God made the dinosaurs by Michael and Caroline Carroll
In socialising dinosaurs for a Christian audience, the Carrolls are making an important contribution and also raising deep questions
God Made the Dinosaurs
By Michael and Caroline Carroll; illustrations by Jesús Sortés,
Reviewed by Terry Young
This collaboration with the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion is a nicely packaged combination of facts and illustrations. Jesús’ drawings are crisp and bright, and his sketches of people are readily identifiable if you look for the original faces online.
Our grandson is crackers about dinosaurs, so I don’t need much convincing of the demand it will satisfy in the birthday and Christmas present market. One of the great things about being a child is that amazing capacity to learn facts related to any topic that captures your imagination. When I was a kid, it was aircraft – books, Top Trumps, quizzing any pilot I met – and when our boys were growing up it was Pokémon. For anyone with an insatiable taste for numbers, names and places, this book is well laid out with weights, environments, and pronunciation guidance.
A key theme of the book is to place dinosaurs in God’s creation and to highlight the contribution of Christians to our understanding. I don’t know the creative process that brought this book into being, but Michael, Caroline and Jesús tend to focus on the animals and provide inserts or sidebars that fill in some of this wider information. There are explosive bubbles with suggestions for ways we can praise God, or with Bible quotations, as well as thumbnail sketches of who made what discoveries and when.
As a grown-up, you may find the history of discovering dinosaurs a little light, but with a bit of web surfing, you can fill yourself in; the chosen balance is probably the right one for the main audience. In socialising dinosaurs for a Christian audience, the Carrolls are making an important contribution and also raising deep questions, which they sort of step around. Again, this may have been sensible; I’m still pondering.
The first big question is where something like this sits alongside the TV programmes and syndicated books, that have made dinosaurs so popular in the last 25 years, with their relentlessly atheistic voiceovers. Here, Michael and Caroline restrict themselves to asserting that these beasts in all their beauty and diversity are part of God’s creation, as creatures then and as fossils now.
I sort of wonder whether they might have sharpened the story about how closely Christians were involved in discovering the fossils and deciphering what message they brought. The Revd William Buckland’s identification (p 30) of rock layers, for instance, with a sequence of time periods – ‘God’s steps of creation’ – is a particularly rich vein to mine. There is no doubt that many – perhaps most – scientists and amateur natural philosophers who were in at the start were Christians, nor that most who are engaged now are not. Is there a story there for young minds?
I suspect that one reason they have avoided a more polemical stance is because the topic is so divisive among Christians. In itself, this is a good reason to write a book like this and if it spawns an adult version (in the sense of intellectual maturity, rather than an X-rated sequel), it would be really useful.
So, how does this inform our understanding of creation? At present, we have two main lines – a secular, evolutionary narrative without God against a six-day, often reactionary, creationism. This book tries to bridge that gap by asserting that it is God’s creation. I just worry that it might be a little fragile.
The reason I’m being harsh here is that if you haven’t heard a credible narrative around creation by the time you are 10, you probably never will. Christian thinking on creation has departed from a modern fundamentalist stance many times over the past couple of millennia, led by some surprising thinkers, without losing its countercultural kick. Creation is certainly a puzzle, and it ought to be possible to explore key aspects of that puzzle from both sides for young people. It would be nice to recapture some of the curiosity displayed by the first Christians who found evidence of bones that didn’t fit with any animal they recognised.
Although I’ve only read a pdf version, it looks like a lovely gift, thoughtfully produced and beautifully illustrated. It answers the kaleidoscopic thirst of the questing child. For me it raises wider questions that also need answering. Who knows, maybe Michael, Caroline and Jesús are already planning to address those, too.
What more can I say? Buy! Give! Think! Pray!
Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia