photo by Craig Grocott

A little while ago I stumbled on a blog post about how some Christians tend respond to the doubts of their fellow believers and how that may actually be pushing doubters away.

My [the author’s] students say they encounter both reactions. One teen who is struggling to decide what she believes is discouraged because her parents’ primary response is, “Why can’t you just have faith, like we do?”

Another teen who is exploring alternative worldviews says his parents’ response is to denounce them: “You can’t prove that! You have no evidence.” As he tells me, “I need my parents to think ideas through with me, not just judge them.”

When parents and leaders react to questions by shaming or blaming, they may well drive their teens away. Both of my students have recently announced that they no longer consider themselves Christians.

Fuller Theological Seminary recently conducted a study on teenagers who become leavers in college. The researchers uncovered the single most significant factor in whether young people stand firm in their Christian convictions or leave them behind. And it’s not what most of us might expect.

Join a campus ministry group? A Bible study? Important though those things are, the most decisive factor is whether students had a safe place to work through their doubts and questions before leaving home.

The researchers concluded, “The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher [their] levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity.”

A 2009 study in Britain found that non-religious parents have a near 100 percent chance of passing on their views to their children, whereas religious parents have only about a 50 / 50 chance of passing on their views.

Clearly, teaching young people to engage critically with secular worldviews is no longer an option. It is a necessary survival skill.

Even though it sounded encouraging and pro-critical thinking, I felt it necessary to respond with a former Christian’s point of view:

The expectation that seems to have been left out of this post is that while believers should encourage honesty and critical examination, the only acceptable and “right” conclusion must be to re-affirm one’s faith and choose Christianity.

But what if the doubter has the courage to say “I’ve examined the evidence, prayed, searched, and discussed my doubts. The only reasonable conclusion I have come to is that Christianity is false.”

Will these parents, teachers, and pastors still encourage and support the reasoning and thorough examination of the faith when it leads to someone choosing something other than Christianity? Or does the support stop there because the desired outcome wasn’t achieved? Let’s be honest; believers only want someone to embrace doubt just long enough to come back to Jesus. Any other result is considered unacceptable and wrong.

What do you think about my take on it?

Some of the other replies made me chuckle:

… But Biblical faith is not irrational; it is based on reason: God did something and because of that we can believe he will do something else. That is reasonable. God said “Come, let us reason together.” And he often used reason to convince people. And he offered miracles as evidence. We need to realize that reason is the most wonderful gift that God gave mankind and use it. –Roger McKinney

… For you guys who need a scientific opinion on Scripture, check ANSWERS IN GENESIS. Pay a visit to their museum in Kentucky; get the books and videos. It is fascinating! –SF

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20 thoughts on “Believers Responding to Doubt”

Andrew Hall · January 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I’m raising my kids as skeptics/atheists and it’s very heartening to know that there is a high probability that they will not get all religiousy later on in life.

    Godless Girl · January 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Well I certainly hope they become balanced skeptics in their adult futures 🙂

Tom · January 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I live “not far enough” from the Answers in Genesis facility. I shudder to think what the rest of the world thinks of how we are raising the next generation and its critical thinking “skills.”

In response to your question, I think you are exactly right with your take on things. Their desired outcome is that anyone who has momentary doubt in the christian religion comes back to christianity.

It keeps coming back to the virus model of understanding religion, for me. The religion, in this case christianity, works through vectors (preachers) and other hosts (parents) to try to maintain hold on more hosts (kids), in effort to continue propagation. is the web site of one of my favorite books these days.

Henway · January 21, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I wholeheartedly agree. The ability to question things is a critical survival skill, and those that preach having faith, and not thinking or questioning are doing our children a disservice.

    Tom · January 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Somewhere on Darrel Ray’s site (author of “The God Virus”), he claims that research through a number of studies shows that strong religiosity (as he defines it) accounts for a lowering of one’s IQ scores on order of magnitude of five points. His sense is that being “really faithful” to one’s religion leads to blind faith and lack of critical thinking skills. Fundies will pooh-pooh the findings, but 5 IQ points would be statistically significant.

ChristopherTK · January 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Godless Girl,

I liked your reply greatly. I was also greatly disappointed by many others, beginning with Paul M and others like him, that don’t seem to have a clue when it comes to “connecting the dots” between the life they experience and how they choose to interpret the results.

Good thing we have that “moment of silence” here in Illinois to give children a safe time & place to ponder important religious questions — hopefully the teacher then proceeds with a science lesson.

