Creationists drive young people out of the church — Karl Giberson

Karl Giberson: Creationists Drive Young People Out of the Church

Here is a quote:

In a recent piece titled “Nine Year Old Challenges Nasa,” [Answers in Genesis president Ken] Ham blogged proudly about “Emma B” who, when told that a NASA moon rock was 3.75 billion years old, asked “Were you there?”

The suggestion that scientists cannot speak about the past unless “they were there” is a strange claim. The implication is that we cannot do something as simple as count tree rings and confidently declare “This great pine was standing here 2,000 years ago.” As a philosophy of science, such a restriction would completely rule out the scientific study of the past. This, of course, is precisely what the creationists want.

Many bright evangelical young people are, fortunately, not impressed with the suggestion that only “eyewitnesses” can speak about the past. Just this past spring I taught an honors seminar on science and religion at an evangelical college. The class included a couple of bright students who had grown up in fundamentalist churches that showed Ken Ham videos in their Sunday School class. Both of them recalled the encouragement to ask their teachers “Were you there?” And both of them, a few years older and wiser than “Emma B,” thought this suggestion was ridiculous and wondered what kind of ideas required the embrace of such nonsense on their behalf. These students — in fact, most of the students I have had over the years — will graduate from college accepting contemporary science and its various explanations for what has happened in the past. But unless the leadership in their churches does a better job with its teaching ministry, such students will have a hard time returning to their home churches.

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.

Giberson refers to a Barna survey: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. I’ve been wanting to blog about this, but just haven’t had the time. Reason #3 is “Churches come across as antagonistic to science.”

With love for the Church


11 thoughts on “Creationists drive young people out of the church — Karl Giberson

  1. John Chaikowsky

    The statement “Where you there?” only implies that the statement was not empirical. Empiricism deals with the Scientific Method which uses our senses for observation, testability, repeatability and falsification. These things cannot be done unless one was there. The Historical Sciences are more forensic than empirical. It can only look for evidence (not fact) of actions that have already transpired. The evidence that is gathered is more suited to a courtroom rather than the laboratory.

    I think the “Where you there?” statement brings the instructor down to earth and shows that they were confounding empiricism with forensics.


  2. geochristian

    John — I think it is better to speak of “scientific methods” rather than “the scientific method.” The historical sciences are still science, they just do some of their science in a different fashion than the laboratory sciences do. I’ve written about this a little bit more here: Geology and the scientific method.

    I thought Giberson brought out an appropriate parallel. If a young-Earth creationist counts tree rings and declares that he now knows the age of the tree, it would be fair to declare, “Where you there?” I would go a step further and chide them for their adherence to uniformitarianism for assuming that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet 3:4) as the tree made its rings.

    Greet the brothers and sisters in the Bible study. I miss all of you.


  3. Martin_Lack

    Rightly or wrongly, my parents brought me up in an environment where going to church was non-negotiable; but they did not tell me how to think. It was therefore somewhat strange that, when I left home to start my Geology Degree in 1983, they bought me some Creationists books to read. I know for a fact from many conversations with him, that my Dad was definitely not a Creationist, so I suspect this was his way of convincing me of its folly. If so, however, it was a dangerous strategy that could (easily?) have backfired!

    Now 46 and divorced, the tables have been well and truly turned on me because my ex-Wife is bringing my children up to believe that the Bible can be treated as a science text book (which it clearly is not). I have therefore found myself torn between challenging such simplistic thinking (which risks causing them to stumble) and remaining silent in the face of obscurantist dogma. However, I tend now to remain silent because, at the ages of 13 and 15, I am certain the children understand what my position is and – because they are both very intelligent and deep thinkers – I am confident they will eventually see sense (without losing their faith).

    In the mid-1990s there was that thing called the “Toronto Blessing” (at the time I was very much in favour – although it split the Church) one of the features of which was – apart from a lot of shouting and laughing – the idea of “BIG God”… This has always stayed with me because, to anyone tempted towards adopting simplistic, anti-intellectual and irrational positions, I would have to say… “your God is too small”!


  4. Jordan

    I’ve often wondered how many creationists believe we should do away with forensic evidence in the court of law, and free all criminals convicted on the basis of such evidence. After all, if no one was there to see the crime happen, then all scenarios are equally likely. Right?


