A 2011 Barna Study addressed the question nearly every youth minister and Christian parent is asking: Why are young people raised in the church walking away? And even more important, what can we do about it? A decade later, those questions are still pressing and Barna’s answers are still timely. Here at Rooted, we long to see God work through youth ministers, parents, and churches to reverse the trend so that students would increasingly hold with confidence their faith in Jesus, and the Scriptures, into adulthood. We believe this vision is best accomplished through the five pillars of gospel centrality, theological depth through expository biblical teaching, relational discipleship, partnering with parents, and intergenerational integration. In this series Rooted writers show how this gospel-centered framework for youth ministry can help us address the six most common reasons young people leave church. We hope these reflections will help you to walk in wisdom as you point students to trust in Jesus now and well after they leave home.
Barna’s research demonstrates that a perceived conflict between science and faith is a significant reason young people cite for walking away from the Church and their faith in Christ. This perception of a conflict is largely nurtured by renowned scientists who argue that life came about by evolution and therefore the biblical account of creation must be false, meaning the Scriptures are also false. Their view, that of naturalism and Darwinian evolution, is incapable of explaining the existence of life. It is therefore critical for youth ministers to equip young believers with essential facts and reasoning so they can have a sure confidence in the Scriptures and in God as creator.
Naturalism holds that the world is the product of matter, energy, and time alone, and that the universe operates according to laws which cannot be broken. In the framework of naturalism is Darwinism, which claims to explain the origin of a single common ancestor and development of life and life forms by accidental events which result in the survival of the fittest.
Creationism, frequently associated with intelligent design, though the latter confines its arguments to science and information theory, asserts that life as we know it could not be the product of “chance” but required the active involvement of an intelligent being, whom we know is God.
The dogma of naturalism, if true, makes all of Christianity false. However, most do not recognize that naturalism is an assumption which cannot be proven, since one cannot prove a negative. Yet, many young Christians have their faith shattered when they encounter distinguished academic authorities propounding Darwinian evolution as established science and ridiculing those who advance God as Creator of the universe and life. These unwary young Christians frequently think they must choose between science and their faith. Feeling overwhelmed by presumed facts, they commonly surrender the latter. Youth ministers, though not scientists themselves, need to have and transmit the confidence that, contrary to popular opinion, science compellingly supports the necessity of a creator.
Two Scientific Arguments for God as Creator
Our purpose, in this exceedingly brief article, is to demonstrate only two among many scientifically based arguments that demonstrate the necessity of a creator while invalidating the widely held dogmas of naturalism. Because truth must be consistently true, there should be no conflict between science and the Christian faith. In fact, as the discoveries of science continue to expand, demonstrating ever greater complexity in our universe and biological life, they point increasingly to the necessity of a creator. Young Christians, especially, need to be encouraged, reassured and strengthened by understanding this fact and some of the reasoning behind it.
For clarity’s sake, it is important to recognize that evolution does occur within established species, which is characterized as microevolution. For example, we all know that bacteria mutate and evolve antibiotic resistance. This conforms to the criteria of Darwinian evolution. In contrast, the evolution of one species to another, macroevolution, has not been demonstrated and so is only inferred. So our focus here is not on simple evolution, but on understanding the origin of life itself, before the conditions required for evolution even existed.
The first example of an argument demonstrating the necessity of a creator, and the insufficiency of evolution or naturalism, to explain life, is found in DNA. As is well known, DNA is an extremely complex molecule of extraordinary length present in every living cell. Interestingly, it has no intrinsic function other than the transmission of pure information. Specifically, it contains the massive quantity of genetic information required to form a new cell and to specify all the functions and reactions occurring within that cell during its lifetime. It has been observed that the information content in a single cell vastly exceeds that of the most complex computer program.
The mystery which naturalism and Darwinian evolution cannot explain is the source of such complex information, let alone its coding in a molecular form in DNA. Information transcends matter. The same information can be stored in many different forms and so is inherently independent of its storage medium. There is no necessary relationship between the information, its storage form, and its eventual translational product. For example, there is no inherent relationship between the ink of a dot of a musical note on a stave and the sound waves that dot represents. Compounding the amazing informational properties of DNA is its translation into another coded information system in mRNA. Finally, the code in the mRNA is translated into protein formation. Two “layers” of pure information are, in this way, required for any form of life to replicate.
