Should Students Be Exposed to Evidence Against Christianity?

Sheltering students from beliefs contrary to Christianity is a big mistake. Let me say it again, to be sure it sinks in: Sheltering students from arguments for other religions, or against Christianity, is a bad strategy for developing them as disciples in the faith.

In his book You Lost Me, researcher David Kinnaman argues that “protecting” kids from opposing viewpoints is ultimately detrimental to their faith. Like “helicopter parents” who “hover” over their children to keep them from any conceivable danger, many young Christians feel that the church demonizes everything outside the church, fails to expose students to the complexities of the “real” world, and is too overprotective.

Overprotecting kids encourages them to wonder whether there actually are good arguments against the faith. And when they do encounter evidence against Christianity, which is inevitable today, many wonder—what else have you not told me? Are you too insecure in your own faith to speak truth? Overprotection undermines trust. And as a result, many kids disengage the church, as Kinnaman notes.

Evidence Against Christianity

Inoculation Theory

What can we do? There is something we can learn from inoculation theory, which says that people who are gradually exposed to opposing viewpoints are better prepared to answer such challenges in the long run. Like a vaccination, which exposes an individual to a milder version of a virus so he or she can develop immunity, exposing students to counterarguments helps them develop intellectual resistance to future, more persuasive ideas.

Consider a classic study by the late sociologist William J. McGuire. He took four separate groups of students and presented them with the counterintuitive idea that brushing your teeth is unhealthy. They each read a fabricated article, which was full of “scientific” arguments against the validity of brushing your teeth and then were assessed afterwards.

The first group was simply told that they would be given an article to read defending a particular viewpoint. The second group had their existing belief (that brushing your teeth is good) reinforced before reading the article. The third group was warned that they were about to read an article that would challenge their existing beliefs. The final group was presented with an abbreviated version of the argument as well as arguments against it. Which group had the most and least change?

Quite expectedly, group four (which received an advance summary and refutation of the article) had the least change in their beliefs. Unexpectedly, though, group two (who had their prior beliefs merely reinforced before reading the article) had the most change. This group was not only the most persuaded by the arguments against brushing your teeth, they also felt the most deceived when they were exposed to counterarguments against their prior beliefs.

How Does This Apply to Teaching Youth Today?

Here’s the bottom line: If we merely present students with the biblical position on an issue, without offering reasons for that view, as well as exposing them to counterarguments against it, we are setting them up for failure when they encounter thoughtful opposition. And we risk losing their trust.

But if we present them with the biblical view on an issue, and also expose them to counter perspectives in a fair and incremental manner, they will have a much better chance of hanging on to their faith when challenges arise.

There are many ways this can be done. As a part-time high school teacher, I aim to inoculate my students for the intellectual challenges they will inevitably face in college and beyond. They need to learn that Christians have nothing to fear engaging opposing viewpoints and that Christianity can hold its own in the arena of ideas.

Specifically, I have taken students through The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (after going through Christian Apologetics by Doug Groothuis). I regularly have them read articles from skeptics, watch videos that challenge their prior beliefs, and sometimes I bring in guests with opposing views. And thanks to the leadership of my friend Brett Kunkle, I annually take high school students on an apologetics mission trip to places like Berkeley, where they hear lectures from leading atheists and skeptics. In my experience, these types of activities serve to strengthen their faith.

If we want young people to have a vibrant and lasting faith, we must expose them to opposing viewpoints early in their intellectual development. And we must present those views fairly and accurately. This will help us gain credibility in the eyes of our students, and it will also help inoculate them from future, more articulate challenges.

If Christianity is really true, what are we afraid of?

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Book)

How Can Students Stand Strong for Their Faith in College?

Students: Are you prepared for the spiritual, relational, and moral challenges that will come after high school? What is your plan to stay strong for your faith in college? It’s heartbreaking to see Christian high school students disengage their faith and the church in college. While the numbers have often been manipulated and overstated, there is certainly a genuine concern about students leaving the faith after high school. If you think it couldn’t happen to you, and that you’re somehow immune, then you probably haven’t seriously considered the challenges that lie ahead.