  5. Great post, Kevin, I reminded me of a question one of my church’s Sunday school teachers asked me a couple weeks ago – she wanted to know if there was any teaching material for children on the Genesis events that was scientifically sound. I told her I would check around, but there doesn’t seem to be any material out there that an evangelical church can use that is faithful to the scriptures and free from the pseudo-science of the YEC ministries. Now I know that a YEC would respond by saying that the only material that would be faithful to the scriptures would by definition be YEC, but I would disagree. I know AiG and their “Already Gone” materials basically say that the reason so many young people are leaving the Christian church is that we’re not properly teaching our kids to understand YEC and “creation science.” In a way, I think they’re right that we’re not properly addressing the issue when kids start asking questions about science-faith issues. Kids are smart – they start asking tough questions about things like Noah’s Flood (e.g., were dinosaurs on the ark?) when they’re in their early grade school years. However, I think the problem is that we’re not giving our Sunday school teachers the scientifically-defensible materials they need to address these questions. I hope such materials are developed soon.


  6. WebMonk

    There have been quite a few books on that topic. As a quick summary of the explanations:

    There were a DRASTICALLY reduced number of “kinds” compared to the number of species today. For example, the camel, the giraffe, and the llama all would have come from the same animal. All the dinosaurs species? Nope, just a few hundred representatives. Estimates run from 3000 base pairs up to 10,000 base pairs.

    Most of the animals would have been young animals – perhaps not even sexually mature. Smallest representatives would have been selected as well – T-Rex wouldn’t have been on there, but rather the smallest member of the (quite broad) taxonomic “order” to which the T-Rex belonged.

    The animals would have been put into a near hibernation sort of state with minimal food consumption, waste production, or respiration.

    Perhaps the main point of the solution is the drastic cut in numbers of animals on the ark. The Ark explanation is that only very basic “kinds” were included on the Ark. All the variations on those kinds were wiped out in the Flood (visible to us as fossils)

    One of the many problems with that, is the amount of diversification since the Flood. Like I said – one animal needed to diversify into the thousands of distinct species which are seen in the fossil record since then and are alive today as llamas, giraffes, and camels. Not only that, but they needed to diversify into all those thousands of wildly different species within a couple hundred years.

    I get a giggle sometimes when I read YEC claims about “microevolution” and “macroevolution” – 99.99% don’t have the foggiest clue what that entails. They think of “microevolution” as wolves-to-dogs sort of stuff, or the changing shapes of bird beaks. Pfft! Nope, it’s one animal, something like the Moeritherium, turning into everything from the giant mastodons, to the African and Indian elephants of today, and the dozens of diverse relatives we see in the fossil records that are “post-Flood”. And it needed to get all that diversity done in the first couple hundred years after the Flood.

    (and if they want to limit their “base kind” on the Ark to only the order Proboscidea, they will have a very tough time explaining the clear development and relationships between the “elephants” of Proboscidea and their, very closely related by many lines of relationships, cousins the Hyraxes, Manatees, and all the various extinct cousins of those orders we see in the “post-Flood” fossil records)

    The YEC positions not only require what they derisively term “macroevolution”, but they need it to happen at a speed that is ridiculously, stupidly, crazily beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.


  7. Martin_Lack

    Dear WebMonk, my explanation is much simpler: We aren’t supposed to take Genesis Ch. 1-12 (at least) literally. Therefore it did not actually happen. End of story. Literally. Discuss?


  8. WebMonk

    I agree with you that Genesis 1-12(ish) wasn’t intended to be ‘literal’ and so we shouldn’t take it as ‘literal’. No argument here.


  9. JacobC

    About the question “Were you there?”, it occurred to me that in its view of the nature of truth, YEC is similar to postmodernism. YEC says that truth is unknowable through reason (the only credible thing is to “be there” and observe). Postmodernism says that there is no truth (or if there is something approximating truth, it is subjective and thus really unknowable).

    I know I am simplifying things but the believer in YEC and the postmodernist have similar world views. Both deny reason and truth in the natural order. Actually, both might object to the idea of a “natural order.” I have read posts on various forums where a YEC believer objects to the idea that God has worked various laws into nature (such as the speed of light being a constant). And the postmodernist takes comfort in the seeming chaos on the quantum level and takes that as confirmation that truth is meaningless. Both see the universe as a chaotic, lawless place.


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