Understanding the Importance of Worldviews
Paul Derengowski, ThM
The world is chattering as it presents one opinion after another about a plethora of subjects and ideas, many of which will never be heard by the broader public. Whether they are political, religious, moral, ethical, atheist, Christian, Buddhist, legal or illegal, opinions, people all around the world have an opinion about the events, circumstances, and people who confront them every day. Not all opinions are necessary true, meaning that the worldview undergirding the opinion was not necessarily in conformity with reality. Yet, the opinions and commentary continues to flow, often without anyone questioning the worldviews fomenting the opinions.
This article will examine the importance of understanding the role that a worldview plays in opinions and truth claims made on a daily basis. Because without that understanding, all opinions and truth claims tend to become a large blur, communication fails, and confusion reigns. Moreover, repeated falsehood becomes blended with absolute truth and eventually desensitizes people to the truth, and then irrational decision-making and behavior ensues. Understanding and debunking those worldviews which are propagating falsehood become imperative if meaningful discourse is to proceed.
Therefore, we will look at just what a worldview is by definition. Infrequently the term is brought up, yet when it is, very few really understand what it is that they are discussing or how it applies to their outlook on the world. The assumption is made that all worldviews are equal, then the subject is ignored without further discussion, and the real topic is then pursued on what is believed to be neutral grounds. In the end, truth is relativized, fallen human reason is idolized, and God Almighty is trivialized.
We will then turn our attention to the two bases available to the development of all truth claims currently being bandied about in the world. Some might assume that there are as many worldviews as there are people in the world, but fundamentally that is untrue. There are two, and they involve a very important question that is as old as man himself. Depending on how one answers the question will depend on where one begins to interpret the world, its events, ideas, and people.
Finally, we will look at how to put into practice one’s worldview, depending of course how one treats the previous point, and more specifically how to use it to show others the importance of knowing what one’s starting point is in making a truth claim. That unless one has aligned one’s starting point in the person of God and His revelation, then one will be forever engaging in endless, meaningless, empty chatter and never really describe the world as it truly is.
So, without further introduction, let’s look at a working definition of worldview. May we eventually arrive at a personal worldview which faithfully sees the world as God sees it, and not merely how we wish it was, based on our self-centered, fallen opinions about the world.
A worldview is the interpretive philosophy that each and every thoughtful human has developed to interpret the external data produced in the real world in order for humans to try and make sense of it. Of course, not all worldviews are as fully developed or sophisticated as some, but no one is excluded from having a worldview, regardless of age, gender, geographical location, economic or political status, or religious ideology. Worldviews are what drive all decision-making, from something as mundane as taking the dog out for a walk to matters critical to life and death.
To illustrate what a worldview is, imagine that within the mind is a filter through which all information, facts, experiences, feelings, and emotions pass. Depending on the kind of filter one is using will depend on the conclusions one draws about those facts and feelings, and then reacts according to those conclusions. Although there are a seemingly endless number of filters, and it is assumed a seemingly endless number of interpretations, there is only one reality, and hence only possibly correct interpretation of that reality. This is not to say that certain facts cannot be understood by rationally thinking individuals. Two plus two equaling four is going to be the same for the theist as well as the atheist. The problem is interpreting that data in relation to the whole of reality and being able to answer the question of “Why is it so?” For if one cannot answer the question holistically, then one’s interpretation will result in inconsistency. Eventually, life will have no meaning regardless of how many “facts” one is able to garner.
Worldview Starting Points
As noted above, there are many worldviews which people subscribe to, many of which are in serious conflict with each other. That said, however, after all the nuances, similarities, and differences are set aside, in reality there are only two basic worldviews which revolve around one simple question asked in the Bible. And depending on how one answers the question will depend on which worldview one ultimately subscribes to, regardless of the religious or non-religious affiliation one may or may not also affiliate oneself with afterwards. That question is found in Genesis 3:1 where the serpent asked Eve in his attempt to persuade her place human autonomy and reason about God’s personal revelation. He asked her, “Indeed, has God said?”
