Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Worldview -- Defined

“Ours is an age of religious cacophony, as was the Roman Empire of Christ's time. From agnosticism to Hegelianism, from devil-worship to scientific rationalism, from theosophical cults to philosophies of process: virtually any worldview conceivable is offered to modern man in the pluralistic marketplace of ideas. Our age is indeed in ideological and societal agony, grasping at anything and everything that can conceivably offer the ecstasy of a cosmic relationship or of a comprehensive Weltanschauung [worldview].”[1]

Worldviews… What Are They? & Do You Have One?

Many people today do not realize what a worldview is or how it effects their every day life. Let us first define in a general sense what a worldview is. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it two ways: 1) The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world; 2) A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. With these broad definitions, one can see that everyone is caught ion a web of defining their relation to the universe and the world. However, this generation doesn’t get much beyond this dictionary definition, and the actions behind this generation’s thinking are quite evident.

Let me give an example of how this lack of understanding about one’s worldview can effect a whole generation. Alexander W. Astin dissected a longitudinal study conducted by UCLA started in 1966 for the Review of Higher Education[2] in which 290,000 students were surveyed from about 500 colleges. The main question was asked of students why study or learn, seeking to develop “a meaningful philosophy of life” (to develop a meaningful worldview) was ranked “essential” by a majority of entering freshmen. In 1996 however, 80% of the college students barely recognized the need for “a meaningful philosophy of life” and ranked “being very well off financially” (to not necessarily develop a meaningful worldview) as paramount.[3]

This is quite eye-opening. It says a lot about where people’s “heads” are, or aren’t. A few decades ago most college students were looking to answer life’s big questions and learn how to relate to them. Today? Not so much. What are these questions that everyones worldview must answer? Below are the main ones that every viable worldview should answer:

Ultimate Reality

What kind of God, if any, actually exists?

External Reality

Is there anything beyond the cosmos?


What can be known, and how can anyone know it?


Where did I come from?


Who am I?


Where am I?


How should I live?


What should I consider of great worth?


What is humanity's fundamental problem?


How can humanity's problem be solved?

Past / Present

What is the meaning and direction of history?


Will I survive the death of my body and, if so, in what state?

These questions are the bedrock of any worldview that holds any weight. So before we go any further, let’s define a bit more for clarity purposes what a worldview is. Norman Geisler has the best working definition that will help guide us through the maze of religious and non-religious worldviews we will encounter in our lives. He says:

A Worldview is how one views or interprets reality. The German word is Weltanschauung, meaning a “world and life view,” or “a paradigm.” It is a framework through which or by which one makes sense of the data of life. A worldview makes a world of difference in one’s view of God, origins, evil, human nature, values, and destiny.[4]

Something is missing from this definition though. In it there is no relational comparison to show that merely knowing one’s worldview doesn’t “presto” make it somehow true, this definition delves a bit deeper into what is at stake:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our well being.[5]

Another engaging way to put it is found over at All About the Journey:

Many haven’t poked their fingers into their presuppositions[6] in order to test their worldview. The author of an online book entitled Faith with Reason: Why Christianity is True, starts out his book like this: “This is a book about worldviews. Everybody has one, but most individuals never really pay much attention to their own personal philosophy of life. This is a tragedy because there is no state of awareness so fundamental to living life.” Again, no state of awareness is so fundamental! Another author supports this idea by saying that “raising one’s self-consciousness [awareness] about worldviews is an essential part of intellectual maturity.[7]

Every subject we think about is filtered through our worldview. The picture of reality we hold in our minds is what we use at the most basic level to answer every question in life. This is especially true of big questions, like those pertaining to man’s origin, ethics, life’s meaning and ultimate destiny. This makes faith central to every aspect of our lives and being. The bigger question, of course, is whether or not the picture of reality we have is actually true.[8]

Have you ever put on a pair of prescription glasses from a family member or friend? The distorted view one gets when putting on these prescription strength glasses is like a worldview. What one accepts as truth will effect all aspects of their life. A wonderful example of this comes from an illustration via Norman Geisler:

Professor: “Miracles are impossible, don’t you know science has disproven them, how could you believe in them [i.e., answered prayer, a man being raised from the dead, Noah’s Ark, and the like].”

Student: “for clarity purposes I wish to get some definitions straight. Would it be fair to say that science is generally defined as ‘the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us’?”

Professor: “Beautifully put, that is the basic definition of science in every text-book I read through my Doctoral journey.”

Student: “Wouldn’t you also say that a good definition of a miracle would be ‘and event in nature caused by something outside of nature’?”

Professor: “Yes, that would be an acceptable definition of ‘miracle.’”

Student: “But since you do not believe that anything outside of ‘nature’ exists [materialism, dialectical materialism, empiricism, existentialism, naturalism, and humanism – whatever you wish to call it], you are ‘forced’ to conclude that miracles are impossible”[9]

The professor had a worldview that presupposed “naturalism,” or, “materialism,” which is defined as “the philosophical belief that reality is composed solely of matter and that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes.”[10] This presupposition that guided the professor caused him to be unable to even consider a non-natural event as an actual event. Therefore, Jesus couldn’t have risen from the grave, ergo, Christianity is false. Another way to see this “begging of questions” is in the following example:

Premise: Since there is no God,

Conclusion: all theistic proofs are invalid.

