Parents, your kids ask questions. Alot of questions. And while teenagers have always asked questions about the worldview that was handed to them by their parents (a process called self-differentiation), the questions being asked by today’s teenagers are unique. Many experts point to the development of the internet as the biggest reason why. Teens are being exposed to a much broader array of philosophies, religions, and worldviews than you and I ever did, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It does mean, however, that if we refuse to engage students in their questions about faith, they will simply turn to Google for the answers of their biggest life shaping questions.
When we asked over 80 of our junior high and high school students to anonymously submit any questions about faith, God, and/or Christianity, the results were fascinating (click here for a copy of the questions we received). One of the leading questions we received was about science and faith and how the universe began. Research shows that this is one of the major obstacles for faith in teenagers across the country. As one of our teenagers bluntly stated the struggle, “Who should I believe, science or the Bible?” Do not underestimate the power or importance of this question. It speaks to something quite deep in your student’s heart: is the Bible believable? So how do we answer it?
First, we must understand why students feel a tension between Christianity and Science in the first place. So, let’s have a brief history lesson.
- In the early 1930s, Edwin Hubble’s work measuring the distances between galaxies gave way for what eventually became the Big Bang Theory. Ironically it was a Belgian Catholic Priest and physicists, Georges Lemaître who helped develop this theory. Hubble was able to show that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. The theory was then developed that the expansion had to start at a single place in time with an explosion. Hence, it is called the Big Bang.
- In the 1940s, scientist Willard Libby developed a dating process for fossils known as carbon dating.
- Using carbon dating and Hubble’s mathematical equation, scientists now estimate the earth to be a little over 4 billion years old.
- In 1960 one group of theologians and Christian scientists felt these scientific claims did not fit with their literal reading of Genesis and the Bible. So they developed the Young Earth Creationist Theory that asserts that based on Genesis 1’s account that the earth was created in six days, and on genealogies in the Bible from the time of Adam, the Earth is only 5,000-10,000 years old. As a result, believers in this theory assert that carbon dating is wrong and the earth can’t possibly be billions of years old. (Click here for more data on this theory)
The current tension between Christianity and Science has arisen due to the fact the majority of scientists reject the Young Earth theory while at the same time the popularity of this theory has grown within the church. This division, which has gained much attention has resulted in many Christians (especially teenagers) feeling that they must then choose between science and the young earth claims.
This choice, however, is unnecessary. It is key for young Christians to understand that there are many other theories within the church that do not require the faithful believer to reject modern science. These theories assert that it’s possible to read and believe Genesis 1’s creation account without holding to the Young Earth’s strict timeline (Click here for a comparison of these theories). At the heart of these theories is the question of how Genesis 1 and 2 should be interpreted. Should the Hebrew word for day, yom, be understood as a strict 24 hour period when elsewhere the same word is translated to mean “period, eternity, time.” If the Sun is not created until day four, how could the first three yom’s be 24 hour periods? In conjunction with this is the Bible’s own claim that time is irrelevant to God (2 Peter 3:8 – “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”).
Many prominent theologians believe that the tension with science disappears if Christians would adjust their understanding of what Genesis 1 teaches. One leading theologian in this theory, John Walton, an expert in ancient Hebrew texts and culture, believes that modern Christians must come to understand Hebrew culture in order to accurately understand Hebrew texts like Genesis 1. (Click here for more from John Walton). Ultimately, Walton and other theologians assert that while Science seeks to answer the question of how the universe came to be, the Bible seeks to answer the questions of who caused it to be and why.
HOW TO HELP?
Parents, do not be scared of your student’s questions, and above all, do not respond by shutting down or ignoring their inquiry. Join them in seeking and exploring the various theories. Pray with them, asking God to grant both of you faith as you explore his creation. Help them understand that faith leaves room for mystery, and that they do not need all the answers before they can engage God in a relationship. If he is God, and we are human, then inevitably, there will be much that we will never fully understand.
It is vital in today’s culture for young Christians to hear that they do not have to choose between science and faith. While they may find the Young Earth argument convincing and choose to believe it (as many wonderful Christians that I know do), it is not the only way to handle science’s claims while maintaining faith in the God of the Bible. Regardless of the timeline of creation, the ultimate aim of scripture is to teach us of God’s goodness and humanity’s great need of a savior.
“In Essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” It’s important for us to understand that with Christianity, the essential theology is that God created, and God saves through Jesus. In this there can be no wavering. However, the timeline of how God created all things is a non-essential, and therefore we have liberty to hold different interpretations of Genesis. But regardless of differences, we must treat each other with great charity and grace. The command to love does not disappear with disagreement. I love that we as a staff at Community Bible model this in that though we work together and love one another, yet among our pastors there are different opinions on this issue. And that’s ok.
I also want to point out that our aim in teaching this is not to tell your student what to think, but rather to help them see the wide array of thought on this process and allow them to better understand the issue with which they are already wrestling. Blessings!