Kate · January 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm

The Christians in my life (those closest to me at any rate) have been pretty great about my deconversion. I agree with your reply in that most of the time the support stops when the desired outcome is not reached, but I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by a wonderful group of friends and family who have supported me and will continue to support me no matter what. I even continue to (occasionally) attend church discussions with friends of mine because that group is so welcoming and open to discussion. Just thought I’d share. 😀

    Godless Girl · January 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I’m glad your experience has been so positive! I can’t say mine has been overly negative either. I’m sure you will be able to have quite interesting discussions with these friends of yours since both sides seem willing to learn.

Jenny · January 21, 2011 at 10:19 pm

I don’t know; how would atheist parents react if their child used critical thinking skills but concluded that some form of religion was correct? Wouldn’t they have a similar response?

    ChristopherTK · January 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Could you give an example where well reasoned thinking would leave one to conclude that gods exist? Answer this well enough and there would be reason to pursue your question further.

    I expect the best answer a religious minded individual could come up with would be that absent any proof, the possibility of future proof still exists, therefore a god or gods may exist.

      Godless Girl · January 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      Wouldn’t the end of that be agnosticism and at best Deism?

        ChristopherTK · January 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm

        Maybe. But it still leaves Jenny short an answer to her question and her question cannot be asked with a reasonable expectation of an answer, given we would have to wonder how anyone predisposed to critical thinking could arrive at the conclusion that there is a god(s) given the facts.

          Jenny · January 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm

          Oh, I agree that the most well reasoned response would most likely result in atheistic belief; I don’t doubt that for a minute. But I think there are some significant arguments that _could_ be made in favor of, as GG pointed out, deism or agnosticism. How would an atheist parent react then? Would it not be similar to the Christian parents encouraging their children to think more about it?

            ChristopherTK · January 27, 2011 at 5:31 pm

            An agnostic position is significantly different from one of the “big three” of western culture.

            And yes, if either of my children came to the conclusion that god(s) are real, and then held that belief into adulthood, I would be disappointed.

Tatarize · January 28, 2011 at 9:18 am

The most interesting point was the differences between raising non-religious vs religious children. I didn’t see where it got near 100% from, so I looked it up and found the original paper.

“If neither parent is religiously affiliated, 91 percent of
the children likewise describe themselves as having no religion. At the opposite
extreme, where both parents belong to the same denomination, the proportion
of children maintaining that allegiance and the proportion listing themselves as
‘none’ are equal at 46 percent each.”

Debbie · September 16, 2011 at 10:10 am

I don’t know, I happened on this by accident and thought is was interesting reading. But, it seems like your conclusions are all the same. The religious folks supposedly don’t accept any other conclusion as being correct except the one that leads to their beliefs and the non-religious folks responding here aren’t accepting any other conclusion as being correct except the one that leads to their beliefs. It’s funny but you all seem to be blind to that. Maybe because everyone wants to believe their way is right and can’t accept that the other one might be correct. Why not just be honest and say that ” I don’t believe there is a God and I think I am right and that’s what you should believe” and “I believe there is a God and I think I am right and that’s what you should believe”. There’s no critical thinking involved here, just belief of one kind or another.

    Isabel · September 18, 2011 at 10:02 am

    @Debbie – I wish there were a “like” button under your post so I could press it.

    Alex · December 23, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Debbie, I agree with you on many points. Too many people argue from both sides of the fence that their position is the correct one and that the other one is wrong.
    Where I beg to differ, is that beliefs are very nice, but it isn’t necessarily representative of reality. You can believe in any deity you want, and that’s fine by me. If that deity helps you donate more (as is the case in a small rural town in Canada, a very religious community whose donations are more than triple the national average per capita) so much the better for it! If it makes you and other people happy, why not?
    However, when belief flies in the face of contradicting evidence, and when people take the position that reality is wrong ad that their beliefs are correct, then we have a problem. Look at creationists. I have nothing against them, but they are attempting to destroy the scientific education of children throughout the US. Their belief flies in the face of evidence, there is little benefit for them and others, and there can be enormous consequences if they succeed in their goals.

    I have my beliefs, but if ever one of my beliefs contradicts reality, no matter how much I like that belief, I will let go of it, because I know it’s not true, not real. Why do children stop believing in Santa? One also must remember there isn’t a huge amount of literature devoted to proving Santa’s existence, explaining the mystery of how he travels the world in one night, why Santa does or doesn’t give gifts to children who don’t believe in him, what Santa’s standards are, etc.
    Whereas in the case of god…

    Rejecting god based on belief, hearsay, whatever, is no better than people who cling to beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. However, it usually is a lot less harmful to society and to the individual.

    And I’ll stop here before I ramble on for too long :p

Juliet · August 19, 2014 at 5:59 am

Since the admin of this site is working, no doubt very quickly it will be famous, due to its quality contents.

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