A range of possible viewpoints

Is there any connection between a person’s acceptance of mainstream scientific theories on origins and the strength of their Christian faith?

Indeed, many relationships are possible.

  1. According to some young-earth creation advocates, any acceptance of standard time scales for the age of the earth and universe, and any acceptance of macroevolution, sows doubt in the reliability of Scripture and leads to deconversion and apostasy. Conversely, faith is bolstered by strict adherence to the young-earth paradigm.
  2. Some theistic evolutionists see the mainstream scientific position less as an explanation of how things happened than as a description of how God created. They hold a high view of Scripture and perceive God as taking an active role in the creative process. Evidence of a designer is seen in the fine-tuning of the universe and the origin and complexity of life. They see no conflict between “secular” science and faith.
  3. Other theistic evolutionists take a more deistic position. For them, evolution sufficiently explains the existence of life in all its forms, but God set the whole process in motion in an initial creative event. Evidence of a designer is seen in the universe, but life requires no additional explanation. They feel no tension between science and faith, but squaring the complete evolutionary paradigm with historic Christian theology requires a certain amount of intellectual contortion.
  4. Progressive creationists accept mainstream time scales but are generally more skeptical toward macroevolution, attributing the saltatory nature of the fossil record to more or less discrete creative events. There is some tension between faith and secular science regarding the scope of evolution. Some who hold this view argue that the findings of modern science actually strengthen Biblical reliability.

Position #1 sees an irreconcilable conflict between mainstream science and scripture and counters with a small contingent of young-earth embracing scientists who insist that science, rightly interpreted, supports their position. They view the acceptance of any part of the mainstream position as a compromise of eternal truth.

Progressive creationists and evolutionary creationists see no conflict between Christian faith and science in matters of cosmology or geology. Progressive creationists and some theistic evolutionists take issue with mainstream secular thought pertaining to life’s evolution. All of the latter three groups might counter that a young-earth view of creation could, in fact, imperil faith as opposed to protecting it.

Millions of words have been exhausted arguing the pros and cons of the various positions from both a scientific and a Biblical perspective. In this short undertaking, I’d like to focus on the more salient question: what, if any, impact does one’s position on origins have on their perseverance in the Christian faith?

Numerous surveys have been conducted over the last fifteen years with the potential to elucidate any connection. The young-earth organization Answers in Genesis (AiG) sponsored a survey in 2009 and published its results in Already Gone.[1] Other groups have looked more closely at the phenomenon of falling away or dropping out of the church, including the Barna Group and the recent collaborative undertaking The Great Dechurching[2] (2023) by Davis, Graham, and Burge.

At least three hypotheses explaining the connection between enduring faith and science should be considered.

Hypothesis #1: Because the Book of Genesis authoritatively teaches a young earth and universe, the earth and universe must, therefore, be young, and any acceptance of mainstream positions undermines trust in Scripture and is harmful to faith.

Hypothesis #2: The Book of Genesis and the Book of Nature can be interpreted in many consistent ways without undermining Biblical authority. Some are compatible with the mainstream scientific position. There is little, if any, connection between one’s view of origins and one’s Christian faith and practice.

Hypothesis #3: Scientific evidence for so-called “deep time” – i.e., billions of years – is irrefutable. If the Bible authoritatively states the earth is young, then it must be in error. Teaching young people the young-earth position potentially undermines Scriptural authority and is harmful to faith.

Hypotheses #1 and #3 are contradictory. The former suggests that accepting geological time scales imperils faith, while the latter suggests that not accepting geological time scales imperils faith. So which is it?

“Already Gone”: Answers in Genesis

According to Ken Ham and AiG, Hypothesis #1 is supported by data.

This compromise also causes a generational loss of biblical authority. Loss of authority is a major reason many young people doubt the Bible and ultimately walk away from the church. This slide was documented in research published in my book Already Gone in 2009, which showed clearly why and when the church is losing about two-thirds of the next generation.

