“I don’t believe in Dinosaurs” she said adamantly. Huh? I thought. Didn’t I take her to see “Sue,” the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur skeleton at the Field Museum?? A daughter of a scientist who blindly rejects the data before her eyes -where have I gone wrong?
Oh the joy of family dinner conversations. The conversation actually started earlier in the day when I received a text from my daughter asking “is evolution monkeys becoming man or a small change in genetics?” Since I always imagined evolution as a series of natural selection, I answered that it would be a small change. Later that evening, I asked her for some context behind her text. She explained to her mother and me that she was in a debate over the question she asked. She knew “she was right” and wanted confirmation.
Her mother at dinner was arguing that both sides were saying the same thing. Frustrated, my daughter proceeded to say that she doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. Where did that come from? “Seriously,” she said “you expect me to believe that we evolved from giant lizards? I don’t even believe they existed.” I looked at her and said “well you should. That’s the source of the gasoline that you keep using going back and forth to school and shopping.” Her mother smirked “yes, dinosaurs are powering your car…” I am glad our high schools are getting our children to think in this regard, but I also reminded myself that a little knowledge can be dangerous if left as general concepts without further elaboration before it is applied. The “theology” of Nancy Pelosi attests to this.
Enraged by her parents’ annoying responses, my daughter then said and “I’m supposed to believe there were dinosaurs when God made the world in one week?” “Where did they go?” she asked. I told my daughter, and wife, that most theories involve a great meteor hitting the earth driving a climate change and extinction. “Great,” I then thought. “Please pass the chicken that also probably evolved from dinosaurs.” Dinosaurs and theology, a light dinner conversation at its best… Of course, her father would we be remiss if I didn’t also mention that’s not really how Catholics read Genesis. I was losing her fast.
We all should recall that in our Catholic tradition Genesis is not a science text or history book. It is a story of creation intended to teach us God created everything out of nothing and this creation was good. The symbol of the work week shows us that creation was ordered. Few of us realize that Genesis, while the first book in our Old Testament, is not the oldest book in the Bible and is a compilation of several traditions called the Yahwist, Priestly, Elohist and Deuteronomist traditions by scholars. The Book of Genesis never mentions dinosaurs unless, as Creationists point out, you imagine they were created on Day Six under the category of “beasts of the earth” (Genesis 1:24, 25).
I was not lost on the irony of the timing of our dinner discussion. That evening I was also leaving dinner to go to our parish RCIA session for that week. I laughed at the context of having to convince my daughter that dinosaurs existed and then moving on to something “easy” like the existence of God… Of course, dinosaurs do not require faith – we have Sue and other fossil evidence for that. Such false sense of rationalism in our society, as evidenced by my daughter thinking that she would not cater a notion of giant lizards because it is more conjured than experienced in her world, is infecting our knowledge core. Social media substitutes bias for political thought. We are in a dangerous time where science in the media is based more on conjecture than data. I worry our knowledge base is becoming biased in fiction based on telling a story. Worse yet, this trend is leading us in failing to love in light of correctness.
Reflecting on my dinner experience, I became aware how backwards this conversation was to me. I want my children to believe in dinosaurs and challenge their faith in God. Why? – Because they will experience this challenge in faith many times in their lives. A faith in God that cannot be challenged is a faith that will not get one through the challenging periods of our lives. A true faith in God humbles us before the universe rather than humbles the universe before us. A surrender to love conquers hate. Living the gospel in our lives opens the door for Jesus to live in others’ lives as well.
My father was a chemist, not a theologian. He remains the model of a man and father to me. I recall as a kid I once asked my Dad “Do you believe in God?” My question was to a man I respected and a father I loved. He replied “yes” without much elaboration. And yet, this “yes” was all the confirmation I needed and never asked him again. His affirmation solidified my own. Dad believed in dinosaurs too. He worked in the oil industry.
This experience reminded me how important it is to be a model of our faith. The world watches to see. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi – as we worship so we will live. Dad was not Catholic, but he modeled the faith as well as anyone in my life. My role model had faith. It opened the door for me to have it as well. Faith comes from God, but the seed of faith is nurtured in the home. At baptism parents are given the responsibility to teach the faith to their children, to “bring him (her) up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives him (her) is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his (her) heart.” Thank you Mom and Dad.
We should note that all the baptized are called to be to be that affirmation in the world. We are called to be that witness to the Gospel the world needs to see. And yes, a belief in dinosaurs is ok too.
REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.