Why Studying Evolution Will Likely Challenge Your Kids’ Faith

Why Studying Evolution Will Likely Challenge Your Kids’ Faith

Yesterday, I saw the following post in a Christian Facebook group:

 

 My daughter is starting her second semester of college tomorrow. She got ahold of her syllabus and found the following quote from the professor.

“Except to one whose reason is blinded by unquestioning adherence to fundamentalist doctrine of creation, the evidence of the fossil record, with that of anatomy, embryology, biochemistry and genetics, compels a single conclusion: evolution is a fact.”

Any suggestions on how she should approach this?

 

If this is his daughter’s first time hearing about evolution (or at least secular views of it), it’s going to be a tough semester. Any suggestions on how she should “approach this” are at least a couple of years late.

I hear or see questions like this all the time. Unfortunately, in my experience, many (if not most) Christian parents aren’t tackling the topic of evolution at home. I know some would love to but are overwhelmed by the subject and don’t know where to start. I wrote 8 of 40 chapters in my book on the topics of creation and evolution views to help parents who feel this way (I also posted a giant resource page last week).

However, far more parents are simply disinterested in the topic and, consequently, have a limited understanding of why evolution is such a big deal. They have a general idea that evolution is a challenge to Christian faith, but don’t necessarily know the particulars of why. At one end of the spectrum, there are parents who don’t care to know because they think it’s enough to teach their kids that “evolution is wrong and the Bible is right.” At the other end of the spectrum, there are parents who don’t care to know because they think evolution and Christianity can seamlessly fit together.

Both of these approaches trivialize the impact that studying evolution can have on a child’s faith.    

Here’s why.

(Please note: There are many different uses of the term evolution. When I say evolution in this post, I’m talking about modern (“neo-Darwinian”) evolutionary theory in which all life descended from a single primitive species via natural selection acting on random DNA mutations. For more background on basics to understand about evolution, please see my post, 4 Key Points Christian Kids Need to Understand About Evolution.)

 

The Compelling Evidence for Evolution: Not Simple to Throw Out

When your kids first have the chance to hear the scientific case for evolution, it will likely be very convincing to them. Kids whose parents simply emphasize that evolution is wrong because it’s “not what the Bible says” (without further discussion) may well be left in a faith crisis when they eventually engage with the subject in depth. That’s exactly what happened to me. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter on the evidence for evolution, in which I share my own experience:

 

I didn’t learn about the evidence for evolution until I was in my 30s. When I did, it rocked my lifelong faith in a matter of hours.

 When I was growing up, evolution wasn’t yet a subject taught in most public schools; I never encountered it academically. The only time I heard it mentioned was when my church youth group leader once laughed it off, saying, “Yeah, like we all really came from apes!”  I remember thinking that was a pretty far-fetched idea. In college, I studied economics, so I came no closer to evolutionary theory as a young adult. It was very much off my radar until I had kids and decided I should learn about it for their sake.

I started studying evolution by reading an online series of introductory articles published by Biologos.org.  After studying just eight lessons one day, I numbly shut down my computer, pulled a blanket over my head, and felt years of faith sheepishly slink into the shadows of my newfound knowledge. The evidence was shockingly vast—far more extensive than I had ever imagined. The details were fascinating and compelling. This wasn’t some half-baked idea about how fossils fit together, as I had previously imagined. This was… completely scientific. As scientific as any other science I had ever studied and assumed to be valid. It was hardly a leap to ask myself, Why shouldn’t I accept this science if I accept all other science I’ve been taught? I felt like I couldn’t breathe for hours as I lay pondering what life would look like without the God I had always believed in.

It’s important to know that this one night when evolution floored me came after I had attended church for 30-plus years, served as a youth group leader, taken numerous Sunday school classes, read the Bible regularly, and engaged in an active prayer life. None of those things prepared me to figure out what I should do with the evidence for evolution. If evolution was true, I had no idea how Christianity could be true at the same time. If evolution was not true, I had no idea how there could be so much evidence for it.

It was devastating.

How much more is learning about the evidence for evolution potentially devastating to young people with a relatively inexperienced faith? How much more will they “have no idea what to do with” compelling information that immediately seems to contradict the Bible? Recall from the introduction that we actually know that answer: At least 60 percent of young adults are turning away from Christianity today, and the evidence for evolution is one of the biggest reasons.

