This is the third essay of musings, organizing my thoughts for an upcoming presentation.
In the first essay, I showed that the rise of the ‘religious nones’ within just the last decade or so is massive, and provided data that supports what most of us already knew: most of these were raised in the Christian faith. To explain this massive shift, in the second essay I laid it at the feet of just one thing: Darwinism.
But I also said:
I will argue that despite the central role that Darwinism presently plays in fueling hostility to Christian faith, the role that it played in the past is more significant–and more expansive than we typically tend to think about.
There is no way I’ll be able to cover the extent of that significance in these few essays. In the spirit of organizing my thoughts, I will put my finger on the factors tied most directly to the current great falling away.
In the second essay, I alluded to Ken Ham’s book, Already Gone, saying it draws near to the problem. In this book, Ham draws conclusions from a study that he commissioned to examine why so many people have left the faith. Most people expect that people have fallen away due to their experience in college, but his data showed that they fell away already in high school; hence, they were ‘already gone.’
This is consistent with what other researchers have found and in line with my own experiences.
Ham, as a young earth creationist, can be expected to focus his attention on the acceptance of Darwinism by young people, but I think the more important insight is his discovery that there is a stark difference between those who participated in their church’s educational programs versus those who didn’t. I mean, a stark difference among those who have fallen away.
What do you think? What do you predict? I suppose most Christians would think that, sure, many people have fallen away quite rapidly, but of those, the bulk of those who who did probably never went to church in the first place. WRONG.
In our survey of 1,000 20-somethings who regularly attended church as children and teens [and are no longer attending church; eg, the ‘religious nones’], we asked the question “Did you often attend Sunday school?” In reply, 61 percent said yes; 39 percent said no.”
Since so many non-Christians were raised in the faith to begin with, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Still, I think many Christians, especially Church professionals, expected that their programs would be a better corrective to the trends. Instead, the opposite seems to be the case. Why is this?
Ham believes that what is happening is that young people go to church, where they hear Bible stories reported in cute, endearing–and childish–ways, but then they go to school where they learn about the ‘real world.’ The reason why the there is such a stark difference is because those who were not exposed to those cartoonish Bible lessons did not feel the difference between what they were learning at school and what they were learning at Church so acutely.
I think Ham is right about this. However, even as I invoke ‘Darwinism’ as a chief culprit, I think there is more to the story. As I said in the second essay, “The reasons for disbelief are varied, but in the main, they all center around one basic idea: Christianity isn’t true.”
One of the reasons why Christianity is not being perceived as true–among Christians themselves–is for the very simple reason that it is not presented as true–by Christians themselves.
Of course, it is dogmatically asserted as true often enough, but that is not the same as presenting something as true. Just think about how you argue for things that you think are true, more generally. What do you do? Well, you argue, right? You produce arguments, evidence, reasons, and so on, and you are prepared to deal with counter-arguments, evidence that seems to contradict your argument, etc.
So it is that within the Church there are many that believe that it is sufficient only to ‘preach the Gospel’ because… wait for it… “God’s word never returns void.” This mindset effectively thinks of the Scriptures like a magic wand and acts accordingly. We’ll call it ‘Harry Potter evangelism.’ Not only is this approach not supported by Scripture itself (if we decide to read the rest of it, instead of fixating on Isaiah 55:11) but actually undermines the presentation of the Gospel.
Christianity exploded onto the world’s stage, prompting people to go to their deaths on account of the good news that God had come, died, and rose from the dead in an epic rescue mission, because when the early Christians preached the Gospel, there were compelling reasons to believe that what they preached was actually true.
The soil had been well-prepared to receive good seed.
Our problem today is not the quality of the seed but the quality of the soil. Much of that was under our control, but it is rapidly leaving the scope of our influence. While it remains true that the majority of people who are atheists, agnostics, or ‘unaffiliated’ were once raised in the faith, in a generation, that will no longer be true, for the simple reason that there are fewer Christians to begin with, and all those ‘religious nones’ are going to be having children of their own, the great proportion of which will, obviously, not be raised in the church. The ‘soil’ is only going to get worse.
So, what does Darwinism have to do with all this?
I think it is clear that Ham is not wrong to observe that of all the things kids are learning as fact in school that fly in the face of Christianity, Darwinism is chief on the list. But this idea that Christianity is for children is even more pernicious. The science teacher at the local public school does not say that religion is for children. The children themselves infer it, and act accordingly.
