Thursday, August 30, 2007

Diving into Worldview Studies

In my odyssey into "worldview studies" I’m finally diving into The Universe Next Door by James Sire.

I have a couple questions for discussion. Some of these questions are specifically about the book, but others are more general. Even if you haven't read the book, I'm interested in your opinion:

1) What is the purpose of studying worldviews? What should I look to get out of it?
2) Sire says, “The gap left by the loss of a center to life is like a chasm in the heart of a child whose father has died. How those who no longer believe in God wish that something could fill the void.” But people who share Sire’s worldview have the same void. In fact, I think it would not be a stretch to say that people who share Sire’s worldview generally have a greater void than atheists and agnostics.
3) Does anybody know what Sire means by saying that man is “self transcendent”?
4) Is it true what Schaeffer and Sire say, that "the world" has no moral absolutes?
5) On the eighth page of Chapter 2 [middle of page 28 in the 3rd edition] Sire says “[W]e participate in part in a transcendence over our environment. Except at the very extremes of existence…a person is not forced to any necessary reaction.” This is a statement against determinism and in support of free will [the question of free will is a “family dispute”]. Even if you believe in free will (which I do), do you think he overstates the point? Are our reactions really so radically free? Aren’t there a number of things that inhibit our free will?
6) Does Sire say that good is good because God says it is good or says it is good because it is good or neither? I’m not real sure how Sire comes down on this. This is something important to answer because it would have a huge impact on one’s worldview. Just reading what he says, it would appear that he thinks good is good because God says so, which is problematic.
7) Is it possible that there may be less of a difference between someone with a Catholic worldview and someone with a materialistic worldview than between a Catholic and one who believes in Sola Fide and predestination?
8) To take another example, it seems clear to me that there will be a greater difference in the way we live between those who do or do not believe in free will and someone who does not than between someone who believes in linear as opposed to cyclical time.


The Dawn Treader said...

Have you seen this?

Civis said...


Thanks for the link. I have been meaning to go through your blogroll and check all of them out. You have been really good about answering/discussing my questions, but it seems like it would be good to have other people discussing/answering because I know you have a life. Ha.

Ron said...

I really don't see this as a Protestant vs. Catholic issue. While there are certainly very large doctrinal differences between the two, the underlying assumptions about the nature of the universe are, so far as I am aware, virtually identical. Whether one believes in predestination or not does not seem to me to have such a large affect on how they live their lives. Everyone lives as if he had free will whether he believes in free will or not. No one lives as if determinism is true.

The materialist world view has little in common with either Catholic or Protestant beliefs. The materialist says there is no God. That is the a priori assumption upon which everything else in that worldview is built. There is no comparison with any form of Christianity. The Catholic tendency to accept things like evolution uncritically will give the illusion that there is more in common with materialist than is actually the case. In truth, the materialist has as much antipathy for the Catholic as for the Protestant because he eschews the very notion of a God, personal or otherwise.

For me the purpose of studying this is ensure than my worldview is thoroughly Christian and that I am not letting subtle materialistic influences in. It is not so much my desire to know all about each possible worldview. Rather, I want to know how to combat false worldviews and that requires that I understand the false worldviews that are being promoted.

Byron K. Borger said...

Very impressive, civis...Your blog about book discussions in heartening to me, glad to know folks like you are out there.

I don't have too much time to be involved in the blogging world, but will look over your shoulder sometime...glad you posted at my Hearts & Minds bookstore blog. We have a FaceBook group (somebody else started it) and the folks there may be interested in your jounrey. Some are pretty thoughtful, I know that.

By the way, if you need help ordering books ever, it might be an example of worldview coherence if you order from a place that makes sense to you, that cares, that isn't a faceless shopping cart. We'd be delighted to serve you further.

Thanks again.


Dick said...

Hi Civis,
The questions you raise are of interest to me as well, and I've been writing my thoughts on them, and lots else, for the last three and a half years at Viewpoint. I invite you and your readers to stop by at to see if maybe there isn't something there to add to the conversation.

Civis said...

I think all of my questions above center around the purpose of studying worldviews and whether Sire and Schaeffer’s approach is the right way of going about it. It seems to me that the aim of both men is two-fold: 1) They want to be prophets 2) they want to steer others into becoming prophets. A prophet is a person who reads the signs of the times and is able to see where things are going and to warn people. A prophet is the “watchman” in the passage from Ezekiel quoted in the last chapter of How Should We Then Live [see Ezekiel 33:1-19]. I think you will agree that this is their purpose.

To be a prophet, a person must understand the times, must see what is happening, how people are going astray. The “understanding” and the “how” are key. I’m thinking that maybe these worldviews are but a façade. Or perhaps in a few instances they are actually believed by a small handful of eggheads, but not by the people we meet on the street.
Consider the following passage from the first chapter of How Should We Then Live:
“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 in the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.”

This is the passage that piqued my interest and got me reading on this subject. If you recall, the first question I asked you was, if this passage is true, why is there such a disconnect between people’s words/creeds and the way they live.

