May 28, 2017
Millenial Scepticism and Despair
Dear Dr. Craig,
I am writing to you not as one academic to another, like most of the posters on Reasonable Faith, but as a concerned parent and Christ-follower seeking ways to reach disillusioned and disheartened millennials; my young adult son, in particular. Whatever one's political leanings, I think most thinking individuals can agree on the rampant corruption and degeneration of our modern civilization today, and I believe this is where much of the disillusionment and hopeless feeling of young adults comes in.
Now, I consider my son to be one of the more successful young adults, having put himself through school and graduated debt-free with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering, having landed a job with a great company, and being a generally all-around delightful person of high intellect and significant potential. He has also retained the faith in which he was raised, in spite of his years at a secular university (although his faith doesn't seem to apply to the issue at hand, somehow). Yet in many ways he has become disillusioned and hardly knows what can be believed and trusted anymore. He sees so many problems in the world and so much to be mistrusted and hasn't yet discovered exactly how to sift and find what can be trusted and what is real and true.
I have to admit that my natural skepticism may be a factor in all this (I suppose I am somewhat of an individualistic pragmatist, like other Gen Xers) as I have always encouraged my son to be skeptical and to question everything, and to never blindly accept the status quo but to challenge it and seek the objective truth in any situation. For me this doesn't necessarily lead to a state of hopelessness because of my faith (that gives me confidence that the best is yet to come), even though I feel that there is much out there that is false and truth is so often misrepresented.
But for my son (and other millennials), this skepticism seems to lead to a state of hopelessness, where questioning everything then means that nothing is true and nothing and no one can be trusted. Ultimately, I am afraid that this kind of thinking could lead to a nihilistic crisis of sorts.
What are some solid ways that I can counter this disillusionment (recognizing that I may be to blame for at least some of it)? What can I say to hearten and to foster a sense of hope? Are there any good books you could recommend, specifically for young millennials? I believe this to be a cogent issue that many young people are facing today.
To be perfectly honest, Rae, I think you’re reaping the bitter harvest of how you raised your son, and now it’s largely out of your hands.
I was mortified to read that you gave vent to your “natural skepticism” by “always encourag[ing] my son to be skeptical and to question everything.” So unbiblical and unjustified a strategy of child-rearing is bound to bear bitter fruit.
How does the Bible direct us to raise our children? We are to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6.4). As I have elsewhere emphasized, that entails equipping them to know what and why we believe as we do. In other words, we’re to train them in Christian doctrine and apologetics. We’re not to train them to be sceptics.
Moreover, scepticism is philosophically unjustified. The sceptic presupposes that in order to know some proposition p, I must know that I know p. Not only is that assumption plausibly false, but how could the sceptic know it, given his scepticism? His position is self-defeating. Most of the things we know are properly basic beliefs grounded in our experience, which we are perfectly rational to accept unless and until we have a defeater of that belief. Scepticism is just a stupid epistemological policy, leading us to deny most of what we, in fact, know. Much could be said here, but this is not the place to get deep in the weeds.
So we can encourage our kids “to never blindly accept the status quo but to challenge it and seek the objective truth in any situation” without teaching them to be sceptics.
In your experience we see how the sins on one generation are visited upon the next. You report that “For me this doesn't necessarily lead to a state of hopelessness because of my faith (that gives me confidence that the best is yet to come). . . . But for my son (and other millennials), this skepticism seems to lead to a state of hopelessness, where questioning everything then means that nothing is true and nothing and no one can be trusted.” Rae, how could you have thought that instilling scepticism into your son would leave his faith insulated from corrosive doubt? Why would he trust you or anything you said? Actually, I think that you are very fortunate, for you tell us that your son “has also retained the faith in which he was raised.” Thank God! The fact that he has turned out so well makes me wonder if his scepticism and despair are more a reflection of his culture than of his upbringing.
What is to be done? Your son’s an adult now, on his own and no longer your responsibility. Let go and remember him in prayer before the Lord. But there are two ways in which you might encourage him. (i) Give him reason for optimism and hope. We are actually living at a very exciting time in the history of the church. Christianity is growing throughout the world at unprecedented rates http://www.reasonablefaith.org/on-being-a-world-christian. Moreover, we are in the midst of an ongoing revolution in the fields of philosophy, physics, and historical Jesus studies http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-revolution-in-anglo-american-philosophy. Christian philosophy is burgeoning, contemporary science is more open to the existence of transcendent Creator and Designer of the universe than at any time in recent memory, and historical scholars have come to regard the Gospels as largely accurate records of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. This is an exciting time to be alive! (ii) Since you ask for a book, recommend to him Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, the second edition of which will appear later this year with Inter-Varsity. Commend especially to him the chapters on epistemology and scepticism. If your son could get excited about Christian philosophy, it could be life-changing for him!
You can be proud to have raised such an independent, responsible young man. It’s a shame about his disillusionment and despair. But there’s no good reason for such hopelessness, and I hope his scepticism can be put to rest.