“Millions of years” flies directly in the face of the history God’s Word clearly reveals. Ultimately, belief in millions of years attacks the character of God.

The AiG study was conducted by Britt Beemer of America’s Research Group. They interviewed a sample of 1000 people between 20 and 30 years old who 1) grew up in conservative and evangelical churches and 2) attended church every or nearly every week when young but now attend seldom or never. [America’s Research Group has not updated its website since 2010, and its phone numbers are no longer in service].

Whenever Ham invokes the survey, the phrasing remains consistent. Indeed, their survey found that many young people raised in the church began to doubt the Bible and eventually drifted away. However, this is not only predicted by Hypothesis #1 but also by Hypothesis #3. Is there anything in Ham’s survey that would shed light on the matter?

It gets rather interesting when Sunday School attendance is taken into account. In Ham’s words:

Sunday school is actually more likely to be detrimental to the spiritual and moral health of our children.

Compared to the 39 percent of respondents who did not go to Sunday school, regular attenders were more likely to doubt the Bible, reject Christian sexual ethics, and view the church as hypocritical. They were also much more likely to dismiss the tenets of young-earth creationism and doubt the Bible because of the perceived conflict with science.

What were they being taught in Sunday School, that could make it so detrimental?

  • 94% were taught that the Bible is true and accurate.
  • Only 10% were taught that Christians could believe in evolution.
  • Over 80% were taught that God created everything in six 24-hour days.

On the other hand, non-attenders were more likely to retain Young Earth tenets as young adults. But they still dropped out of church.

This data leaves several open questions. We don’t know how the subjects compared to religiously active young Christians. We don’t know what the subjects actually believed when they were still active. This study is only a snapshot in time, but Ham’s evidence implies that when the young-earth view is strongly pegged to Biblical authority and vice-versa, it engenders doubt in the Bible and all that it teaches. This was evidenced in the appendix. When asked, “Has secular science dating the earth 6 billion years [sic] caused you to doubt the Bible?” a plurality of 46% answered “yes.” As for the 42% who answered “no,” it could be either because they still believed in a young earth or because they never believed in it and saw no conflict. Those results included both Sunday school attenders and nonattenders.

The subjects were also asked what most caused them to question the Bible. A plurality of 33% responded “nothing.” But the most common reason, given by 25% of respondents, was “Earth not less than 10,000 years old.” This is almost double the rate for the second most common response (“too many rules,” 12.8%).

Taking everything into account, evidence from the most preeminent young-earth ministry implies that early indoctrination in the Young-earth position is actually detrimental to a person’s faith. Ham’s interpretation is that they were taught the belief, but not taught to defend it. His solution is to double down on teaching and defending that position, but it’s hard to see that being helpful when it has been rejected by so many Christian leaders.

Barna Research

Multiple surveys were conducted by the Barna Group in the late 2000s and early 2010s, examining the beliefs of unbelievers and young people who had left the church.

Their first book, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity– and Why It Matters, was focused more on how outsiders perceived the church. [3] The second, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church– and Rethinking Faith, examined the beliefs of young people who had been raised in the church but were no longer active. [4]

The Barna studies did not closely examine their subjects’ nuanced positions on the age of the earth or what they had been taught while younger. As with the AiG study, the surveys were snapshots of a moment in time and could not determine whether, how, why, or when their beliefs had changed.

Nonetheless, the Barna studies did reveal that perceived conflicts between science and Christianity are a significant issue for both never-churched and de-churched young people. In the initial study, out of 1,296 18- to 29-year-olds with a Christian background, one quarter (25%) considered Christianity as antiscience. Almost a third (29%) thought churches were out of step with the scientific world. Just under a fifth (18%) thought Christianity was anti-intellectual. In Chapter 7, the authors describe at length the sense of alienation and isolation experienced by scientifically oriented individuals in the church, with numerous case examples. The atmosphere had more effect than the issue, with the authors advising:

“Young-earth creationists may want to rethink accusations of apostasy when they talk with (or about) old-earth creationists or those who hold to theistic evolution. Likewise, Christians who believe evolution is God’s chosen mechanism for creation must be cautious of intellectual condescension toward their sisters and brothers who believe differently.”[5]

In a much more recent survey from December 2022 to January 2023, the Barna Group asked people what caused them to doubt Christian beliefs. Among pastors, “science” ranked #10 out of 14 named causes. Among nonpracticing Christians, “science” was in a four-way tie for sixth place. Science is a factor, but ranks far below issues like hypocrisy, human suffering, and conflict.

Pew Research

How do most white Evangelicals and black Protestants reconcile science and Scripture? If deep time and evolution were destructive of faith, then one should anticipate fairly low acceptance rates of human evolution among these two groups. Skepticism toward human evolution is shared by both young-earth and old-earth creationists. Yet, public surveys indicate that a substantial majority of conservative Christians support human evolution when given the option of it being God-directed.

In 2019, Pew Research found that when given a 3-way choice between 1. “Humans have always existed in their present form,” 2. “Humans evolved; God had a role,” and 3. “Humans evolved; God had no role,” 62% of white Evangelical Protestants and 72% of black Protestants preferred evolution. One potential flaw in the survey, as worded, was that option #1 included “since the beginning of time,” leaving no good response for old-earth creationists who are skeptical of human evolution. Hence, the 38% of white Evangelicals and 27% of black Protestants who answered, “Humans have always existed in their present form,” sets an upper limit on the percentage who could possibly be young-earth creationists but it could be significantly lower. Clearly, for large majorities, acceptance of mainstream scientific positions is perfectly compatible with an active profession of faith, not the faith-destroying compromise denounced by various young-earth advocates.

The Great Dechurching (2023)

This large survey published in 2023 focused specifically on people of all ages who had once been active in churches but no longer were. The study was conducted by Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University, with discussion and analysis by Jim Davis and Michael Graham of Orlando Grace Church. In phase 2 of the study, they surveyed 4099 individuals across all religious traditions. In phase 3, they specifically focused on 2043 American adults who had dechurched from evangelical churches.

This study differed from the preceding surveys in that the average age was substantially older since it was not intended as a study of youth. In response to the statement, “Technology and science have caused me to question my religious beliefs,” very few answered in the affirmative. The authors perceived it as insignificant compared to the many other factors that emerged.[6]

A striking finding of these surveys was that highly educated persons were more likely to remain religiously engaged. If secular science education was negatively impacting faith, it certainly is not showing up in these very large and recent surveys.[7] Perhaps it was more of an issue fifteen years ago, and since then, there has been a settling out to the point it no longer matters. Or perhaps it never mattered. Either is possible.

Additional sources

It is an objective of many Christian scientist-educators to promote the acceptance of biological evolution. In a study from 2020, investigators with Point Loma Nazarene University (San Diego) prospectively studied a group of 124 students in biology or theology taught by tenured professors who supported an approach emphasizing the compatibility of evolution with the Christian faith. Upon course completion, there was a significant increase in evolution acceptance among both biology and theology students, with no decrease at all in religiosity.[8]

Anecdotal evidence

While not rising to the level of statistical significance, there are abundant anecdotal cases of individuals raised in a young-earth milieu who go on to abandon their faith when they are persuaded that the generally accepted historical timeline is correct. On their own terms, such anecdotes do not allow differentiation between hypotheses 1 and 3. Both propose a similar sequence of events:

Phase 1: They were raised to believe the Bible and that it teaches the Earth is young and that evolution is unbiblical.

Phase 2: They are later convinced that evolution is correct or that the universe and earth are ancient.

Phase 3: They conclude that the Bible is unreliable and the Church is untrustworthy.

One can certainly object that the Truth matters, that the crucial issue is whether the earth really is 6 thousand or 4.59 billion years old. This concern is certainly valid but can be (and is) argued ad infinitum. I’m not going to touch it here. We can, however, examine the outcomes and draw some inferences as to how one’s belief impacts their future faith.

