Tuesday, July 26, 2011

McDowell, the Internet, and the Knowledge at Our Fingertips

Christian apologist Josh McDowell, author of More than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, had some controversial things to say at a July 15th talk at the Billy Graham Center in Asheville, NC. According to an article at the Christian Post, McDowell said that the Internet gives skeptics, agnostics, and atheists -- "the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe" -- nearly equal access to youth people as Christian voices. McDowell complained that the abundance of information on the internet has led to widespread skepticism. In effect, the Internet has "leveled the playing field" for different viewpoints and belief systems. Before the advent of the internet, books and talks by nonbelievers reached a much smaller audience, he observed, adding that nonbelievers would usually "get to" young people during their college years.

McDowell alleged that many young evangelicals believe that there is no truth outside of themselves, and that worldview problems are plaguing America. This worry over correct Christian worldview is not new in evangelical circles, I've observed, but it suggests discomfort with non-fundamentalist interpretations of the world.

However, McDowell stressed parents cannot isolate their children, but rather must develop strategies for addressing the issue. He encouraged parents to live out or "model" the truth of their faith, cultivate relationships with their children, and prepare themselves to answer their children's questions.

Needless to say, I disagree with McDowell and take a very different view of the current information age.

At no time in history have we had this much information at our fingertips, nor have so many voices been free to share ideas with the world. I find it exhilarating to live in an age when so much knowledge is available to the hungry mind. When used properly, the internet can be a magnificent tool for self-enrichment.* McDowell is correct in that the internet has leveled the playing field for religion-related information, and that is a good thing.

Exposure to different ideas and viewpoints, even those we do not agree with, is healthy. It may lead us to change our minds on certain issues, or simply help us develop a deeper understanding of our own position. Where McDowell sees a threat, many others see an opportunity to broaden one's perspective.

An online world with information about diverse belief systems is NOT something to fear. Young people are entitled to learn about different forms of Christianity, different religions, and atheism and agnosticism. In an increasingly pluralistic society, this knowledge is vital to coexisting with people of different belief systems. Fundamentalist forms of Christianity are not the only game in town, and young seekers are entitled to learn about other belief systems.

This, of course, may not sit well with some fundamentalists. Fundamentalism requires ignorance (willful or imposed) to thrive, and it whithers where there is critical thinking and accurate information. A healthy belief system must be compatible with facts, and it must be able to survive exposure to other people's ideas. A belief system incapable of the former risks becoming fanciful, and a belief system incapable of the latter is too fragile to be of much use.

The world was changed forever by the internet, and people will continue to take in new information and ideas through it. Instead of fretting about villainized atheists besieging youth through the internet, Christians such as McDowell should recognize the internet's potential for broadening one's worldview.

(Hat tip to Infidel753 and Gaytheist Agenda)

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Fallen from Grace: Another Thing For Christians to Fear, The Internet

Groping the Elephant: Leading Apologist Admits Knowledge Fatal To Christian Faith

Stupid Evil B*stard: What's the Greatest Threat to Christians Today?

* I am not implying that all online content is automatically positive or accurate. Many vile applications of the internet do exist, such as violent p0rn and hate speech. Furthermore, the need to sift reliable online sources from unreliable ones is always paramount when seeking information online. I simply believe that the internet can be a remarkable tool when used for communication and learning.


  1. Great post, and I'm with you! (And I will mail out your Hen Haiku award soon! :) )

  2. Knatolee -- I'm looking forward to the prize!


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