Eve, acting upon her own sensitivities, decided that God had not said. She became skeptical that an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God could have ever uttered the words “you shall surely die,” especially over eating something as simple as a piece of fruit. Besides, if God did what he said he would do, that would make him unfair, unloving, and unjust. He had no right to inflict death on her, or anyone else for that matter, even though God created her. Instead, it was her right to act as she felt necessary, for in doing so she would not only be like God, but would become enlightened, “knowing good and evil.” Later on Eve’s rationalization would lay the foundation for such things as human autonomy and “free will,” moral relativism, and ultimately militant atheism, to name just a few.
Conversely, if Eve would have concluded that God did say—as she initially responded—then she would have also acknowledged that when it comes to meaning and morals in the real world, there is someone who transcends the world who has established both meaning and morals according to his own character. One would not have to be reduced to mere opining over whether something was right or wrong, since God had already laid an objective foundation which he had revealed when he spoke to her and Adam in a special way by speaking directly to them. Then, even after Adam and Eve fell, that foundational standard would never cease as God would continue to pour forth revelation both in general and special senses, as seen in nature and the cosmos, as well as in his written word. In other words, God has not only said before man walked away from him, but continues to say even today. And only those who have adopted the earlier skeptical worldview would contend to the contrary, leaving them without any objective explanation for why life has meaning or why morality is any better or worse than immorality.
In short, a person’s worldview depends on his starting point; that starting point must answer the question of whether God has spoken or not. If God has not spoken, then man becomes the measure of all things and is left to try and determine meaning and morals amid a morass of conflicting ideas and opinions. If God has spoken, then God becomes the measure of all things, for which man must recognize his absolute dependence upon God for meaning and morals. The beauty of the latter worldview, though, is that man can rest assure that with God running the show, so to speak, he does not have to wonder about its ultimate outcome ending in utter conflicted futility. With the former worldview, though, utter conflicted futility is the best that man can expect, with nothing but utter conflicted futility influencing everything he does up and including the end of man’s existence.
Worldview in Practice
There are several fatal mistakes that well-meaning Christians and Christian apologists make when attempting to address the criticisms launched by those hostile toward the Christian faith, and they all involve the failure to properly assess the worldview starting point of the critic. As a result the Christian ends up arguing his case on the irrational ground of the unbeliever, and instead of defending faith, he defends himself. Therefore, the whole endeavor results in much time and effort wasted, and the critic walks away feeling justified that his worldview is as good as, if not better than, the Christian’s, since he easily repelled whatever evidences were offered, while putting the Christian on the personal defensive as someone with inferior knowledge, reason, and logic. To avoid such futility a few things need to be remembered when the Christian puts his worldview into practice.
First, it must be remembered that no worldview is neutral. By this is meant that all worldviews are motivated with a view of God in mind, including the militant atheist. This is not to say, however, that all worldviews have a correct theological underpinning. In fact, there is only one correct theological worldview, Christianity, with all the rest ultimately ending in outright atheism or practical atheism. Outright atheism is that which is found in statements denying God’s existence, including those which cunningly state that there is not enough evidence to prove that God does exist. Practical atheism is perhaps more sinister in the respect that a person may sincerely believe that God exists, but because of the theological system subscribed to, ends in atheism.
It is because all worldviews are theologically motivated that when speaking of facts and data, morals and ethics, right and wrong, or plans and purpose in the real world, no decision in any of those areas can be neutral. Facts are stupid, meaningless bits of white noise without someone interpreting them, and interpretation is always done according to the worldview standard that one subscribes to at the moment the facts are discovered. Therefore, when a Christian is confronted with an argument, it is imperative that the Christian either ask the proponent of the argument to divulge his worldview or the Christian must discern what it is. To do so will alleviate much confusion later on when refuting or correcting the argument.
Second, evidential arguments are secondary in terms of the presuppositions held about the Bible. This is significant since there are so many Christians and Christian apologists going about today trying to prove the “Case for Christianity” apart from placing the Bible foremost before the unbelieving world as the objective standard of belief and practice first. By engaging the unbeliever through evidential argumentation first, though, is to leave it up to the unbeliever to weigh the evidence according to the very same empirical standard that he has been using all along to discredit Christianity as true, which in turn leads him to believe that his subjective worldview is just as good as anyone’s at interpreting the world. In the end the Christian makes little to no progress in making his case, while the anti-Christian world falsely assumes that all paths lead to the same source.