[End excerpt]

 

If your kids hear all this scientific evidence in school and say, “Meh. Unimpressive…” then their faith may not be challenged. But that’s an unlikely reaction for most. Clearly, kids need to engage with their parents on the complexity of these issues. Trivializing the subject is not the answer.

 

Five Ways Evolution Can Challenge Christian Faith

At the other end of the spectrum are parents who don’t care what their kids believe about evolution because they assume Christianity and evolution can fit seamlessly together. Indeed, the acceptance of evolution, in and of itself, does not necessitate atheism. God theoretically could have created the universe and planned for life to unfold via an evolutionary process (this idea is called theistic evolution).  However, that doesn’t mean Christianity and evolution go together without some significant challenges. There are several big reasons why many people end up rejecting their faith after accepting evolution (again, not a necessary outcome, but a very possible one given these questions):

 

First, if a deity did create the world via evolution, it raises the question of whether He would still be active in it.

Most theistic evolutionists believe that God acted directly in creating the universe, but in doing so ensured that nature would require no additional guidance from that point on. If God is so “passive” in our natural history, why should we believe he’s so engaged in salvation history as told by the Bible (making covenants with people and nations, performing miracles, entering history as Jesus, and so on)?

Of course, there’s no logical reason God couldn’t act differently in these histories, but the contrast does give many people pause.

 

Second, if evolution is true, it’s hard to see how humans are different from animals, as the Bible claims.

The Bible is very clear that humans were made in the image of God. Although there is considerable scholarly debate over what precisely that means, at the very least it means humans have the cognitive and moral faculties necessary to have a relationship with God…and that animals don’t. The Bible presents humans as very different creatures who are uniquely accountable to our Creator, with eternal implications. According to modern evolutionary theory, however, humans are just another kind of animal. We all descend from the same species.

Theistic evolutionists usually believe that, at some point in time, God chose certain creatures to receive His image and become fully human (there’s no consensus on when or how that happened). Again, while logically possible, evolution certainly raises significant questions about the supposedly special status of mankind.

 

Third, if naturalistic (atheistic) evolution is true, it’s easier to account for the problem of suffering in the world.

One of the most difficult theological questions is why there is so much suffering in the world if an all-powerful and all-good God exists. While many Christians have offered answers throughout history, naturalistic evolution (at first) seems to explain suffering more readily than theism. If there’s no God, and the history of life is just a giant snowball of continuous DNA mutations rolling through time, genetic errors leading to suffering and disease are to be expected.

 

Fourth, if evolution is true, it raises serious questions about the reliability of the Bible.

There are quite a few things Christians disagree on when it comes to interpreting parts of the Bible, often boiling down to the meaning of a few specific verses. But there are more than a few verses that are in question if one believes evolution is true. Most obvious is the creation account in Genesis. If the Bible really is God’s Word, why wouldn’t God have informed the biblical writers that He created life via evolution…or, at the very least, remained silent on the topic and not given them an account that at face value contradicts reality? Those were the immediate questions that came to my own mind when I first learned about the evidence for evolution.

Additionally, many verses reference the creation account throughout the Bible, and, importantly, treat Adam as a historical figure (see, for example, Luke 3:38; Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45; 1 Timothy 2:13, 14; Jude 1:14). However, evolutionists conclude that we do not descend from an original set of two parents; they believe we descend from a group of at least 10,000. If Adam is not a historical person, it clearly challenges several more verses in the Bible than the creation account itself. (Theistic evolutionists have addressed this challenge and the next in a variety of ways beyond the scope of this post).

 

Fifth, if evolution is true, it raises serious questions about Christian theology.

There are also a lot of theological implications if there wasn’t a historical Adam or a historical “fall.” In the traditional Christian view, salvation is the result of God working to restore a fallen mankind to a right relationship with Him through Jesus. If there wasn’t a real Adam and there wasn’t a historical fall, it naturally raises the question of why there had to be a savior. Theistic evolutionists have offered answers to this, but there’s no question that it’s far more difficult to reconcile Christian theology without a historical Adam.

 

As I wrap this up, I want to return to the father’s question at the beginning of this post. When you realize how many scientific and scriptural considerations there are on this topic, you can see how difficult it will be for a young adult to go into a class where naturalistic (atheistic) evolution is taught as fact. Don’t let your child’s eventual college professor have the first (and possibly final) word on what your child believes. Take accountability and engage with your kids long before then.

