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 part 2 of Chuck Colson's reply:
I hope you will forgive me for being so delayed in replying to your full letter. I wanted to get an answer off to you right away about the study done by the University of Pennsylvania, and the disputed methodology. If it didn’t satisfy you, I hope my explanation at least made some sense to you. The results, in any event, were produced by agreed-upon guidelines between the state, Prison Fellowship, and the researchers. As I mentioned in my previous reply, however, we have continued to get that kind of recidivism statistic in the eight units that we operate in America today.
Let me take the second question you raised, and that is slavery. I have made the argument in the book that the Christian church has opposed slavery from the beginning. In no way did I mean to imply that there haven’t been Christians who have been disobedient to the Scripture and the teachings of the church. There have been all through history. There are millions today who claim to be followers of Christ but who do not follow Christ’s commands. All of us, even the strongest believers, are under the effects of the Fall.
I also cannot justify the words of the Old Testament. It was a recognition by God to His covenant people of a practice that was wide-spread at that time in every culture, that His people would encounter. But it is in no way carried forward into the New Testament. My argument, remember, turns on the teachings of the Christian church and the New Testament.
To the contrary, as I pointed out in the book, portions of the New Testament condemn slave-trading, and the position of the church has been very consistent through the years. Most of the great human rights campaigns have been led by Christians, or perhaps more precisely, many Christians have been involved in them. It is because we believe strongly that every human being is created in the image of God, and thus at every stage of life, regardless of race, color or creed, every human being is entitled to full God-given dignity.
There are 1.9 billion Christians in the world today. You cannot judge Jesus Christ by the behavior of any one of them or any group of them, for that matter. You have to take Christ’s teachings as we have them, as they have been interpreted and understood through the years, and look at the overwhelming evidence of those who have obeyed as opposed to the evidence of those who did not. It’s worth noting that Thomas Aquinas labeled slavery a sin, and no fewer than four popes condemned the Atlantic slave trade as so in the first century.
I understand fully your reaction to the kind of absolutism that can be attributed to a fundamentalist Muslim, or for that matter to a strain of Christian thought, minority though it is, that is equally unyielding. There is a fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity, one best articulated by St. Augustine and his writings on the free will that God gives us. As Rodney Stark writes in his book The Victory of Reason, it was Augustine’s influence that gave Christians the liberty to use reason when interpreting their faith. (We even find evidences of this argument in second century apologists.) You might want to read the book, because Stark makes a very compelling case in my mind that Christianity’s embrace of reason was why it was able to influence western civilization in such a positive way. Muslims, on the other hand, have no such liberty. The word of the Qur’an must be taken literally—tragically, since there are parts of it that proscribe violence or there are those zealots who read it in such a way—which attempts to justify taking innocent life in pursuit of Islam. There are other profound differences, which I’m sure you realize, between a religion which at least in modern times practices separation of church and state in a pluralistic society and one which is theocratic.
But again, do all Christians live this way? No. Of course there are hypocrites within the Church, but the point is we call them hypocrites because they are not acting consistently with the teachings of Christ. When we fail to abide by these teachings, when we fail to be peacemakers, when we fail to seek reconciliation, we need to repent before God. I remarked in the book that Pope John Paul II had made this a specific mandate of the church, that we apologize for the sins of the past, repent, and mend our ways. I think the capacity to do that is a great credit to the church and to the faith we follow.
You write that one of the main things motivating your atheism is the fact that you cannot see any compelling reason to believe in God, and you cannot regard faith as reliably as you can empirical evidence in discerning truth. I suspect you’ve come under the influence of the fact-value distinction, which modernity introduced, largely influenced by the teachings of Immanuel Kant. I would strongly recommend that you read Pope Benedict’s lecture at Regensburg, which received so much publicity because he quoted an ancient cleric who condemned Islam for its violence. The press, of course, made much of that, but totally overlooked the lecture that Benedict gave to the West. In a relatively short speech, he summarized the great shift that has taken place in western thinking as a result of the Enlightenment and now postmodernism. Benedict’s case is the same one I would make, and that is that reason always has to rest on faith. That’s what gives it the objective standards to appeal to. What happened in the Enlightenment and what we call modernity was the abandonment of the faith presuppositions, leaving reason naked, cold, and ultimately without a foundation. It was this rejection of sterile reason that has led us to the postmodern era, which rejects both faith and reason.
But the fact-value distinction is false. All thought begins with faith. All intellectual inquiry begins with certain presuppositions. These by necessity are made without evidence and have to be taken on faith. The idea that evidence is superior to faith as a root to knowledge is one of those presuppositions: it is unproven and non-provable. So it must be taken as a priori; that is, prior to experience, or in other words, on faith.
