It’s becoming more and more common for those who to accuse Young Earth Creationists of causing people, particularly younger generations of falling away from the faith. I call it the “Smeller’s the Feller” [STF] argument. Basically, Biblical Creationists have pointed out that something stinks, that our people are leaving the Church just as they abandoned the churches of Europe and that a common thread is the teaching of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution as scientific fact which undermines the ultimate authority of Scripture.
Of course, Old Earth Creationists, theistic evolutionists and others who teach that we can add millions of years and evolution to the Bible cannot accept that their teaching is to blame for this apostasy. After all, they compromised the clear teaching of Scripture in order to make the Gospel more palatable to those who doubt it based on its historical claims. So instead of examining the situation honestly, they pull the STF card and instead charge those sounding the alarm with being the cause of the problem.
The basic argument goes something like this:
- YECs teach an interpretation of the Bible that contradicts the claims of modern science.
- When people see that the YEC interpretation isn’t true (because modern science has proven otherwise), they toss out the baby with the bathwater.
Consider, for example, one critic’s argument:
“Why do so many of our young people leave church once they are on their own? I haven’t seen really good research on this, but I have no doubt that some of it is because they have been fed bad apologetics from young-Earth creationist organizations. Once they see that it just doesn’t work, many of them throw out their Christianity along with their Dr. Dino and AiG videos. Then whose fault is it?”
Is this critic right? Are Biblical Creationists the cause of our young people leaving the church? Are we inadvertently contributing to this apostasy by our efforts to defend the faith once delivered to the saints? Is there is a true correlation between Biblical Creationism and people leaving the faith, or do our young people leave the faith when they accept microbes-to-man evolution and/or millions of years?
I find it noteworthy that this critic mentioned that he hadn’t seen any really good research on why young people leave church when they home, because really good research on this subject has been available ever since Answers in Genesis commissioned America’s Research Group to find out why kids seem to graduate from church when they graduate high school, as it were. This research, summarized in the book, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church & What You Can Do To Stop It, revealed that while 95% of our kids attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years, only 55% were still attending during high school. This means that about 40% of the kids in our churches are already gone before high school. Their decision to abandon the faith correlates with the educational level at which they first began to doubt the history of the Bible. In fact, of those who no longer believe that all of the accounts and stories in the Bible are true, 39.8% first had doubts in middle school, an additional 43.7% first had their doubts in high school, while a mere 10.6% had their first doubts during college. About 90% of those kids went to public school. And guess what they start teaching hot and heavy in middle school? Evolution and millions of years – the latter being the key issue here. After being presented with an uncritical, one-sided account of the all-natural origins of the universe [and, in many cases, being told that this all-natural origins account of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution is compatible with the biblical account of supernatural creation], these kids began to doubt the authority and veracity of the Bible.
The research summarized in Already Gone makes it obvious that those wielding the Smeller’s the Feller argument are guilty of spurious correlation. Spurious correlation is essentially connecting the dots out of order. To give an example, let’s suppose we have a study which shows a commensurate increase in both the number of policemen and the number of homicides. One might conclude that increasing the number of policemen increases the number of homicides, but this correlation would be spurious because there is a third variable that effects both the number of policemen and the number of homicides: namely, population density, because in highly dense areas there are more police and more crimes [and in less dense areas, less police and less crime]. In much the same manner, those using the STF argument are claiming a causative correlation exists between teaching Biblical Creationism and young people rejecting the faith, but they have ignored a third variable, the subversive teaching of an all-natural origin and history of the world as an indisputable scientific fact through taxpayer-funded government schools. This third variable causes our publicly educated children to doubt the history and veracity of Scripture, ultimately causing many of them to fall away from the faith.
The STF likewise ignores another component of true causative correlation: temporal priority. Stated simply, in order to be the cause of Y, X must come before Y. If Biblical Creationism were the cause of young people falling away from the faith, we would not expect to see people abandoning Christianity in churches where Biblical Creation is not taught and evolution and millions of years are taught as being compatible with Scripture. We can look at the sorry state of the Church in modern Europe as an example of what happens to future generations when churches embrace the anti-Biblical concepts of millions of years and evolution. Those churches caved in to liberal theologies and yet they have experienced drastic decline rather than growth or retention. Likewise, liberal mainline churches in the US [most of which embrace and teach millions of years of evolution] have been experiencing a similar decline since the 1960s.
On the flipside, temporal priority might also predict that an increase in Biblical Creationist belief would result in this falling away from the faith. I wish I could say that Biblical Creationism is on the rise, but according to a Gallup research study, belief in Biblical creationism has dropped from 44% in 1982 to 40% in 2010. Belief in theistic evolution has remained steady at 38%, but belief in unguided evolution in which God had no part in the process has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% in 2010. This means that there is no temporal priority between a rise in Biblical Creationist belief and the rise in unbelief in our children, negating the possibility that this claim of true correlation is even remotely true; on the other hand, temporal priority can in fact be demonstrated when we look at the age our publicly educated youth are first exposed to an uncritical, exclusive indoctrination of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution as scientific fact and the age at which they begin having doubts about that all of the stories and accounts in the Bible are true, anticipatory to their decision to abandon the faith.
As hard as it must be for Christian proponents of millions of years and/or microbes-to-man evolution to admit, the Smeller’s the Feller argument fails for the excellent reason that it is false. Despite their noble intention to make Christianity more palatable in light of modern science, these compromisers are actually contributing to the mass exodus of our youth rather than stemming the tide. We need to pray for these misguided brethren that they might see the truth of the problem. After all, I was once one of them, claiming that God could have used evolution if He liked and insisting that we had to leave room in the days of Creation for long ages. And if God can change the mind of this stubborn Appalachian, there’s hope for anyone!
Rev Tony Breeden