Is the Church Failing Young People? PtIV

Science vs Religion

religion and scienceToday, we talk about the idea that churches are antagonistic to science. Now, the Barna study actually says that “churches come across as antagonistic to science”. I italicized “come across” because I think they’re weasel words. Let’s face it, churches are antagonistic to science. Not all churches, of course, but many of the most vocal ones. From the trial of Galileo to Young Earth Creationism, the universal church has a long history of hostility toward science. Things are a little better these days, as we don’t throw scientists in prison or burn them at the stake, but the problem remains.

There are a lot of reasons for this hostility, but I’d say the biggest is inerrancy.. Inerrancy may have its roots in the Reformation, but it reached full fruition in the early 20th century with the Five Fundamentals and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Together, these tenets have pushed evangelicals into the mindset that one must believe all the Bible literally or you don’t believe any of it. Therefore, anything that differs from their orthodoxy becomes an ideological battlefield. And, that is, to say the least, off-putting.

One of my commenters on Facebook said I shouldn’t accept the findings of this study blindly and that’s probably true. But, in the conversations I’ve had with young adults over the years, I’ve heard many of these very criticisms leveled which tells me that, while the numbers might be off, the ideas are relevant. So, I’ll stay away from the numbers and talk about what the study claims young folks are saying. About the church and science, they’re saying “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”, that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”, that “Christianity is anti-science” and they’ve “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” And, I have to say, I agree with them.

Another commenter is Roger Wolsey, a Methodist pastor and director of the Wesley Foundation at UC-Boulder, who has taken pains to point out that most of the criticisms leveled in the study apply more to fundamental evangelical Christianity and not the more progressive variety that both he and I subscribe to. He’s right; almost everything listed in this report either has been or can be addressed by progressives. In the science vs religion debate, progressives (not being bound by inerrancy) are able to accept both scientific findings and the words of scripture as being equally valid. Take creationism, for example. While evangelicals are bound to  by their belief to take the creation story as historical fact and reject evolution, progressives see no problem is believing both. My personal view is that evolution is how we got here and the Genesis account is why we’re so screwed up.

The problem isn’t so much that religion and science are incompatible, it’s that science challenges the rigid belief of fundamental evangelicalism. You can come up with all kinds of ways to “fix” this, but until evangelicals join the rest of us in the 21st century, they’re going to lose young people. While I may not think that’s a bad thing, the fact that progressive Christianity continues to futz around and not speak to these folks is. But, that’s a story for another day.