 

If you’re not sure how to talk about these issues with your children, please check out my book. I explain young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, naturalistic evolution, and intelligent design for parents with no background in these topics (without advocating any one position).

15 Comments

  1. Kelli on January 20, 2016 at 7:32 AM

    We have found the Answers in Genesis website and materials to be very helpful with the topic of evolution – https://answersingenesis.org. We have approached this subject with our children from a young age, and when they were in public school (we started homeschooling in middle school), they did not appreciate when evolution was taught as fact. When you realize how much of evolution is still based on theories (and that there are many conflicting theories), it’s easier to see how things really line up with the Biblical account of Creation.



  2. John Tors on January 20, 2016 at 8:14 AM

    This is a very good and necessary article; the warning you sound is much needed. According to Creation Ministries International, about 70% of professing Christian young people abandon their faith within six months of entering university, many of them over the issue of evolution. (It should be noted that Ken Ham’s book “Already Gone,” which analyzes the data from the first scientific survey of such reasons, finds questions about the Bible’s reliability – apart from creation/evolution – are more commonly cited).

    I would say that the scientific evidence for evolution is compelling only prima facie. For those who are well versed in science and do apply that knowledge to assessing the evidence, evolution is soon seen to be a nonstarter.

    I also wonder how your personal journey would have been different had you first gone to icr.org or creation.com instead of Biologos.org. Why did you start with the latter?

    Finally, it should be “uninterested,” not “disinterested.” As your article points out, parents are most certainly not disinterested in this issue, though many are uninterested.



    • Natasha Crain on January 20, 2016 at 9:55 AM

      Hi John,

      Thank you!

      The reason I started with an evolution site to learn about evolution is that I wanted to hear the strongest case for it. I would caution any parent or child on learning about evolution only from sources dedicated to refuting it. As one person commented on Facebook after reading this post, “I would add: a college course shouldn’t be the first time your child hears the *best* arguments for evolution. Equipping your child to answer weak arguments for evolution but ignoring the best ones may lead to even more problems for them in the long run.” In other words, it’s very important that adults and kids both see first-hand how the evidence is presented by those supporting it. There are many opportunities to then study rebuttals.

      Without naming specific organizations, I would also say that *some* absolutely do present the weakest arguments for evolution and ignore major pieces of information that are quite compelling. In fact, when I read a popular book by one such organization, the information was SO one-sided, I wanted to throw the book in frustration! So, for anyone reading these comments, please be sure that you don’t ONLY read about evolution as presented by those refuting it. You need to hear what your KIDS will hear so you understand how to engage on the level they’ll be required to.



      • John Tors on January 20, 2016 at 4:35 PM

        I agree that our children (and Christians in general) should be exposed to the best arguments for evolution, just as they should be equipped to handle the most dangerous driving conditions. But I don’t think we should start them out by driving in a snowstorm. It seems to me that the best arguments for evolution should go hand in hand with the best rebuttals, not the former first and the latter after.



  3. Tom Milligan on January 20, 2016 at 11:32 AM

    Hi Natasha,

    This is a great article. I’ve long held the view that Christians should inform themselves to be better-equipped to discuss evolution than is the average person.

    This starts with not being intimidated by ad-hominem statements such as that in the syllabus you noted “Except to one whose reason is blinded by unquestioning adherence to fundamentalist doctrine of creation, the evidence of the fossil record, with that of anatomy, embryology, biochemistry and genetics, compels a single conclusion: evolution is a fact.”

    There is no information in that statement, only an attack meant to intimidate any prospective dissenter into silence.

    As you noted, it is worthwhile to know the best evidences offered for evolution. One can only provide counter-arguments against specific claims and if you don’t know the specific claims, then you can’t address them.

    As an example, I did a web search for “best evidence for evolution”; one of the top returned hits was an article titled “Five Proofs of Evolution” on the evolutionfaq.com site. Of the 5 proofs offered, 2 are also evidence for reuse of optimal design by an intelligent designer (universal genetic code, genetic commonalities), one is clearly conjecture (common traits in embryos are only possible if they share a common ancestor) and borders on a repeating Haeckel’s discredited theory of recapitulation, one is irrelevant (antibiotic resistance in bacteria – in fact, according to the April 13, 2012 National Geographic News, drug-resistant bacteria have been found in a 4-million year old cave) and the fifth proof offered (the fossil record shows a smooth and gradual transition from one form of life to another) is demonstrably false.

