Friday, April 17, 2009

The Creation of an Evolution Explanation

Last night, our daughter, nearing her bedtime and exhausted from multiple after-school events, peered at me over the back of the couch with her patented crazy-intense questioning gaze.


"Yes?" I acknowledged, half engrossed in work and Facebook.

"Mama, how do they make people talk?"

"Make people talk?"

"Yeah, you know, how do you make someone talk?"

My mind went to my office at school, where earlier in the day I interrogated a student without using torture, and was somewhat unsuccessful at making him talk.

"I'm not sure what you mean, honey."

She was growing increasingly exasperated, and her bloodshot eyes began bugging out of her head.

"MOM. I mean, like the FIRST PERSON. How did he TALK?"

"Huh. Well, I think he probably wasn't alone, and people learn to talk by listening to one another. Babies learn to talk by listening to their parents. When people first started talking, they had to make up words for things, and then share those words. Like..." I pointed. "Pillow."

"Okay. So, how did the first person get here? Before there was anyone else?"

"Before there was anyone else?"


Oh, heck. Really?

"Welllllllllllllll...Some people believe that God made the first person. But me? I don't know."

Now, I don't want to be glib about what is a Big Age-Old Debate, but it occurred to me that Creation makes for a nice simple five-word answer to your five-year-old's question about Where Did We Come From. It's only slightly tempting for me to suggest (as my Theory on the Evolution of Creation) that the writers of Genesis had some inquisitive offspring.

But, back to my response to our curious kindergartner, which frankly, wasn't so graceful.

"Other people think that over time, animals changed and kind of turned into humans. You know, like monkeys?"

Wait, NO. That's wrong! Not like monkeys! Evolution explanation faux pas. Back up, Fer.

I don't think I've felt so dumb in a long time, trying to explain evolution to my kid (almost as dumb as I once felt attempting to describe how airplanes fly). At some point, I used her little blond cousin, a lone tow-head with three brunette siblings, as a clumsy example of how changes in appearance can occur in a population. I apologize, family! My nephew is no mutation! Sheesh.

And then I remembered a multiple-choice test from back when I was learning for the first time about evolution--maybe in middle school? What I recall is a question asking something like, Which of the following is an example of evolution? And one of the answers was: Giraffes stretch their necks to reach leaves up high on a tree. Over generations of stretching, giraffe necks lengthen.

Now, I knew this was the Wrong Answer. Mama giraffes stretching their necks, I'd been told, would not result in babies with longer necks. But still, it was so tempting to pick that answer, with its certain childish logic. It stays with me to this day, so that like a stubborn thought bubble above a cartoon person, I have to chase out of my head the image of a straining giraffe whenever I hear the term evolution.

But I carried on with my attempt at imparting adult wisdom.

"No, not like monkeys," I amended. "Actually, like apes. Apes don't have tails."

"Which ones are apes?"

"Gorillas. And also chimpanzees. And orangutans!" I was gaining momentum. "So, you know, over time, babies are born that are more like humans and then they have babies, and pretty soon, you have people."

People, of course, who teach each other to say "pillow."

1 comment:

Mama Deb said...

Too funny. I already stumble through responses to my two-year-old's questions. I can only imagine how hard it will be when he is five!