Advice for Mum of teenager

My son, who has been mostly homeschooled and taught the Word and creation, went to 6th form in the UK for one year studying science and it has really rocked his faith. He seems to think most of the world are atheists and that we are just preprogrammed machines. He believes our brains are simply supercomputers and that there is no such thing as free will, everything is predetermined. Have you come across this kind of thinking before? What would you suggest? Strangely, he wants to come to the Answers in Genesis Conference we are attending later this week. He didn’t like school and is now back at home studying A levels. Last night he watched Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ DVD and that raised all these issues again because he said it was full of pseudoscience!
Thanks in advance for any advice.
Blessings, Faye

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@Faye_Thomson Praying for wisdom as you shepherd your kiddo :slight_smile: What may be helpful is going through some of John Lennox’s material with him. Lennox is a math professor at Oxford, and therefore clearly intelligent, and yet believes science is nowhere near burying God. A few helpful questions to ask him after going through some of this material may be:

  • what do you think are the limitations of science? What types of things can science tell us? (the answer of course being science can tell us about how the universe works, but not about how it got here - but you want him to reach that conclusion - to see it and have the “aha” moment)
  • how do you know something is true? Is it true just because a lot of people believe it? Is it true just because its modern? (maybe have some counterexamples here)

If he is particularly precocious, it may be helpful to read through Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” with him. That book helped me in high school.

Hope at least some of those thoughts are helpful :slight_smile:

John Lennox

Mere Christianity

Berlinski

Berlinski is not Christian - is a very intelligent individual - and points out that science has not convincingly ruled out God by a long shot. He has a book called “Devil’s Delusion”.

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Thank you so much for your kind and helpful reply. Every blessing, Faye

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Hello! Certainly praying for wisdom as you work through this issue. Unfortunately, it is common view amongst those who believe in scientism (the belief that science can answer all questions, and those questions which cannot be answered by science are not real questions.) It is kind of inevitable from a materialistic point of view. In materialism there is only mater and cause and effect. Since every outcome is the result of some cause, and the relationship between cause and effect is governed by laws which are out of our control, we are not in control of outcomes in our lives. This would include our thoughts and beliefs, since these, under a materialistic view of the world, are simply the effects of our synapses firing in our brains, which are governed by physical laws.

If you would like an academic view of this subject here are some resources:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/

You can also read Peter Van Inwagen.

For something more accessible I recommend the book Miracles by C. S. Lewis, specifically chapter 3, The Cardinal Difficulty with Naturalism.

I highly recommend you and your son read through that chapter together. It is a relatively easy read and explains the situation rather thoroughly, if not in depth. If you or he want to learn more I would point you to the websites I linked.

To summarize the thoughts on the matter; ask a person who holds this view why they hold this particular belief. Most likely, they will give you an entire line of reasoning. Luckily for us, they undermine their position from the start. You see, this view that our belief are causally determined by physical processes loses the foundation on which reason functions. You do not believe what you believe because it is true, or logical, or reasonable, or scientific; you believe it because you cannot believe anything else. The physical state of the universe at the moment just before your birth caused you to have whatever thoughts you find roaming through your head. This belief does not allow you to access anything as true. In fact, this line of thinking does not allow you to make any positive claims to knowledge, because you do not reason anything to be true. It just happens to be in your head because some outside force causes it to be there and you could not come to any other conclusion if you tried, which you can’t try.

This, in fact, undermines the very idea of science because science relies on the ability to reason. If reason is not true then science cannot be true. I recommend he runs this by someone who actually practices science.

Further, it is a rule that you cannot use reason to undermine reason. And that is what this position tries to do. It uses reason and argument to show that reason and argument to not actually exist. All conclusion are merely the physical state of the universe which is not a reliable source of ideas.

Imagine saying I am right that the car is blue because that rock is in its current position. If that rock were in that position over there perhaps you would be right that it is red. You cannot point to the current physical state of the universe and use it as a reliable guide to what is true.

I would encourage him, also, to look at the statistics on beliefe. The majority of the world believes in one higher power or another. And if we want to go a step further and talk about science, it is true that most scientists do not believe in a God, but, the majority of the leading scientists in any field do. Most Nobel Laureates believe in a higher power and the majority of those who do are Christians.

This by no means concludes that Christianity is true, but at least we preserve the categories of true and false which we lose if we are mere “supercomputers” or “preprogrammed machines.” Under that line of “reasoning”, we would have no access to anything which was true or false by means of science or otherwise.

To be honest, having done quite a bit of study on these matters, it is not a very respected stance for that last point. Under its own description, it cannot be true, it would just be.

I hope this makes sense. If anything is unclear or needs expanding, please let me know. If you talk to him and he has any objections or questions I would be more than happy to answer them.

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@Faye_Thomson One other thing that popped into my mind - you might consider talking with him about the fact that there is room for people within Christianity who disagree about evolution and the age of the earth. Regarding levels of doctrine, this is an opinion or a conviction (see below chart). You might show him Reasons to Believe and Biologos as examples.

I’ve included some threads on different ways of interpreting Genesis 1 and on the age of the universe. I think what is important for him to see is that whatever position he decides to take on the science, it does not prevent him from being a Christian.

Hope that helps :slight_smile:

Reasons to Believe - https://www.reasons.org/

Levels of Doctrine

The below article offers a fuller explanation of levels of doctrine and gives a helpful summary list of 4 levels of doctrine.

  1. absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;
  2. convictions , while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church;
  3. opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; and
  4. questions are currently unsettled issues.

Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations:

  1. biblical clarity;
  2. relevance to the character of God;
  3. relevance to the essence of the gospel;
  4. biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it);
  5. effect on other doctrines;
  6. consensus among Christians (past and present); and
  7. effect on personal and church life.
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some really great responses from Sean and Joshua.

perhaps a short video on Ravi answering the secular determinism question might be of help.

