Josh McDowell: Atheism Wins in a Fair Match

This piece in the Christian Post caused me much amusement:

Atheists and skeptics now have equal access to our children as we have, which is why the number of Christian youth who believe in the fundamentals of Christianity is decreasing and sexual immorality is growing, apologist Josh McDowell said.

The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not,” said McDowell, who is author of two books on Christian apologetics, More than a Carpenter and New Evidence that Demands Verdict.

[…]I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened. It’s like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there… This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism. And then the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”

Yes, folks, McDowell is saying that Christianity can’t compete on a level playing field. That if people are exposed to both Christians’ and atheists’ arguments, that the Christian ones fail. And if that’s not an admission that Christian apologists don’t have any good arguments, I don’t know what is.

But of course he’s right to worry about skeptics speaking out. Skepticism is all about how to figure out what’s true and what’s not; what sorts of methods of inquiry tend to yield valid results and which don’t.

Then, for some reason, the article turns to the topic of pornography.

The Campus Crusade staff also said around 90 percent of the 16-year-olds, according to the latest statistics, had viewed pornography. And 80 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds had had exposure to hardcore pornography. In a recent study, teenagers were asked if pornography was acceptable, and 67 percent of the men and 59 percent of the women said “yes,” he added.

Interest in porn is nothing new, and I don’t know any guy who hasn’t found a copy of Playboy or Hustler in his father’s nightstand (or something similar), so these are numbers without a context. There’s not enough information here to conclude that the Internet has turned us all into sex-crazed horndogs; it’s quite possible that we’ve been that all along. I also suspect that society has mellowed over the past few decades to the point where many more people are willing to admit watching porn.

At any rate, I’m not sure what this has to do with Christianity, except insofar as every major religion tries to control its members’ sex lives. (Hey, I said “member”, so it’s like a cock joke. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and tell me I suck.)

Bottom line, I think McDowell’s worried that his church isn’t the only game in town anymore. And with good cause. But unlike him, I don’t see that as a problem.

(Update: Oops! Forgot to give credit to Jesus & Mo for pointing me at this story.)

4 thoughts on “Josh McDowell: Atheism Wins in a Fair Match”

  1. It is a pretty shocking admission, but he’s right. In days of yore, it often took an effort to find information from sources other than your in-group. Yeah, libraries, but if you lived say in a small Christian-dominated town maybe the library didn’t stock anything but approved literature. Nowadays every viewpoint, expertly expressed and defended, is a few mouse-clicks away. Sure, that enables the bullshitters the same as the skeptics, and you need to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff, but someone who is honestly looking for the sound arguments can find them, no matter how insular their local environment may be. I’m reminded of Twain’s quip that a lie can be half way around the world while the truth is still putting on it pants — I think the internet has equalized that, to a considerable extent (and literally at that!).


    1. Yes, he’s right. And yes, the Internet has given a voice not just to atheists, but also to every snake-oil dealer, crystal healer, penis-enlargement spammer, to say nothing of mainstream Islamic and Buddhist theologians and such.

      There are two basic approaches you can take to protect yourself from toxic influences: you can build a moat and isolate yourself, or you can assume that something’s going to get in, and plan accordingly. The first approach is equivalent to living inside an aseptic bubble to protect yourself from germs; the second is like developing an immune system that can fight off infections without killing the body in the process.

      A lot of religions lean toward the first approach. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, encourage their members to live “in the world, but not of the world”, or whatever the phrase is. That is, to avoid mingling with non-JWs. Depending where you live, if you want to socialize only with Christians, shop at Christian food stores, go to Christian doctors and hospitals, listen to Christian music, that’s very easy. But as any network security person will tell you, you can’t just stick your machines behind a firewall and leave it at that, because when inevitably someone gets in, you’ll be vulnerable.

      So what we need is some way of telling good ideas from bad ones, once they’ve gotten to you (e.g., “is this guy offering me a fair price for this used car, or is he trying to unload a lemon on me?”). And that’s where skepticism comes in.


  2. Regarding the Internet as a cause of new “bad” behaviors: I think that any forum that allows people to interact anonymously produces a more accurate reflection of who we really are than traditional interactions do. It’s sometimes a little disturbing to think about, but I suspect that the Internet is probably a reasonably accurate cross sectional slice of what people really want.

    I suppose that the really odd stuff is probably a bit overrepresented on the ‘net just because anything that’s repressed will need an outlet somewhere, but given how true Rule 34 seems to be, I’m inclined to think that the Internet is more or less the “real” us.


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