One of the most common questions kids ask when I visit their religion classes is “Were there dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden?” Other questions about the first chapters of Genesis are “If Adam and Eve were the first people what about evolution?” or the classic, “If Adam and Eve were the first people where did the wives of their sons come from?” Then there is the dumb internet question, “So you believe in talking snakes do you?”

Let’s take the last question first. The garden of Eden story speaks of a conversation between the serpent and Eve. Was it a “talking snake”–well it might have been a snake who, for some reason God endowed with the gift of speech, but I’d say to the person who asks his mocking question, “Um, we actually understand that in literature–indeed in language generally we use something called “symbolic language” so, for example someone might describe a shady person as a “snake”. Did we literally mean that person was a reptile? We also recognize that the garden of Eden story comes down to us a myth and myth is a literary form most used to symbolic language. Furthermore the fallen angel we call Satan is frequently referred to in reptilian terms. He is “the dragon” or “the ancient serpent.” Please. You blame Christians for taking every word in the Bible literally?  Some of us are not quite that undiscerning or uneducated. When you insist that it was a “talking snake” you put yourself in that ignorant category.

The other questions are perhaps more puzzling and can only be answered with some speculation. Where did Adam and Eve’s daughters in law come from? Firstly we need to re-examine the assumptions about this story. It has become part of the general understanding of the story that Adam and Eve were the first human beings to be created. However, the story itself doesn’t actually say that. Instead it tells us that Cain (Adam and Eve’s son) had a wife. Therefore we conclude that there were other human beings or advanced primates already in the world. If this is so, then Adam and Eve were not the first humans to exist. Who were they then? I speculate that they were the first humanoids to be uniquely created by God with rational souls, the gift of language and the gift of free will. Who were the other primates? I don’t know as I am not an anthropologist, but we might suppose that they were a sub-human race of primates who were able to breed with true humans–sons of Adam and Eve.

This speculation takes us into the question about evolution. I’m not a scientist, but it is possible to suppose that this race of primates was the result of evolutionary development. This still allows for the truth of the faith that Adam and Eve were historical first parents–uniquely created by God in his image at a particular point in time.

However, where and when this took place is open to speculation. The first twelve chapters of Genesis are considered to be “pre-history”. In other words, the events recorded there take place before the advent of recorded history. It is impossible to pinpoint where and when these stories happened. Furthermore, these sagas (the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, Noah’s Flood ) come down to us from antiquity through the process of oral tradition, legend and myth. Remember when we say “legend” and “myth” we don’t necessarily mean “made up stories that never happened” Instead we mean stories that are rooted in real people and real events, but which have grown and flourished through the centuries. My favorite example is King Arthur. Historians believe there was a historical British chieftain called Arthur–perhaps during the Roman occupation of Britain. His story was passed down. Eventually the story of the hero was written down as a long poem. It ended up as a Disney animated film, a novel, a Broadway musical, a Monty Python film and endless TV shows and movies. So “history became legend and legend became myth.” Similarly with the stories in the first twelve chapters of genesis.

Finally about the dinosaurs. Were they present in the Garden of Eden? Did Noah have dinosaurs on the ark? No. Dinosaurs are much older than the stories in Genesis. They existed in a geological time period before the arrival of humans on earth.

Any other questions?