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Featuring guest Lizzie Henderson

Lizzie Henderson | Different Kinds of I Don’t Know

A discussion about the ways we can encourage questions and creativity so that children can grow up with the tools to explore hard concepts in science and faith.


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surprised kid with book

A discussion about the ways we can encourage questions and creativity so that children can grow up with the tools to explore hard concepts in science and faith.

Description

Kids ask a lot of questions. When those questions come to hard topics about science and faith it can be tempting to dismiss them or brush them off or to think they are too young to engage with the questions. But often this shows children that their questions are not welcome and that their curiosity is dangerous. Lizzie Henderson and Faith Stults both work on developing resources for children to engage in the science and faith conversation and they sit down to talk about ways to encourage questions and creativity so that children can grow up with the tools to explore hard concepts without fear and without the thought that they must choose between faith and science.

Before You Read

Dear reader,

We’ll get right to it: Young people today are departing the faith in historic numbers as the church is either unwilling or unable to address their questions on science and faith. BioLogos is hosting those tough conversations. Not with anger, but with grace. Not with a simplistic position to earn credibility on the left or the right, but a message that is informed, faithful, and hopeful.

Although voices on both sides are loud and extreme, we are breaking through. But as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of donors like you to continue this challenging work. Your tax deductible gift today will help us continue to counter the polarizing narratives of today with a message that is informed, hopeful, and faithful.

Transcript

Henderson:

A young person might hear one thing from a pastor who they trust and one thing from a teacher who they trust and one thing from a parent who they trust. And having said to them, “this is the right answer” can kind of leave them in a place of I don’t know whether to trust these people anymore. But equipping them with the tools to go and explore and think for themselves and hopefully have helpful discussion with those people who they trust should help them and ideally, those that they’re talking to, to develop a way of thinking and a way of exploring these questions that will benefit them far beyond that initial conversation.

I’m Lizzie Henderson. I’m the Youth and Schools Program co-director at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.

Hoogerwerf: 

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Colin Hoogerwerf. Jim Stump is away on sabbatical this fall and so we’re bringing in some new voices to the podcast. I’m here today with Faith Stults. Welcome Faith. 

Stults:

Thanks!

Hoogerwerf: 

And I guess you’re not entirely new to the podcast. You joined Jim for our interview with Regina McCurdy in episode 104 and listeners might know your voice from the occasional break in the middle of episodes talking about Integrate, our biology curriculum for highschoolers.  

Stults:

And both of those things relate to the conversation today, which is also about education. 

Hoogerwerf: 

And education specifically for pretty young kids, which is something that sometimes gets missed when we’re talking about science and religion. Why is that? Are the topics just too hard for really little kids? 

Stults:

I think that’s sometimes the intuition. But I think kids can really handle more advanced conversation that we usually give them credit for. And we do a disservice if we try to avoid answering their questions until they are older. 

Hoogerwerf: 

That comes up a bit in the conversation and Lizzie gives some great advice for how to talk to kids about science and religion. Anything else you want to say before we start? 

Stults: 

Well Lizzie is obviously from the UK. We talk a little bit about the differences in science and religion between the US and the UK, which are interesting and which we’ve talked a bit about in other recent episodes. But when it comes to how to talk to kids, it really seems pretty universal. 

Hoogerwerf: 

Alright, take it away. 

Interview Part One

Stults:

Lizzie, thanks for joining us on the podcast. We are actually sitting here in the Faraday offices in—I’m going to call this the library. 

Henderson:

That’s the place. 

Stults:

We are surrounded by bookshelves. I have a lot of science and faith books myself. BioLogos has quite a library. But this outdoes us, I think. There are a lot of books around us about science and faith, which gets me really excited to have a good conversation with you. So can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the science and faith conversation?

Henderson:

Absolutely. So for me, it actually started fairly young. I grew up in a Christian family, and was always really encouraged to think about my faith, to explore it, to think about what my questions were, and what possible answers might be out there and explore whether Christianity made sense to me in terms of those questions, which it continues to do so. And I’ve been very grateful for that kind of very exploratory approach to faith being encouraged all my life. I also was always very interested in nature, and one of those kids who was always out and about getting covered in mud. And, you know, exploring hedges and ditches and trees and things and coming back with all kinds of fun bugs in jam jars, and whatever. And so that was very much a part of life as well, the kind of excitement about nature and exploring. And as I got a bit older, I realized that was called Science, essentially, I also had this kind of the sort of drive that lots of kids have to figure out how things are working, and how it all fits together. So kind of pursuing science, in that way, was important to me all the way through. 

And when I was in primary school, as we call it over here, so around seven, eight years old, a little bit older, I started to get some questions from people. And some comments being like, oh, well, you know, you can’t really be a scientist and a Christian. Or a little bit along those lines of “you kind of have to choose” or “how can you bring those two things together?” And so I started to become a little bit aware of the idea that the two things maybe didn’t fit together. As I was asking some of those questions that you come up with very naturally when you’re reading Bible stories, I’m learning about scientific ideas, and thankfully, I was surrounded by some people who helped me to explore some of those ideas. And those questions, and my parents in particular, were quite helpful in helping me to explore and think through some of the ideas about how science and faith might interact and might go together and some of the people that were putting those things together, and had done throughout history. So my journey of science of faith, I guess, started quite early. And through primary school, and through my secondary schooling, I was reading more and more and listening more and more, and exploring those ideas and kind of forming my views and my picture of how these things went together and thankfully, came across enough ideas that the two could work together very well. And that actually, life got a whole lot more exciting when you put these two things together. And it became a little bit of a kind of personal mission for me. I had a lot of conversations with friends and teachers and others about this, these kinds of topics, as I continued my studies in science, through my A levels over here at 18. And then through university. I came to Cambridge University, studied natural sciences. I was studying a lot of evolutionary biology, some geology, some history and philosophy of science. All really to kind of build into my ability to speak about these topics of science and faith and had a lot of very interesting conversations, as you might imagine, through those studies, with colleagues and friends and professors, and all sorts of people and made some connections with the Faraday Institute, through all of that. And the rest is history, as they say.

Stults:

That’s interesting. We in the US, I think, a lot of kids have a similar experience of picking up either directly or indirectly that they have to choose between science and faith. And it’s sometimes easy to think that in the UK, you don’t have those same science and faith conflict issues, and they look different over here, but it sounds like there’s still some tension there for kids and adults to work through sometimes.

Henderson:

Yeah, I think it’s very common. And what we find from our work with young people and those who are working with them is it seems very common for young people to grow up and develop this idea that the two are incompatible, or at least totally distinct, and have no kind of interplay at all, easily. By the time they’re 9, 10, 11 years old, if not much earlier, some of the influences on that seem to be a lack of resources. And to help them think about the two things coming together, a lot of the resources that you encounter as a young person in this country, and many others will, they may be Bible based resources for those growing up in a Christian environment. And they will often avoid topics that might potentially be difficult or controversial. And so many of them will not mention any kind of science. Some of them will actively speak against it. And similarly, books and resources and videos and things that you might encounter about science will generally have very little or no relation, even to kind of wider, deeper, broader questions, let alone anything religion related. And some may speak actively against religious faith. And we find also for teachers, church, children’s workers, and youth workers, parents, pastors, many of them are aware that there’s some potential controversy around some of the questions that will usually come up first, around things like creation and evolution and those sorts of ideas. And quite often, the approach taken is to sort of sidestep and ignore those questions and ignore the potential controversy, usually in a very well meaning, fashion, you know? If you’re a teacher or a church children’s worker, and you’re sitting there with 30 kids in front of you with different parents and different backgrounds and somebody asks a question about “but did God make the world or was it the Big Bang?” and you’re not an expert in it? And you don’t know what everybody’s been told by their parents? It’s very understandable to do something like, “oh, we don’t have time for that right now.” Or, “no, I can’t answer that, we’re moving on” or “we’re doing something else” or just put your hand down. Very understandable. But if we’re not careful, that kind of response not only communicates, “we’re not talking about that now,” but it can communicate, you shouldn’t have asked that question. And kids also pick up very easily on all, the adult that I just asked that question to got very uncomfortable. And so I shouldn’t have asked it. And so you end up with—there are some quotes from some research that’s been done with young people about, they’re saying things like, “oh, well, we don’t ask our science teacher questions about religion, because they wouldn’t want to answer them.” And those sorts of things. So we end up in this situation where not only do young people stop asking those questions so much as they grow older. They kind of learn that asking those types of questions is wrong or unhelpful or uncomfortable. And so they kind of shut themselves off from this whole area of interdisciplinary questioning, particularly around things like science and faith. And as a result of that can come into this idea that the two just don’t work together.

