Children Faith Science

5 Ways Christian Parents Fail to Prepare Their Kids to Engage with Questions of Faith and Science

By Natasha Crain

I’m coming down to the final six weeks of writing my next book and am very much looking forward to being on the other side of that deadline! I’ve missed being able to blog regularly during this intense writing time, so I had to take a break today and share a new post inspired by some of the topics my next book will address. (On a side note, watch for a new post very soon to reveal the cover and title of the book!)

Children Faith Science

My favorite section to write has been on Science and God, because I know so many parents are looking for help in talking about this subject with their kids. While writing the chapters in that section, I thought a lot about how we, as Christian parents, are collectively failing to adequately prepare our kids to engage with questions of faith and science. Today, I want to share 5 ways I believe that’s happening, and encourage all of us to consider what we can do better in our own homes.

1. We don’t talk about the relationship between faith and science at all.

This is, without a doubt, the number one way we fail our kids in this area—we fail to say anything at all. Not only do we need to say something, we need to say quite a lot. Over and over again, researchers have found that a leading reason why so many young people walk away from faith is that they believe they have to choose between Christianity and science. Meanwhile, other research has shown that only ONE percent of youth pastors address any issue related to science in a given year.

This is a giant disconnect.

Regardless of the fact that churches need to do a much better job in this area, parents need to take the reins. This is our responsibility, and there is absolutely no doubt that questions of faith and science will challenge our kids in some way…whether this is an area we feel equipped to discuss or not. If you do feel equipped, great—get started. If you don’t, that’s OK—start learning. Those are really the only two options.

2. We boil all “science versus faith” conversations down to one (or two) issues.

I find in talking with parents that when you say the words “science and faith,” most people quickly launch into a conversation about evolution. There’s no doubt that evolution is one of the most important topics in this category, if not the most important topic. But there are many other questions our kids need to understand, especially at the more philosophical level. For example, people throw out broad statements like “science disproves God” all the time. Kids need to know what to make of those kinds of assertions just as much as they need to know what to make of the subject of evolution.

The second section of my next book will address six of these broader questions:

  • Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?
  • Do science and religion contradict one another?
  • Do science and religion complement one another?
  • Is God just an explanation for what science doesn’t yet know?
  • Can science explain why people believe in God?
  • What do scientists believe about God?

3. We teach overly simplistic answers that ignore important nuances.

I understand that science is not a “user-friendly” topic for many people. The only C grade I ever received in my life was in high school chemistry and I’m still bitter about it.

Unfortunately, this leads many parents to either 1) ignore the science-versus-faith dialogue completely (see my first point) or 2) teach overly simplistic answers that can inadvertently do major damage to their kids’ faith later.

One of the most important ways we can avoid this is by taking the time to define key words. For example, consider the question, “Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?” If someone asked me that, I couldn’t even answer their question unless I first asked them: What do you mean by science? What do you mean by prove or disprove? And what do you mean by God? People use those words in many different senses today and you simply can’t have a meaningful discussion without understanding their more nuanced underlying question. They may be asking:

 Can a specific branch of science provide evidence that strongly challenges a specific historical claim of a given religion? (Answer: Yes.)

Or, they may be asking:

Can the field of science, when defined as the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural world, say anything about the existence of God, when defined simply as a supernatural being who may or may not have created the world? (Answer: No—and even most atheists would agree.)

While we may wish we could simply teach our kids easy answers like, “Of course science doesn’t disprove God!”, we fail to adequately prepare them for this challenging secular world when we do.

4. We teach only one of several Christian views on origins (age of the Earth and evolution).

If you’ve read my first book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, you know how strongly I feel about this. There are eight chapters written to explain why Christians have varied views on how and when God created the world—based on both scriptural and scientific considerations. While many parents don’t teach their kids anything at all on this subject, many of the remaining parents only teach their kids one specific view (for example, young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or theistic evolution). Whatever view you teach, your kids will hear challenges from both other Christians and from atheists—a very confusing position for them to be in if you’ve never explained the issues at stake.

Note that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tell our kids what we believe. There’s no problem at all with explaining our own convictions. The problem lies in teaching them our views in a silo rather than taking the time to explain why fellow believers and skeptics interpret science and/or the Bible differently than we do.

5. We’re overly fearful of suggesting there’s a conflict between Christianity and science.

One of the things I found most interesting when preparing to write on whether or not science and religion contradict one another was just how quick Christians are to lay out a case for why Christianity and science are not in conflict. Much of the time, Christians jump straight to showing 1) how science can’t say anything about a Being outside of nature and/or 2) how there’s no reason to expect that science could even be done if there weren’t a God to rationally design the universe. Those things are true. But much of the time when skeptics talk about the conflict of science and Christianity, they’re talking specifically about the conflict between mainstream scientific consensus and a specific claim of the Bible that intersects with the natural world—for example, the age of the Earth (based on the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture) and direct creation (versus evolution). If we just keep insisting “there’s no conflict,” when there actually are apparent conflicts in some areas, we miss some very important discussion opportunities with our kids. Again, we have to define terms clearly.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the accurate interpretation of scientific data and the accurate interpretation of the Bible will never be in true conflict. If apparent conflicts arise, (at least) one interpretation is wrong. When we’re convicted of the accuracy of our interpretation of Scripture, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge when the Bible conflicts with scientific consensus; Scientists can be wrong. On the other hand, when there is an apparent conflict, we should be willing to thoughtfully consider the scientific data; Our biblical interpretation can also be wrong.

