The Barna Group was founded in 1984 by George Barna, a media research specialist who holds graduate degrees in urban planning and political science. It is an evangelical polling firm based in Ventura, California. For the first seven years of its existence, it provided research services which proved to be very successful for the Disney Channel. Other clients included the American Broadcasting Company, VISA, and the US military.
In “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave the Church” (June 5, 2017), it reports that roughly 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”. Putting aside the other three reasons, we will take a closer look at those involving a presumed conflict with science.
What a Christian might find ironic about this report is that the three dominant reasons cited for leaving various Christian churches involve issues that should be reasons for remaining. John Paul II addressed these very issues in his longest encyclical, Fides et Ratio (faith and reason). All three of these “reasons” are based on ignorance. One may well wonder whether these youngsters have been poorly taught or have been too heavily influenced by the Media?
Is Christianity anti-science? The Christian faith provided the impetus for the development of modern science. As Alfred North Whitehead, himself a distinguished scientist, writes in his book, Science and the Modern World, “faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative of medieval theology”. Christians provided that faith, and their own faith was nourished by the Church and by Sacred Scripture. Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, urges his fellow scientists to be “naïve, and, even deliberately naïve, in making the assumption that he is dealing with an honest God, and must ask questions of the world as an honest man”. Wiener recommends an Augustinian approach in which all our knowledge rests on the faith that God made the world intelligible. Christianity is and always has been pro-science.
Are the churches out of step with the scientific world in which we live? Science, no matter how sophisticated, is an extension of nature. A hammer is an extension of the fist, the telescope is an extension of the eye, TV extends both the eye and the ear. EWTN, with all its up-to-date scientific paraphernalia, is a vehicle than transmits the “Eternal Word of God,” as well as the Mass to the world. A papal document can been printed, circulated throughout the world and read by millions of people thanks to a concatenation of scientific technologies. At the same time, it is within the province of the churches to distinguish between the moral and immoral uses of technology. Abortion, physician assisted euthanasia, biochemical warfare, etc. are in the world, but are not allied with the good of mankind. It is the Christian voice that speaks out against biochemical warfare, consumer fraud, identity theft, computer hacking, creating cyborgs, and other egregious misuses of scientific technology. This voice should not fall silent.
Is the creation/evolution debate a factor in leaving the church? John Paul II begins Fides et Ratio by stating that “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” Religion and science point to the same ultimate reality. Charles Darwin, himself had serious doubts about the validity of his evolutionary theory (which, we should remember, is just a theory”. He wrote about the “horrid doubt” that arose within him about “whether the convictions of man’s mind, which had been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy”. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey’s mind? Darwin’s evolution turns against itself. The Genesis account of creation and a “six-day” evolution is not science, yet it is broad enough to remain unrefuted.
The great astronomer, Johannes Kepler, found no reason to separate science from faith. “My thoughts are following Thy thoughts,” he wrote, indicating his own conviction that the path of science and that of faith meet in the same God. A conflict between faith and science is not a reason to leave the church. An exploration of their compatibility is a reason to remain.
There is no conflict between faith and reason, Christianity and science. They are harmoniously linked together. The Book of Proverbs exclaims that “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (25:2).
It is difficult to believe that a presumed conflict between faith and science is a legitimate reason for leaving the church. The real reasons are to be found elsewhere. Science’s continuing search to gain a deeper understanding of the laws that govern the universe is actually encouraged by a faith in the reality of a God who has set the universe in motion.
Science has no answer for the meaning of life. Nor does it have anything to say about love, justice, hope, and suffering. We live and find meaning through faith. Faith and science energize each other. They are no more incompatible than the heart is to the mind. This has always been the conviction of Christianity.