A simple Safe Mode startup is the basic first step - Start with SHIFT key down, after Finder appears restart without SHIFT key
If you create a new database or a new database from template, do you see similar symptoms.
Are the PDFs and database local on your laptop?
PDFs can themselves be damaged without symptoms. If you create some simple PDFs, do they show the same problem?
Might the container field be optimized for interactive content?
Others have reported crashing problems in FileMaker 12 and I see no indications that it was corrected for FileMaker 13...
For More Information see: Records with a PDF file linked to an active container field cause FMP 12 to crash in OS 10.9
This is one of many acknowledged bugs that can be found in the Known Bug List thread here in the Report an Issue section of the forum.
It can also be downloaded as a database file from: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jt09b82i0xijbu3/FMP%20Bugs.zip
Since posting my question, I created a new database without the starter solution for content management. At first, it worked fine, no crashes as I entered data. Then I realized I could not view the PDFs because the container default view was not optimized for interactive content. When I changed it to optimize it for interactive content, it promptly crashed when I inserted a PDF or tried to view an existing PDF in the database. I will try the Safe Mode startup, though I have never done that and don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do in it except try the application in that mode. Having a database of my research files, most of which are PDFs of articles, was a main reason I bought FileMaker Pro. I hope it's not the case that the only option for me is not to be able to view the files from within the application but instead use it merely as an index to files that I then have to hunt down in Finder and open separately.
Please check out the links I have provided. If memory serves, there's a way to keep your file from crashing.
The switch from Acrobat to Preview seems to have solved the problem. Thank you.