When the children begin to think like grownups (or so they think), they will have absorbed uncritically one of the chief assumptions of the secular worldview, which is itself embodied in Darwin’s theory.
That assumption is that adults never explain anything they encounter in the world any other way than through naturalistic (materialistic) explanations.
Someone with this mindset could come face to face with the most compelling evidence for the existence of God and/or supernatural agency, accept the reality of the thing being presented, and yet still wave off that thing as being explained without reference to God.
To illustrate, I once persuaded an atheist that Jesus existed, died, and rose from the dead. Instead of believing in God, he concluded that Jesus must have been a space alien.
I kid you not.
Now, one of the most compelling and enduring evidences for the supernatural is biological life on this planet. It is prima facie evidence for the existence of a ‘superior’ entity, which is precisely why Richard Dawkins argued that Charles Darwin made it finally possible to be an ‘intellectually fulfilled atheist’ and why Dawkins is forced to entertain some kind of ‘directed panspermia’ model for the rise of life on this planet.
But even if the new atheists allow that our planet was ‘seeded’ by more advanced space aliens, they never allow this to serve as evidence for God, because of their decision to interpret everything through naturalistic methods.
We find this all nicely summarized by former Christian apologist John Loftus:
Science proceeds according to methodological naturalism, an approach which presumes for the sake of empirical inquiry that everything we experience, if it has a cause at all, has a natural cause. Paul Kurtz defined it as well as anyone when he wrote that it is a “principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations.”
This is what defines us as modern people. In the modern world all educated people apply methodological naturalism in a vast number of areas. […]. Indeed, Christians today typically assume that there is a natural explanation when they hear a noise in the night, have a stillborn baby, witness a train wreck, or fall ill.
You can see why the atheist I described above, having been persuaded of the resurrection, invoked space aliens rather than acknowledge that God exists. According to Loftus and Kurtz, “all hypotheses and events” must be interpreted ‘naturally.’ If God came to this planet and did a live demonstration, that would be an ‘event.’ If one is forced by their presuppositions to view all events ‘naturally’ then the atheist would be forced to deny that God had just appeared to them.
Remember that the next time an atheist says that they would be persuaded if only God would come and prove his existence directly to them.
But let your eyes fall upon the part I put in bold. We do not only have the appeal to naturalism. Observe how that idea is married to the idea that this is how adults engage the world (eg, ‘modern educated people’.) Who wants to be labeled among the uneducated goat herders of the past?
Now, there are many problems with their whole line of argument, and I haven’t got the time to go into all of them right now. The obvious ones are these:
1. invoking things like superior space aliens raises questions that arise naturally for children, but are too obvious for the ‘adults’–where did the superior space aliens come from?
2. If all phenomena is going to be interpreted a priori through naturalistic methods, then what is the real difference between ‘methodological naturalism’, which ostensibly takes no position on the supernatural, such that even Christians who are scientists can still do science, and ‘philosophical naturalism’ which presumes, a priori, that there is no God?
This, by the way, is the naturalism fallacy I reference in my essay’s title. The logical error is so profound and so profoundly obvious, that as soon as you see it, it makes you laugh at the ridiculousness of it. For the atheist, though, I’ll have to connect the dots:
If philosophical naturalism presumes, a priori, that there is no God, then if by ‘methodological naturalism’ you assume there is no God, then there is no difference between ‘methodological naturalism’ and ‘philosophical naturalism,’ which takes the position that there is no God as its starting point. What did Loftus say?
“an approach which presumes for the sake of empirical inquiry that everything we experience, if it has a cause at all, has a natural cause”
This is pure, circular reasoning. Atheism is baked into the cake on this approach. If ever there were an example of childish reasoning, it is this. Ironically, Loftus goes on to complain:
Christians like Alvin Plantinga object to the use of methodological naturalism in many areas related to their faith. Plantinga argues that the Christian scientific community should “pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians.” But see what he’s doing here? When establishing the background factors in a Bayesian analysis, he recommends that Christians simply assume their most contentious conclusions as their starting point. [emphasis added]
Oh, so simply assuming one’s most contentious conclusions as one’s starting point is bad or something?
Let’s see. You take everything we observe, including astounding observations such as the genome, and you decide in advance that you are going to interpret it on atheistic grounds, and at the end of your investigation you include–surprise! that it has an atheistic explanation.
