Emerging Adults Are Tired of the Culture Wars

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Are science and faith in conflict?

That’s certainly the perception. The Barna Group published this insight in 2011:

“One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is ‘Christians are too confident they know all the answers’ (35%). 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.’ Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.”

But based on more recent studies of emerging adults, there appears to be some promise that there is a general openness toward bringing science and faith together. Though young Millennials and members of Generation Z know that there is a history of conflict on this subject and are aware of antagonism between faith leaders and some scientists, they personally do not feel conflicted.

In his book Mere Science and Christian Faith, Professor Greg Cootsona writes, “I’m willing to conclude that most emerging adults are generally positive about the compatibility between science and religion. It’s more that they have heard others arguing for incompatibility. . . Though they know that warfare is in the air, many emerging adults don’t want any part of it. Rather, they’re interested in finding ways that religion and science are compatible.”

In Cootsona’s conversations with young adults he has found that emerging adults are turned off by the disdain shown by religious leaders regarding science as well as the screeds let loose by “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins. Young adults want more conversation and less shouting. They are open to the possibility that there are thoughtful and compelling ways to engage both science and faith that can lead to a richer understanding of both. Emerging adults need models of how to do this well, along with the opportunity to take part in these kinds of conversations themselves.

Churches can take a step in this direction by inviting Christian scientists to present findings in their fields and to note ways their insights illuminate or expand our understanding of God’s revelation given in Scripture. Create space for questions, too. This might not only prove informative, it may also give emerging adults role models or mentors to look up to as they pursue their passions and interests in the sciences. Exposure to older, mature Christian adults who are thoughtful scientists allows young people to imagine themselves on a similar path.

Build a bridge. Make peace. Create opportunities for inquiry and stimulating conversation. Be prayerful when you gather. Helping Millennials and Gen Zers to think faithfully about science equips them to follow the Great Commandment, loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength. That not only benefits the church, but the world.