Special Report: How do we test a worldview? Part 2 with John StonestreetSeptember 12, 2020
We are taking the idea of a “worldview” and breaking it into digestible pieces to help each of us discern and understand how it interacts with our lives. In part 1, we talked about the basics of what is a worldview and how did we get ours. Read that here.
Today, we are again talking with President of the Chuck Colson Center, John Stonestreet. This time we take a 30,000 foot view at the major worldview families in existence and how we can test them against truth.
As we read in part 1, worldviews are rarely intentional and often “whirled” or mixes of various ideas and influences. Stonestreet notes, “If we said well everybody has a worldview of course we would say well there are as many world views as there are people you know because even you know people who might share a faith or shared deep convictions will see everything exactly alike. So we often talk about that there is such a thing as world families.”
If you want to listen to John and Carmen discuss these worldviews, listen to the interview:
Major Worldview Families (from John Stonestreet):
1. Naturalism (Dominant worldview in Western society)
The main idea: Naturalists would say that the world is only physical. There’s nothing metaphysical. The world is only natural, there’s nothing supernatural. There’s no God. All that exists is what happens in the here and now. When you die, you die and that’s it.
Members: Atheism, Marxism, and secularism.
What it looks like: Secularism is basically how most of us in the West live our lives. We live our life caring about the here and now and we don’t give a whole lot of thought to what happens when we die or where do we come from unless there’s something that creates that crisis like a death in the family or a disaster like you know like will pop up or you know our relational breakdown and you start asking those deeper questions. But secularism is kind of the default setting of our culture where all the problems you have you can get answered in the here and now, you know you can go to a doctor you can go to a counselor you can buy more stuff to fill the, you know, this stuff-shaped hole in our heart that can only be filled by Alexis [Amazon’s personal assistant].
The main idea: Transcendentalism world views that would be transcendental would say only the spiritual world exists and the physical world was an illusion. This would say the physical world is either an illusion or not really real and what is most true is what you feel inside. There’s not a personal God that exists but there’s a God-like energy that permeates all things and that we can tap into.
Members: Hinduism, Taoism New Age thought, cults, Spirituality as a hobby “Oprahism”
What it looks like: Transcendentalism is more of kind of the pop culture spirituality effect. Transcendentalism really caters well to the radical individualism and really kind of the embedded narcissism you know of society. You’ll see it for example either the Kabbalah kind of a new agey Judaism or Scientology which is kind of a new agey cultish sort of thing which really has become a dangerous religion. But you know those are pretty popular things for example in Hollywood people who kind of have everything and they’re the center of reality .
The main idea: Theistic worldviews basically say that the world is both physical and spiritual because it is the creation of God and that’s how he made it.
Members: The three big theistic religions are Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
What it looks like: The big difference between theistic worldviews and transcendental worldviews is whether God is personal or impersonal. And there’s a big difference right between a personal god and an impersonal energy. For example, you never heard Obi-Wan tell Luke you know Luke you know the force died for you, you know Luke. The force loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. He’s never supposed to relate to the force. He’s supposed to use the force, and that’s what you do with an energy. So when God is reduced to an energy as opposed to a person it’s very different than say a man say compare the force of Star Wars with Atlanta and Narnia. You know the kind of the Christ figure in Narnia Aslan has a plan. Aslan has a will as someone to relate to. And you definitely just don’t use Aslan according to your own whims.
4. Christian worldview
Christianity is part of the theistic worldview family and so is Islam. That doesn’t mean they’re the same. That doesn’t mean that one is both right or they’re both wrong. What it means is that they both agree that there is such a thing as a personal God. Christianity carves out a distinct belief about the personal God as revealed in the Bible and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
The most important tenet actually changes everything: there is a God. He exists and that is not in our imagination— He’s outside of us. C.S. Lewis was asked what was the most important philosophical concept of all time? He said, “In the beginning God.” Because if you start with God you have a very different world. But if you don’t start with God, you start with matter and you lose sort of any place that tethers things like human dignity or or deep concepts like love and justice and truth. If you take away a plan and put together a kind of random you know chaos or put together just kind of scientific principles that we observe, but they aren’t really intended by anyone.
The second thing is that God has spoken. God has revealed Himself. If God had created the world and then decided we wouldn’t know who He is we would kind of be you know out of luck. But He actually gave us a way to know what He wanted from us in His revelation through the Bible. Now we have a God who communicates and so revelation is not just kind of part of a Christian worldview, it is central core as you can kind of get because it is our source of information.
What this looks like: If God created the world and He revealed Himself and His will to us in His Word, then we can actually know Him and His design for our lives. For example, He created men, men and women. That’s not just kind of an invention we made in culture, but it’s actually a thing you know God actually reveals. We can’t deny that. It’s like denying gravity. It doesn’t matter if we denied it, it still exists and there’s going to be consequences for denying it because reality is what reality is. We’re not just talking about your opinion versus my opinion.”
Now, we can evaluate which worldview describes and best helps me understand reality. That’s why worldviews ultimately are testable.
Comparing and testing worldviews:
John helps us know how to evaluate a worldview by examining Marxism. “So let’s say, let’s look at Marxism and see if it is coherent and lines up with reality. Basically the goal of Marxism was to eliminate class and redistribute wealth, so there would be no underclass. You can look at that and say, OK well I can see the good intention behind that.
“So, but then it was lived out and we see inherent in Marxism was an assumption about what it means to be human. An assumption about that question of identity that a human is morally neutral, they’re not inherently sinful but they’re morally neutral as long as they get what’s good for them. And secondly, humans are primarily consumers not producers.
“He thought some humans were producers, but most people were consumers. And so you had to be careful about how much goods are consumed. Well again it isn’t actually a human nature. There isn’t actually a way humans are than this idea probably wouldn’t have had any consequences. It had good intentions but then you see it lived down the twentieth century. People who had their fair share wanted more. That’s because Marx was wrong about whether humans were fallen or not. And you see well, wait a minute Marx didn’t actually help the poor he exacerbated poverty wherever it was lived out and there was a bigger divide between the lower class and the upper class because he didn’t treat everyday workers as being producers he treated them only as consumers.
“Fastforward that into a market economy. Capitalism treats people as producers, not just consumers of goods. So that’s why these worldviews really deal with reality. I mean either Marx was right about the human condition or he was wrong. Turns out he was wrong. And not only were there consequences, there were dire consequences because he was wrong. You know they thought they could jump off the roof and not hit the ground. They jumped off the roof they hit the ground and a whole lot of people died.”
Here are some questions to help evaluate and test worldviews:
- Coherence or consistency: Is the espoused worldview logically consistent? Does it hang together as a coherent whole or does it have holes, gaps, inconsistencies and logical fallacies?
- Comprehensive and existential: Does the worldview address the big existential questions? Can you live “internally” with the answers offered? (See part 1 for questions it must answer)
- Reality check and explanatory power: Does the worldview correspond to reality? Does it line up with empirical, observable facts and then does it have sufficient power to explain those facts? How complete is the evidence that supports the view?
- Verification and predictive endurance: Can the central truth claim(s) be verified (or falsified)? Does it anticipate, accommodate and successfully incorporate emerging information?
- Livability: Can it be lived? Is it practical, workable, sensible, doable, livable?
- Competition: Can it compete in the marketplace of ideas and respond to reasonable challenges, critiques and competing worldviews?
Marxism fails to stand up to many of these points, yet it is still practiced and preached in some places today. Worldviews have real life consequences— even life and death consequences. That’s why we need to test our own worldview against and then, as we engage with others, help them do the same. This is a way we can serve our neighbor and help draw them into conversations about deeper things.