Stults:

Yeah, and I think all of that sounds really similar to a lot of the American context as well. So what do you and the Faraday Institute do in your youth in schools program to address some of those things?

Henderson:

Oh, we do all sorts of things. I’ll try and summarize. So since the Faraday Institute began, there’s been a focus to some extent on working with young people and equipping young people and their teachers to address some of these questions about science and faith and science and religion. And since about 2013, I’ve been around trying to develop that particularly into sessions that we can run directly with young people in schools and churches in any kind of other location that might have us. And that will be with young people from ages of, kind of, two and three, right up to 18. Talking about these questions on a variety of different topics. It might be that we come in to talk about a specific curriculum topic that we’ve been asked to cover. We might talk generally about science and the wider world of society or science and religious faith, or in some occasions where we’re asked to talk specifically about particular topics relating to Christianity or biblical interpretation, those kinds of ideas. So we have a whole variety of sessions that we run. And they’re always very interactive, very question based. We like to blow things up and set fire to things because that’s what you do with science, right? So as the biologist but all in an effort to try and create a space for young people to know that they can ask these questions know that they can kind of drag those questions out of retirement, if they’re a bit older, and they’ve been pushing them down for a while, and to feel comfortable and safe exploring those questions and encouraged to to look further. 

As well as those sessions, we’ve been working on a number of resources. So we’ve, over the last few years, been producing some books with professional publishers on a whole variety of topics, some of which are making their way over to the states, gradually, for different ages. And some online resources, we have some websites that kind of present a lot of the content in sort of frequently asked questions kind of style. So questions that we hear from young people a lot with age specific, not necessarily answers, but responses that can help to kind of guide conversation along helpful lines, again, to open up and explore those questions further, rather than necessarily trying to give the answer, which is not always easy or simple, or, you know, necessary.

Stults:

Well it seems like there’s a big emphasis on it’s about asking the questions, not necessarily about giving the students the answers.

Henderson:

Absolutely. Yeah. Which I think is a very common and valid approach in terms of exploring these big questions to do with science and faith. Particularly, because so often, there are so many different views, so many different approaches, many of which will be valid or helpful. And the sensitivity around the topics also is such that, you know, a young person might hear one thing from a pastor who they trust and one thing from a teacher who they trust and one thing from a parent who they trust. And having said to them, “this is the right answer” can kind of leave them in a place of I don’t know whether to trust these people anymore. But equipping them with the tools to go and explore and think for themselves and hopefully have helpful discussion with those people who they trust should help them and ideally, those that they’re talking to, to develop a way of thinking and a way of exploring these questions that will benefit them far beyond that initial conversation.

Stults:

Yeah. What are some of the questions that you get from, say, primary school aged kids?

Henderson:  

Oh, gosh, all sorts of things. We actually fairly recently published a book called 101 Great Big Questions about God and Science, which draws on those questions that we’ve had from primary school students. We used a number of them directly in the book, and we invited a number of friends and colleagues to respond to those questions. I think we had about 70 to 80 contributors in the end, top scientists and theologians, many of whom you will know and have featured, to answer some of these fantastic and mind bending questions in about 200 words, in a way that could be understood by eight year olds, which was a challenge that, thankfully, the majority of people we contacted were up for. And I think everybody was pleased with the outcome. We certainly were.

Stults:

I have had a great time flipping through this book. It’s sitting on my desk right now. And if you are a parent of kids in that elementary age group, this is such a great resource to flip through all sorts of fun questions, with really thoughtful answers. Do you have a couple favorite questions from that book?

Henderson:

Do you know I get asked this all the time. It is hard to pick, I think some of my obvious favorites are those that just strike you as a little bit funny. Initially, we had one, could Jesus get out of a black hole?

Stults:

Valid question.

Henderson:

Valid question.

Stults:

What is the answer?