    Kids should be prepared to question the information that will confront them when they leave home and this preparation includes questioning the information that they are leaving home with. To do otherwise invites a crisis of faith.

    I’ve found the “Reasons to Believe” (reasons.org) and the “Rational Faith” (rationalfaith.com) organizations to be excellent resources in preparing one to address these sorts of challenges.



  4. J. Brian Edwards on January 20, 2016 at 4:35 PM

    Hi Natasha,
    Living here in the UK, I find it interesting to get your angle on the issues of creation/evolution. The separation of creation and evolution in to competing camps seems to be a largely American problem, and the demonization of Darwin an American sport. Over here, the principles of evolution are almost universally accepted, in the church as well as outside, although of course none of us has all the answers, and we all struggle to reconcile science with theology. I had not seen the Biologos.org website until you mentioned it, but it does seem to be sane and well-balanced.
    I was alarmed by your statement that you had not really confronted the issues of evolution until you were in your thirties, and only then by your own enquiries. Whatever was your High School biology teacher thinking about?? I am 73 years old, so I was in High School some 60 years ago, but we were certainly acquainted with evolutionary theory.
    By the way, my own position is theistic evolution.



    • Ian Hemmens on February 10, 2016 at 12:53 PM

      I can’t agree that evolution is universally accepted here in the UK. Nor Theistic evolution. There are many, some that I know, who believe in a litral translation of the creation story. I’m sorry that you have a low view of scripture.



      • J. Brian Edwards on February 19, 2016 at 9:50 AM

        I didn’t say evolution is universally accepted over here – I said it is almost universally accepted. It is accepted by everyone apart from a small number of Fundamentalist Christians. I said Theistic Evolution is my own position – not everybody’s. I don’t consider that I have a “low” view of scripture, just a realistic one.



  5. Katie Jo Hook on January 20, 2016 at 10:46 PM

    Thank you so much for this article! We took a mom’s group, along with kids and hubby’s, to the Creation Museum- near Cincinnati Ohio a couple years ago. A man named, Dr. Menton spoke to our group. It was such a blessing to hear his session on “Evolution?- Not a Chance!” It was so exciting to hear the statistics and information about Creation and Evolution to be equipped to share what we learned when we got home. My kids enjoyed it, and have asked lots of questions since. Thankfully, the school that they are presently attending has a Christian Science teacher that reinforces the Word. It is so important for all of us to see and hear intelligent men and women share insight in science and the WORD. Thanks again for your article! Blessings to what God is doing in and through you!

    Katie Jo Hook
    http://www.mommalovesyou.net/video-blog
    http://www.mommalovesyou.net



  6. Sam McKee on January 21, 2016 at 4:24 AM

    We cannot give our kids a Christianity without a brain!

    My Pentecostal teen instruction from my youth leaders was so awful it tried to make scientists look like the dumb ones who hadn’t thought things through. I’m one of the only ones who made it out of my youth group still with a faith today.

    I recommend Professor John Lennox of Oxford over everybody else on this matter

    Thanks Natasha for your outstanding work and ministry. God bless



  7. Andrea on January 24, 2016 at 2:03 PM

    I guess I would fall into the “theistic evolution” camp, but I’ve really never felt like the science of evolution is a threat to Christianity. Scientists have their theories now, but who’s to say that in the next hundred years they won’t find new discoveries that could debunk today’s theory of evolution and create some other new theory? And if that did happen, would it change the fact that God was behind the creation of the world, however it came to be created? I tell my kids that they will never have all the answers, and that no one will. God is way too big to have all the answers to, but they should always keep searching for answers, for faith is a lifetime journey, and sometimes it’s in the questions that you find God.



  8. Sharon S. on January 27, 2016 at 9:20 PM

    Good advice! Anything looks challenging when the evolutionists’ evidence is all one hears! But I don’t know of many “good” evidences for evolution left. Only one, really: the “starlight and time” issue. (More on this below.)