Problem of Understanding

The purpose of this post is not just to help you survive in college, but to help you thrive in your faith during these formative years. There is no reason so many students need to disengage their faith and the church. If you are a student, then these six points are meant to help you stand strong for your faith in college. If you’re not a student, then please pass them on to a present or future college student that you know:

  1. Determine in your heart that ahead of time that you will stand strong. One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Daniel. Even though he was surrounded by pagan influences in Babylon, and he obviously wanted to fit in and be successful with the king, he refused to compromise his convictions by eating non-kosher food. He had every reason to compromise—money, power, influence, status—but he had already decided that his first loyalty was to God: “But Daniel determined in his heart not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). If you want to have a successful faith in college, it begins by going into college already determined that you will follow the Lord.
  1. Find good Christian friends. The Bible has much to say about the power of friendship. For instance, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” It is certainly important to make friends with non-Christians, but you must surround yourself with some fellow believers who will pray for you, encourage you, hold you accountable, hang out with you, and strategize together about how to reach your campus for Christ.
  1. Find Christian professors. There are good, solid, caring Christian professors at even the most secular schools. They may be hard to track down in some cases, but I guarantee you they are there. It would make sense to begin with professors in your department of study, but if you can’t find any, then branch out. While there may be a few exceptions, I guarantee you that most Christian professors would be thrilled to pray with you, guide you, and possibly even mentor you. Visit them in their office hours and get to know them on a personal level. They’re a resource waiting to be tapped!
  1. Join a Christian group on campus. There are tons of great Christian groups on campus, such as Cru, Navigators, Ratio Christi, and InterVarsity. Many universities also have church groups that meet at or near campus. Find out about these groups online, during an on-campus club fair, or from other students. Here are a few things to do: (1) Contact one of the leaders and introduce yourself, even before you show up on campus, (2) Visit a meeting, and (3) Talk to other students about the group.
  1. Keep in contact with key people from home. While it may be tempting to sever ties when you leave for the “real world,” be sure to stay in touch with key people from home town, such as pastors, youth pastors, teachers, coaches, and other caring adults. I love it when my former high school students drop by to say hi or meet me for coffee. Make it a priority to stay in touch with them from time to time. They know you well and can be an important source of encouragement and strength.
  1. Go to Summit Ministries. Students often ask me what I consider the single most important step they can take to be prepared to thrive in college. My answer is simple: Go to Summit Ministries. In case you’re not familiar with Summit, it’s a 12-day intensive (but fun!) apologetics and worldview experience for students ages 16-22. Conferences are held in Tennessee, Colorado, and southern California. In fact, I personally host the California conference at Biola University (June 19-July 2). Summit brings in the best Christian speakers to help students learn to think Christianly about the toughest issues of our day including politics, the existence of God, economics, theology, the reliability of the Bible and more. I regularly meet students who consider attending Summit a “game-changer.” It’s simply a must for students who want to develop a Christian worldview in order to thrive in college.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, and internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:



"Church Dropout" Trailer for January 19th

This Tuesday, January 19th I’ll be hosting a live radio and internet simulcast event called Church Dropout: Overcoming the Youth Exodus. The producers at the American Family Association tell me that this program will draw an audience of over 200,000 to hear and see evidence for Christianity. The program is intended to help reverse the trend that 75% of Christian youth leave the church after high school.

My guests will be some of the top Christian apologists in the world:

We’ll start the evening with the man who is currently the best debater on our side, Dr. William Lane Craig ( Bill does scores of college events every year, and he provides great resources on his website. You need to hear Bill’s evidence for the existence of God– irrefutable!

We’ll then turn to one of the founding fathers of the Intelligent Design movement– Dr. Bill Dembski ( Bill has two PhD’s, but he’ll show us very simply how life points to an intelligent designer, and how most of the so-called “evidence” for macroevolution is based on materialistic and counter-factual philosophical assumptions.

My third expert guest will be Dr. Mike Adams, a Christian professor on a secular campus (Yes, there are a few!) and one of the most popular conservative columnists on Mike gets students motivated to make a difference for Christ! He will give us advice on how to prepare yourself (or your child) for the radically anti-Christian environment found on many college campuses (he’ll make you laugh too!).

