Church Youth Groups and Apologetics

Over on Facebook, Nancy Pearcey responded to a post about young people and deconversion from churches with a modest proposal: let them read apologetics.

Age at which people leave the church — Tell me again why youth groups focus on games and goodies instead of majoring on apologetics?

One study found that the age at which most people leave the church is in the high school and early college years. Those most likely to leave are age 17-20. The next most likely are right before (age 15-16).

Age, % leaving church
13-14, 3.2%
15-16, 12.4%
17-18, 18.3%
19-20, 21.5%
21-22, 8.1%
23-24, 8.6%
25-26, 9.7%
27-28, 3.8%
29-30, 3.2%
31-34, 1.6%
35-39, 2.7%
40-49, 2.2%
50+, 2.2%

I haven’t seen it mentioned yet, so I’ll note that the periods of highest deconversion also corresponds with the biggest mismatches between hormones and homilies. Can apologetics really put itself up as a credible contender against sex? Games and goodies might not make the cut, either, but they would, I think, beat apologetics if anyone cared to try a real experiment. What games and goodies offer that apologetics never can is companionship, sociability, and a sense of belonging to a group. And that’s even when you assume that you can find apologetics that aren’t, you know, simply false to fact.

Nancy, that brings me to a good reason not to emphasize apologetics: their inherent unreliability. The corpus of antievolution apologetics, to which you have contributed, is riddled with howling falsehoods. To be told that church beliefs value truth and then be presented with overwhelming evidence that people respected in the church can’t be bothered to do even minimal scrutiny on work confidently stated to provide a basis for bolstering faith would seem to me to be a good plan to amplify deconversion, not slow it. I jettisoned the error of antievolution apologetics and kept my faith, but I certainly don’t blame young people for detecting apologetic hypocrisy and acting on it as at least part of that demographic does.

Let’s take, for example, the canard that Darwin had no imagination for cellular complexity. (See here for more.) A wide swath of antievolutionists, including you, have promulgated this falsehood. Darwin’s imagination for complexity led him to a wrong hypothesis, pangenesis, but it is documented fact that Darwin proposed a highly complex mechanism of inheritance requiring corresponding high sub-cellular complexity: “On this view, each organic being may be looked at as a little universe, formed of a host of different self-propagating organisms, almost as numerous as the stars in heaven, and as minute as they are immense.” This isn’t something that is arcane knowledge; anyone with decent Google-fu can find this and other indications of Darwin’s knowledge (and imagination) of cellular and sub-cellular complexity with ease. This sort of wrongness has nothing to do with whether one denies evolution and instead is simply about denying scholarship. You don’t have to agree with Darwin’s conclusions, or those of the myriad biologists who followed him, in order to simply tell people something true about what Darwin actually said. Somehow, though, none of the antievolutionists bothered to check their claim that Darwin couldn’t imagine complexity of a cell beyond it being a bag of protoplasm. And none of them seem to be able to take aboard the notion that they were mistaken on this point. In fact, your colleague Casey Luskin wrote up a defense of his error on this point not long ago. There seems to be no respect for truth among antievolutionists concerning this example. And that gets multiplied for every one of the further examples of error in antievolution apologetics, and they are legion. (Yes, that’s an allusion.)

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has noted a certain portion of motivated self-interest in your suggestion, either. It’s one thing for someone not in the business of apologetics to suggest that an effective response to youth retention in churches is more apologetics, but there is something untoward about a push in that direction coming from someone who makes a chunk of their income from selling apologia.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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