Appealing to the Numbers

Student Voices writer Chase Padusniak’s recent reflection on how much “epistemic authority our society gives science” piqued my interest.

I sympathize with Padusniak’s dismay at how entrenched logical positivism is. That being said, the conclusions of social science in particular can be a great ally in the evangelization of our culture.

The Church has always posited a symphony between faith and reason, and if Vatican I taught us anything, it’s that people of faith have nothing to fear from genuine scientific discovery. Especially in the realm of the social sciences, biased as they are now by secular ideology, we should expect methodologically sound studies to yield numbers consonant with the deeper truths we hold. And since, even apart from the legacy of logical positivism, the “hard” evidence of numbers appeals to people (for whatever reasons), we would do well to reinforce any theological or philosophical endeavors with corresponding social science.

Such a numbers-based reinforcement would be especially effective in the marriage debate, where philosophical arguments, however sound, are clearly failing to reach most people. Consider the following excerpt from a recent post by Ryan T. Anderson at The Blaze:

A Brookings Institution study found that $229 billion in welfare expenditures between 1970 and 1996 can be attributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture and the resulting exacerbation of social ills: teen pregnancy, poverty, crime, drug abuse and health problems. A 2008 study found that divorce and unwed childbearing cost taxpayers $112 billion each year. Utah State University scholar David Schramm estimated that divorce alone costs local, state and federal governments $33 billion each year.

Those are powerful figures, indeed.

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.