Reasons Why Young People Leave the Church: the churches comes off as antagonistic towards science

Posted: 07/06/2013 in church, college, iconoclasms
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This blog continues the perpetually prolonged discussion on why young people leave the church.  Now at last, we discuss the second hottest topic out of the original six at the Barna research.  Young people leave the church because it comes of as antagonistic towards science.  The Barna research expounds:

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

No one can hardly do this subject justice in one blog.  I hope then, to keep the comments brief and allow others to expand in comments.

Who is actually at fault here?

If Christianity is perceived as anti-science, than who is actually at fault here?  I mean this very seriously.  Is it entirely the dogmatic young earth creationists out there who give Christianity a bad name?  Or is the folks like Dawkins whose beliefs about science versus religion are equally dogmatic?

Consider the famous play Inherent the Wind.  The play dramatized the famous scopes monkey trial: a classic, early 20 century, courtroom case about evolution.  In the play, William Jennings Bryon is portrayed as religious fanatic who refused to read Darwin’s godless nonsense.  He ends the play in a kind of crazed mania.  However, during the actual trial, William Jennings Bryon is a bit more cool headed.  He did, in fact, read Darwin thoroughly.  The irony here is that the original court transcripts are available for anyone to read.

Another issue is the famous Galileo trial.  You will still find people on the internet who believe that the church thought the earth was flat, and that geocentric astronomy was written in the Bible.  This story is frequently told as if Galileo was the first person to look at the universe ‘rationally’ and his religious detractors were knuckle dragging barbarians.  This is not true.  The geocentric model was handed down to western civilization from Ptolemy -hardly a religious source- from the ancient world.  It was based largely on observation.  It tracked the motions of the sun, predicted eclipses, and it didn’t have to explain why “the earth moves even though it we don’t observe it.”  The Roman Catholic Church has long sense acknowledged that it was wrong to put Galileo on house arrest.  Furthermore, there were rational reasons to be skeptical of the heliocentric model.  The geocentric model has never been intrinsic to Christianity anyway.

I do think there are Christians who are anti-science.  However, I think that the perception that Church is anti-science isn’t not entirely the shoulders of Christians.  We can’t be held accountable for theatrical exaggerations or a simplified, anachronistic, text book telling of major scientific paradigm shifts.

Dropping it like it’s Hot

There is one point that Christians are at fault.  It’s one doctrine that needs to go away.  It’s called Young Earth Creationism.  I feel the need to be blunt on this one.  Young Earth Creationism -with its instance that the earth is less than ten thousand years old- has already been declared “embarrassing” by William Laine Craig.  That’s William Laine Craig, the conservative evangelical scholar at Biola University.  Some might say that we should “teach the controversy.”  It’s also true that Christians can disagree on this issue.  It this is true, now remember why young people leave.  They’re turned off by this entire debate.  Who is making the trouble then?   Consider that Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, was dis-invited from a home schooling convention because of “unchristian” behavior and rhetoric.

It is not that I think that Young Earth Creationism is bad for that reason only though.  I feel the dogma is riddled with holes and is ad hoc in responding to them.  It is a superficial interpretation of scripture promoted by sophistry and cute cartoons.  It is not that I simply think that YEC is the wrong.  It is that I feel it is so wrong it doesn’t even deserved to be discussed.  Is the church antagonistic towards science?  Not it is not.  So let’s kick YEC to the curb already!

Other Alternatives

There is at least one promising alternative to the (perceived) antagonistic attitude towards science.  Before going further, it needs to be clarified that this is not really about science itselfbut rather issues about the philosophy of science.  The former most high school students have a surface level grasp on.  The latter is not usually covered except by upper level college courses.  I guess what I am saying is, you’d have to be have a pretty exception home school program to hear about this one.

Consider the approach of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  The really simple version of is like this: given a fully, unguided, naturalistic evolution, why should we trust our senses and our minds to fully understand reality?  This is not a scientific question that can be answered in a scientific way.  Trustworthy senses and minds are an assumption of science.  However, we know that there are cave-dwelling creatures that never evolved eyes, thus they cannot perceive the reality of light.  What would make us so sure that we have the adequate senses to understand all of reality?

Plantinga’s lines of argument endorse something he calls Augustinian Science.  While this is a complicated subject in itself, the thrust of the argument is this: anytime you do science you assume certain things about reality.  For Christians, we should have no problem assuming that God exists.  This doesn’t mean that we should freely invoke God anytime a scientific problem comes up, but it does it mean that we can be more consistent when we trust our senses and our minds.

Is this a perfect solution?  Honestly, this isn’t even a complete presentation.  Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction.  If we want to keep the younger generation, than we can drop the whole “creation versus evolution” framework that young earth creationistism has set up.  Equally, we can avoid the “science versus religion” framework that atheists seem to pigeon hole us in.

Plantinga’s approach, in my opinion, satisfies both requirements.  It isn’t dogmatically tied to a particular interpretation of Genesis 1-11.  Furthermore, it reminds full-blown atheists that they have deep seated assumptions about science, reality, and what philosophers call metaphysics.  It deals with the whole faith versus science issue where the problem where the actual problem lies: philosophical assumptions about knowledge and reality.

Maybe we can give young people a bit more intellectual credit and assume that they can sort it out.

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Comments
  1. Alberto S. Lopez says:

    Thoughtful piece. Excellent, eloquent writing, as usual.

  2. I just read an article (http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/article/christian-complicity) that talks about this exact issue and quotes Augustine’s book “Literal Interpretation of Genesis” (c. 393). He was definitely not a fundie:

    “It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an unbeliever to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up a Christian’s vast ignorance and laugh it to scorn (No. 39).

    Augustine’s chief concern is that these non-Christians, hearing misguided views attributed to the Scripture, will come to dismiss and deride Christianity itself. He adds pointedly:

    If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”

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