Premise: Since the theistic proofs are invalid,

Conclusion: there is no God.[11]

Again, I hope one can see how a worldview, or pair of prescription glasses, can warp a person’s view of the world around them. Here we have dealt with the naturalist, or, atheistic worldview, what are some other worldviews we can categorize, and how do they view reality? Let’s see. A pretty good chart comes from the book Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews, realize that the chart is enlargeable:

Another informative chart can be found here. I am pretty sure you are getting the idea of just how important a worldview can be. Once someone has a good idea of what worldview (Weltanschauung) is true, whether by a) investigation; or by b) bias, they then live out their lives according to those principles presupposed. John Stott explains, somewhat, the power of that worldview in the bringing forth “of actions into the external world” and influencing it.

“Every powerful movement has had its philosophy which has gripped the mind, fired the imagination and captured the devotion of its adherents. One has only to think of the Fascist and the Communist manifestos of this century, of Hitler’s Mein Kampf on the one hand and Marx’s Das Kapital and The Thoughts of Chairman Mao on the other.”[12] [I would include the Humanist Manifesto’s I, II, and 2000 as well.]

One researcher says that there are 10,000 religions in the world, but if you bring all these religious beliefs to there core values, there is only a handful left in the hous, in fact, Francs Schaeffer said this:

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By ‘presuppositions’ we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic worldview, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions. ‘As a man thinketh, so he is,’ is really profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him. He has a mind, an inner world. Then, having thought, a person can bring forth actions into the external world and thus influence it. People are apt to look at the outer theater of action, forgetting the actor who ‘lives in the mind’ and who therefore is the true actor in the external world. The inner thought world determines the outward action. Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realize that their presuppositions should be chosen after a careful consideration of what worldview is true. When all is done, when all the alternatives have been explored, ‘not many men are in the room’ – that is, although worldviews have many variations, there are not many basic worldviews or presuppositions.” [13]

All this should make you want to Jump In, and Engage Life:

L. Cohen is a mathematician, researcher and author who chose to jump in. He is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and officer of the Archaeological Institute of America. In his book, Darwin was Wrong: A Study in Probabilities, Cohen writes:

In a certain sense, the debate transcends the confrontation between evolutionists and creationists. We now have a debate within the scientific community itself; it is a confrontation between scientific objectivity and ingrained prejudice - between logic and emotion - between fact and fiction….

...In the final analysis, objective scientific logic has to prevail -- no matter what the final result is - no matter how many time-honored idols have to be discarded in the process….

...after all, it is not the duty of science to defend the theory of evolution, and stick by it to the bitter end -- no matter what illogical and unsupported conclusions it offers... if in the process of impartial scientific logic, they find that creation by outside superintelligence is the solution to our quandary, then let's cut the umbilical cord that tied us down to Darwin for such a long time. It is choking us and holding us back….

…every single concept advanced by the theory of evolution (and amended thereafter) is imaginary and it is not supported by the scientifically established facts of microbiology, fossils, and mathematical probability concepts. Darwin was wrong….

...The theory of evolution may be the worst mistake made in science.[14]

By using his worldview backed by logic, science, math, and sound presuppositions, Cohen rejected Darwinian evolution. Another worldview that should be tested is that of Carl Jung. And it is a worldview, as a site mentions: “Thus, far from being just another theory, Jungian psychology embraces the universe in all its manifestations: art, history, myth, philosophy, and spirituality are all essential components of Jung’s worldview” (this quote was taken from the Jung Center of Houston, founded in 1958). I hope these definitions and charts helped to bring to mind some areas of your life that need study. If not, then so be it. I hope those reading will enjoy the below presentation:

[1] John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1978), 152-53.

[2] Alexander W. Astin, “The changing American college student: thirty year trends, 1966-1996,” Review of Higher Education, 21 (2), 115-135.

[3] Some of what is here is with thanks to professor Stephen Whatley, as, they are notes from one of his classes.

[4] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 785-786.

[5] James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 122.

[6] To require something as a prior condition; to make something necessary if a particular thing is to be shown to be true or false. The sentence “Fred loves his daughter” presupposes that Fred has a daughter.

[7] Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity In a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 9.

[8] Joseph R. Farinaccio, Faith with Reason: Why Christianity is True (Pennsville: Book Specs, 2002), 9.

[9] Norman L. Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions About the Christian Faith (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001), 63-64.

[10] David A. Noebel, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Manitou Springs: Summit Press, 2006), 101.

[11] Robert A. Morey, The New Atheism: And the Erosion of Freedom (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1986), 57.

[12] From a radio sermon.

[13] Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Crossway Books; 1976), 19-20.

[14] I. L. Cohen, Darwin was Wrong: A Study in Probabilities (?: New Research Pub, 1984), 6-7, 8, 214-215, 209, 210.