How to protect my college student from new atheist reading assigments


My son started college at a Catholic University last week. From my perspective, he takes his faith seriously. He is a good student. He will work hard to learn material he is assigned. I am very concerned because he took an elective called “God on Trial” (…why i do not know.) His semester assignment is a 12 page research paper / book report on either Hitchens, Harris, or Dawkins. It’s strange, I looked at syllabus and I don’t see any place for God to make a case.

Anyway, if anyone can help me with these questions, I would really appreciate it.

1.) Which of the 3 has the weakest argument?
2.) What are some good books to counter what he will learn from these authors?
3.) Other suggestions?

I think he will read materials if I ask him to, and I know there are sound rational reasons to believe. I am looking for something that does a good job refuting the specific arguments he will hear from these 3 authors.

Thank you in advance for any help or suggestions you can provide.


· God is Not Great – Hitchens
· The End of Faith – Harris
· The God Delusion - Dawkins


Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you need to stop. Detach and let him do his own work. That is why your son is in college, to learn how to think critically and solve problems for himself.

Please step back and let him figure this out himself without your help.


As a university junior, I’ve been introduced to material that isn’t from my viewpoint (or beliefs if that’s a better word) and I personally think there’s nothing wrong with it. I think the biggest thing is that he should know to stick to his beliefs, meaning that if he’s assigned an assignment on atheism that he wouldn’t turn into an atheist. That’s what I did in my first two years of college and it really helped me. I hope I explained it well and let me know if I didn’t.


Thank you for your response. Yeah… I am probably over reacting, but the will followings the intellect and I frankly would be much more comfortable with this if they had covered Thomas Aquinas before covering C.H.

Will try to relax.

Thanks again.


Thank you for the reply. I appreciate the advice and your time.
Good luck in school. : )


One of the greatest joys in my professional life is to introduce college students to new ideas. Ideas that are fundamentally different from everything they knew before. This is the essence of the intellectual life, and one that everyone should embrace.

When I was in graduate school, during the Cold War, a professor in a course I was assisting told the students that all they needed to know about Marx “is that he was wrong.” To this day I remain appalled by that. You can disagree with Marx all you want, but his impact on our world is undeniable. To know nothing about his ideas (which by the way, go far beyond communism) is not a mature approach to education.

I would encourage your son to read those books, and see what he thinks. Encourage him not to be afraid of different ideas.

Also, this seems like a bizarre course in general. Is this some kind of freshman seminar where students sign up for a section organized around one of many topics? I know some schools do that now. It doesn’t sound like any serious course I’ve ever heard of.


Being presented with opposing viewpoints has never done anything other than strengthen my faith. When I look at their reasons and arguments I see how much of what they believe requires just as much faith as what I believe and the whole thing boils to our own choice.

That said my advice, and please know that I am saying this from experience in the field of education, is the best thing to do to keep your child “on the path” is to back down. College is a time for them to learn and make their own choices, and “hovering” (for lack of a better term…) can actually do more harm than good. You want him to continue to freely choose, knowing he has the freedom to do so. Faith becomes personal, deeper, and far more meaningful.

Finally, I find it very likely that a course like this is likely designed to present students with these arguments which they will inevitably encounter anyway, and discuss them in an environment where there are knowledgeable faculty to guide them through the wrestling to find Jesus standing triumphant on the other side. :slight_smile:



We cannot do our children’s university courses or make their decisions about what classes to take and what critical thinking to engage in.

They learn to do this on their own in college, Its hard for us to step back and let them at it.

but alas, we must.

One reason for studying materials opposed to our beliefs, is to refute them in an educated manner, or to expand our education and limit our bias and prejudice


I dated a guy who took a Bachelor’s in Religion. He said most everybody in his class ended up losing their faith. He himself went on to be an avid atheist who has written books on atheism.

Ordinarily, I would probably say to back off. But not in certain courses of study like philosophy, religion, and theology. A parent can do things that increase their child’s faith. In your case, I might not interfere with the paper but I would buy him books by C.S.Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. I would take him out for lunch and afterwards bring him to a religious bookstore for a while, and see if he wants to buy anything. In other words, have a budget for keeping him on track.

Universities encourage the sharing of different ideas, but somehow those are always the liberal, atheist ideas. The elite are actively working to finish off in university what started in primary school which is indoctrination to secular belief. Even Catholic primary teachers in Canada want to preach the secular way when it comes to sexual education.