We have to take these people seriously? Really?
I don’t mean to single Loftus out here, as this is a pretty common approach, but he puts it succinctly for us. So I hope this is not read as a personal attack when I say that people who make such arguments are uttering absolute stupidity.
So, how do you get grown men to believe and say stupid things? Well, you get them to think that’s what ‘grown ups’ think, or ‘moderns.’ And to justify this approach, you engage in more muddle-headed reasoning:
3. You conflate technological innovations and Darwinism both as ‘science.’ Loftus goes on to say:
But again, how likely is it that a methodology that has worked so well in every other area of investigation would not shed light on the truth or falsehood of his background beliefs as well? [emphasis in original]
Well, I don’t know how exactly one determines probabilities about how ‘likely’ the universe is to be explained via natural or supernatural causes when one only has one universe to look at. The sample size is pretty small, no?
But the idea that this methodology ‘has worked so well’ actually relates only to advances in technology, which really is based on “empirical inquiry.” Somehow, these giants of the intellect fail to comprehend that the core ‘contentious conclusion’ of the theist is that there exists an entity that created the universe, and therefore, as such, by definition, could not be directly detected empirically because it is outside the universe.
In other words, just because we put a man on the moon, it does not follow that we know why there is a man or a moon in the first place, where the laws of gravity come from in the first place, why matter and energy exist as they are, and not some other way, and so on. In short, its the difference between working within the parameters of the system versus understanding where those parameters came from in the first place.
Genuinely empirical inquiry will never, by definition, be able to prove or disprove anything about the source of those parameters, because we are bound up inside that system. We’d have to be able to transcend the system in order to ’empirically’ examine it. You know, we’d have to become like God, as Christians understand him.
The impression given in school, and widely adopted by atheists, is that because we have powerful computers, telescopes, and medicines, we can take the method that gave us these things (‘worked so well’) and apply it to areas of inquiry that are not empirical at all.
In other words, non-empirical areas of inquiry are subjected to a method that is thoroughly empirical in nature and in scope, on the basis that it has success in areas that are thoroughly empirical in nature and in scope.
If that made you giggle, don’t laugh too long. That’s the way they really think.
Now, there are non-empirical realities (a square has four sides of equal length, 2+2=4, etc). And though we cannot directly detect God (if he exists), there are powerful evidences to be found for his existence nonetheless.
Chief among these from the beginning of time to even the present day is life itself. Even before the genome was discovered, the various life forms on this planet was a startling and compelling reason for thinking that there was a creator of the ‘non-empirical’ sort. But, every advance in our knowledge of the genome has made this inference even stronger.
But here is the kicker.
Kids learn that ‘science’ is one thing in high school (a method for empirical inquiry) and are told that Darwinism is ‘scientifically proved.’ They infer, then, that Darwinism is empirically proved. They are not told that once they get into their college biology class (if they even take one) what today’s ‘scientists’ think ‘science’ is is radically expanded beyond that which can be experimented on, or tested, or examined in a test tube, etc. (Even if they are told, most won’t connect the dots.) So, when they are told that Darwinism is scientifically proven they think that it is demonstrated just like we know that water boils at a particular temperature at sea level–an experiment they have have actually done in high school. They saw it with their own eyes.
Thus, despite the plain and self-evident testimony of DNA, the genome, etc, bearing witness to something ‘superior’, even this gets put into the ‘naturalism’ box. They didn’t see it with their own eyes, but if their science teacher says it has been ‘scientifically’ demonstrated, then someone, somewhere, saw it with their eyes. Otherwise, why would they say it?
This is why you can preach the Gospel and still have people walk away in droves. They hear it, but they figure that if there is anything to it, if there is anything of value to be found in religion at all, it will surface in one of the sciences, and there they can pick it back up without all the trappings of ‘organized religion.’
From the above, I hope you can see that by chalking up the problem to ‘Darwinism’ that is really just the tip of a very big iceberg. And I haven’t even scratched the surface!
But now see it from the viewpoint of the Christian Church trying to size up the problem and come up with a response. How exactly is the Church going to compete against a set of ideologies and attitudes presented to young people as true for the first eighteen years of their lives, day in and day out, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months out of the year? What does the Church have to put up against that?
In my next essays, I will address that question.
But we’re not done with Darwinism. It has still more ramifications that bear on this issue. Stay tuned.
I am available to speak at length on these issues. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.