Thursday, April 3, 2014

"Daddy, Who Put the Whole World Here?"

My daughter and I had a brief discussion this morning, on the way to daycare, about the origins of the universe.  I can't imagine that I asked such deep questions as a four-year-old.

It was a true relief for me when she asked where the world came from, because before that, her deep questions were all about death.  While neither the birth of the universe or the death of living things is easy territory to navigate with a Pre-K child, I am far more comfortable discussing the former.

In answer to her question, I first described the idea of a Big Bang, a critical event where the entire universe is restricted to a tiny point at one instant, and then blowing up at the next.  Eventually, atoms form (we have talked about those before), and come together to make stars and planets.  I could not get into the forces that govern these processes - maybe when she's in elementary school.

At some point in my description, I paused to point out that there are parts of this that are still a big mystery.  I was worried that this might disturb her, but she seemed fascinated and unbothered that mommy and daddy don't know absolutely everything.  I explained that we don't know where the matter from the Big Bang came from, or what caused it to bang when it did.

Then I surprised myself, and told her that some people think that God put the world here.  "Who's that?" she asked.  "A magical being that does magical things who no one has ever seen before," I answered.  And that's when we arrived at daycare.

On a personal level, I do not believe that God intervenes in the universe.  In my mind, things get classified in one of three categories:

(1) Stuff we know
(2) Stuff we don't know yet
(3) Stuff we can never know

Category 1 is explained by science and Category 2 will be explained by science, one day.  I have trouble knowing for certain if anything goes in Category 3, but if it does, then I do feel the need to attribute those answers to some kind of faith.  We can call it God.

In my home, religion plays a very minor role.  As a parent, I find it irresponsible to present your particular faith as the 'right one'; though it is the norm, to enforce a particular faith on children is heavy-handed.  So far, in my limited experience with parenting, it does no harm to address uncertain questions honestly (though sometimes, it is best to withhold certain details).  Present various possibilities, and empower children to consider them on their own.

The next time this subject comes up with my daughter, I will add one point, of which I am certain: scientists will continue to investigate who put the whole world here for a long, long time.        

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