Not So Fast, Atheists!!! – Twist and Doubt, Park Two

Yesterday’s post on doubt may have gotten a little derailed during the writing process. The reason that post exists is because I read an article on CNN’s Belief Blog entitled “My Take: More doubts about God doesn’t mean religion is weakening.”  I intended to re-blog that article and comment on it. . . right after I said some stuff about the apostle Thomas, and referenced my pastor’s sermon from last Sunday, and gave my own two cents about the place that doubt plays in God’s plan. And by the time I said all that stuff, I was over 1,000 words in, and it seemed a little late in the game to chime in with a re-blog of CNN. So, to closely paraphrase the words of the guys who decided to split up North andSouth Carolina, I said, “Screw it. I’ll just make two of ‘em.”


“I’m going to call them ‘Carolina’ and ‘Carolina 2: The Hickening’.”

According to the article,

a recent Pew Research Center survey sees doubt rising sharply inside the millennial generation. Between 2007 and 2012, this survey says, the portion of young Americans (those 30 and under) who say they never doubt the existence of God dropped sharply between 2007 and 2012, from 83% to 68%.”

Upon, reading this, my first thought was, “Wait a minute. Was there a time when 83% of interviewed human beings said that they had never doubted the existence of God? That’s just crazy talk.”

Then, my second thought was, “I bet there are some Atheists who are just shitting themselves in excitement right now. Their dream of a completely secular country must seem soooo close!

Depend – When the thrill of victory seems within your grasp, you can count on us to protect your pants from your own feces.

“Not so fast, atheists,” says CNN blogger Stephen Prothero.

“Look carefully at the survey question. What this data is tracking is the percentage of young people for whom doubt has never creeped into their faith. I don’t know about you, but most of the religious people I know experience both doubt and faith over the course of their spiritual lives. So the fact that more than two-thirds of young people say they have never doubted God’s existence seems to me evidence of America’s extraordinary religiosity, not its disbelief.”


Well, yeah. I don’t really believe that 83% of people interviewed actually never doubted the existence of God. If I was to generously guess how many people I think never doubt the existence of God (ie, to pull a number out of my nether regions) I would say 3% of people are so blessed. To me, that implies that 80% of the folks taking this survey in 2007 were lying.

I can understand why people might lie about this, even to themselves. As I said in yesterday’s post, people have traditionally looked down on the apostle Thomas – a.k.a. “Doubting Thomas” – for his lack of faith regarding Jesus’ resurrection. He even – GASP! – refused to believe without seeing evidence firsthand. Jesus then (allegedly) scolded Thomas for his skepticism, and praised people who are able to believe without needing things like “proof.” It’s no wonder that for centuries, people didn’t want to be caught with their doubt showing – nobody wanted to be the next Thomas.

“No. . . it’s okay. I get that a lot.”

But as I wrote yesterday, I believe that doubt can be a good thing. Admitting your doubts – to your friends, to your family, to your pastor, to God – can be a freeing experience. It’s not unlike weeding your garden so that better plants can grow. . . you might not like having to do it, but once it’s done, you’ll probably be happier for the time you spent on your knees.

Maybe what we’re seeing in this Pew Research Center survey isn’t evidence that religion is failing inAmerica. Maybe, instead, we’re seeing that American believers are slowly becoming more honest, more fearless, in dealing with the doubts about God we all encounter from time to time.

One of our readers agrees. Rachel left a comment on yesterday’s doubt post, and this is part of what she had to say about her own experience, growing up a Christian who occasionally had to face her own doubts.

“There were so many factors in my youth that caused me to feel guilt ridden if i doubted one iota in my faith but as I’ve grown in age, healing and in Him…i’m finding that by embracing doubt when it arises brings…well, comfort. if i believe or am doubting…i bring it to Him regardless, and whether He answers me or not….the doubt….my heart…is still in His hands. and man, when He answers…it’s amazing and life changing.”


Amen, Rachel.

Just like Rachel’s view of her own doubts changed as she grew up and experienced God more, Prothero believes that the same can be said for the body of American believers.

“The fact that doubt is now a part of faith for a significant minority of American believers strikes me at least as a sign of faith’s maturity, not its demise. Perhaps, like the millennials themselves, American religion is growing up.”


I think he’s right. It’s not easy for us to admit our doubts about God, faith, miracles, or the church – but having the maturity and courage to do so helps us grow our faith. The great thing about truth, I have found, is that it does not depend on belief. Our doubts don’t make God disappear, but holding them inside of ourselves can certainly make it hard for us to see him.