Henderson:

Oh, you’ll have to read the book. So we did actually, we sent this one to the Reverend Professor David Wilkinson, who I’m sure your audience will know, who is, you know, has a background in astrophysics and theology, and we thought who better to answer this question. And I think he had a lot of fun with it. We had others along the lines of thinking about evolution and things. Could humans ever become mermaids? Which, you know, again, valid question, it’s worth a look. All sorts of others, along with a number that you would expect the kind of introductory sort of, if we evolved how come there are still monkeys? Those kinds of things. Or did we evolve or did God make us? Did God make everything or was it the Big Bang? And then some that come from the way that we often talk about science and talk about theology, things like are we really made of stardust? What does that mean? Those sorts of things. So some of them with a bit more of the kind of straight sort of scientific input, but in that broader context, and others that really delve deep into what does it mean to put science and faith together as you explore things, along with the questions that inevitably come up wherever we go and whenever we talk about, you know, if if God is good, how come bad things happen? Some of them are questions like, where does anger come from? Or is it always bad to be angry and those kinds of things. So we had input from psychologists and all sorts of different branches of science and theology coming into this. And yeah, we’re really pleased with how they come together. And it does demonstrate a little bit of not only the breadth of questions that you get from young people, but also just the fact that children, who in many cases are very, very young, we get the same kinds of questions from, you know, three and four year olds, as you might from from adults. Maybe slightly different wording, sometimes. But it demonstrates that curiosity is there. And I think if we’re not careful, as adults, sometimes we can fall into the trap when we’re discussing some of these topics, we get very deep into the academics, we get very deep into a complicated way of discussing it. And then the idea of doing that with young people seems impossible or unnecessary. And we occasionally get responses from people along the lines of, oh, well, there’s no way we need to talk about this with children, they should wait till they’re, you know, 18 or 20. And then think about these science and faith topics. And showing them things like this book are demonstrating to them like, you know, I was having a conversation with a five year old the other day, and she asked me about Adam and Eve and how that fits with this idea of evolution. And if you shut down those questions at that age, then, you know, the 20 year old who comes out at the end is going to be far harder to work with, and is going to have a far harder time on their way there and through the rest of their life grappling with these questions when actually, if you use careful wording, and you think about it, and you engage with them where they’re at, we can begin that exploration when they’re five, and then where might they be when they’re 20?

Stults:

Well and I love the book shows that range of questions that can fall under this topic. It’s more than just if we evolved, what happened to Adam and Eve? Yeah, but these are some silly and creative and fun questions of well, could we evolve into mermaids? Which is a great question. And there’s good science there. There’s some interesting theology there. And it gets them, teaches kids that it’s okay to ask these questions and to be curious. And that there’s some interesting conversations to be had at this intersection between science and faith. And if you set that precedent for these younger kids, that it’s okay to ask these questions and have some conversations about this, as they get older, they have those muscles to ask the questions that then have a little bit more depth or complexity and or theological nuance that they’re ready to engage in those?

Henderson:

Absolutely, yeah. Because I mean, the the goal, if you like, of these kinds of discussions with young people, or even this whole field of science and faith is, as as far as I’m concerned, at least not to produce a generation of science faith scholars, it’s not to set up the fact that this area of science, Faith questioning is the one area you should be focusing on. But it’s a particular area where we can open up the idea of questioning and engaging with the wider world using all sorts of different types of thinking and knowledge to come together to help us think about the questions, the opportunities, the challenges that are in front of us. And this area of, of science, or faith, science and religion, in many cases, happens to be a bit of a kind of potential sort of stepping stone or stumbling block to that for people. And so if we can help them engage through these types of questions when they’re young, then as they grow up in they’re exploring ideas about the climate crisis, or it’s exploring, you know, public health crises that come away, but they’re also exploring what are the opportunities and the challenges of the technological development that’s going on? How do we deal with the poverty in our world? You know, how do we engage with all of these huge multidisciplinary topics that actually we need to be able to engage with you know, our, our politicians and our church leaders and our homemakers will all be better equipped to deal with engage with talk about teach about the the opportunities, the challenges that are in front of them, and you know, we make the world a better place

Stults:

There you go. Let’s do that. 

[musical interlude]

Stults:

Hi Listeners! On this podcast we hear a lot of stories of young people who consider leaving the church because of the tensions they find between science and faith. It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why we developed Integrate, a teaching resource, designed for classroom teachers and home educators. It seeks to equip the next generation of Christian leaders to be faithful, informed, and gracious voices engaging with the hard questions raised by science. To learn more just go to biologos dot org slash integrate. Alright, back to the conversation. 