As you said in your post on creationism “The scientist who is devoted to this position [scientific rationalism] will proclaim it loudly in books and seminars but when he gets home at night he acts as if it were not true. He treats his wife and family with love. He expects people to be responsible and he has no problem with criminals being punished, particularly if the crime was against them!”

Thus it seems to me that these classifications of Christian, deist, naturalist, nihilist etc. may not be useful for our purposes of understanding the world around us. If what you said above about the scientist is true why study these worldviews?

Something else that makes me question these categories lies in the approach of many modern philosophers. What I’m about to say here may apply to Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, the New Age and Post Modernism. Notice how ancient and medieval thinkers were in search of truth. Not all of them, but it was the general trend. Look at the great Greek Philosophers and playwrights, the stoics, Augustine, Aquinas et al. They looked around and observed reality, the Christians also took in what they knew from revelation, and sought to build their philosophy based upon what is true, what is, reality. For these men, it would be fitting to understand them based on the worldview they professed. This is because their professed worldview was a result of their search, their contemplation of reality etc.

Now consider the trend of the modern philosophers (Let’s say post-renaissance thinkers). You will notice that very often, their professed worldview is not the way they think the world works, but is a justification for what they (or their patrons) want the world to be like or for what they want to do or for how they want the world to be organized. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan wasn’t based on reality, it was merely a fiction created to justify monarchy. Conversely, John Locke’s state of nature had not basis in history, but was a justification for political power without God. Likewise for recent feminist theory et al.

So to understand these modern thinkers it seems to me you have to pay attention not to what they say, but to why they say it. This is true not only of prominent thinkers but everyday individuals. Let me give you a couple of examples that actually happened (both to the same bishop):

A priest (who was from another dioceses and whom the bishop had never met before) came up to him after a lecture and said that he was very troubled by the fact that there were so many people who were poor and hungry in the world and the church had so much wealth, gold chalices etc. The bishop, recalling that the first person who made this sort of objection was Judas Iscariot who had been stealing money from the disciple’s common purse, said without hesitation “How much did you steal?” After a couple of denials, the priest admitted he had been stealing money from his parish. On another occasion a woman said she left the church for theological reasons. After a few questions the bishop could see that the woman knew nothing of theology. He then said bluntly, “You didn’t leave the church for theological reasons. You left because you had an abortion.” Again the bishop was right.

This bishop wasn’t clairvoyant. He understood people, and he understood that you have to look not so much at what people say as why they say it.

So, I am thinking, maybe these worldviews are merely a façade. Maybe they are a façade even for some who have a “biblical” worldview.

In what I said in #2, #7 and #8 above, I am not trying to pit one Christian against another. What I am saying is that if we understand the way people tick, it seems that there is a broad range and perhaps even more divergent views as to how the world works and how we should approach life within Christianity than there is between some Christians and some non-Christians. And what I am talking about here is not necessarily doctrinal or theological, but our nuts and bolts way of putting one foot in front of the other, the way we take part in a conversations with a friend or an enemy, the way we make sense out of what happens to us from moment to moment.

But then I start thinking that Schaeffer is right in what I quoted above, but maybe the deist/ naturalist/ nihilist/ etc. just isn’t the right set of categories. Maybe these are academic schools of thought by which a small handful of eggheads may try to pattern their lives. In reality though, maybe the real worldviews are a different set of notions, notions that are not held within these neat categories but permeate into them all. Perhaps these philosophies are red-herrings. Perhaps they are traps that lay in waiting for a handful of educated men, but for the mass of people, the devil has something more subtle, but that leads just as surely to death—perhaps more surely since they are harder to see.

Or, maybe Schaeffer/Sire are right, maybe they have the right set of categories, but they just need to go deeper. Maybe these worldviews need to unpacked a bit more.

Ron, if you believe that God’s way is the best way, I think you are doing the right thing in approaching the study of worldview with a desire to make your worldview thoroughly Christian and to be able to understand and combat false worldviews. I have the same desire in mind, though I might express it a bit differently.

But I am wondering if the real difference is more subtle than the categories in The Universe Next Door. There is a saying, “The Devil’s in the details”. A slight mistake in judgment can have enormous consequences down the road. And Satan has something for you at every turn. Notice that nothing is purely evil. Every act has some good in some way. And Satan does not tempt us to go pure evil, he tempts us to do something that is good but a limited good, a good that is done in our way and not in Gods way, not in the way that will lead to our true and full good but in a way that destroys another good.

The Pharisees strained the gnat and swallowed the camel. Is it also possible to strain the camel but still drink poisoned water? If so what could this poison be?

David Howard said...

I think Schaeffer and Sire make very valid arguments. Although it would be hard to agree with them on all points.At least they are trying to get people to think about their world views. Surely some of the discussion is about how deep the rabbit hole has become for some.

Most people seem to pick up their world views like they pick up the common cold. But, I think people really only have two positions.
1. I believe in God.
2. I don't want to believe in God.

