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Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.

Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality?

I recently began a series on the truth claims of Mormonism. In that post, I asserted that there is positive evidence against the truth of the Book of Mormon. However, there is an important step to take before offering arguments against other religions. Namely, one must establish that evidence against the truth claims of a religion should rationally lead one to abandon that religion. (A related but similar point would be the positive evidence for religion leading to rational belief.)

Thus, before I continue to offer critiques of other religions, I offer some epistemic groundwork.

Truth Claims and Worldviews

First, it must be noted that worldviews are not mere matters of feeling, regardless of what the supporters of the varied views claim. For example, if one says “You can’t analyze what I believe, it’s just a matter of faith” they are making a claim about reality–that their faith cannot be analyzed. Similarly, if one claims “Israelites sailed to the Americas from the Middle East,” [Mormonism] or “There is no God” [atheism] they have made a claim about reality.

Such truth claims are capable of analysis, by definition. Statements are true or false. All worldviews make claims about reality, which are therefore true or false. Simply stating that one’s belief is “just faith” or “obvious” does not exclude it from making claims.


How Do We Evaluate The Claims of Worldviews?

One’s beliefs should conform to reality, if one seeks to be rational. Certainly, one could say “To heck with the evidence, I’m going to believe x, y, and z! I don’t care if I can’t support the belief and that there is strong evidence against x, y, and z.” But if one were to say this, one would abandon their reason. Their heart could believe, but their mind could not. Ultimately, all truth claims can and should be put to the test.

Testing the claims of varied worldviews is no easy task. There must be objective criteria, otherwise one view will be favored over another. One cannot simply make their own view the default and argue that only by filtering truth claims through their position can truth be attained. Atheism, by no means, provides a neutral basis for evaluating religions, as I’ve argued elsewhere. In fact, atheism must past the standards for truth claims, just as any religion must. If one remains an atheist despite positive evidence to the contrary (or despite reasons to disbelieve the claims of varied atheistic worldviews like materialism), one abandons reason just as if one clung to a false faith.

Testing Worldviews as Hypotheses

In his monumental work,Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis argues that worldviews can be proposed as hypotheses. Worldviews present themselves as answers to explain the phenomena we experience (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49). Groothuis therefore presents criteria for evaluating worldviews as though they were hypotheses about the world. Kenneth Samples similarly draws out nine tests which can be used to determine whether the claims of a worldview are true in his book A World of Difference (page numbers from that text, citation below). From these proposed methods, we can derive tests to evaluate competing worldviews:

1) Coherence- if a religion is contradictory, it simply cannot be true. For example, if a religion claimed that “Person Z is god, and person Z is not god,” that religion would be incoherent (Samples, 33). Furthermore, “If a worldview’s essential propositions are coherent… it is more likely to be true than if its essential propositions are not related in this way” (Groothuis, 55).

2) Balance- “A valid worldview will be ‘neither too simple nor too complex.’ All things being equal, the simplest worldview that does justice to all aspects of reality deserves preference (Samples, 33-34).

3) Explanatory Power and Scope- Does the worldview explain what we experience in enough detail? If a worldview does not explain our world, or it cannot account for certain phenomena, then it is lacks explanatory power (Samples, 34). Worldviews which make propositions which they cannot account for lose credibility (Groothuis, 53).

4) Correspondence- Does the worldview match the facts we know about the world to our experience of the world? If we know that the worldview in question promotes claims we know are false, it does not match reality (Samples, 34-35). Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality? We are able to test factual claims through empirical and scientific methods, so if a worldview continually is able to establish its essential claims by means of these methods, it is more likely to be true (Groothuis, 55).

5) Verification- Can this worldview be falsified? Worldviews which cannot be found to be false cannot be found to be true either.

6) Pragmatic Test- Can we live by this worldview? This test is less important, but still has credibility–we must be able to live out the worldview in question (Samples, 35-36). But worldviews should also be fruitful in the development of greater intellectual and cultural discoveries (Groothuis, 57).

7) Existential Test- Like the pragmatic test, this one is not as important as whether the view is factual, but it is still helpful. If worldviews do not account for inherent human needs, it is possible the view is false (Samples, 36). Again, this is not necessary for a worldview, but it helps measure a view’s completeness.

8 ) Cumulative Test- Does the worldview gain support from all the previous criteria? If a worldview is able to satisfy all the criteria, it gains credibility (Samples, 36-37).

9) Competitive Competence Test- If the worldview satisfies the previous criteria with more evidential power than other worldviews, it gains credibility over and against them (Samples, 37).

