Why Are Young People Leaving the Church?

In June of 2014, Gallup released the results of a survey that they do every year, asking what Americans think about human evolution [1]. In the poll, they offer only three choices: God created man without using evolution less than 10,000 years ago, God created man using evolution (over millions of years), and no God at all (atheistic evolution).

For the past 25 years or so, the percentage of Americans who believe that God created without evolution has held steady at about 42 to 45%.

However, in recent years, the percentage of Americans who believe in atheistic evolution has taken a sharp rise — at the expense of the number who are ok with evolution being part of God’s means of creation. That percentage took a similarly sized sharp decline.

What else has happened during this time, particularly in the last 5-10 years? The Expelled movie, Truth Project, Ark Encounter, Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate, Ray Comfort’s “Evolution vs. God” movie, the list goes on. All of these ministries claim that there is an unbridgeable chasm between the modern scientific method (in some cases, in numerous branches of science, not just biology) and God. You have to choose, one or the other.

What this tells me is that all of the creation science / intelligent design propaganda and political posturing by companies such as Answers in Genesis (Ken Ham, Creation Museum), Discovery Institute (Truth Project, Expelled Movie, and numerous anti-science political Web sites), and Living Waters Ministries (“Evolution vs. God” movie) have done nothing to increase the number of Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis as God’s method of creating. Rather, they have contributed to the increase in the number of atheists (mostly student-age — see [2]). A study by the Barna Group, a respected Christian research organization, cited churches’ antagonism to science as a reason why many Christians are leaving the faith [3].

These are students who likely understand real science, and haven’t bought into the “creation science” or “intelligent design movement” pseudoscience. They are at that formative time in their lives when they are seeking the truth, and in many cases are actively seeking God, but “creation science” and “intelligent design” political organizations are pushing them out of the faith with their nonsensical claims. Unfortunately, it’s these Christian organizations who are making up and selling this false dichotomy who are creating the atheists.

There is nothing inherently atheistic about evolution or accepting the results of modern biology, genetics, paleontology, and so forth. It is not the purpose of Genesis, or Romans, or any other book in the Bible to teach us the mechanism of our origins. It’s to teach us about our relationship to God. And conversely, it’s not the purpose of science to prove or disprove anything about God. In fact, it’s not the purpose of science to prove anything at all. Proofs are for mathematics. The various fields of science simply find the best available theories to describe the workings of the natural world, not the supernatural. For a Christian, it means that sciences describe the regular workings of the universe that God created. And this includes modern biology, common descent, and macroevolution. The practice of science does not rule out God’s supernatural work. It simply cannot be described by the scientific method. That is the difference between methodological naturalism (the scientific method) and philosophical naturalism (atheism or deism). Science requires its theories to be falsifiable and testable. How do we falsify God? How do we test God? Both of these border on blasphemy.

There is a tremendous amount of evidence in support of the common ancestry of man and other living things. It does a disservice to Christian students to disseminate creation science materials that ignore this real, hard evidence and concentrate on some statistical improbabilities of a bacterial flagellum or the complexity of DNA as “evidence” against evolution. These arguments have been refuted over and over again. The genetic evidence for common ancestry is resoundingly clear, and it highly correlates with the evidence from paleontology and developmental biology. I give glory to God for the complexity of DNA, but I recognize that He created this complexity using evolution.

For anyone who thinks that there’s some vast atheist conspiracy among biology textbook producers and teachers to indoctrinate our children into atheist propaganda, consider that one of the most popular biology textbooks (Miller and Levine’s Biology) has an outspoken Christian author, Ken Miller. His Christian faith is clear, but he doesn’t water down the science. There’s no need to. I’ve listed his personal Web site below [4].

References:

[1] http://biologos.org/blog/what-americans-think-and-feel-about-evolution

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/06/26/is-there-room-in-the-middle-rjs/

[3] https://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church

[4] http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/