We’ll then cap the show with one of my all-time heroes of apologetics– his books helped bring me to faith– the one and only Josh McDowell ( Josh will give us very helpful insights on the importance of relationships to a young person’s faith. Josh is not only the most popular apologist but also the most passionate!

During the show, I’ll also provide evidence for Christianity from our book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, and take your calls. Overall, the program will equip you with the critical information you need to keep yourself, your family, and your church firmly grounded in the truth.

It’s this Tuesday, January 19, 7-10 p.m. CENTRAL time: A listing of the 200 stations carrying the program can be found here ( For the live web simulcast, go here:

Our friends at the American Family Association (, who are producing this event, will create a DVD of the program that will be available afterwards. Check later for details.

Please pray that thousands are touched for Christ!

Church Dropouts: Overcoming the Youth Exodus


Why are 75% of youth leaving the church after high school?
What can you do about it?

Get answers January 19th from Dr. Frank Turek, co-author of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” and founder of Frank will be joined by Josh McDowell, Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Bill Dembski, Dr. Mike Adams and others who will equip you the critical information you need keep yourself and your family firmly grounded in the truth.

Tuesday, January 19, 6:30-10 p.m. CENTRAL time:  Live on 200 radio stations ( and simulcast here:


Salvo Magazine: Leftist Indoctrination on Campus

As you know, our ministry addresses the fact that 75% of Christian youth leave the church after leaving the home.  One reason for this is the fact that Christians are not equipped with the arguments for Christianity before they arrive in the generally anti-Christian environment known as the college campus.  Salvo magazine is one tool you can use to equip Christian students. For the next week you can download a free copy of this edgy and informative magazine at the blog of our ministry partner Stand to Reason.  Look for the July 31, 2009 entry called “Salvo Free Offer.”

In it you’ll find articles such as:

A new orthodoxy has a stranglehold on American
colleges and universities
by Mark Linville
Academic bias is ubiquitous, but choosing the
right college can minimize the damage
by Les Sillars and John Basie
Just how bad is the indoctrination at American
universities? We ask David Horowitz
by Marcia Segelstein
“Here’s your money,” say today’s college students,
“Now give us our degrees!”
by Marcia Segelstei

and other topics including Hate Crimes, Naturalism vs. Supernaturalism, and Intelligent Design.   While I’ve only had a chance to read a couple of the articles so far, this publication looks extremely intelligently designed!  And right now the price is right.

CIA: Your Chance to Make an Impact with Christian Apologetics

If you have some expertise in the area of Christian Apologetics, we are looking for instructors to help us take I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist to students and churches around the country.  Greg Koukl and Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason, and Jason Reed of Southern Evangelical Seminary will join me, Frank Turek, in leading the CrossExamined Instructor Academy (CIA), August 13-15 in Charlotte, NC.  Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answerman, will join us for a special Q and A on Wednesday night August 13.  This is a great opportunity for you to make an impact through apologetics. But hurry– the application deadline is June 24.  Click here for details.?

Christians Beware: Intellectual Predators at College

When it comes time for college, parents often think they’re sending their children off to a religiously-neutral site to learn objective facts about the real world.  Unfortunately, they’re far more likely to drop their child into one of the most liberal, anti-Christian environments anywhere on American soil.  That’s where some college professors act as intellectual predators, purposefully seeking to undermine the faith of young Christian students. 

Some professors make no effort to hide this. Professor Richard Rorty, who taught at Wellesley, Princeton, the University of Virginia and Stanford, admitted that he and many of his colleagues are actively trying to destroy the faith of Christian kids in college.  He warned parents to recognize that as professors “we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”  He said that we professors “arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” 

Rorty followed that wake-up call to parents with an overt poke in the eye.  He claimed that students are fortunate to find themselves under the control “of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.”

Did you hear that parents?  According to Rorty and his like-minded colleagues, you and your Christian views are dangerous.  That’s why they are intent on mocking your religious beliefs to the point that your children are too embarrassed to admit them.  They want your children to abandon your “homophobic” beliefs and adopt their way of thinking.  That way, your kids will turn out more like them than like you.

