CPBD 042: Sean McDowell – Christian Apologetics

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 30, 2010 in Podcast


(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview Christian apologist Sean McDowell. Among other things, we discuss:

  • Apologetics vs. philosophy
  • Apologetics and debate
  • Christianity and American youth

Download CPBD episode 042 with Sean McDowell. Total time is 33:35.

mcdowellSean McDowell links:

Links for things we discussed:

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark May 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm

“Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies…”


Justfinethanks May 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I must say, I normally find popular Christian apologists kinda grating (including papa McDowell), but Sean McDowell seems like a really likable guy. The comparison to William Lane Craig is apt, and dare I say he might even be more charismatic than Craig, due to his low key approachability.

It’s a little shame he’s also a creationist, though. But if I had to be locked in a room with a creationist, he would probably be my first choice. In fact, while watching him spread potboiler creationist misrepresentations in this video, I found myself respectfully disagreeing with him. Which is a far cry from my usual reaction, which is die a little on inside at the thought that I live in a world where people can espouse lies about the scientific evidence for evolution without feeling the slightest tingle of shame.


Mark May 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm

O.K., having listened to the whole thing, my feelings are a bit mixed. I really do appreciate his sympathy toward the New Atheists and his plea for both sides of the debate to cool down and remain civil. At the same time, though, the brand of apologetics he represents sounds in some ways like a throwback to the bankrupt salesmanship of Kent Hovind et al. and not deserving of much respect. (For the record, I think similar things of atheists like Hitchens.) I’m not sure I’m constitutionally able to remain patient with with apologists who dedicate their books to such luminaries of intellectual courage as Ben Stein.


RA May 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I couldn’t help but think that Luke has found his first debate opponent. He’s even in California.


Atheist.pig May 30, 2010 at 3:48 pm

This kind of theology is about 100 years behind the catholic theology which many an atheist can respect. The Jesuits and catholic monks have embraced modern science and have been at the cutting-edge of it in many disciplines. The catholic church even has a doctrine of “Universal Grace” which says even the unbeliever can have eternal life.
But then with all due respect, we have individuals like Sean McDowell preaching hellfire to terrified kids and destroying their education with creationist lies. Great interview Luke, really great philosophical discussion.


scootwes May 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm

It was a nice, civil discussion about why can’t discussions between theists and non-theists be more civil. Also, comparing Hitchins with WC Lane is apples and oranges.

A big pinch of salt is needed about the story when he says he went to dad Josh and said “I’m having doubts about Christianity, Dad”, dad says “go ahead and compare and contrast, and choose the best”, and he does, and chooses Christianity. Of course, what other outcome do we expect? All christians, including myself when just out of Bible College, have/had a similar story that we kept in our back pocket, when witnessing to smart non-theists, so it appeared that we at one time had looked at both sides in a non-biased way. I’m not saying he is deliberately deceptive, just that I doubt whether his weighing of the evidence during this soul-searching crisis was truly objective.


Ajay May 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Really interesting point scootwes. It’s hard to evaluate another person’s “spiritual journey” but I also believe that we should be very skeptical. I’ve heard quite a few of these claims from Christians who do all the evaluating and realize that Christianity is in fact the best of the bunch. A little too big of a coincidence for me.

Also, another related question: let’s assume that you can objectively do this test. Is there any real rational way to choose the right religion? It’s not pragmatic to really evaluate every religion because there are so many. But how can you really dismiss one either for fear it might be the ‘real’ one?

When Luke had that speech about the new atheism and how to defeat all religious arguments in one step, I thought that one step would be some version of this argument – i.e. it seems overwhelmingly to be the case that you are the religion of either a. your parents or b. the dominant religion of your specific time and place (That’s not to say that Luke’s opting for Dawes’ argument intead was a bad idea). I know the response to this argument – via Craig – that “God could have so providentially ordered the world…” – but Maitzen has a great response to this. If there is a good theistic response to this, let me know.

A few things to chew on.


Sabio Lantz May 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Superb interviewing.
He was incredibly congenial — a perfect debate partner.
This interview had no debating, so I look forward to listening to your debate with him so we can get to the meat of issues ! Maybe he will read Nagel by then. :-)
These interviews make people real — and help us with our kindness. Thank you.


scootwes May 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Oops! Who is WC Lane? I meant WL Craig!


lukeprog May 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Lol, scootwes, I didn’t even notice.


Pineapple Jo May 30, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Great interview. Sean seems like a nice guy who knows his stuff, but I couldn’t help but cringe when he resorted to the old “Mosaic Law” diversion…

Even if the homosexual death penalty was meant only for the Jewish people, and only for a particular time (just like the 10 commandments!), it doesn’t change the fact that YHWH COMMANDED THAT PEOPLE BE KILLED FOR BEING HOMOSEXUAL. Apparently, at this point in time, the best remedial measure our all-loving creator could come up with was DEATH. Forgive me if that doesn’t compel me to fall on my knees and worship him.

But I shouldn’t quibble over minor details, I enjoyed the interview overall and I look forward to hearing more from Sean.


Mark May 30, 2010 at 8:47 pm

But I shouldn’t quibble over minor details, I enjoyed the interview overall and I look forward to hearing more from Sean.

What do you look forward to hearing more from him about? I honestly didn’t get the sense that he has much to add to the debate. I’m all for being conciliatory, but this person appears to be a missionary rather than a philosopher. This felt evident to me from the moment Luke spoke the words “Worldview Studies.”


Steven Carr May 30, 2010 at 9:56 pm

‘Even if the homosexual death penalty was meant only for the Jewish people, and only for a particular time (just like the 10 commandments!)…,’


Good old moral relativism.

There is only one thing Christians argue for more than they argue for objective moral values, and that is moral relativism.


lukeprog May 30, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I know. I really don’t see how it gets God off the hook to say that he commanded murdering your children for disbelief or killing gays “only for a time.”


Roman May 31, 2010 at 12:27 am

Hi, Luke,
God commands murdering your children? The guy in the video said the same thing. Where does God do this? I don’t remember being taught this in church.


Bram van Dijk May 31, 2010 at 4:33 am

Notice that Luke talked about “murdering your children for disbelief”. For example:

If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)


Lee A. P. May 31, 2010 at 6:41 am

With regards to McDowell’s creationism, Glenn Morton ghost wrote the creationist chapters for at least one of Josh McDowell’s books (maybe more, but one I am aware of). Surely Sean is aware of this.

If you are not aware of Glen Morton’s journey (from YEC, to OEC to Christian evolutionist) then this is the best place to start:



scootwes May 31, 2010 at 9:54 am

If you are a christian, then you should be reading your bible. And if you read your bible, then you will know that they bible says these things (and the bible supposedly speaks the words of god).

Most churches try to avoid these passages, as they are embarrassing if one maintains that “God is Love”.


Roman May 31, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Hi Bram van Dijk,

Thanks for you answer. You are right that God does in that passage command the murder of children for disbelief. I didn’t know this.


Roman May 31, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Hi scootwes,

That is a difficult passage for Christians, yes.


lukeprog May 31, 2010 at 7:07 pm

One of the many, many passages they do not preach from in church…


ayer May 31, 2010 at 8:21 pm

“One of the many, many passages they do not preach from in church… ”

Greg Boyd does. See:



DoAtheistsExist? June 2, 2010 at 8:22 am

They do speak and preach about these things at my church actually.
I was a bit disappointed that this interview was so short, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Would have been interesting to see if he had any thoughts about desirism.


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