I’m not an intellectual as anyone whose read my posts will know and I have struggled like everyone else with the big questions all my life. I think I started questioning about God when I was maybe four years old. I have read a little but I wanted to reason things out by myself not be influenced to much by others ideas and thoughts, after all there can be few who really know, maybe none. The only convincing things I’ve read are in the Bible and specifically what Our Lord said and did in the gospels. They convince me because He had nothing to gain from the things He told us as a human being alone and with His powers He could’ve escaped arrest as He had escaped situations before, and of course He would not have gone through the torturous passion and suffered death. And that’s not even mentioning His resurrection. Our Lord drew billions to the Church through His death, it could not have been any other way.

If you discount the life of Jesus, His acts, His words and if You haven’t had actual experiences of the supernatural you are left with nothing more than reason and logic to come to a conclusion and it’s all too easy to be mislead and buried by the myriad of arguments which flow from those approaches.


I agree with the previous posters about allowing your son to get on with his studying.

But I also wanted to comment on your idea that he should pick one of the three with the weakest argument. He will learn much more by picking the one with the strongest argument.


My suggestion? Treat him like a smart person instead of being a helicopter parent. Just let him grow up & make mistakes in his college experience. It’s up to you to decide if you wanted to hold his hand forever or let him go & fly free.


I second this. OP, your son is an adult now. The baptismal promises you made on his behalf to oversee his formation are responsibilities you no longer hold. His faith needs to be his own. Let go of your worry. When you worry, pray, entrusting your son to God’s wisdom and mercy.


It’s not your place to ask him to, and you won’t be entering the grade he earns.

Maybe the instructor has a plan for how students should address viewpoints that challenge our perspectives.

If it’s a concern, your son needs to meet with the instructor and sort it out.

It’s called “getting an education,” right? :wink:


He is a grown up.

You cannot helicopter parent a college student (unless he is a genius who is in college at age 12).

Over his childhood and high school years, you taught him critical thinking. You introduced him to a relationship with Christ that is more than head knowledge.

You might point him to (I sound like a broken record, I recommend this source IRL and online all day long)

Download the ebook, encourage him to read the books suggested there. Then, hands back in pockets. Listen if he has a question, never shut him down for questioning and help him find sources.


I can tell you The God Delusion from what I remember is nothing but a well written collection of straw man arguments, virtue signalling, and social justice lambasting.


It’s great that you have such a good rapport with your son. He may be an adult but you’re still his dad and its good that you can talk about this.

My concern would be how these atheist theories are being presented - are they being presented in light of the Church’s teaching or are they just presented as valid philosophies? My son had a similar class at a Catholic university last semester that I don’t think was balanced. Fortunately he’s taking another class on modern philosophy this semester that is looking at modern philosophies from a Catholic perspective. I’m much happier with this class; the last one left too many unanswered questions.


Haha :joy:. I took a class in college where we read sections of The God Delusion, and I remember feeling the same way. (We also went on to read Plato, the Bible, and C.S. Lewis. It was an interesting class).


There’s nothing wrong with analyzing people on the opposite side. Preparedness requires awareness.

OTOH, getting your son some books on apologetics would be good, because that’s a lot of depressing crud to have to read in a semester. And if the instructor turns out not to be a solid critic of Hitchens, et al, it could be damaging not to have both sides.


I am an agnostic and began to question my beliefs and then read those books. At that point the books just confirmed my doubts but they would have had no influence on me if I had not already lost my beliefs.
Hitchens approach is the most emotionally based.
Dawkins approach is more from a biological point with some attempts at philosophy.
Harris is a neurobiologist with more philosophy thrown in.
Millions of Christians have read them and not lost their faith.
I think those that do were questing to begin with and yes, in those cases the books can drive them further away. Realize that college is supposed to expose them to ideas that parents tend to shelter their children from and they need to know what the arguments are having the skills and self reflection to know where they stand.
Perhaps later in the semester you can have a discussion with him regarding how he feels about the material he has learned and if he asks questions, give him your thoughts but the time to tell him how to think is his now. Not yours (one of the hardest things for a parent. I know!). Don’t tell him he is wrong or right. Just let him learn and be there for him.

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