Appealing to the Numbers, Redux - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

Appealing to the Numbers, Redux

Last Friday, Public Discourse ran an essay by Paul Miller on the role of social science in Christian cultural argumentation.

Miller writes,

“Done rightly and guided by the telos of human flourishing, social science is impartial and objective and thus should be legitimate and persuasive to people of diverse philosophical commitments. Such studies must be undertaken with care and under the highest standards of scholarship lest they give ammunition to critics. But Christians have nothing to fear and everything to gain from good social science, because it should confirm what we already know from natural law—or help us revise our understanding of the natural law in light of human experience.”

Right before this, Miller notes that:

“The problems with this are obvious. It provides incentives for biased social science. And it legitimizes all social science, regardless of the telos at which it aims (much, for example, aims narrowly at the telos of personal autonomy rather than human flourishing).”

Seeing Miller’s piece reminded me of a post I had written for Student Voices in August, “Appealing to the Numbers.” There, I argued that:

“… the conclusions of social science in particular can be a great ally in the evangelization of our culture.

Truth manifests itself in many ways. If it takes an appeal to the data to reach the masses, so be it; far better that than demanding a purely “moral” encounter with abstract arguments and failing to change any hearts at all.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story of reality. They are a legitimate expression of reality, though, and should be embraced as such by those who can look beyond them, so that those who don’t can be brought to do the same.”

Can social science be a useful tool in the evangelization of culture? Or—principle aside—does social science in practice admit of too many corruptions to render it useful?

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