In my newest book, Talking with Your Kids about God, there are six chapters that focus on the intersection of faith and science. They answer the questions: Can science prove or disprove God’s existence? Do science and religion contradict each other? Do science and religion complement each other? Is God just an explanation for what science doesn’t yet know? Can science explain why people believe in God? and What do scientists believe about God?
I was particularly excited to write these chapters because I know how important the topics are for parents and kids to understand today, yet so many parents are uncertain of how to approach them. However, over the last few months, more than a few readers I’ve talked to at events or online have sheepishly told me they skipped that section of the book because (I’m paraphrasing) science is out of their “comfort zone.”
This is deeply problematic - not that someone would skip a section of my book, but that parents so often resist engaging in such a critical faith issue today.
The belief that Christianity is anti-science has become a leading reason why many young adults are walking away from faith. Researchers at the Barna Group have found that 29 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds with a Christian background say churches are “out of step with the scientific world we live in,” and 25 percent say “Christianity is anti-science.” The fact that more than a quarter of kids from a Christian background accept this harmful and false narrative should raise a giant flag of concern for Christian parents.
Think this subject is being handled or will be handled by your child’s youth group? Think again. Barna research has also found that only one percent of youth pastors address any issue related to science in a given year. The disconnect between the need and the response to that need is huge right now.
That means parents need to take responsibility for discussing these questions with their kids. But there are four things I think will have to happen before more parents do so.
1. Parents will have to understand that it doesn’t matter whether we personally care about science or not - our kids still need to engage with these issues.
In my experience talking with parents, I think this is the number one reason why most aren’t having these conversations: They just don’t personally care much about science themselves. To be sure, no one actually states that as the reason. Usually, parents just say it’s something they “need to look into” or that it’s “too complicated” (more about that in point four). But as with most things in life, if we truly believe something is important for our kids’ well-being, we will rise to the task. We care out of necessity.
For example, my son recently had an allergic reaction to cashews after eating one for the first time. I went into mommy doctor mode and researched everything I could online to know how to best help him. Is there a ton of information on nut allergies? Yes. Are there differences of opinion on what to do? Yes. Did I feel overwhelmed by learning all this? Absolutely. Did I for one minute decide that it was too difficult to sort out so I wasn’t going to do anything at all to help him? Absolutely not.
I assure you that I don’t naturally care about nut allergies. But as soon as I knew it was important for my son that I educate myself on them, I got equipped. In the same way, it doesn’t matter whether we “care” about science; the question is whether knowledge of faith and science issues is important for our kids. Research (as I noted earlier) has answered that with an unequivocal yes.
2. Parents will have to understand that it doesn’t matter whether our kids care about science or not - they still need to engage with these issues.
One parent recently told me that his kids “just aren’t scientists.” He said they are more into the arts so he wasn’t going to try to get into the details of faith and science issues when that’s not an area of concern or interest for them.
Assuming that science questions won’t affect your kids’ faith because they aren’t into science is a big mistake. In fact, I think kids who don’t dive into science are just as likely to have their faith challenged by these issues as those who do. Why? If they lack interest in personally considering the issues in any depth, they may simply defer to whatever seems culturally accepted. Culture says science and faith are opposites and I have to choose just one? Okay. Culture says science has disproven God and faith is just blind acceptance of something without evidence? I guess I’ll choose science because I don’t want to feel ashamed.
Does that mean every kid needs to understand the intricacies of scientific debate? Not at all. But, as I explain in my chapters on science, everyone should understand the key terms and concepts the debate turns on and the assumptions made by varying worldviews.
3. Parents will have to recognize that questions of the relationship between faith and science are multifaceted.
While many parents are overwhelmed at the thought of learning about science issues, others have oversimplified the matter. I see this a lot in Facebook groups. Someone posts a question about how their child is starting to question his or her faith because of “science,” and within seconds, everyone in the group has solved the problem by breezily pasting a link to the organization that champions their view on the age of the earth. Don’t get me wrong - age of the earth and evolution questions are extremely important (I wrote eight chapters on this in Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side!), but there are many contours of the conversation beyond those particular issues. Kids who have knowledge of just one area - and just one view within that area - will not have the broader foundation needed to engage with today’s world.
4. Parents will have to accept that we don’t have to be science experts to be knowledgeable guides.
My nine-year-old daughter has been preparing for her first piano competition. After listening to her practice her piece many times recently, I realized that she kept struggling on the same couple of measures. She insisted, however, that there wasn’t a problem. I couldn’t easily describe where I heard the issue, so I asked her to play the piece while I looked at the music.
Even though I don’t play piano myself, I’ve been in enough of her lessons over the last three years to understand the basics of how to read music. I can follow along and see the rhythm, rests, dynamics, and so on. When she got to the trouble part, I said, “Here! This is the measure you need to look at!” My daughter, who is very independent and never wants help with anything, wasn’t exactly happy with my direction. She replied, “You’re not a piano expert. You don’t even know how to play piano! How would you know if something is wrong or where it’s wrong?”
It’s certainly true that I’m not a piano expert, but my daughter missed the point that I don’t need to be an expert in order to be a knowledgeable guide for her. I had learned enough of the basics and theoretical framework to show her where the problems lie - even if I couldn’t sit down and play the piece myself.
In the same way, parents don’t need to be science experts to be knowledgeable guides for their kids on the intersection of faith and science. But many parents “bow out” of the conversation because they just don’t feel qualified to have it. There’s no reason to do so. Just because you can’t teach your kids the intricacies of evolutionary theory (or anything else), that doesn’t mean you can’t be equipped to guide your kids in a meaningful, God-honoring way.
With a little motivation and effort, you can learn to show how beautifully science describes God’s creation - not disproves it.