10) Radical ad hoc readjustment- Groothuis presents this as a negative test for worldviews. “When a worldview is faced with potentially defeating counterevidence, an adherent may readjust its core claims to accommodate the evidence against it. Various theories and worldviews can legitimately refine their beliefs over time, but radical ad hoc readjustment reveals a deep problem…” (Groothuis, 57). There is, as Groothuis pointed out, a line between refining belief and simply readjusting belief in an ad hoc way. If, for example, it were discovered that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity would be false (more on that below). If, however, one simply adjusted Christianity to say “Jesus spiritually rose from the dead,” that would constitute a desperate, ad hoc measure to preserve the worldview and count as discrediting Christianity.

These tests present objective criteria for testing worldviews. If, for example, one wished to deny their worldview had to be coherent, they’d have to affirm that which they denied, for in denying that criterion, they were attempting to make their view more coherent. The testing of worldviews is a legitimate task, and indeed one in which people should engage. Some things, if falsely believed, are harmless (for example, if one believed it rained yesterday when it did not). Worldviews, however, if falsely believed, are damaging on any number of levels. If one believed God didn’t exist when, in fact, He did, then one would be doing a great evil by not acting upon the truth of God’s existence (and the contrary). Thus, the testing of worldviews is no task to be skimmed over, but one which should be approached with fear and trembling. The criteria outlined above allow people to engage in this task and evaluate the realm of ideas.

Christianity Encourages Exploration of Reality

What I find extremely interesting is that Christianity, unlike many world religions, doesn’t discourage the discovery of truth, nor does it evade evidence by claiming that it is merely a faith or feeling. Rather, the founders of Christianity explicitly stated that it is based upon certain truth claims, and that if those claims are false, then Christianity is worthless. Paul, for example, wrote “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The truth of Christianity rests exactly upon a testable claim: Jesus rose from the dead. If He did not, Christianity is false. Christianity’s scope and explanatory power are superior- it can account for the existence of contingent objects, persons, consciousness, life, and the like. Christianity corresponds to reality, satisfies existential and pragmatic needs, is simpler than many other explanations, its coherent, and it matches all the criteria. Christianity expects its adherents–and outsiders–to test the faith and discover whether it is true. I have found, personally, that it pasts these tests over and over.

Conclusion

Whether one agrees or not, it is simply the case that religions make claims about reality. These claims are, in turn, true or false. Not only that, but they must match with reality in several important ways. Christianity not only adheres to these tests, but it encourages them. It also passes these tests. Does your worldview?

Sources

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011).

Kenneth Samples, A World of Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).

Image Credit

I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post. The other image is the book cover from Samples’ book.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.

  1. Overall an interesting post, but it falls down in going all the way.

    Religions are no coherent – especially if they’ve been around a long time. As each era of followers adds their own touch to the religion, it changes over time.

    As for a supernatural based world view – that’s nothing to do with objective reality, never has been, never will be. There’s simply no positive basis or rationality in the supernatural

    Posted by random ntrygg | October 24, 2011, 2:16 PM
    • Those are some extremely strong claims you’re making. You wrote “religions are no [sic] coherent…”

      Assuming you mean they are not coherent, I wonder if you have any evidential basis for that belief. I believe that the vast majority of religions are indeed incoherent, but not all of them.

      You wrote, “As for a supernatural based world view – that’s nothing to do with objective reality, never has been, never will be. There’s simply no positive basis or rationality in the supernatural”

      Again, broad strokes, no evidence or arguments.

      I appreciate the comment, but I don’t find the assertions very compelling.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 24, 2011, 2:25 PM
  2. You have incorrectly labeled atheism as a world view. Is your lack of belief in fairies and unicorns a word view? Of course not. I think if you want to address ‘atheism’, which encompasses all people who are without theistic beliefs, you would do better to address the various world-views that form the basis for lack of belief in proposed deities.

    If you WERE to generalize about an atheistic world-view, the most accurate description might be empirical skepticism. And empirical skepticism, I think you would agree, most certainly is a good default position.

    On another note, your fervent assertions that Christianity is the supreme worldview are interesting given that they don’t even live up to the debatable criteria you set forth. I would also suggest that statements like “Christianity doesn’t evade evidence by claiming it’s just a faith or a feeling” indicate you have never challenged too many Christians on their belief. Although I certainly believe you attempt to be rational in your beliefs, the vast majority of your peers don’t share that quality.

    Posted by Garrett | October 26, 2011, 3:25 PM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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