Science Geek Sam and his Secret Logbook by Corien Oranje and Cees Dekker. Lions Children’s Books, Oxford England, 2017. 198 pages. $15.88
As parents of three inquisitive children, my husband and I are often asked challenging questions that require more than trite answers. Examining the existence of God, the historical reliability of the Bible and evidence for evolution has required some intentional thinking and learning on our parts. And instead of simply answering their questions and imposing our own ideas on these topics, we have learned that encouraging self-directed discovery, with some guidance, promotes deeper understanding and a certain amount of ownership in their educational and spiritual growth.
However, as an evolutionary creationist and homeschooling parent, I have found that navigating science and faith issues with our children can be difficult, as school age appropriate resources are few and far between. The vast majority of resources and curriculum endorse a young earth creationist perspective that denies the validity of modern science, while others push scientism and deny the existence of a creator God. Either way, parents and teachers are forced to improvise and piecemeal material that would accurately present an EC perspective.
Thankfully, Corien Oranje and Cees Dekker address this need with a wonderful book for middle school aged children. Science Geek Sam and his Secret Logbook is a charming story that captures how one can love God and science harmoniously. This book is a true treasure in a world lacking resources for parents who want to present to their children an evolutionary creationist perspective on science. It was originally written in Dutch, translated into English and recently released in the US.
Through the adventures and discoveries of its young protagonist, Sam, the reader is invited into the world of this English schoolboy, as he thoughtfully navigates some challenging questions surrounding God and His world. Add to that a delightful story about friendships and coming of age, and you have a must-read for the whole family.
Our hero, Sam Billington, is a Year 6 student at Trinity Primary School in the UK. He is your quintessential science geek. He loves fossils, the number Pi, chess, Saturn, and his teacher Mr. Nolan. His list of dislikes is a bit smaller and include: PE, the climbing wall, obstacle courses, and bullies. Professionally, his goal is to become an astronaut, although being an inventor would come in handy too! And if Sam could travel back in time, he would want to witness Jesus walking on water and observe the shocked looks on the disciples’ faces.
Like most Year 6 students, puberty is beginning to rear its ugly head in Sam’s life, bringing with it the need for deodorant and proper hygiene. Include some confusing feelings about a girl named Christy, along with a dose of parental angst, and you get the idea of what it is like to be this particular tween.
When a meteorite makes a crash landing on the school bike shed, obliterating all of its contents, Sam’s otherwise humdrum life suddenly becomes much more interesting. He graduates from simply being the son of cheese-shop owners and brother of “snotty Simon” and Lottie, to Sam the detective—a boy unafraid of asking some of life’s tricky questions about science and Christianity.
The meteorite’s plummet to Earth also equips Mr. Nolan with a series of teachable moments. Sensing his students are upset about this near brush with death, Mr. Nolan decides to change up the normal classroom routine. Like any savvy teacher who knows that variety is the spice of life, he proposes a “people library”: a group of people with interesting jobs that come and share their interesting facts and ideas with the students. Sam and his classmates heartily embrace this deviation from the everyday. And as the meteorite is fresh in his mind, Sam decides to volunteer his uncle, who “knows everything about meteorites”(31).
Enter Jack, Sam’s paleontologist uncle. Uncle Jack is the first of those included in the “people library” to visit Sam’s class. He is excited and passionate about this meteorite and is ready to provide his expertise to this captivated audience on the wonders and mysteries of the universe. But what Uncle Jack doesn’t realize is that he is entering a classroom filled with a diversity of viewpoints on origins, where a few students and their parents might be downright hostile towards his scientific understanding of the world. It is a Christian school after all and he must tread carefully!
However, he jumps right into the potential controversy and proceeds to describe the universe’s beginning as the Big Bang—an event which occured 13.8 billion years ago. Uncle Jack’s news flash is received with a mix of fascination, nervousness and hostility. What could he expect when he is encouraging a serious paradigm shift in their thinking? Some students wonder: How could billions of years be true, when they had been taught from pre-school that the universe was young? For them, the Big Bang was an impossible fairy tale, “made up by people who don’t believe in God” (37).
Uncle Jack has inadvertently opened up a floodgate of conversations and potential conflict surrounding the origins debate within this small Christian school. Sam and his classmates return home that afternoon to discuss with their families what they have learned in that day’s “people library”.
The following school day brings a flurry of parental visits. Vigorous arm waving and angry undertones signal to the students that Mr Nolan has his hands full. Enter Louise, parent of Sam’s classmate. Under the guise of teaching the class about all things horses, she attempts to tackle the conflict at hand and dispel the “cooked up” theory of billions of years. Her intent is to unravel the premises of Uncle Jack’s presentation, using common young-earth creationist arguments, but instead she causes confusion and further questions.
Mr Nolan sees his students’ uncertainty as an opportunity for further learning. To better understand how life began on earth, he takes Sam and his classmates out of the classroom and into the places that held the clues to this knowledge. Through a series of visits to a museum, university laboratory, and planetarium, the Year 6 students learn that investigating, asking questions, and gathering evidence is vital to making informed decisions on the truthfulness of ideas.
And fortunately for Sam, he can use Uncle Jack as his sounding board and guide in these scientific and theological investigations. Through a series of email exchanges, Uncle Jack and Sam explore everything from evolution, the fossil record, Adam and Eve, and miracles, all while affirming that God has purposefully created the universe and everything in it. Uncle Jack provides Sam with answers to many of his scientific questions, guidance and clarity on some points of theological conflict, and space for those questions that have open-ended answers.
From the moment this amazing meteorite lands near Trinity Primary School, Sam and his classmates begin an adventure into the wonders and mysteries of God’s creation. Their questions and quandaries on science and their Christian faith are lovingly addressed by the adults in their lives. And through the gentle guidance by Mr. Nolan and Uncle Jack, Sam begins to see the beautiful, harmonious relationship between his Christian faith and his scientific understanding of the world.