In the course I teach at Regent University, one assignment requires MDiv candidates to interview someone in the STEMM fields who identifies as an unbeliever or skeptic. The following excerpt from one of the interviews is representative of many:

In late adolescence, Dr. Miller [not her real name] found herself excelling in science and math in school. She was placed in college preparatory classes and began competing in (and winning) science competitions. During this time, she started asking questions in Sunday school and teen bible study about gender roles, the age of the earth, the creation story in Genesis, and the laws of the physical world. Dr. Miller related that she was repeatedly ejected from those classes because of her questions. Each time she was removed, she was made to speak with the Senior Pastor, who told her to stop questioning the Bible.

She feels she cannot reconcile with the Church as long as those who question historical or scientific accounts, especially younger people, are censured or removed from service in the church.

Sadly, this is an all-too-common experience.


We began with three possible hypotheses defining the relationship between faith and views of creation.

For hypothesis #1 – that acceptance of “deep time” or evolution imperils faith – there is at least anecdotal evidence that this indeed happens. Some feel forced to choose between Scripture and mainstream science and choose science. But this finding begs the question of why the conflict exists. Does it arise from a faulty interpretation of science – or a faulty interpretation of Scripture?

Hypothesis #2 – there is no conflict between faith and science – seems to describe the vast majority of persons. In most surveys, only a relatively small minority attribute their doubt or skepticism to conflict over origins. Very, very few name it as the primary cause. [Only AiGs Already Gone survey found a stronger effect].

Our third hypothesis was that a conflict between faith and science would be mostly limited to those inculcated in the young-earth interpretation and that young-earth-oriented teaching might be the cause, rather than the cure, for doubt and loss of faith. While none of the studies cited above directly addressed that question, the data does seem to lean in this direction. Pastors, parents, and teachers should be cautious in anchoring Scriptural authority to a view of cosmogony and geology that is easily and inevitably challenged.

  1. Ham, Ken, et al. Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It. Master Books, 2009

  2. The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back? | Mitpressbookstore. 22 Aug. 2023,

  3. Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity– and Why It Matters. Baker Book House, 2007.

  4. Kinnaman, David, and Aly Hawkins. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church– and Rethinking Faith. BakerBooks, 2011.

  5. Kinnaman (2011), p. 146

  6. Personal communication, Ryan P. Burge, 1/2/2024

  7. Davis, p. 25

  8. Tolman, Ethan R., Daniel G. Ferguson, Mark Mann, April Maskiewicz Cordero, and Jamie L. Jensen. “Reconciling evolution: evidence from a biology and theology course.” Evolution: Education and Outreach 13, no. 1 (2020): 1-8.

About Author

about author

Steven Willing MD, MBA

Dr. Steven Willing received his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia, completed an internship in pediatrics from the University of Virginia before undertaking a residency in diagnostic radiology at the Medical College of Georgia, and a fellowship in neuroradiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Willing spent 20 years in academic medicine at the University of Louisville, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). He also earned an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1997.

During his academic career, Dr. Willing published over 50 papers in the areas of radiology, informatics, and management. He is the author of "Atlas of Neuroradiology", published by W. B. Saunders in 1995.

Now retired from clinical practice, Dr. Willing serves as a radiology consultant to Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya both remotely and on-site. He is presently the Alabama State Director for the American Academy for Medical Ethics, an adjunct Professor of Divinity at Regent University, and a Visiting Scholar for Reasons to Believe.

  1. R. Joel Duff

    Steven, as always you provide great thought-provoking material. This was fascinating and helpful presented this way. Hope you don’t mind if I liberally reference this blog post in a future YT video. Looking forward to your next contribution. Joel

  2. Steven Willing MD, MBA

    Thanks, Joel!
    Happy to help!

  3. Dr. BKautu

    Dear Dr. Willing,

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