religious diversity

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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.

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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.

Religious Pluralism: The Argument Assessed

“If you were born in India, you’d probably be a Hindu.” “What of those sincere believers in other faiths, are you suggesting they are wrong?” “Jesus is just one of the many ways towards salvation/bliss/righteousness/etc.”

These are the types of “bumper sticker” quotes Christians often get in our pluralistic society. I’ll be focusing on only one of the many problems with views such as these:

The argument against theism from religious pluralism rests on the implicit assumption that all religions are equally veridical.

The religious pluralist (or the objector to religious belief) who uses arguments like these unjustifiably makes the assumption that all religions are on equal ground (epistemically–on equal footing in the realm of knowledge). That this assumption is made is fairly evident, but we can illustrate it with a thought experiment (ignore some of the disanalogies–this is for example only):

Suppose Bob believes that he is reading a book, An Introduction to Philosophy. Now, suppose Steve else comes along and says “You can’t be sure that you’re right in your belief that you are reading An Introduction to Philosophy–after all, there are billions of people who read books which are not An Introduction to Philosophy. And they think they know what they are reading. How can you be sure that you are reading An Introduction to Philosophy? You may be reading a book on psychology, or a novel!”

Bob responds by saying, “Well, I can look at the cover and see the title. I can open it up and see the ISBN and confirm by searching for the ISBN online that it is only tied to An Introduction to Philosophy. The contents certainly seem as though they would match a book of that title. Also, I know the authors name is Jane Doe and this is the only book she’s ever written.”

The key point is that Bob has some very good reasons for thinking that he is reading An Introduction to Philosophy. Steve’s objection assumed that there was no way to determine what book Bob was reading.

Religious pluralists often do the same thing. They ask “How can you know you are right?” or “How do you know yours is the only true religion?” The assumption seems to be that there are no criteria for determining whether one religion is to be favored over another (again, using these terms in an epistemic sense–the sense having to do with knowledge). SO, let’s revisit the scenario:

Bob is sitting contemplating the universe. He’s a Christian, and Steve knows it. Steve comes along and says “Bob, how do you know you’re right? The Hindu, the Buddhist, and the Muslim all think they are just as right as you.”

Bob responds, “Well, I think there are very good reasons to think Christianity is true. There are cosmological, teleogical, and ontological arguments which I believe are quite successful. If they are successful, Buddhism and Hinduism are wrong. And I think the Gospels are quite reliable due to the standard historical criteria such as the principle of embarrassment and multiple attestation. But if the Gospels are reliable (and Jesus died and rose again), then Islam is wrong too. So I don’t think those other religions are on equal footing with my own faith. Christianity seems to me to have the most explanatory power.”

The assumption that all religions are on equal footing seems patently false. Why should we think that Hinduism = Buddhism = Islam = Christianity = Jainism (etc.) when it comes to whether or not we can evaluate their truth? The religious pluralist simply assumes we cannot. However, in light of the evidence for Christianity, it seems the world religions are not all on equal epistemic ground.

Finally, the pluralist objection assumes that it is, itself, on a higher epistemic ground than its rivals. The pluralist believes that, while all religions are equally veridical, pluralism itself is true. Yet pluralism’s truth entails the falsehood of large portions of theistic, pantheistic, and atheistic belief. Pluralism must chop away the incompatible components in the world’s religions in order to make way for a distorted view of reality. What reason do we have for holding on to pluralism when we have much better reasons to think Christianity is true?

SDG

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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 and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


Religious Diversity: What’s the Problem?

Religious diversity is one of the greatest challenges found by people of any faith in our pluralistic society. There are so many things to consider about this subject that there is no way to adequately cover it in one post.

First we must ask ‘what exactly is the problem of religious diversity?’ Is there really any logical problem to their being more than one religion in existence?  I think the answer to this objection, if it is any objection at all, is simply to answer that, as in other areas of life, the fact that there is a broad array of beliefs about a subject does not mean that all are false or that the subject is unknowable.

Is the problem, then, instead specific to religions which claim exclusivism? Is it true that all religions have truth in some way, and that those which claim to have the truth are fundamentally flawed in some way? This, again, doesn’t seem to follow from anything. The fact that there is a plurality of opinions over the Divine (or whether there is a Divine-thing-being) alone does not justify the assertion that all religions are somehow about the same thing or that none are true. Nor does it imply that religions which claim to have the only way are incorrect. Again, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of structured argument here.

Often, this problem is focused around a specific religion; namely, Christianity. The problem is posed in the following way: If [traditional] Christianity is true, then Jesus is the only way of salvation. What then, of those “good people” who are not Christians? What of the faithful Buddhist, Hindu, or Zoroastrian? Would the loving God of Christianity condemn these to hell?

This is the problem posed in its most powerful form, in my opinion. Religious diversity doesn’t itself function as a defeater for theistic belief. Instead, it can pose a problem to exclusivist Christian belief. This is the problem upon which my next posts will focus. Broadly, I will address the other attempted defeaters above throughout my posts on religious diversity, but it is the exclusivist Christian position around which I will focus. This is the position to which the problem of religious diversity poses the greatest problem (note that any religion which features exclusivism will also face this problem).

Let me briefly offer the outline of what will be my expanded response:

1) Jesus is indeed the only way to salvation (John 14:6)

2) Jesus’ death and resurrection provided the possibility of salvation to all people, on the condition of faith (Romasn 3:21ff)

3) People are judged by the knowledge they have (Romans 2:12ff)-This is the key point. The distinction between ontological (availability of) and epistemological (knowledge of the means of) salvation must be drawn.

4) The salvation provided by Christ is ontologically necessary. The key issue is of its epistemic necessity.

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