New Report: Young People Leaving Church for Science

I stumbled upon a new report from the Barna Group yesterday exploring why so many young people are leaving the church these days. The group’s findings are summarized in six bullet points, including: overprotective churches, shallow theology, and hostility to doubt. All quite predictable. Nothing to see here. I read on.

And there it was: “Churches come across as antagonistic toward science.”

Accompanying this, are these sub-points with which a substantial number of interviewees agreed:

  • “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”; 
  • “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”; 
  • “Christianity is anti-science”; and 
  • “[I am] turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”

I was stunned. Not because this is news exactly, but because science rated its very own bullet point from this rather extensive piece of research. The science-religion debate is big, sure, but big enough to register in a survey of outgoing parishioners?

Skeptical, I contacted a friend of mine who is a noted authority on these things. I asked him his opinion of the study. “Barna is uneven,” he responded, “but this report seems to be the product of more thought and surveying and interviewing than most.” He concluded by saying that while the bullets don’t exhaust the story, they point to something real; “they don’t come out of nowhere.”

So I’m left having to take this seriously.

My background is part of why I’m so surprised. I grew up in a Baptist church in the 1970s and early 1980s. No one in authority ever mentioned evolution—or science—at all. No one ever insisted on reading Genesis literally. My dad, an engineering professor, was responsible for my attendance at church. He also strongly encouraged my childhood fascination with evolution and natural history. So although I had some questions about why Adam and Eve didn’t show up in the geologic timelines in my natural history books, science never presented insoluble problems for my religious faith.

There may be other reasons for my not having stumbled on the science question. The congregation I grew up in was large and urban, and less conservative than many. Not to mention that most of my formative years preceded the rise of the Christian right (I graduated from high school in 1986). The science-religion debate is certainly more polarized today than it was in, say, 1978.

I know that anti-science runs amok in churches today. I read about it every day. But because the churches I’ve attended have been neither conservative nor reactionary, and because I’ve spent the large majority of my adult years on university campuses, I don’t have any direct exposure to life in anti-science congregations.

Have any of you left the church (or a church) mainly because of its antagonism toward science?

If you don’t mind sharing, this inquiring mind wants to know.