God and the Dinosaurs: a gift from my Father

Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Today is my father’s birthday. He died just over a year ago, but one very special gift that he gave to me when I was small will live in me for the rest of my life.

I was about seven years old and heavily into dinosaurs. Dinosaur books, dinosaur figures, if there were dinosaurs involved, that’s what I wanted.

I had also received a nicely illustrated, big fat children’s Bible.

That created a problem for me. If God had created the world in seven days, how did dinosaurs fit into the picture?

I remember the moment vividly. Daddy and I were sitting in the car on our driveway. It was a Saturday morning, and I’m not sure where we were headed. What was memorable was how he answered my question about dinosaurs and the Bible.

He didn’t use the word “metaphor,” but in essence that’s how he explained it. The seven days weren’t days as we humans understand them, but long periods of time, ages, eons. Decades later, as I read through the psalms, I realized how perfectly his explanation accorded with the verse: “A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4, translation from the Book of Common Prayer).

The gift my father gave me that day was priceless. It went far beyond reconciling dinosaurs and the Book of Genesis. Science and religion, too often portrayed as enemies, don’t have to cancel each other out.

Years later, this continues to bear fruit. My latest novel-in-progress is about a Jesuit professor who is fascinated by the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, a French Catholic Jesuit priest who was also a distinguished paleontologist and made it his life’s work to reconcile evolution with Christian thought. Until Vatican II, the Catholic Church considered Teilhard a heretic, but today he is seen as an exemplar who was able to reconcile religious belief with scientific inquiry.

My father was raised in a very conservative family, both religiously and socially. He went to college, then on to graduate school, where he received a degree in engineering. Curiosity was always a strong component of his personality, and I can easily imagine him as a child, endlessly asking about everything. He must have done some serious thinking about the very issues that he addressed when I came to him with my question about dinosaurs all those years ago. I imagine he did a lot of hard soul-searching to discover an answer that would engage both his spirit of curiosity–the essence of science–and the religious beliefs that were so important to him. There was no hesitation at all when he answered me that day. He had already thought about it himself, already done all the hard work, and now he was ready to give me one of the most important gifts I would ever receive in my life.

14 Comments

  1. Georgia said,

    May 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Your father left you a precious gift, a clear direction to eternity thru earthly confusion. Reminds me of “faith…is the evidence of things not seen.” Thanks for sharing your heart. Happy writing.

  2. Polly Iyer said,

    May 25, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Lovely remembrance, Nancy. Your father was a wise man, and I’m sure he instilled in you a common sense love for the truth.

  3. Gin Mackey said,

    May 25, 2012 at 9:42 am

    You’re so kind to share this wise and wonderful memory with all of us, Nancy. Thank you!

  4. B.K. Stevens said,

    May 25, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Thanks for sharing this lovely story, Nancy. You must be missing your father very much (as I still miss mine, though he died over thirty years ago–I always think of him on his birthday, too). It’s a comfort that we have memories that stay with us and continue to guide us.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Thanks, B.K. Yes, the memories are definitely a comfort. Thanks for the warm words.

  5. kaye george said,

    May 25, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    You’re lucky to have had such a wise father, Nancy. I regard all religion stories as the mythology of that religion–that’s my personal way of reconciling the hundreds of viewpoints of religion. My dad was a handy man, an electrician by trade, but able to do plumbing, carpentry, car repair, you name it. My legacy from him is the ability to rewire, repair, and install things. My mom wanted to be a writer, but never got around to doing more than telling me some of her plots. I miss both of them!

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      It sounds like you’ve taken good things from both of your parents, Kaye. Thanks for reading and stopping by.

  6. Janet Koch said,

    May 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Nancy, thanks for sharing that story. My own father died just over a year ago, too. How lucky we are to have memories to keep us company when we’re missing them. My dad’s legacy to me can be summed up in one short sentence: “Don’t expect life to be fair.” I miss him so very much…

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 25, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      Thanks, Janet. It’s especially hard the first year, with holidays and anniversaries. Take care and thanks for stopping by.

  7. Gloria Alden said,

    May 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    You were lucky to have such a caring and wise father. I was fortunate to have a father like that, too. It’s been over twenty years since he died, and I still miss him. But the legacy he left for hisl six kids is valuable; honesty, wisdom, an eagerness to learn new things, a sense of what is the right thing to do, compassion and maybe most of all, a sense of humor.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      May 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Thanks, Gloria. Yes, those of us who had wise, caring parents are lucky indeed. Thanks for stopping by!


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