One Story Behind the Story, by Anne Dalke

In the Spring 2004 and 2005, Paul Grobstein and I offered a course at Bryn Mawr College called The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories. Cross-listing the class in both Biology and English, we designed it as an interdisciplinary conversation intended to explore the usefulness of the literary conceit of "stories" in making sense of biology's account of evolution, and the usefulness of the particular scientific story of evolution in making sense of how literary stories evolve out of one another. A central text in the class was a 1995 book by Daniel Dennett entitled Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Dennett begins the volume by evoking his favorite childhood song:

Tell me why the stars do shine,
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me why the sky's so blue,
Then I will tell you just why I love you.

Because God made the stars to shine,
Because God made the ivy twine,
Because God made the sky so blue.
Because God made you, that's why I love you.

At the end of the book, saying that "We need to grow up," Dennett dismisses the doctrines "that are so movingly expressed in that song" as being "too simple," as "in a word, wrong." The song, he says, "is a beautiful, comforting falsehood" (514). What Dennett means by "growing up" is accepting the "universal acid" of Darwin's theory of evolution: acknowledging that there is no architect, planner, or intentional "first mover." Doing so was difficult for many of the college students in the course. In May 2005, one of them, Britt Fremstad, a first-year student from South Dakota, took up the challenge implied in Dennett's position: writing a children's story which presented evolution not as terrifying, but as an inviting, magical way to talk about the nature of the world. Here is her story behind the story of her "great-grandaddies."