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Whether People Think Faith-Based Initiatives Work Better, or Whether They Actually Do?

During his religious interrogation of the presidential candidates, entrepreneurial evangelical pastor Rick Warren inserted his own opinion on subjects fairly frequently. Take, for instance, this utterance to a national audience watching via CNN and CSPAN:

A recent poll says 80% of Americans think faith-based organizations do a better job at community services than the government: helping addictions, you know, uh, prisoner re-entry, you know, all the homelessness, poverty, things like that.

Gosh and crackers, but in 2006 a majority of Americans still believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction as the war began! But the fact that Americans thought the WMDs existed did not make the WMDs actually exist.

Rick Warren is making the same mistake, either intentionally as an act of deception or unintentionally as an instance of sloppy thinking: noting that a majority thinks faith-based initiatives work and using it as a proxy for the contention that faith-based initiatives work.

I’ve searched for that poll Rick Warren refers to, and I’ve been unable to find it. I also have searched through academic and advocacy organization literature and have been unable to find a research study that provides a systematic empirical comparison of the efficacy of faith-based and secular government-funded social service organizations. In fact, the only scholarly treatments I can find on the comparison between secular organizations and faith-based organizations are papers such as this and this and this that engage in
meta-discussion about the lack of quality research on the matter.

Let’s worry less about whether people think works and worry more about actually works.

P.S. It is more reasonable to use polls to find out about people’s policy preferences than to determine the nature of reality. The most recent poll on faith-based initiatives finds that 77% of respondents oppose the idea that “these faith-based organizations that receive federal money should be able to discriminate in favor of hiring people of their own faith.” Rick Warren, used his position last night to promote the idea of using federal funds for discrimination, is in the minority.

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