Interview Part Two

Stults:

Speaking of public health crises and whatnot, students today are growing up in a really different world even than five years ago, much less 50 years ago. Do you think any different types of questions or different things today’s kids and youth need in a science and faith education than previous generations?

Henderson:

It’s a really interesting question. I think I’d say in some ways, yes. In other ways, no. Just to give a nice clear answer. We’re definitely seeing even in, you know, the kind of 10 years that I’ve been working with Faraday in this, we’ve seen a change in the way that young people are thinking and engaging with some of these topics. So our young people today in primary and elementary school are, particularly in the UK I think, far more aware of climate related topics, issues, you know, they are, by the time they’re seven or eight, they’re already bored with the idea of turn off the lights, do the recycling, you know, those things are not news anymore. And actually, things like what’s become termed eco-anxiety, so the idea that we’re fairly aware that the world is in a crisis and that it’s people’s fault but we don’t know what we can do about it. And some of the potential kind of intergenerational angst that comes with that is far more present now, I think, than it has been. And, you know, we saw that with all the school strikes and things. In the last few years, there’s an awareness there. And I think that that kind of idea represents something about these generations that are growing up at the moment, that they really, they are quite engaged in that kind of thinking, not necessarily all activism and such. And, but there’s something about wanting to make a difference, wanting to engage with these topics differently than our generation, when we were growing up. And so there are those kinds of things. And as you say, the impact of having lived through this global pandemic, it remains to be seen, in some ways, the impact in terms of schooling and the interruption of schooling, and those sorts of things. But also, social interactions and all of those things were kind of, you know, everyone sort of watching and waiting. And those parents and teachers who see young people in the day to day, I know already see some of that, you know, you look at the last time that each young person had a kind of normal school year. And you’re kind of well, they’ve missed out on realistically, two or three years of social interaction, of learning in the way that we would expect, of exams happening in the way that we would expect. And I think that that has had an impact and it will continue to have an impact. So yeah, there are definitely differences. And the way that young people are responding to and thinking about those is very interesting, once you give them opportunity to discuss and to explore some of that, and to share a bit of what they’re thinking and feeling about that. 

In terms of the interactions with science and religion in particular, there are some obvious things that come up quite quickly, like how science has been referred to and represented in the media, through the last few years, has had a huge impact. We have some interesting conversations with young people, sometimes where they will say things like, “oh, well, I, you know, I’m into science, I’m not into religion, because religion is just really political, and science isn’t.” And we would get comments like that, certainly pre-pandemic. And I’d be really interested. And it’s one of the things that we do a little bit of kind of poking and prodding and exploring to see what they’re thinking now, how that might have changed or been impacted. And, you know, it would be very interesting to see how that might differ in the UK and in the States. And with all those different things going on. So I think the influences of things like politics and media and reporting, are potentially very relevant to the way that young people are thinking about this, whether they recognize that yet or not, or whether it’s just kind of drifting in and forming ideas in them. But without them necessarily thinking through how am I forming this knowledge? How am I forming these ideas? Which has always been a challenge for people that we don’t always recognize where our ideas come from. And that’s actually one of the things that we try to explore with young people is, what do you think about some of these topics? Where do you think those ideas come from? How are you forming your knowledge? How do we form knowledge in science? How do we form knowledge in other subject areas? How can we draw those together? And I think, yeah, we’ll see some very interesting things coming out from the impact of the last few years. But it’s definitely important for this generation.

Stults:

So much of the science and faith conversation for so long has been focused particularly on evolution and origins, the Big Bang to some extent, which are these big, abstract, mostly intellectual questions that are valid and important and worth struggling with, but don’t often have everyday practical applications. But like you said, today’s generation is looking at climate change, and the global pandemic, and the rise of artificial intelligence, and all of these things, not to mention the political elements of all of those, and other common or social issues, such as race, all have really important scientific elements to them, but also important faith and social and ethical components to them. And so it feels very, almost urgent that we give kids these tools to be thinking about those topics, not just with good science, but with also faithful perspectives and bringing that insight into their approach to these big public issues.