Professor Steven Weinberg, of MIT, Harvard, and now the University of Texas, harbors the same anti-religious agenda expressed by Rorty.  An atheist and physicist, Weinberg said, “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I’m all for that.” If scientists can destroy the influence of religion on young people, “then I think it may be the most important contribution that we can make.” 

I thought imparting truth was the most important contribution a professor could make.  Not for Weinberg—it’s his anti-religious agenda.  In fact, his anti-religious agenda is so overriding that it distorts his interpretation of the evidence.  The discoveries of modern science don’t point away from God, but directly to Him. Unfortunately, few college students know this, which allows Weinberg to spin the evidence the other way.  In doing so, he accomplishes what he believes is the most important contribution of a college professor– destroying the parent’s religion in the eyes of their children.    

These two professors are not atypical.  A recent survey shows that professors are five times more likely to be atheists than the general public.  It also found that 53% of college professors view Evangelical students unfavorably.  In fact, Evangelicals are, by far, the most disliked religious group on campus (Muslims were not liked by 22% which means that in the United States of America, professors are two and half times more likely to dislike an Evangelical student than a Musllim student). 

No wonder 75% of Christian kids leave the church in College.  It’s anything but a religiously-neutral environment.  Equip yourself or your child before attending.

UNC Won't Allow Announcement of CrossExamined Seminar

Mike Adams, popular columnist and my host for tonight’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist talk at UNC Wilmington, reveals the anti-Christian bias in that school’s administration here.  They won’t even allow a post announcing the event on the the university’s “public” web bulletin board.   So much for the people who are supposed to be champions of tolerance, free expression, and diversity. 

This bias is one reason exists– most  college campuses indoctrinate students into an anti-Christain viewpoint.  That’s why someone from the outside (us) must come in to give evidence for Christianity, and even then it is difficult to get the most basic of cooperation from the administration.   I’m not whining, just stating facts. 

I’ll let you know how the event goes later this week.

"Expelled" is a Must See: Freedom is the Victim

I just had the privilege of attending an advance screening of Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed, starring Ben Stein.  The movie, which opens April 18, is a must-see for any American interested in freedom (that should be all of us!).   Expelled uses the Berlin Wall as a metaphor for the wall that the academic and media establishments have erected to keep any intelligent explanation for origins out of the fortress of scientific respectability.   Freedom is the victim of this wall:  academic freedom and freedom of the press in particular.

The movie is not so much an  investigation into the evidence for intelligent design as it is an expose into the suppression of anyone who says there’s evidence for intelligent design.   Investigator Stein exposes the numerous instances of institutionalized bias against professors, scientists and journalists who dare to question Darwinian orthodoxy.  Some who have questioned Darwin and merely mentioned that intelligent design may be a legitimate area of study have been summarily fired from their jobs and blacklisted in their career, hence the title Expelled.  Why are the Darwinists doing this?  What are they hiding?  What are they afraid of?

If you follow the ID-Evolution controversy, you’ll recognize the players on both sides.  Stein meets with ID proponents such as Bill Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Myer and Guillermo Gonzalez, as well as Darwinists Daniel Dennett, Eugenie Scott and even Richard Dawkins.  In Stein’s disarming manner, he exposes the bias and vacuousness in the positions of the Darwinists, even getting Dawkins to admit at the end that he has no idea how the first life began but that intelligent aliens might be responsible.   With that, Stein points out that Dawkins is actually a proponent of Intelligent Design (for Dawkins, ID is OK if it points to aliens, but not OK if it points to God).

But Expelled is not some dry documentary with a bunch of talking-head interviews strung together.  Interlaced with vintage film clips (some quite funny) and a variety of music genres (the opening is a violin version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall), Expelled moves along at an entertaining pace.  Yet, it takes quite a serious tone when Stein (who is Jewish) makes the connection between the ideas of Darwin and the ideas of Hitler.   Ideas do have consequences, and the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest led directly to Hitler’s quest to weed out undesirables in his plan to create the super race.  Hitler even made the connection in his 1924 book Mein Kampf.

