Have you ever been going along throughout your day, minding your own business, when suddenly you were bombarded with an absolute fossil of a buried memory? Or rather, you get bits and pieces of a memory of an old book, movie, or TV show? When this happens, it can be next to impossible to think about anything else until you remember exactly what it is that your brain is reminding you of.
This happened to me last month when I was playing Animal Crossing, of all things. I was standing in the museum, admiring the fossils as I am wont to do. Then for some nonsensical reason, I glanced at the eusthenopteron fossil and thought to myself, “That almost looks like it has feathers.”
A fish? With feathers?
If this happened to you, you would probably think, “Well, fish don’t have feathers,” and continue on in the game searching high and low for that elusive australopith fossil. But instead, I was wrenched back into the past, so far back that I must have been getting a glimpse of a memory from when I was around five years old.
This memory was of some book that I would daily beg my mom to read to me. But the problem was that I could barely remember anything about it. There were fish with feathers—or maybe fish with fur?—and that was the only detail I could summon. The only other thing I knew was that it had been a Christian book on the premise of “What if God made everything super weird, in ways that didn’t make sense?” And at the end of the book, it would reassure you that he had, in fact, made things as they are and as we are used to them, for which we should be thankful.
I had to find this book. But how would I find it? I did what anyone would do in this situation and started Googling literally anything I could remember about it. I tried “christian 90s childrens creation book silly fish with feathers” to no avail, but as I would spend nights awake, other details slowly came back to me, like the sky being some wrong color as well. My searches kept coming up with articles on “how to find that old children’s book you can’t remember,” but the book title was nowhere in sight. Eventually I had the epiphany that there may have been something about things being upside down, so I tried “christian children’s books sky pink fish with fur upside down.”
And I found it. The title was (and is) The Upside-Down, Inside-Out, Backwards, Oopsy-Daisy Book. I mean, seriously. How is a person supposed to remember all of that? I was proud of myself. I immediately ordered it on Thriftbooks and using my free book reward, paid a whopping $1.06 for all of these childhood memories to be restored. And then I decided that after all that, this book deserved its own blog post, a lighthearted look at a nostalgic piece of my Christian childhood.
If I had just found this book in adulthood and had never read it as a child, I might view it differently. I don’t think I would find it harmful, but mostly just not scientifically accurate. But then, this book obviously wasn’t meant to be taken seriously or to be scrutinized scientifically. It was just supposed to be something fun for Christians to read to their kids. It is fun, but I think it would also be fun if I tried my hand at examining how this book holds up scientifically and whether it would make sense if we were to take it seriously. Just because I want to!
I had correctly remembered the premise of the book. And boy, there’s nothing like that feeling when you see something for the first time in twenty years and your brain immediately says, “Oh yeah. That’s it. I remember this.” It’s pretty cool.
I think I was pretty close in guessing that something had been wrong with the color of the sky, but it was neither pink nor green. (Out of this shot, it actually shows water being pink.) But while this illustration style is so fun, the whole idea doesn’t really make sense. If God existed and the sun was a blue square and not a white-hot ball of plasma (which often appears yellow), and Christians would never have heard of it being any other way, why would they have any problem with that? They could use the same argument that this book essentially boils down to: God made it right because that’s the way he made it. Any other way he could have made it would also have seemed just as right.
But if you took the same concept for a book and made it to be about science instead… it would make a lot more sense. For example, rather than saying that the sun is round because that is how God made it, the author could explain that the sun is (mostly) round thanks to material collapsing on itself under the weight of gravity. (Actually, it isn’t entirely as round as the author wishes it was.) Furthermore, it appears white to us because it releases every color of visible and invisible light, which, when combined, appear white.
But it appears to be yellow, orange, and even red at various times of day because of the scattering of light throughout the air. The sun looks red at sunset because its light has to travel much farther through the atmosphere than it would at noon, and so it scatters much more blue light. Speaking of which, the sky is blue because blue light waves are shorter than those of other colors and so it can be scattered more through the molecules in the atmosphere.
As I look at the above image, I’m imagining the sky being only a little blue square peeking through from behind by a sheet of yellow fire. We wouldn’t be laughing at it. We’d be dead.
This page is pretty funny, if only a little painful because it could have made such a good opportunity to teach evolution. Snakes don’t slither on the ground just because to fly would be absurd. Their evolution is a bit shrouded in mystery what with so few snake fossils, but the current prevailing theory is that the ancestors of snakes were four-legged lizards. But as we see in the genus Draco, flying lizards aren’t just fiction. Whether it’s the forest floor or the treetops, wherever there is an ecological niche, there will almost always be some organism who has evolved to fill it.
For the sake of time, I don’t think I need to go into great detail as to the existence of ostriches or dozens of other walking bird species. (Like the rest of the dinosaurs, many species of birds walk and many fly.) As for the decibel levels of lions and mice, we can thank not only the complexities of their vocal cords but also the general rule in physics that larger objects create lower sounds, and smaller objects create higher sounds. Just imagine what you might hear if you were to run a mallet from the lower to the higher end of a xylophone; it’s for the same reason.
These two spreads leave me scratching my head instead of smiling in amusement. They seem to imply that God intended for us to keep monkeys in cages, and point and laugh at them as if they’re a circus act. This communicates to me that this author doesn’t understand that humans are primates as well. Humans are a species of animal just like any other. What specifically separates us is constantly being pondered (although most signs point to language), but what right does this give us to use all other species of animals for our entertainment at their detriment? Monkeys, fish, cows, ducks, and zebras are all complex and amazing animals in their own right, not to mention that no other species has come close to causing a fraction of the devastation that Homo sapiens has in its short lifetime to date.
As a kid, I was always relieved to come to this page at the end of the book, because it signaled that everything is as it should be (even though I was sad that the silliness was over). But I feel that a classic atheist trope is in order here: I must ask, in what ways is our world “exactly right”? Sure, there is a lot of beauty out there, but there is an equal amount, if not even more, of suffering to be found, especially out in nature. How do you think we got white zebras with black stripes? The zebras without the genes for burgeoning stripes were killed before they had a chance to reproduce. The stripes didn’t get there from God’s paintbrush.
And if you’re expressing gratitude that God didn’t create any animals as silly as a flying bear or a sweet-smelling skunk (not pictured), then what will you do when you learn of the platypus? Perhaps in this book it would have been categorized as one of the mistakes that God wouldn’t have made, but we are slowly beginning to understand its status as an egg-laying mammal when we examine its place in the evolutionary tree and its relationship to Australian marsupials.
I hope that this has helped illuminate why some things in nature are how they are—they all have scientific reasons, and everything has to abide by the laws of physics and of nature, not by a human declaration of common sense (which is derived from our perception of the world). But even if the creationist undertones in this book have faded for me over time, the fond memories of the zany illustrations have remained throughout the decades.
Hollingshead, M. (2000). The Upside-Down, Inside-Out, Backwards, Oopsy-Daisy Book (D. J. Hochstatter & D. Edwards, Illus.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.