Henderson:

Yeah, very much so. And I think—so one of the other aspects of what we do involves training those who work with young people—teachers, children’s workers in churches and youth clubs and other places. A whole range really, as well as those who might communicate specifically about science and faith with young people. And a lot of the resources and things that we try to give them and the kind of training that we try to give them focuses on, as you say, some of those topics. We have resources looking at things like artificial intelligence and race and some of those ideas, thinking about how science plays into and has historically played into those ideas, for better and for worse. And the same with religious faith, or, you know, in some cases, a wider sense of philosophy and ethics, and those sorts of things. But all of those are set up in a way, and we try to enable and equip teachers and church workers and those to allow students or those young people they’re working with, again, to engage with these questions in a way that encourages and frees them up to think about, in particular, faith perspectives, or their own kind of worldviews and those ideas that that they have and they’ve formed and how they influence how they feel, as well as what they think about these topics. 

So the example of race is obviously, potentially very sensitive, hugely important to discuss and think about. It’s an example where you can draw on some scientific examples where historically science has been quite unhelpful for the way that we think about race and have thought about race. We also can draw on some science to show us some very helpful things about how science can demonstrate that race is not, you know, a genetically determined thing. And so you see kind of both sides of science in a sense there, which is really interesting for young people, and for adults, who can tend to assume that science is this kind of clean, clinical objective thing. And recognizing that actually, it’s quite messy and human, is a really helpful start. But then on top of that, and beneath that, in a way you have all these layers of personal engagement of, you know, faith and politics related engagement with these topics. And we have to kind of unravel all of that, in order to think about, what is this topic? How do we engage with it? And it’s also a great example of a topic where, essentially, what you want to come out of it is informed by science, but it’s not a scientific outcome. What you want to come out of it is really an understanding of things like respect and equity, and love. And actually, how do we go forward in our lives, in our classroom, in our church, and really, genuinely respect people of all backgrounds and all races and all kinds of different aspects of their lives and the way that they tie in together. And so you come back around—particularly for those working in churches, are more comfortable with those types of contexts or ideas—you come back around to an idea that you might use all the time, about love and about respect. And if you’re teaching in a church, you’re teaching about Jesus and how he talked about these ideas, but you’re doing that on the basis of drawing science into the conversation in a helpful way, showing where it has, you know, pros and cons, where humans essentially, sometimes very helpful and sometimes not so helpful. And you’ve got this kind of much rounder, more full picture of this topic that, actually, you might have just shied away from because it’s very difficult or complicated or controversial. But you can end up in a place that can be really helpful. And it demonstrates this interplay of science and faith in a way that, as you say, is very different from so let’s talk about Genesis.

Stults:

Yeah, it’s showing how the two of them can be mutually enriching. Absolutely not because they’re asking or answering the same questions. But insights from one can bolster and enhance insights from the other. Which is really something that we want our kids to—an approach we want them to come to understand about science and faith, is not an either or, but a sort of weaving together in appropriate ways. We get a lot of requests or questions from parents and teachers of those elementary age students about how do you talk about science and faith with little kids? Do you, like you said, sometimes, it’s easy to just say, “hush, hush, we’ll get there when you’re older, little, little Jimmy.” But that can set the precedent that these are questions you shouldn’t be asking. And that’s not what we want, either. So do you have any tips or suggestions for parents and teachers how to talk to little kids about these issues?

Henderson:

Oh, it’s a great question. And you know, it’s really fun trying to figure out how to do it. I think one of my first things, pieces of advice would be to relax. As we mentioned earlier, you know, these questions can be kind of out facing, initially. And as adults, we often think we have to know the answers. And so one of the first things to do is, I think, recognize that it’s okay not to know, and to say that you don’t know. Kids will be the first people to know that they’re being fobbed off with, like, oh, yeah, I totally know the answer to that when you really don’t. Actually, it’s really powerful for young people and children to see adults say, “I’m not sure about that, shall we have a look together? Let’s explore that.” So if you don’t know the answer, just relax. And you can say so and it’s fine. 