Several of the Darwinists interviewed expressed that they lost their faith in God because of Darwinism.  Dawkins is famous for saying that Darwinism made him an “intellectually-fulfilled atheist.” However, as Stein points out, Darwin had nothing to say about the origin of life or the origin of the universe. Today, due to discoveries of the universe (it exploded into being out of nothing) and life (“simple” life is far more complex than anything Darwin suspected), those origin questions are even more difficult to answer for the Darwinists.  There are a couple of spots where Stein lets the Darwinists hang themselves with their outlandish speculations of how life began.  It’s so embarrassing that after watching Expelled, those thinking of leaving the faith because of Darwinism may want to reconsider.

My one criticism of the movie is that I wish it had just a bit more on the evidence for Intelligent Design.  There is animation of the interior of a cell, but there is no explanation of what is actually going on.  One key point that needs to be made is this: when we see something with the evidence of design (say Mount Rushmore), we don’t simply lack a natural explanation for it, we have positive, empirically-detectable evidence for an intelligent sculptor (see Chapters 5 and 6 of our book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist).   However, due to time contraints, I understand why the movie could not go into much detail on the evidence.  The main point of the movie is not scientific evidence but academic freedom.

There’s a lot more that could be said, but Expelled is better seen than said.  This is exactly the kind of movie that Christians should support because it’s much more than entertainment.  The movie communicates an important message without feeling preachy.  You can take anyone to this– believer or not.  If you’re like me, my wife and 15 year-old son, you will walk away feeling that there’s an injustice being done to us all.  Freedom is being suppressed, and we need to speak up to restore the spirit of free inquiry that made this country great.  Expelled is helping to break down “The Wall.”  Will you help as well?

The Seeker Church: Is Anyone Making Disciples?

Bill Hybels , the unofficial father of the seeker movement in the United States, recently admitted that seeker churches have done a very poor job of making disciples.  This is damning because making disciples is what Jesus commanded us to do!  Why has the seeker movement failed in the church’s central purpose?

I attended a seeker church this past weekend.  As I was sitting there watching the pastor perform his way through his presentation, props, film clips and all, the thought struck me that the seeker church is in many ways a Protestant form of Roman Catholicism (I grew up Roman Catholic and the Roman Catholic church is having the same problem).  I know the connection is not immediately obvious because of the major differences in liturgy, hierarchy and theology.  But there are several significant similarities:

  1. Time:  This won’t take long– 45 minutes to an hour, max.  You can set your watch by these services.  And if the pastor or priest goes just a wee bit longer, the congregation gets restless.
  2. The Bible:  Leave your Bible home– the folks on the stage or altar handle the Bible reading which is normally a mere sprinkling of verses yanked from their context.  Moreover, there is no attempt to teach you how to study the scriptures yourself. 
  3. Worship:  Just watch– there is a performance up front.  You’re more of an observer than an active participant in worship.
  4. Message:  It’s groundhog day– you hear the same, short message repackaged every Sunday.  The sermon (or Homily) is to preaching what cotton candy is to nutrition.  Sweet but of little value.
  5. Outcome:  Low commitment and little life change.  A significant portion of Roman Catholics disagree with official church teachings, and Hybels’ own research shows the seeker movement has failed to produce disciples

Now before I get hate mail from my Roman Catholic and Seeker-oriented friends who can cite several exceptions, let me grant that there are exceptions, but they simply prove the rule.  We’ve got to stop defending our church practices if they are not doing what Jesus told us to do.  If you’re not making disciples, you’re not doing church the way Jesus commanded it.  As Jesus warned, we can’t let our traditions nullify the Word of God.

Unfortunately, most other denominations are not doing much better.  We’re loosing 75% of our young people because– instead of making disciples who are in awe of God and devoted to His purposes– a majority of churches from most  denominations are producing shallow narcisists obsessed with themselves and their own happiness.  

We fail to realize that what we win them with we win them to.  If we win them with entertainment and low commitment, we win them to entertainment and low commitment.  Charles Spurgeon was way ahead of his time when he implored the church to start “feeding the sheep rather than amusing the goats.”