Does Truth and Evidence Even Matter to this New Generation?
My father and I recently updated his classic book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. A handful of people have asked me why we even bothered. After all, don’t we live in a “post-truth” world dominated by feelings?
It certainly is true that this generation tends to see the world through the lens of their feelings. When discussing the meaning of a biblical passage, or a current cultural issue, I find my students increasingly saying things like, “I feel that…” or “It feels to me…” And especially on issues of sex, marriage, and gender, feelings tend to trump science.
Have students therefore abandoned truth? Does the focus on feelings mean we should give up teaching evidence for the faith? For two reasons, this would be a colossal mistake.
First, young people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And part of being made in the image of God is having minds that are designed to understand and navigate the world. This is a universal truth about human beings. In my talk, “True for You, but Not True for Me,” I try to help student see that they base their daily decisions (sometimes even moment-by-moment decisions) on what they think is true: What time does class start? What assignments are due? Where is practice after school? And so on. As image-bearers, young people are designed to live their lives based on what they think is true.
Second, research shows that this generation cares about evidence. Unsurprisingly, teens today are confused about many issues. For instance, according to the recent Barna Gen Z study, 58% agree with the statement, “Many religions can lead to eternal life; there is no one true religion.” And 33% seem to believe that sincerely believing something makes it true.
Nevertheless, nearly half of teens say, “I need factual evidence to support my beliefs" (46%). Let me say it again to be sure it sinks in—nearly half of teens today desire factual evidence to support their beliefs. Of course, this doesn’t mean half of students are on an earnest spiritual quest for truth. But it does indicate an openness to (and recognition of) the importance of evidence and truth.
So, what issues plague this generation in particular? According to the Barna study, there are 7 big barriers to faith for non-Christian teens :
- Evil and suffering
- Christian hypocrisy
- The Intersection of science and faith
- Christianity is viewed as a fairy tale
- Injustices committed in the history of Christianity
- Church is no longer important
- A bad experience with church or a Christian
Interestingly, these factors are a combination of truth-related issues and relationships. Students struggle with their relationships with Christians and their experience of church, along with difficult questions about the faith. That’s why effective ministry today must be intentionally relational, but also deeply concerned about providing thoughtful answers to tough questions.
If you are looking for an easy-to-use curriculum that walks students through Christian evidences, you might check out my recent “Evidence for Faith” 6-part series with Download Youth Ministry.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
 As a side note, I often gently correct them and say, “I care about your feelings. But I want to know what you think.” They start correcting themselves over time, which helps them distinguish between their feelings and thoughts.
 Barna Report, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation (2018): p 63.