Another aspect of that is, you know, engaging with the question, even if you don’t have time to deal with it now. You know, if you are in that kind of lesson setting that we talked about, or even at home and you know, doing 100 things and the washing and the cooking and your kid comes up and ask you a question, you really don’t have time. Just kind of being mindful about the way you engage with it and say something like, that’s a really fantastic question. Do you know I’m not sure what to do about it right now, or I’m a little bit busy right now but we could talk about it later. Or why don’t we ask so and so about it later. Nine times out of ten, the kid’s gonna forget they ever asked the question, and you’re off the hook. So you’re fine. But you have encouraged the question. And so when they come to another one like that, they’re not put off asking it, they’re going to come forth and ask again, which is really helpful when you do get to actually exploring the question with them. And part of my encouragement will be to kind of think about the type of language that is helpful to them, where they’re at, what they know already. And sometimes we’re a little bit out faced with kind of, “oh, this six year old just asked me a question about Adam and Eve. But they haven’t learned about DNA and evolution and fossil record and things yet.” They probably know something about that. And certainly in the UK, there are some amazing kids TV programs and apps and things that mean that kids come with all sorts of amazing science knowledge, you know, most of them will know something about what DNA by the time they’re at four. It’s incredible. So you can pick up on some of these things that they learn. But then we don’t have to dumb the concepts down. But we can simplify the language, I think is one of the ways that we work. So you can explore and explain things, like things about biblical interpretation. If we’re talking in a Christian context, we can talk about how the Bible is full of lots of different types of writing, lots of different types of books all put together, and how lots of those stories are written to help us understand things about God and who God is and how much God loves us. But maybe they’re not written in the same way as the science books that we look at. And God’s given us this gift of science to help understand things. So when we can use those stories about God, and we can use our science books together, we can start to put together a picture that helps us explore some of these areas. So we can introduce quite complicated concepts, like you know, the literary styles of the Bible, in quite simple language to begin to kind of shape a space where we can talk about some of these things.

So there are lots of ways to do it, and possibly easier top tips would be you can always go and look at our website, which you can look at www.faradaykids.com, which has a lot of these kind of common questions that we encounter from kids and some suggested ways of talking about them for different age groups for kind of 2 through about 12 years old. And we also have faradayteens.com, which has a similar kind of approach for 11 to 18 year olds, and faradayeducators.com, which if you’re a teacher, or a parent, or working in a church, it will give you all of those questions and answers. And each of those sites also offers a range of activities and resources and book recommendations and things on all sorts of different topics. So you can go and have a look there. Equally, if you know this area of science and faith in some way, many of the resources you can come across, produced for adults, by BioLogos or the Farada Institute or others, a lot of those are written in a way that’s very accessible for adult readers, and actually can give you a really helpful start in thinking about how could I represent this for my child. You know, if you’re a parent, you know your children very well. You know where they’re at, you know, what their understanding is of certain things. And actually, you may find that having some of these questions with them, helps you know them a little better, helps you find out the way that their minds work, what they’re thinking, and you can go on a bit of a journey of exploration together, as they they ask and explore some of these questions.

Stults:

Those are great tips, I especially like the freedom of not needing to know the answer. Because I think for both parents and teachers, even science teachers at Christian schools who are personally Christian, might still be in the process of thinking through these hard questions themselves and might not feel like they have pat answers to give. And I think that’s not only understandable, I think that’s okay. And so much of what we want to teach our kids, as we’ve already talked about, isn’t the right answers to questions. It’s how to ask questions and what to do with questions, how do you explore them? And so modeling for your kids, ‘hey, that’s a great question, I don’t know what the answer is, let’s go explore together,” and show them if I had this question, here’s where I would look. Here are the people I would talk to, the resources I would consider. And going through that process together, whether they’re a high schooler and you’re looking at biblical commentaries, or they’re a second grader and you’re reading some Bible stories together and thinking through them. That’s a great way to model the inquisitiveness and the types of resources that you bring into those conversations. So I think that’s just very freeing to, you don’t need to know the answer. And I think you’re right that kids and particularly teenagers can tell when you are pretending to know something that you really don’t. They would rather you say, I don’t know, let’s look together than to make up a half hearted answer that isn’t satisfying for anyone. 

