Creationism and religious activity of youth

A recent study in Christianity Today reports that many in the Christian world, particularly in the evangelical community, still resist the accepted scientific worldview of a universe approximately 13.75 billion years old, an earth that is approximately 4.65 billion years old, and a biological world that has developed by largely natural evolutionary processes through many millions of years [CT2011].

In this study, among self-identified evangelical Protestant ministers, 48% “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that the earth is only 6000 years old. 79% of these pastors “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree” that God used evolution to create human beings.

These findings are directly relevant to the continuing challenge of religious movements to retain their youth. In his new book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church, author David Kinnaman lists six principal reasons for disaffection of youth [Barna article]:

1. Churches seem overprotective.
2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Note in particular item #3 above: Many youth are “falling away” from Christian belief due to a perceived tension between science and religion. In some additional analysis of this issue in the study above, 29% of Christian young adults feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”. Another 25% perceive that “Christianity is anti-science”. And 23% reported they have been “turned off” by the creation-versus-evolution debate. Such tension is particularly acute for those students in scientific majors, and those whose professional work is in a science-related sector of the economy.

Karl Giberson, an evangelical author who has studied science and religion, reports that this certainly rings true in his experience. He reports that many evangelical youth grow up in a “parallel culture” that is often at odds with modern science. Many of these youth have been shown anti-science material, such as the writings and presentation materials offered by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis [AIG website].

One of Ham’s oft-emphasized counterpoints to the scientific assertion, say, that life first appeared on earth roughly four billion years ago is “Were you there?”. Unfortunately, as Giberson notes, “many bright evangelical young people are, fortunately, not impressed with the suggestion that only ‘eyewitnesses’ can speak about the past.” Giberson adds,

The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.

Additional details are in a recent article by Karl Giberson at Huffington Post, from which some of the material above has been adapted: [HuffPost article]. Additional details are available in the following articles on this site:

  1. Is the scientific picture of an earth and biological species formed over several billion years in conflict with the Judeo-Christian Bible?
  2. What do major religious leaders and denominations say about the “war” between science and religion?
  3. What do leading scientists and scientific societies say about the “war” between science and religion?
  4. What do major theologians say about the “war” between science and religion?
  5. Have creationist writers uncovered significant technical issues that draw into question established theories of geology and evolution?
  6. Have intelligent design writers uncovered significant technical issues that draw into question the established theories of geology and evolution?

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