Zondervan recently invited two atheist bloggers to read Chuck Colson's latest book The Faith and enter into a dialogue with Chuck about his book. Below is a link to one of the questions from an atheist blogger and Chuck's response. Stop by this Zondervan blog next week for Chuck's dialogue with another atheist blogger about The Faith.
Thank you for your recent letter commenting on my book The Faith. I can tell from your message that you have read the book carefully, and I appreciate that, since you come from the perspective of what you call an agnostic atheist. But it’s quite clear that you are also in an honest pursuit of the truth, wherever that pursuit leads you.
I’m glad that we start out with some common ground in our critique of postmodernism. You have obviously thought through where the rejection of objective truth in any form leads. People like Stanley Fish try to rationalize it, but they’re never able to avoid thoroughly untenable consequences. In writing of the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, Fish said we’re not to judge the motives of those flying the planes. In other words, there is nothing that can be called evil, because there’s nothing that can be called good. If that’s true, we have no way of dealing with death and destruction of the innocents. I think he exposed the flaw in postmodern thinking better than anyone else.
Let me deal with the first question you raised about whether or not we were able to “prove” an 8 percent re-incarceration rate vs. 20 percent in a comparable control group in the IFI prison in Texas. The grounds for the compilation of empirical data, established by Prison Fellowship in cooperation with the Texas Department of Corrections was that we would measure graduates, that is, those people who completed our program, as opposed to simply people who signed up for it. The reason we did that was obvious: we could not select the people coming in—we had no control over that. The state made that choice, as it did with the people in their control group. If both sides had made their own choices, then you would consider including drop-outs. But we knew the state couldn’t choose the kind of people we knew were motivated to do this.
The researchers from the University of Pennsylvania believed that this was sound methodology. We were very clear about this from the beginning, because we use a process of self-selection. In other words, the initial curriculum was geared to a pretty intense biblical grounding, so only people who really wanted this would take part in it. Anyone who has worked in this area, like Alcoholics Anonymous, will tell you that it’s the motivation of the participant that is crucial. If the person doesn’t want to change, you can’t change him. As Christians, we believe everyone has a free will to choose or not choose to follow Christ. So we’re obviously looking for people in our programs who are at least open to that.
Consider a possible analogy here. Let’s say a drug company wants to do a test on a dramatic new cancer cure. The pill must be taken for one month to be effective. A double-blind test is conducted, and the people who took a placebo would perhaps get 90 percent cancer. The people who took the 30-day medicine would get 50 percent. That’s a dramatic result. But would you get the same result if some didn’t take the full dose for the full month? I think not; nor would you detract from findings by including all those who after a week didn’t like the flavor or the after-effect and stopped taking it.
The acid test here, however, is what has happened since that data was compiled and released in 2003. We have continued to monitor these programs across the country, and they have continued to produce between 8 and 10 percent recidivism.
As for the case in Iowa, we did indeed lose it at the trial level. But the case was appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held in our favor on all of the substantive questions except accepting state funds. We had only accepted states funds because the state asked us to in order to conduct some secular programs which we could do more cheaply than others. Once the lawsuit was brought, we stopped taking the funds and didn’t care about them; nor do we take them any longer in any other states. So on that issue, Barry Lynn succeeded. But on the more important question of whether the program is effective and whether it is constitutional without federal funds, the Eighth Circuit, in an opinion joined in by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, did not declare anything we’re doing to be unconstitutional. I consider that a very significant victory. The state of Iowa, which had been drawn into the litigation, decided to terminate the program. In view of the fact that the district judge still kept jurisdiction, we were delighted to comply. But we are doing extremely well in every state where we’re operating.
As for the question you raised about whether someone could be paroled, not get a job, and therefore not be counted in our statistics, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. I’ll ask one of our staff to look at that, but I can’t believe that’s the case. I don’t think the University of Pennsylvania would have accepted that. The researchers who did this study were enthusiastic about the results.
I’m sorry if you felt that I conveyed more certainty than is warranted in my writing, or that my own interpretation is always correct. I hope I’ve not given that impression to anyone. I believe, as the scientific method describes it, that there is an objective truth that may be discovered through investigation, but that our human perception of that truth is always limited. I would certainly believe that theologically in view of my conviction about the Fall.
The position I have always taken is that I am constantly learning. And a lot of times I’ve reversed my position when I’ve discovered I was wrong. So if I’ve suggested a certain arrogance to you, I apologize. It was unintended.
You raised a number of very thoughtful questions about epistemology—how we can really know something. I'm under some serious scheduling restraints at the moment, so I would like to take a little longer before answering that part of your question. But I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Stop by the Zondervan blog next week for Chuck's dialogue with another atheist blogger about The Faith. Learn more about The Faith.