Does Science Cause Christians to Deconvert?

Just a few weeks before the COVID-19 lockdowns, the comedic duo of Rhett and Link (Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln Neal III)—YouTube sensations—became the latest casualties of the deconversion epidemic sweeping through evangelical Christian churches. Each announced their deconversions on separate episodes of their podcast, Ear Biscuits. The news sent a shock wave through evangelical churches. 

Rhett and Link grew up as evangelicals and served with the campus ministry Cru. As a comedy team, they’ve achieved notable success, largely through their YouTube program and channel, both named Good Mythical Morning. The channel has over 18.4 million subscribers and over 8.9 billion video downloads. So, when they walked away from the faith, the reverberations were felt by untold numbers of young people in the church.

According to Christian apologist Alisa Childers, the reason for their deconversion started with concerns about science. Childers writes: 

The stories themselves weren’t so different from others that have lit up social media over the past few years. For Rhett, it started with questions relating to science, the age of the earth, and evolution. It morphed into doubts surrounding biblical reliability, the historicity of the resurrection, and the general idea of hell and judgment. But as both Rhett and Link recounted, something was brewing underneath the intellectual questions. They both felt a deep discomfort with biblical sexual ethics, which they perceived to oppress women and their LGBTQ+ friends.1

Surveys Say Our Young People Are in Crisis
So, for Rhett and Link, perceptions they had about science and its relationship to Christianity initiated a journey of doubt that came to an end when they walked out the door of the church for the final time. Sadly, their story is typical. A well-known survey published by the Barna Group reports that 29% of young church attendees see churches as out of step with advances in science. Another 25% see Christianity as antiscience. And 23% are turned off by the creation-evolution debate.2 In other words, the perception of conflict between science and Christianity is one of the reasons young people leave the church. 

My own experience aligns with this data. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met at speaking engagements who convey to me that one of their college-age children has walked away from the faith because of science. They often explain their heartache with a sense of desperation.

The Barna Group survey isn’t that shocking. A common narrative in our culture today is that science and religion are incompatible with one another. A Pew Research Foundation study discovered that nearly 60% of all Americans see conflict between science and faith. For those who rarely attend church services that number rises to about 72%. Shockingly, for those who attend church weekly, the number hovers around 50%.3

This number is discouraging because it means that half of people in churches embrace a conflict model for science and Christianity. No wonder young people have the perception that Christianity is antiscientific. They’re immersed in that mindset when they’re at church.

How a Creation View Contributes to the Disconnect
In my experience, this aversion to science in the church arises largely out of the influence of young-earth creationism (YEC), the view that God created the earth and humanity about 6,000 years ago. YEC is at odds with much of science. And the only way to maintain this form of creationism is to regard science—at least that which is interpreted from a secular worldview—as hostile to Christianity and, therefore, to dismiss many of its findings. Hence, conflict exists between science and the faith, and Christians must reject the “lies” of science and uphold the “truth” of God’s Word.

Young-earth creationism is pervasive among evangelical churches. A poll conducted by BioLogos determined that 54% of pastors support YEC.4 Thus, it’s not surprising that some of the most committed churchgoers see a lack of concord between science and their Christian faith. Their pastor may be proclaiming this message from the pulpit.

The results of the Barna and Pew surveys become more worrisome when we consider another Barna Group survey. Over 50% of young people in churches desire careers in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine) fields. According to the survey results: 23% are interested in medicine and health care, 13% want a career in engineering, 8% will pursue work in the sciences, 5% express interest in veterinary medicine, and 5% see themselves working in technology.5

These results make sense. STEMM careers are among the most exciting and lucrative ways to earn a living. In fact, these numbers align with the career aspirations of nonchurched youth. 

In the same survey, the Barna Group learned that only 38% of youth leaders and 36% of senior pastors discuss career interests with students in their churches. And only 1% of youth leaders discuss science-related topics with young people in the church. Yet, half of their students are interested in careers in science-based fields. 

The Need to Learn Other Creation Views
Herein lies the problem. If church leaders have an underlying suspicion about science, then young people in these churches are bound to absorb that mindset. Most likely any exposure that the youth have had to science-faith discussions is from the vantage point of YEC. Many of them go on to college, where they might take a course of study designed to prepare them to pursue a career in STEMM. But this pursuit requires that they take classes in science and math. In the process, they will be confronted by compelling scientific evidence that tells them that the universe and earth are old and life is ancient. They’ll also be presented with scientific claims that evolutionary processes can explain the origin, design, history, and diversity of life. All these claims run contrary to what they accepted on faith to be true. And doubts start to rise.  

These students will also interact with professors whom they likely admire and respect, and peers they want to impress who are more than willing to ridicule their belief in creationism. These professors and classmates will reinforce the students’ growing concerns that science makes belief in God unreasonable and renders the biblical creation accounts unbelievable. I know from firsthand experience as someone trained in the life sciences that this hostility to Christianity is most prevalent in the life sciences. Though I wasn’t a Christian when I was an undergraduate, I recall countless times that the professors in my biology classes went out of their way to say something derogatory about young-earth creationism and Christianity.