Rather, the Bible must be presupposed at first to be God’s only revelation to man that can make sense of the real world data. Moreover, it must be made clear at the outset of the discussion that that is the position of the Christian, so that there is no mistake of just where he is coming from. God has spoken, and most vividly through the person of His Son, and the record of God’s instruction is found only within the pages of the Holy Writ, the Bible. To deny that is to place something or someone else in the place of God to determine meaning and purpose in the world, which once again ultimately ends in outright or practical atheism, both of which are irrational and nihilistic.
Third, apologetics is not so much about dialogue as it is about exposing and silencing the critic. This is perhaps one of the hardest pills for the Christian to swallow in our politically correct, “Can’t we all just get along?” world, where no one is supposed to offend anyone. Nevertheless, it is true. True Christian apologetics is not about appeasing the pagan world of unbelief. It is about defending the absolute truth of Almighty God and refuting the errors which have been propped up by rebellious men and women as substitutes for the truth. Much of what passes as “dialogue” between Christians and unbelievers these days is more of an excuse to prevent Christians from defending and delivering the truth than it is otherwise.
Of course silencing the critic does not mean the same thing as that which is often practiced in some Muslim countries, where the critic is beheaded for his objection to Islamic doctrine. It merely means to provide such a strong and convincing case for Christianity, while reducing the arguments to the contrary to mere absurdity, that the unbeliever is compelled to remain quiet, rather than persist in making his foolish arguments. Unfortunately, once again, in our PC world too many well-meaning Christians have adopted the ungodly habit of assuming that all viewpoints and opinions are equal and ought to be heard. So, what they end up doing is accommodating the foolish under the guise of “dialogue,” the truth is either watered down or suppressed, and everyone leaves the meeting holding hands as if everyone is still on equal footing. The Christian apologist, if he is going to dialogue at all with the unbelieving world, needs to cease with the chumminess, and start destroying strongholds that the unbeliever has built up to resist the truth, in order that the unmitigated truth might be heard.
It cannot be overly-stressed just how important understanding the role worldviews play in everyday life. Worldviews are the interpretive mechanisms behind every decision made, whether they involve values, morals, or ethics. Depending on the starting point of one’s worldview will determine the validity of the decision made, whether it is internally consistent with the person subscribing to it or whether it is externally consistent with the real world. All things considered there are only two starting points when discerning or developing a worldview, both of which are affected by one’s theology. One will either begin with God and his revelation, or with oneself, which is manifest in variety of ways, some of which may include a sincere belief in “God,” but are devoid of theological consistency due to their rejection of God’s revelation.
When dealing with value, moral, or ethical issues, therefore, it is imperative that the worldview is kept foremost in mind during any discussion between a Christian and non-Christian. Until both parties are on the same worldview page, then regardless of the niceties to foster a common ground between Christian and non-Christian, then there will always be a degree of hostility between them. It becomes the duty of the Christian to expose the non-believer’s worldview as untenable in the real world, and that the only way for the non-believer to achieve any sort of consistency with his worldview is to borrow from the Christian’s worldview, which the Christian should not allow. Only when the non-Christian finally concludes that what he believes in terms of overall meaning in the world and universe is utterly futile, then the Christian should continue to emphasize the point of futility by refusing to allow the non-believer to argue on a presupposed neutral basis, or allow him to borrow from the Christian worldview to shore up his otherwise invalid argument.
By understanding and stressing the importance of worldviews the Christian is assisted in not having to be an expert in every discipline and field of knowledge, which often leads to fallacious argumentation on the part of the non-believer. Instead he is enabled to demonstrate time and again that without an objective starting point, which is found only within the person of a transcendent God who has revealed himself in both general and special ways, then the non-believer cannot argue consistently or meaningfully for anything. All he has are “stupid” facts and no rational way to interpret them in the real world. And if he has no rational way to interpret the facts, then he cannot make value, moral, or ethical judgments about anything, which in itself is impossible, since all people make those kinds of judgments on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not they realize that the only way they make sense in the world is when God has revealed his thoughts about it.
Therefore, the Christian should hone his understanding of what a worldview is, including an intelligent explanation of how a worldview is developed and what it is based upon. Only then will he have the basis for refuting all false speculations and philosophical worldviews that are contrary to the Christian message. Starting anywhere else, such as some Evidentialist apologists tend to do, will only lead to confusion, frustration, and futility, as the Christian attempts to start with the evidence and argument is way back to God, rather than the other way around.