I have memories of the time (many years ago, unfortunately) when my children started to ask those important questions like “Where did people come from?” On one occasion my partner automatically responded with the Adam and Eve story. Fortunately, we quickly realised this was inappropriate and gave more scientific answers.
However, this just shows the power of mythology in a culture. Even atheist parents can automatically fall back on a religious creation myth when the child really requires to be told the truth. I guess today, in New Zealand, similar parents could respond with a Maori myths such as that of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, the sky father and earth mother. Now, I’m not suggesting children shouldn’t learn these myths. Just that the myths should be taught for what they are, and that similar creation myths from other cultures should also be taught.
The stories and myths of a child’s culture, although very important, are only part of an education. Children need also to learn factual knowledge which, after all, is what they are requesting in these questions. Presentation of myths as facts to young children is not honest.
The beautiful story of evolution
Some people might argue that evolutionary theory does not have the beauty of the religious creation myth. I disagree. Consider this comment from E. O. Wilson in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge:
A sacred narrative can “be taken from the material history of the universe and the human species. That trend is in no way debasing. The true evolutionary epic, retold as poetry, is as intrinsically ennobling as any religious epic. Material reality discovered by science already possesses more content and grandeur than all religious cosmologies combined. The continuity of the human line has been traced through a period of deep history a thousand times older than that conceived by the Western religions. Its study has brought new revelations of great moral importance. It has made us realise that Homo sapiens is far more than a congeries of tribes and races. We are a single gene pool from which individuals are drawn in each generation and into which they are dissolved the next generation, forever united as a species by heritage and a common future. Such are the conceptions, based on fact, from which new intimations of immortality can be drawn and a new mythos evolved.”
A spiritual education
I would love to see picture books for young children which present our knowledge of evolution and the universe. This could be done as beautifully as any of the current children’s books presenting mythological and fairy stories. And consider the spiritual education this would give children. They would understand the common origins and interests of all humanity, instead of being told that some people were chosen by a god. This would help to undermine attitudes justifying racism. They would lean to respect other species, because of our common evolutionary origins, and their environment instead of being told that mankind was given (by a god) dominion over nature for its own interests.
Just think, we could give children a spiritual education based on truth, rather than mythological stories!.