Since many churches don’t discuss science-faith issues, and if they do, it’s most likely from a young-earth perspective, these students are ill-equipped to handle this assault on their faith. 

This situation is so unfortunate because other science-faith perspectives exist. In fact, there are good biblical and theological reasons to think that YEC isn’t the best reading of Genesis 1–11. Old-earth creationism (OEC) accepts the antiquity of the universe, earth, and life’s history. It views the fossil record as a proxy for a real history of life on Earth. This perspective (also called progressive creationism) recognizes features of biological systems as reflecting bona fide design, the handiwork of the Creator. OEC expresses skepticism about the claim that all of biology can be explained as the outworking of evolutionary processes. Instead, OEC argues that key transitions in life’s history require the Creator’s intervention. According to the BioLogos survey, about 15% of pastors hold this view. If this view were more prominent in churches, I wonder if fewer young people would deconvert.

Another 18% of pastors embrace theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creationism). This view maintains that God created through evolutionary processes. Like OEC, theistic evolution accepts the scientific evidence for the antiquity of the universe and Earth. It also views the fossil record as a reflection of life’s history that spans 3.8 billion years. The difference between the two views relates to the mode of divine action. Does God intervene occasionally when he creates or does he create through process alone?

Both old-earth and evolutionary creationism find compatibility—even harmony—between science and Christianity, but in different ways. OEC embraces an overlap model, with the biblical creation accounts finding support from scientific advances. At Reasons to Believe (RTB), we employ an approach we call constructive integration in which we seek to integrate scientific findings with insights from the biblical creation accounts to yield a creation model, replete with scientific predictions. 

As a rule, evolutionary creationists employ a complementary (but not overlapping) model. They see the biblical creation accounts and the scientific models for origins as different expressions of truth. Each approach points to the same truth, yet each approach must be kept separate. The scientific insights tell us the how of creation. The biblical insights tell us the why of creation. Evolutionary creationists don’t see any scientific evidence in support of the creation accounts (such as in Genesis 1), because science belongs in a different domain of knowledge than do theological insights that come from Scripture. In other words, compatibility exists between science and Christianity because they speak to different facets of the truth.

These two approaches have different strengths and weaknesses. Thoughtful Christians hold to each of these views for various biblical, theological, philosophical, and scientific reasons. It seems to me that if church leaders want to equip their young people, then they will include presentations of these two views along with YEC. These types of discussions let young people in the church know that they have options when it comes to questions regarding science and the Christian faith. At minimum, by learning other views the students will be equipped to think for themselves and they’ll gain the tools they need to engage scientific challenges to their faith when in college.

Embracing Controversy and Avoiding Deconversion
Sadly, one reason why churches don’t equip students to engage with science is because these topics are controversial and they evoke a lot of passion in some people. This passion is understandable because of the importance of the science-faith discussion and the far-ranging implications that arise out of the various science-faith models. Unfortunately, discussing science-faith topics in churches can become divisive, and pastors and church leaders seek to avoid divisions in their congregations at all costs. They want to maintain peace and unity, which is understandable, but the youth pay the price for this feigned peace. They aren’t equipped to deal with scientific challenges to their faith in college and, worse, they develop the perception that discussions about science and Christianity are dangerous. And when they’re confronted with scientific evidence that seems to run counter to the ideas that they’ve been taught about Genesis 1–11—usually YEC—they conclude that their pastors and church leaders avoided these topics because there really aren’t good answers to scientific challenges. They’re vulnerable to the message of a popular YouTube duo that tantalizes them with the “freedom” of deconversion. 

Even though I have my convictions as an old-earth creationist, I recognize that others have differing convictions. It’s important to debate our differences with vigor but we must also engage with one another in a way that treats others who hold differing views in a gentle and respectful way. Our debates should help people understand the strengths and weaknesses of the positions we hold and the positions that others hold. While we all should advocate for our position, we need to move beyond defending our territory at all costs and consider how we can best serve young people in the church.

It’s been our conviction at RTB to model this irenic, educational approach as we engage young-earth and evolutionary creationists. It has also shaped our discourses with BioLogos and Peaceful Science and will continue to do so in the future.

Though I am an old-earth creationist, I would much rather that a young person embraces a science-faith perspective that differs from my own than walks away from the faith. 


  • Christianity and Human Origins,” event sponsored by the Gospel Initiative, Denver Seminary, featuring Fazale “Fuz” Rana, S. Joshua Swamidass, Denis Lamoureux, and Jeffrey Schloss 


  1. Alisa Childers, “Let’s Deconstruct a Deconversion Story: The Case of Rhett and Link,” The Gospel Coalition, February 29, 2020. 
  2. Barna Group, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church,” September 27, 2011. 
  3. Pew Research Center, “Perception of Conflict between Science and Religion,” October 22, 2015. 
  4. Stoyan Zaimov, “Poll: Many Protestant Pastors Lean toward Young Earth Creation,” Christian Post, May 13, 2013.
  5. Barna Group, “What Teens Aspire to Do in Life, How Churches Can Help,” June 14, 2011.