In 2011, Ronald Cram read the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. He was shocked to read that 70-75% of students raised in Christian homes graduated from high school and stopped going to church. He knew this happened some decades ago when he was at university but he estimated that only 25-35% of Christian students left church during those years and most of those returned to the church after marrying and having children.
Geisler and Turek wrote that today’s students were dropping out at a much higher rate than ever and they were not returning to the church because they did not believe God existed. The university experience had convinced them that the claims of Christianity were false.
Cram knew the university experience could be hard on Christian faith, but this news was shocking. He could not get that statistic out of his mind. What evidence convinced these students that Christianity was untrue? Was it science? Was it history? What is philosophy? He decided to put together a survey and to survey students’ opinions about these important questions.
At the end of the survey, he would talk to the students to learn more about their opinions. Time and again students said that Christianity was not intellectually viable, that science had disproven the Bible and that no educated adult would ever become a Christian.
Cram knew the students were wrong but he also knew there was nothing he could say in the time of a short conversation that was going to change their minds about the viability of Christianity. He realized he needed some kind of a booklet he could buy and giveaway that would address the fact that Christianity is intellectually viable and that educated adults do become Christians on the basis of evidence.
He also knew that the length of the booklet was important. It had to be long enough to be persuasive but short enough they would actually read it. He couldn’t find anything like that in Christian bookstores or online, so he wrote one titled Why Three Brilliant Atheists Became Christians. The booklet tells the conversion stories of Dr. Francis Collins, Dr. Allan Sandage and Lee Strobel.
Cram printed up the first 500 copies and took them out to a local university campus. Since they were expensive to print, his plan was to only give them to students who promised to read it. He expected that 10% of the students he spoke to would promise to read it. Shockingly, the students reacted much differently.
“Wait. Atheists are becoming Christians? I’ve never heard that before! I want to read that!”
Cram quickly went through the first 500 copies and needed more printed and then more again. The students’ interest in the booklet was encouraging. Eventually, he began to wonder if the booklet was actually changing student’s opinions.
Additional focus groups were conducted at Pepperdine and UC Irvine. Every focus group gave encouraging results. Students left very encouraging comments about the booklet and how it impacted their lives.We decided to conduct a focus group at Chapman University. The plan was to have students complete the survey, then read the booklet and then complete the booklet again. In this way, he could learn how much opinions changed because of the booklet. We established a point system for each answer. Yes=4 points, Leans Yes=3 points, No Opinion=2 points, Leans No=1 point and No=0 points. The first focus group used a survey with 14 questions, so the maximum score possible was 56.
In the first focus group, only three students took part. One was a committed Christian girl. Prior to the booklet, her survey score was 47. After reading the booklet, her score was 54. She was actually struggling with some intellectual doubts about the faith but would never talk to anyone about them. The booklet strengthened her faith.
A second girl grew up in a Catholic family but she said she only attended church twice a year. Prior to the booklet, she scored 37. After the booklet, she scored 44. Interestingly, she made this comment at the end of the focus group: “Maybe I should go to church more often.”
The third participant was a young male atheist. He scored a 26 prior to reading the booklet and 30 after the booklet. While his score did not go up as much as the others, we believe the four point increase is significant. He now leans toward science and the Bible as likely compatible.
Additional focus groups were conducted at Pepperdine and UC Irvine. Every focus group gave encouraging results. Students left very encouraging comments about the booklet and how it impacted their lives.
Students comments from the UCI focus group
"The science behind the stories is highly appealing."
"Certainly not your typical 'how to get saved' booklet."
"This booklet showed Christianity and God in a way a cold scientific mind would have an easier time accepting."
"I thought the booklet was highly convincing and put God and Christianity into a light I've never seen them displayed in before."
"It is possible after all to be brought up one way only to believe something totally different."