Social science and the evidence for virtue
Acton Institute Powerblog

Social science and the evidence for virtue

“Christians have nothing to fear and everything to gain from good social science,” says Paul D. Miller. “It provides a way to talk normatively about human flourishing in terms that are intelligible, legitimate, and persuasive to those outside the community of faith.”

How can Christians make arguments that are persuasive to those who do not share their most basic presuppositions? That is the quandary in which Christians—and Jews and Muslims—find themselves as public discourse is increasingly framed, mediated, and policed by people for whom religion is not simply incredible, but irrelevant. This dilemma is not new, but it has sharpened significantly as Christians struggle to articulate reasons for supporting marriage as the union of man and woman to a secular culture that suddenly discovered it had no reasonable grounds to agree with them anymore.

The traditional Christian response, and one that some thinkers have tried in recent years, is to frame arguments in terms of natural law. The effort, on the surface, made sense. Because we understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be objectively true and applicable to all persons regardless of time or culture, the moral guidelines to which it gives rise are similarly objective and universal. This is natural law: a universal moral code inscribed in creation, applicable across time and culture, and accessible by reason. Because God has written the natural law on the hearts of all mankind, all people—Christian and non-Christian alike—can discern it (though, of course, not perfectly, and not without training and education). Natural law and reason should be a common language with which to talk to others who do not share our belief in revelation.

But Christians have not exhausted the resources available for speaking in terms intelligible, legitimate, and persuasive to those outside the community of faith. There is another such a way. It’s called social science.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).