National Geographic or something like that, there was always an audible groan from every adult in the room whenever somebody would mention anything that was not 6,000 years or less. Every time a video would mention something like “millions of years,” you felt the tension.

What were the turning points for you out of that worldview that supported a young earth? 

When you grow up in that kind of environment, there’s such a lack of knowledge, and once you leave, relearning some of that stuff is hard. It’s a process. I didn’t start to rethink my understanding of how science and faith worked together until I moved to Northern Virginia a couple years after college, and I started going to a church that was a part of a denomination that did not have the same baggage and misunderstandings that so many churches I knew of had when it came to science, Genesis, and all those things. And then later on, I read a book called Thank God for Evolution, and it opened my eyes to see that these things can work together and don’t have to be at odds with each other. Is it always this like perfect little bow? No, but it doesn’t have to be constantly fighting each other. I came to accept that the Genesis story doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation for my faith to be intact.

a mother reading a book to two children on a bed

What was the journey like to becoming a children’s author?

While in the midst of writing other books, my wife and I had just had our second child, Adeline. Jessica said, “You know what? I think you should consider writing a children’s book.” She knew that I liked writing, and I would often make up rhymes for birthday celebrations and events like that. I finally said, “Okay, fine, I’ll try it.” In the beginning, I wrote a whole bunch of really awful rhymes and I didn’t have a really good idea. And then finally I came up with this concept of God making light and how I could relate it to a child, being born with light inside them. I wrote the book called God Made Light and my agent sent it out to every publisher in the faith world that dealt with children’s books. And every single one of them came back, “No.” We ended up self-publishing it. Then a publisher came back and said, “We want to do this.” and a few months later, they offered me a book deal. The first children’s book with a publisher came out in 2017, called When God Made You. They rereleased When God Made Light for the second book. The books that I write for kids seem to have found a place that people connect with and find useful in their homes or at their bedtimes. I never in a million years thought that writing for children would be something that I would enjoy and really find a lot of creative fulfillment in. But I truly love it.

There are many books about creation for kids. What was your intention for this book, and what makes yours unique from everybody else’s?

I always felt like I wanted to write at least one more, “When God Made” book. My editor told me, “I think you need to do When God Made the World.” And I thought, “I don’t know if I want to do that.” I was hesitant because it would be the first book I wrote based loosely on a story from the Bible. I wondered things like: Am I able to be myself with this book? Can I come up with a rhyming text that not only celebrates and retells the narrative well but also presents it in a way that leaves room for science and moments that create dialogue and questions? Can I use the word evolve in a book about the creation story?

I wanted to create a book that really celebrated the creation story, but one that also celebrated the truth about science. I wanted it to serve as a reminder that everything that my kids are learning at school doesn’t have to fly in the face of the things that we learn on Sunday morning. How it differs from so many other creation books is simply that I’m leaving space for grace, for questions, and room for things to not be so literal. My hope is that this book celebrates the beauty of creation, celebrates the story well, and doesn’t create more tension than what already exists between faith and science.

We also wanted to celebrate diversity throughout the book. We included a child in a wheelchair, because that’s the reality we live in, and representation matters. We wanted every child who is in a wheelchair or every kid who uses a hearing aid to know that they’re a valuable and beloved part of creation. There are very intentional things about how we talk about or how we illustrated so many of the things. Now, there’s also a page that has all these birds and these birds are all carrying the kids. And so it’s as much a magical reading experience as it is an attempt to celebrate reality.

What kinds of questions are you hoping that kids will ask when they read this book?

I hope that they will ask, “How can we take care of the Earth?” As a kid, I remember faith and science being at odds with each other, but it was always regarding how the world began. Today it’s more about how the world is, and how we could be doing a better job of taking care of it. For some reason, in many churches, taking care of our planet is contradictory to what they believe is “biblically true.” So I hope that it creates a dialogue that, wakens them up to taking care of the planet. If we believe that this planet was made by our creator, then shouldn’t we be responsible for being kind to it, not abusing it, and taking care of it for future generations? And so those are the questions that I hope they ponder.

So my goal is not to beat the concept of climate change into a kid’s head, but I want them to find their role in it all. I wrote, “So use every gift, every talent or shtick. Make the world better with your God given trick. Bring smiles to faces, show love and good graces to those who need hope in all different places. Discover a star, a planet or moon or help keep a forest from dying too soon. Save a whale, hug a tree, protect every bee, recycle, repurpose, reject apathy.”

little girl planting in a garden with an adult

I’m retelling a story, that people all over the world celebrate and have an attachment to, and in some cases an unhealthy attachment to. I wanted to do it justice, but then I also wanted to leave some room in the narrative for people to ask their kids questions, for their kids to ask those questions back. And to celebrate the story and celebrate creation well.

 


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About the Authors

  • Matthew Paul Turner

    Matthew Paul Turner

    Matthew Paul Turner is the author of sixteen books, including the best-selling When God Made You and When God Made Light. Matthew, his wife, Jessica, and their three children live in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Hillary Rankin

    Hillary Rankin

    Hillary is currently serving BioLogos as the Digital Content Specialist. She assists in the development, production and promotion of new content through various communication and social channels. Ever since her fascination with archaeology in childhood, she has been intrigued by the connection of scientific discoveries and the tradition of faith. She is appreciative for the role that BioLogos plays in creating the space for dialogue around this convergence of realms. Hillary received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a minor in Geology at The University of Tulsa. She and her husband are new to Michigan, and have been enjoying discovering all the local treasures in the food and nature. They also enjoy cooking, camping and rock climbing.