I tried to make this point in chapter 2 of my book. When you attempt to answer the question ‘Where have we come from?’ you make either a theist or a naturalistic faith assumption. No one was present at the time of the creation with a video camera, so we must make certain presuppositions, the validity of which can then be subjected to the evidence. For example, it is a fair question to ask whether there are signs of intelligence in the universe, as Einstein believed, or whether it is completely a void, simply the product of chance mutations over billions of years. Darwin’s theory—and it is that—was that the variation within species which he observed could lead to the emergence of new species, and that extrapolated back, could account for the origin of life. And he made predictions based on this, such as that it would be possible to breed new species; and that innumerable transitionary fossils showing gradual change would be discovered; none of which has come to pass. Yet on the basis of naturalistic presuppositions—a faith position—he had to make this argument, and scientists who share that faith position must also support it.
Secondly, as you search for the evidence that either supports or challenges your presupposition, why would you be limited to only physical evidence, the kind that can be measured scientifically? Can you not come to logical conclusions based on patterns of human behavior? Is not the capacity for love, though you cannot see it, something which can be objectively (though not scientifically) measured?
I have argued in other writings that there is a basis to empirically validate differing worldviews. (You might want to look at my book, written with Nancy Pearcey, titled How Now Shall We Live? written in 1999, Tyndale Publishing). In it is suggested a four-part grid by which all worldviews can be tested. The grid consists of how one answers the questions: where we came from, (the Christian, of course, believes in creation); why is there sin and suffering in our midst? (the Christian’s answer is because of the Fall); is there any way out, any redemption? (for the Christian, of course, that is the shed blood of Christ on the cross as He took the punishment for our sins); and what is my purpose for living?
I just spent this past weekend with a chart, looking at how Islam answers those questions, how secular naturalism answers them, how eastern religions answer them, and how Christianity answers them. Christian apologists, I think with considerable justification, can make the argument that the Christian worldview produces the most rational answers and provides for the most rational way to live life. (I use the term rational here the same way I used it in debating Dawkins’ point, again in chapter 2) The apologists go on to say that all other worldviews can be shown to be irrational.
The grid operates like a roadmap. If you go to mapquest.com and ask for a road map for a trip from Austin to Dallas, and you follow it, and it takes you to El Paso, you would know that was not a true map. Similarly, if you decide to live your life according to a worldview which does not result in you finding meaning, hope, and purpose, then would it not be fair to conclude that it’s an erroneous map or track for human behavior? Could you not say that it does not adequately answer those four questions? If you follow the correspondence theory of truth, which I’m sure you do, you would look at those four views, or any others you choose, and come to certain judgments as to which ones work best. I’m not suggesting pragmatism; I’m suggesting that we should see which comes closest to the way things really are.
I see this as entirely consistent with the scientific method. It is looking at different hypotheses, eliminating those that are not correct, leaving you with one that is. I have spent a lot of time studying this, and the consequences of various other worldviews such as Marxism, Freudianism, and similar ideologies. This probably is why I feel so strongly and perhaps have come off as sounding arrogant in the book. I apologize for that.
I also apologize for the fact that you believe I have lumped unbelievers in with postmodernists and radical Islam. I certainly didn’t intend to do that. Postmodernism and radical Islam have common intellectual roots, as I argued in chapter 15, and I think that both those worldviews are in stark contrast to the principles of the Judeo-Christian civilization. But again, that shouldn’t make us enemies, as you put it in your letter.
If you read my entire book, you will realize that I argued hard for Christians to reconcile their differences with one another and with others. I couldn’t agree with you more that war is only an option when all else fails—that is, when it is waged in the just war tradition, which means that it must be undertaken only as a last resort, and that innocent life must be protected. That is quite different from crashing airliners into buildings.
There is one final point I’d like to respond to. You’re making the assumption that for God to be God, or for you to believe in Him, He must reveal Himself by giving us evidence which by reason would establish His existence. But why should the God who created everything that is explain Himself? What would compel such a God to do that? A God great enough to create the heavens and earth, and all of life in it, is a God who has no obligation to explain why He created us. In fact, He has a good reason not to. I believe it was Aquinas who argued that if God could be known to us by reason, we would take Him for granted; He would be no different than the tree that one could see from one’s office.
The more important question is why would God create us? Christians believe He created us so that He would have people in a love relationship with Him. But if we could prove the existence of God, we wouldn’t have to have faith; and without faith we couldn’t love God. This is an argument that C. S. Lewis made very powerfully. So the very thing you want, that is, evidence that proves the existence of God, is the very thing that if you had it, would prevent your worship of the God who created you. I wrote about this in a book called The Good Life, which you also might enjoy reading.
Believe me, I really do enjoy an honest dialogue. I think all humans are in search of the truth, and the only way that we’re ever going to find it is by engaging in these kinds of conversations. They’re very helpful, and I do hope you’ll forgive me if I have not seemed in my writing to welcome them. I not only welcome them, I agree with Aquinas that civilization advances by conversation.
Thank you for taking the time to read my book, and for writing.
Learn more about The Faith by Chuck Colson and Howard Fickett.