Darwinian evolution, or naturalism, postulates that this information system and its information content arose spontaneously. Not only that: Even specified information has no function or value unless it is translated into some functional form. In the cell, the DNA codes for the proteins that are responsible for reading and translating that same DNA, so one could not occur without the other. Note then that Darwinian evolution requires the spontaneous parallel development of perfectly complementary information systems in the DNA and the mRNA, and two translation systems, one for each. This could not happen without the guiding hand of a creator. As science is predicated on evidence, it must be noted that never, in all recorded history, has there ever been evidence of information in any form that was not produced by an intelligent being. This is a most compelling argument for the creation of the information code and content in DNA and, correspondingly, all of life by God.
As an abstract, it is impossible for an information system to evolve into existence, let alone its corresponding coded translation mechanism. In this example, we have evidence of the absolute inadequacy of naturalism or Darwinian evolution to explain the origin of life. The only alternative explanation for the existence of such information in life is that there was a creating intelligence, which is entirely consistent with the Bible’s repeated affirmation that in the beginning God created the world and life as we know it (Gen. 1-2, Ps. 8, 104, Jn. 1:1-4).
The second scientifically compelling argument supporting the necessity of a creator, as opposed to random materialistic evolution, concerns the formation of the first complex molecules essential to life and its replication. The principal operational or “working” molecules of cells are called proteins, which normally are coded for by DNA and consist of strictly sequenced chains of 20 different types of amino acids. However, in the first cell there could be no DNA unless God made it because there were no proteins to make it, let alone the code contained in it. Therefore, according to naturalism, the proteins in the first cell would have to be made by random collisions of molecules. Now, a moderate size protein may have about 150 amino acids (larger ones extend to 3,000 amino acids) in a uniquely specified order. Naturalism postulates that the amino acids, themselves spontaneously formed by collisions of atoms in a very confined space, would randomly assemble by collision. Of course, all but one of the sequences of 150 amino acids would be non-functional.
To put this in perspective, the probability of forming that exact protein by chance collision of amino acids would be less than a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion times smaller than the probability of finding a single specific atom in the entire universe of over 200 billion galaxies. This is arguably equivalent to impossible! Furthermore, consider that a minimally complex cell may require 150-250 such proteins, and the impossibility is vastly compounded. Once again, the scientifically calculated probability required by a naturalistic or Darwinian explanation of the origin of life is zero, or, in other words, impossible. In this example, we can see that the only alternative explanation of the probabilistically impossible is that life was created by an intelligent being, God.
Helping Teenagers Integrate Science And Faith
Although we have considered only two of many biological structures, processes, and characteristics that cannot be explained as outcomes of random evolution, they are sufficient to demonstrate the inadequacy of naturalism to explain the origin of life as we know it. No matter how many other arguments are advanced in support of Darwinian evolution, they cannot account for these two issues. Although the accepted dogma in most academic circles is that Darwinian evolution explains all of life, Christians should never feel threatened and must understand that this is not supported by scientific data. On the contrary, as scientists discover greater and greater complexity in biological systems there is more and more evidence of a creator’s hand. These discoveries thus become more reasons to give thanks and praise to God as Creator of all.
Because of scientific basis of the two examples cited in this very brief essay, no Christian’s faith should ever be threatened by the argument or claim that science, naturalism, or Darwinian evolution disprove the existence and work of our Creator God, who sent His Son to redeem the world He created.
To this end, here are a few points to emphasize when engaging the question of of science and faith with teenagers:
- The more we discover the complexities of creation, realizing it had to be made by the hand of God, the more glory it gives to Him. Studying these complexities gives us ever greater confidence in the Scriptures and in the gospel of His grace.
- It is a wonderful privilege to have the assurance that God ordered reality to be as majestic as it is in its greatest and smallest dimensions.
- Remembering details of creation which, by all the rules of science, could never have evolved by chance, like photosynthesis or the blood coagulation cascade, can strengthen our faith and confidence in moments of doubt.
- No one can absolutely prove God’s existence, but the evidence through creation is overwhelming and ever increasing, as affirmed in Psalm 19:1-6. Praise God for the testimony of His creation!