About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason. View all posts by Daniel Mitchell

10 responses to “Not So Fast, Atheists!!! – Twist and Doubt, Park Two

  • DB Beem

    In the interest of being provocative, I would be intererested on your thoughts on a study (done by atheists) where they interviewed self-identified Christians. As it turns out, according to the study, many of the Christians interviewed technically met their definition of atheist.

    It kind of dovetails on this whole issue of doubt, but I suppose it begs that question that if you say you’re a follower of Jesus, and yet you don’t believe at all that God answers prayer, what does that tell us about what you really, really believe (please note the extra really).

    In the long run, I feel that classifications, such as atheist, agnostic or Christian are unhelpful, because it is largely based on how you self-identity and less about how you live, or who/what you follow. I suppose this is one of the reasons, why I liked the centered set description of faith. As a centered set kind of guy becomes, “Am I moving to or from Jesus?”

    • DB Beem

      Sorry, meant to say. . .
      As a centered set kind of guy a more helpful question is, “Am I moving to or from Jesus?”

      Have a Great Weekend!

    • Daniel Mitchell

      I may have to blog about that study sometime. I read the report, and it’s very interesting. What I’m noticing about the five clergypeople interviewed is that non of them believe in a supernatural God. Also, all of them come from either a liberal or a conservative Christian background (the former ignoring the miracles in the bible, the latter often of a dispensationalist mindset) and apparently none of them have experienced God in a miraculous circumstance. So while I feel sorry for them – they’re trapped in a field where they have to pretend to believe something, and that just sucks – part of my response is, “Oh, well, obviously. The logic behind faith is very weak. Without miracles, of COURSE you’ll have a hard time believing.” As Dave Schmelzer once quoted an ex-atheist saying at your church, “Why would I leave atheism for a God who doesn’t DO anything?”

      As for labels, I agree, and this study is a very good example of people who are CULTURALLY Christian, but not moving toward the point in the center of the set. That being said, even though Schmelzer has given a good example of it once, I have a hard time believing in the existence of an atheist who worships Jesus.

  • Veronica Surges

    Short comment because I’m on my phone, but good post. I love the weeding the garden analogy. I too find the fact that people are admitting doubt to be a sign of a maturing faith. It’s actually encouraging because–like you said somewhere up there–God doesn’t go away because of our doubts, and it gives Him a chance to meet us where we are and put our spirits to rest. On a more personal note, my boyfriend is an agnostic scientist. Not gonna lie, its a relationship that takes work, but I can honestly say that the doubts that he’s given me have made my own faith stronger and more genuine because it’s made me seek more of God. I love that!

    • Daniel Mitchell

      I have a ton of respect for agnostics – they’re using their brains, and their brains are telling them that they can’t POSSIBLY know if there is a God or not. In fact, if you’re going to approach the question “Is there a God” with nothing but reason, agnosticism is the most sensible end place for that questioning. Even atheists have to have faith that there is NOT a God in order to cross over from agnosticism into atheism. So barring any faith AT ALL, agnosticism kind of makes sense.

      My PERSONAL take on God’s view of atheism and agnosticism is that he isn’t overly bothered by them, as long as the people who claim those points of view are basically living in a way that is morally right. Despite the mistaken (but popular) idea that our western morality just bloomed out of the results of the Enlightenment, our modern sense of right and wrong was created within a Biblical framework. By just being an agnostic or atheist, a person isn’t hurting anybody but themselves, and they are perfectly capable of making the world a better place at the same time.

      All that aside, I wonder what would happen if your boyfriend pretended that there was a God for a month – just as a mental experiment – and talked to that pretend God for thirty days? If he ever does this, let me know what the result is. I know what happened when I did it.

  • Jennwith2ns

    “The great thing about truth, I have found, is that it does not depend on belief. Our doubts don’t make God disappear, but holding them inside of ourselves can certainly make it hard for us to see him.”

    This is my favourite thing you said.

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Thanks! I know that in my quest for “Truth” in life, I always hated truths that REQUIRED belief. It’s almost kind of a cliche – “If you can JUST BELIEVE, magical things can happen!” I hate that. Gravity requires no belief. Neither does magnetic force. God is the same way. Knowing that, I think it’s okay to doubt, as long as you take your doubts to God.

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