    I’ve read, and seen, hundreds of presentations, live and canned, by competent creationist authors and speakers for 20+ years, and in that time just about every evidence claimed for evolution — I’ve seen debunked. From the claims that:

    1- the fossils show evolution from simple to complex organisms,
    2. to dinosaurs having died millions of years before Man evolved
    3. to scientists having “almost created life” in a laboratory experiment
    4. to vestigial organs, and/or “badly-designed” organs
    5. to our blood having the same kinds and proportions of salts as are in the ocean
    6. to … you name it — those claims have fallen. And the evidence that it took God to design the universe and living things, keeps growing! Especially in DNA research!

    For the record, here is a very brief summary:

    1. Fossils do NOT show a progression from simple to complex. Fossils claimed to be from the “oldest” Cambrian “period” contain many different complex life forms, even including vertebrate fish! There are NO definite transitional forms, either. Either the organism still exists, or it does not.

    2. Dinosaurs (once called “dragons”), claimed to have been extincted 65,000,000 years ago, have been drawn, sculpted, and carved by humans, hundreds to thousands of years ago, in Cambodia, Peru, China, Italy…. The Grendel of Beowulf sounds a lot like a tyrannosaur. In the last few years, non-decayed and non-fossilized tissues have been found in dinosaur fossils. Natives in the Congo River Basin say they have a creature that sounds very like a sauropod dinosaur!

    3. The experiments that I thought had “almost created life” in a laboratory — didn’t. Ex.: the Miller-Urey experiment created a toxic sludge of materials, including some of the 20 amino acids that compose proteins in living things, but half the amino acids were “left-handed” and half “right-handed.” Living things use left-handed amino acids well over 99% of the time. A 50/50 mixture is toxic. To produce any amino acids would last for any length of time, they had to be separated out from the environment that created them, because they were destroyed by that environment something like 1 million times faster than they were created by it.

    Not to mention that life is WAY more than just proteins (made up of amino acids). It requires INFORMATION in the DNA, a way to implement the information … the origin of life by chance is effectively astronomically impossible!

    4. Vestigial organs – everything on the “vestigial” list 100 years ago, is now off the list! The list has now a few new but minor items deemed “vestigial.” Ex.: the vermiform appendix is part of the immune system, is a repository for needed bacteria, and I hear that before we formed bones to make red blood cells, they were made in the appendix!

    Belief that evolution has caused organs to become vestigial was the reason it took so long for researchers to look for possible functions of these organs. That belief also led to laws mandating the removal of perfectly healthy appendices, and led to very BAD treatments for spine problems, treatments that made problems worse! (I’ve had that experience!)

    And “badly-designed” organs? Repeatedly, “bad” designs turn out to be very good designs! The “backward wiring” of the human eye is an example. (Google it!)

    5. Our blood does NOT have the same kinds and proportions of salts as in sea water! If it did, that would be amazing in itself, because our supposed ancestors are claimed to have left the water hundreds of millions of years ago, when the salt content would have been much lower. Also, salts and sediments constantly build up in the oceans. At the rates they are known to build up, the continents should long ago have been eroded into the oceans!

    The only area I know of that’s still a problem for creationists is why we can see light from distant stars that are supposed to be more than 6000 light years away, if God created the universe 6000 years ago. But, there are big problems with the evolutionists’ Big Bang model, too!

    What seems like a big problem for creationists will dissolve when we get more information. It’s happened time and time and time again!

    I could go on endlessly. But nobody’d read it if I did, anyway!



    • michelle on February 8, 2016 at 8:06 AM

      I read all of the comments,including yours! Im nt a science student (was never my point of interest) but to defend my own Faith.I’ll dive into all of this!
      GOD BLESS!

      stephen hawking is smart bt spiritually dumb.



  9. Cal on February 13, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    A historical survey of science would be beneficial for students. Scientific models come and go. The mathematician Ptolemy created an intricate model to “prove” the geocentrism of the Solar System. People believed that life could spontaneously arise out of non-life (fruit flies from fruit, maggots from meat, and mice out of garbage). Such models carried consensus and would’ve been described as scientific.



  10. Hendrik on July 14, 2017 at 9:28 PM

    Hi

    1. Most evolutionary creationists believe that God created and sustains the universe. Creation is seen an a continual act.

    2. Many evolutionary creationists hold an Incarnational view of the Bible
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vvjEsflJuIM

    3. With regard to Adam and Eve:
    http://biologos.org/blogs/guest/where-are-adam-and-eve-in-the-story-of-evolution-four-possibilities