As I peer into the future of science and religion, certain related questions fascinate me. How will the faith of emerging adults (18-30 years old) provide a lens for viewing what the future of Christian faith and science will be?As I've mentioned before and is worth repeating, according to the noted researchers Christian Smith and Kyle Longest, 70% of 18-23 year olds “agree” or “strongly agree” that the teachings of religion and science conflict. In addition, a complementary study by David Kinnaman found that one of the six top reasons that the infamous 30% of young adults have left the church is that the latter is seen as “antiscience.”
I'll say it again: churches are going to have to engage science and its insights. There is a science to the future of Christianity.
In the research project I lead (a bit more on that here), I’m analyzing the surveys by Smith/Longest, Kinnaman and others, as well as interviewing young adults (18-30 years old) on how they formed their ideas about religion and science and how these attitudes change. The classic typology for understanding how religion and science interaction comes from the late doyen of this discipline, the physicist-theologian Ian Barbour. It’s a typology that has remarkable staying appeal, and which I’ll modify just a bit. Accordingly, I’ve found that emerging adults fall into three categories. (He had a fourth category, Dialogue, which is Integration-lite, and hasn’t appeared much in my research. So I won’t include that.) Warfare: Religion and science will never agree. Independence: These are two completely different ways to look at the world who ought to go separate ways Integration: They need to make a difference to each other by collaborating.
Let me say a word about each. First, Warfare—how prevalent is it in my study of young adults? I’m going to tentatively suggest that it’s about 10-20%. On the second view, Independence, my number here is 30-40%. Students take this approach when they’re not really sure what they believe, and as Christian Smith was surprised to find in his separate study, Souls in Transition, most 18-30 year olds remain remarkably vague in what they believe whether it’s about God or science or a host of other topics. Finally, about 30-40% of young adults (again I speak tentatively) endorse an Integration of science and religion. But they need to know science well, not just want suits their theology and endorses their doctrine, but also presents challenges and unresolved questions. As C. S. Lewis warned a group of Anglican priests, that Christianity must be careful about using science glibly, “Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be a sin and a folly.”
And that is a good admonition for the Christian church as it engages in this dialogue and seeks to secure a robust future.