Henderson:

And you’re right. There are some questions, particularly in this area of science and faith that we come across where there isn’t necessarily a straight answer. You know, you may feel more confident with your views on say, did evolution happen, is it a thing, does it fit with the idea of creation? That you may be fairly set on. But you may be in a place where you’re like, well, when it comes to Adam and Eve and whether they were real historical people or kind of archetypal, or there’s some kind of combination of that, you know, there are a number of different views on that. And that’s okay. And presenting to children questions have different ideas about these things. And that’s okay. Or people have different ideas about these things. And that’s okay. You can explore what some of those ideas are, you can explore therefore different types of I don’t know, you know. Is this a question I don’t know the answer to because I haven’t googled it yet? Is it a question I don’t know the answer to because it’s a big philosophical question and nobody will ever know the answer but it’s fun to look? Is it a question that is, say, a scientific question, but we just haven’t got there yet? Or is it one of these, you know, often in the kind of theological crossover, you have this kind of, well, there’s a few potential interpretations and I may have, you know, a particular leaning, or a way that’s my favorite, or a way that I think at the moment, but I’m not totally sure. But I think that’s okay, you know, when you’re kind of comfortable with that slight error of unknowing in that. And that can be a difficult thing to try and communicate to children, particularly young children, where often they want kind of a sense of certainty in it. And as parents, if you’re Christians, or if you have a particular religious perspective, you may want to and in many cases can take an approach that is, there are various different ways of interpreting this. But however we interpret it, here’s what we know. Here’s what we believe that the Bible is telling us. So regardless of whether Adam and Eve were real historical people or not, here’s what we can take from the way the Bible talks about them and the way the Bible talks about us as part of that story. And so leaving children with a sense of, it’s exciting to explore, you know, there’s a bit of mystery. We may never know the answer to some of these questions. But here are some things that as far as we know anything, this is what I know. And this is how I explore these questions. And this is how I explore these ideas about God is actually really powerful.

Stults:  

That’s exciting. Yeah, those are great suggestions, and great for parents or teachers or youth, pastors, and anybody who’s working with kids. So thank you. We’re about to wrap up here. But we’ve been asking our guests what books are you reading right now? Just a little wildcard to end with.

Henderson:

It’s a good question. Yeah. I mean, the potentially slightly embarrassing responses. I’m not reading really that much at the moment. Partly because life’s a little bit busy right now. Saying just beforehand, I’m gonna have a baby fairly soon. And we’re moving house and wrapping up things at work. And it’s a little bit—

Stults:

You’ve got a few things on your plate at the moment, you’ll be forgiven. 

Henderson:

A little bit mad. So a combination of, in terms of Biblical stuff, I actually love the Bible project, listen to a lot of their podcasts, going through some of their stuff at the moment, is a little bit more listening than reading. But I’m a millennial, that’s allowed, right? And then, if I sit down to read, generally, it’s you know, it’s that embarrassing thing for a science faith communicator to admit that I’m usually just reading some kind of novel. Love a bit of Terry Pratchett. I was reading Call the Midwife recently. So nothing that meaty, I’m afraid, except, obviously, you know, all the BioLogos posts, which I read religiously.

Stults:

Obviously/ [laughs] Well, it’s also a good reminder that story is a really important way that truth is communicated nd that not everything needs to be heavy theology or technical science. But story is great, too. 

Henderson:

This is true. I also read far more than my fair share of children’s books, partly through work, and partly just because a lot of them are really fun.

Stults:

Speaking of which, Faraday has some really great science books that you can find on the BioLogos website biologos.org and find our K 12 educators resources page, and we’ve got links to all sorts of fun books that they’ve produced. They’re beautiful and fun, and I highly recommend them, to go check those out. Well, Lizzie, thanks so much for talking with us. It’s been great having you.

Henderson:

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the Fetzer Institute, the John Templeton Foundation, and by individual donors who contribute to BioLogos. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Nate Mulder is our assistant producer. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. 

BioLogos offices are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Grand River watershed. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum or visit our website, biologos.org, where you will find articles, videos and other resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Featured guest

Lizzie Henderson

Lizzie Henderson

Lizzie Henderson coordinates the three main strands of the Youth and Schools Program along side Steph Bryant. The program consists of workshops for children and young people, training for teachers and influencers, and book and resource production (each supported by and feeding into educational research). Lizzie holds a degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, specializing in Evolutionary and Behavioral Biology, Geology and the History and Philosophy of Science. She has long held a strong interest in the communication and public understanding of the interactions of science and faith and has also worked with children and young people in a variety of contexts for many years.


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