Your son’s line of reasoning is actually correct. If there is no God, then yes, we are just preprogrammed machines from a cause and effect point of view; and free will is an illusion. As @Joshua_Hansen , points out, and Ravi does in the video; the moment you make a truth claim you are violating determinism. and of course as a secondary point, secular humanism’s big bang doesn’t have an answer of first cause.

I don’t know how heavy your son is into reading, a ‘lighter’ level entry book addressing ‘scientism’ as @Joshua_Hansen mentioned, is John Lennox “Can science explain everything? (https://www.amazon.com/Science-Explain-Everything-John-Lennox/dp/1784984116)”. The book that @SeanO mentions is very good but might be a little heavy if your son is mid-teens, rather than late teens…?.

The ‘Can science explain everything?’ book references other of Lennox books so might be a good starting point, and then he can read further. The reason I think this particular book is good, is at the end, Lennox shares how he presented the Gospel to a couple of gentlemen on a train.

Science can only answer the ‘how’ questions; it can’t answer morality questions.
Here is an example from God’s undertaker.

“The teaching of morality likewise lies outside science. Science can tell you that, if you add strychnine to someone’s drink, it will kill them. But science cannot tell you whether it is morally right or wrong to put strychnine into your grandmother’s tea so that you can get your hands on her property.”
― John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

I would suggest he’s got the word ‘pseudoscience’ from a wikipedia article or something - this term is just a way of dismissing viewpoints without actually taking a look at what is being talked about…
ask him what he thinks the difference is between ‘real science’ and ‘pseudoscience’, and how he would tell the difference. Ask him also what his opinion is between historical sciences (forensics, eye witness testimony, historical manuscripts), and repeatable science, and to think about where scientists statements stray into philosophy. For example Hawking said ‘Philosophy is dead’; which is not a statement of science; but a statement of Philosophy; and self-defeating as Lennox points out here
(https://www.rzim.org/read/just-thinking-magazine/stephen-hawking-and-god).

he might also like the Reasonable Faith animated videos as well to get him thinking, in particular the Moral Argument; the Cosmological Kalam argument; and the Fine Tuning Argument.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKGnXgH_CzE&list=PL3gdeV4Rk9EfL-NyraEGXXwSjDNeMaRoX)

maybe encourage him to take these things slowly; and encourage him that it is a good thing to think for yourself; point out the Bible passage and that, as Christians, to love the Lord God with all your mind, we need to think; Faith is by no means blind, it’s based on solid evidence.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Also, just a heads up for your own self, as @Sean so rightly pointed out; There are a number of various views on the time-line of creation. Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries are both young earth position. John Lennox holds to (I believe) progressive creationism and discusses this in his book ‘7 days that divide the world’ which I really enjoyed. (I’m still a young earth creationist with literal 6 day creation, and coincidentally we are having a speaker from Answers in Genesis at our church this weekend)

If your son starts trying to figure out all the differences between the various views on the timeline of ‘How God created’ and gets very bogged down; maybe back up the conversation a little to the Origins question and simply discuss the fact that the universe had a start, and is not eternal, God created. That much all Christians agree on; and then you can go exploring from there once you have that firm foundation in place.

Thinking of you; do not worry too much; it’s completely normal for teenagers to question their parents belief and see if it is true. It’s a part of growing up and forming/cementing a worldview. God is much bigger than your son’s questions; if you don’t have certain answers, don’t worry, just continue to show Christ’s love to him - as that speaks volumes more than intellectual discussion.

just some thoughts, hopefully a little helpful… :slight_smile:

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Thank you. We watched Dr.Lennox with him last night and debated him using some of these points but alas he seems to be intent on sticking to his views despite their flawed logic. He said all kinds of horrible things and I am at the point of just backing off. I prayed about whether to take Him to the creation conference this Thursday and felt like the Lord was saying Matthew 7:6 that I should back off because he is determined to mock and attack us. I trust the Lord that he will bring Elijah through in His timing. Thank you again to you and everyone else on here who has so kindly taken the time to respond. I am deeply grateful. It has certainly given me food for thought that I need to learn apologetics!! God bless you.

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@Faye_Thomson Praying that Jesus would bring people into his life who love the Lord to encourage him / answer his questions and that he could sense your guys’ love for him :slight_smile:

So sorry to hear you had such a tough conversation. I will continue to pray for you and him. People go through these phases all the time and come back to Christ. If you have any further questions or prayer requests please let us know. This is what we are all here for.

I do encourage you to begin dabbling in apologetics! It will certainly serve you well!

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Hi @Faye_Thomson,

Your willingness to thoughtfully engage with reasoned responses is important and I commend you in your continued growth in that ministry. I love the wealth of good resources the community has offered. To that, I would also really like to add this affirmation: it sounds to me like you have already been practicing and increasing in skill in the most crucial apologetic of all: a prayerful, active love. Jesus’s words in John 13:35 underscore the way sincere love powerfully testifies to the authenticity of our witness before a watching world:

"Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”

I am encouraged by both your boldness to have difficult conversations and your sensitivity and responsiveness to the Lord in discerning when to step back. All of your small labors of listening, trust, and obedience matter, Faye. Every one, every day. The Lord hears your prayers. And he loves your son deeply. I am praying for grace, comfort, perseverance, and peace as you continue to testify to that deep love with your own life, one day and prayer at a time.

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Thank you so much for your encouragement, love and prayers. What a blessing modern technology can be! I pray the Lord refreshes you all as you have refreshed me. I am humbled and grateful for the time you have all taken to respond in such a lovely way. Thank you all so much. X

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