Rather than sweep apparent conflicts under the carpet, we can help our kids significantly by 1) confidently explaining why apparent conflicts may arise and 2) studying the scientific and scriptural considerations together.

What questions about science and faith do you most have trouble discussing with your kids? If you don’t currently have these discussions, what’s your biggest barrier?

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6 replies
  1. Jay says:

    Thank you Frank for putting together such great tips for parents and their children. I have a 7 year old son. I talk to him often about God and why I believe in Him. It opens us both up for meaningful growth opportunities. I do miss your live FB feeds. Get some more of those up. Also. As Men of God today. A reconnection is in order for most men. They have been raised in a society of sedation not of their doing. Daily meditation and listening to your inner voice. In my experience is GOD, will awaken men back to leading their family again like the kings they truly are in Christ.

  2. David says:

    Christianity and the church are continually lagging behind science. The church railed against Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of our solar system. Luckily for him he died prior to the time in which his theory became controversial. I think we all know how this argument between science and the church turned out.
    A belief in a young earth has given way to the obvious fact that the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. Not withstanding those like Ken Ham, people are beginning to give up on the silly apologetic that, “god created the earth with the appearance of age” and actually admit it is not 6,000 years old. See Williams Lane Craig on the topic. Ham’s website, “Answers In Genesis”, actually puts Noah’s Flood (a story obviously borrowed from a civilization that preceded ancient Israel) in 2348 BC. Right in the middle of verifiable, well established civilizations around the world. That’s right, the earth was covered with 30,00 feet of water just at the end of the fifth Egyptian dynasty.
    Christians for ages have claimed that the theory of evolution is baseless and that Adam and Eve were literal people. Then a respected, conservative, evangelical Christian and head of the NIH and Human Genome Project, Francis Collins, sadly admitted that man could not have come from a single, fully human couple and that the evidence for evolution is strong.
    It is this type of stubborn adherence to the biblical narrative and Christian doctrine that has undermined the faith of so many young Christians and caused them to walk away. When home school and Christian school days are over and they go off to college for some real education the deception quickly becomes apparent. I think it is safe to say that whenever science and the bible or Christian doctrine are in conflict one should be prepared to quickly give up and go with science. Stop relying on unverifiable, antiquated ideas and go with answers that can be subjected to inquiry and the scientific method. Most conflicts between science and the church are not “apparent”. They are real and I would say, when resolved, almost never end up falling on the side of the church.

  3. Joe says:

    The so-called “conflict” between Christianity and science is an artificial construct designed by control freaks…on both sides of the aisle. There is no conflict; Christianity and science support each other. Certainly there are and always will be questions….on both sides.

    (From a fundamentalist Baptist with a degree in biology, masters work in geology and a Physician Assistant for 35 years)

    • David says:

      So Joe, You’re saying, for example, that the belief in special creation and the theory of evolution are not in conflict? You feel like this is an artificial construct that really doesn’t exist?

  4. Thomas says:

    As a homeschooling parent who has a science background, I would agree with all of these, with only a couple of additions and amplifications:
    We don’t teach real science. What I mean is that there is the idealized middle-school version of what science is supposed to look like: you make observations, you formulate a hypothesis, you conduct an experiment and/or make predictions, make further observations, and confirm the hypothesis or not, make a theory, publish, etc. It’s basic “scientific method” stuff, and as far as it goes, it’s not bad.
    However, it’s not really how science works, where there are at least two levels of complications. First, there is the simple fact that science is a human discipline, and these days, a very much corporate discipline (in all senses of the word “corporate”). There is funding, grant-writing, conferences, promotions, personalities, budgets, and fashions in research. It’s a rare scientist who actually gets to study what she wants with adequate time and money to do so. To pretend this does not affect priorities and results, and affect science’s relations with other academic discipline and with the public, is naive. It’s OK to let our students know this, not to “debunk” science, but to let them know that the picture of scientists as the “high priests” of our culture is neither accurate nor even respectful of what scientists actually do. Second, there is the fact that science, as deep into the nature of reality as it gets, is still beholden to some properly basic beliefs, like the stability of the natural world, the validity of the laws of logic, and the ability of the human mind to understand it all. This all speaks more to what you are talking about here, that there are worldview issues in play. Indeed, I have a theory that one of the surest ways to tell a practicing scientist from a science-popularizer is to bring up these issues: the researcher or teacher will say something to the effect of “yes, these are devilishly difficult problems, but there may be some hope for it all, and we do the best with what we have, don’t we?” The science-popularizer will instead be “triggered” and will launch into a screed about how philosophy is dead and science works and only professional philosophers in their towers and Christianists ask such silly questions.
    From the other angle, there are theological issues. I can’t agree more with the idea that there is more than one right way to read the Bible (to put it bluntly, Young Earth Creationists who accuse me of sliding toward theological liberalism or atheism don’t know what they’re talking about, or else it’s been an extremely slow 30-year slide!). Unfortunately, most adults (i.e. parents) have slim theological and Biblical backgrounds, and often even the Bible teachers at Christian high schools aren’t a lot better (there are many good ones, but some schools essentially require adherence to a functionally rigid theology and Biblical hermeneutic).


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