Jesus seemed to radically cut to the truth and expose the motivation of mens hearts.
It's seems simple really - what do you believe? But thinking about what you really believe is hard for most people. In fact the inability to think clearly and honestly about what we believe is a major factor in this discussion. Much rhetoric and philosophy are avoidance tactics.
As Jesus said, "I am the way,the truth, and the life."
or possibly the most profound but simple statement ever, "In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth."

Civis said...

Byron, Dick and David,

Thanks for posting.


I will definitely check out your site. I've been sick with some sort of stomach bug, but I plan on getting over there.


I agree with your regarding the radical difference. The thing that befuddles me is how two people, one of whom can be a devoted theist and the other a devoted atheist can be so alike, and then two people who are both devoted theists can live radically different lives.

How do you explain this?

Civis said...


I'm about to go read your "In the Absence of God" post from 2004.

It looks like you had a similar idea for your blog as I did for mine. You ought to open you blog to regular comments--you could always screen them.

You and I have very different views on Bush and Iraq. At least you care though. I can't seem to get anybody to read about American foreign policy. Everybody wants to sit around and read theology. I'm not crazy about reading foreign policy and I'd just assume forget about Iraq, but if we don't pay attention to what our leaders are doing, our children won't have the luxury of sitting around reading theology.

If you would be interested in "sharpening your sword" by discussing Iraq with someone who is 100% opposed to it, I would love to discuss it with you. I'll admit that I have a lot to learn about the issues, but I find a good discussion often motivates us to learn about the issues.

David Howard said...

I don't think it is as cut and dry as that. Only God knows the real intentions, motives and beliefs of someones inner world. What may be presented by a person, may not be a true picture.
Also just being an atheist does not mean you don't have an adopted moral code. The atheist may not have thought out his position very well.
But I sort of believe that most people are carrying a lot of contradictions in there head. I include a lot of Christians in that assessment. But that only proves again that people are living out their beliefs. Fragmented belief and dichotomy seem to be the fashion of the day. This is an attempt at syncretism of a high order.
I feel we have moved through a period of say 30 to 40 years of transformation. Before that time maybe the belief lines were more clearly drawn. People reflected what they believed more clearly. This can easily be seen in rural and remote groups. But as society has become more sophisticated we are seeing a homogenization of belief, which makes beliefs less distinct.
Also, I don't think Schaeffer and Sire are necessarily talking just about morals. But more a persons manifested philosophical position.
If his internal world view is atheism but incorporates a certain moral code, then thats what he will most likely manifest. But because he doesn't want to believe God he will never manifest any realty about God.
Schaeffer points out that artists create inline with their beliefs.
Picasso for example was consistent in output as related to his beliefs.
The beliefs held maybe very complex as held in the mind of a man. Which makes it very difficult to pick from an outsiders view. But if you were to monitor that man 24/7 and keep notes I am sure you would begin to pick his position on lots of things.
Ultimately it will boil down to what you believe is what you will become. If you refuse to bow the knee, in your heart, to God, then it doesn't matter what mask you are wearing, it won't get you to heaven.

Civis said...


You have many good points there. You have obviously reflected on all of this. I guess my question goes to whether these categories Sire is laying out will actually help us understand people. I'm also wondering if many of these "worldviews" from Christianity to Buddism aren't often merely a front.

One thing you touched on is thought provoking. Implicit in some of what you said is that perhaps people take a bit of this worldview and a bit of that. That is an interesting way to skin the cat and may explain the disconnect: a given individual's worldview may be an amalgamation of various worldviews.

Assuming that a person's professed worldview may not be thier true worldview, if I am speaking to Joe on the street, and I make friends with him and want to lead him to the truth, how do I identify his true worldview?

David Howard said...

I think one has to listen to the other person. By being aware of the possibilities of different world views, the listener has more of an opportunity to decipher the messages he receives. Evangelism should be more than selling a product.
By having true love and empathy towards the other person, the listener becomes more receptive and considerate.
So to understand a person more fully we need to spend time with them.
But, if you want a direct response that tells you the most important answers. Then one could ask, "If you were to die tonight, and you met an angel of God, and he barred you from heaven. Then asked, "why should I let you in?" How would you answer?"
This would give you much detail on his beliefs. That's if he answered - which would give you a few clues as well.

Civis said...


Funny you mention the "If you were to die tonight....", question. I was talking to some of the guys at the local donut shop this morning and we were discussing answers to this question. We came up with another answer to my "disconnect" question: There are some questions (we thought of this one especially)that we simply have knee-jerk answer to. A Baptist is trained, in an almost Pavlovian way, the answer they should give to this question. I think that sometimes our answers are what we have been trained to say. But have we thought about it? See what this blogger said (he believes in sola fide, but look at his struggles with works):

Why is it that people who believe in Sola Fide are so hung up on works, but we Catholics (with the exception of Cathocis with obsessive compulsive disorder) are not hung up in works although we reject Sola Fide?

This is a mystery that I am trying to solve and I'm hoping my "worldview" studies will give me some clues.

Hey, I commented on your comment under my previous post (where you talked about art).

Civis said...


Also a good point about spending time with people. One of my concerns with "worldview" is that I think you have to slow down and listen to someone. I've had a number of conversations with people who will continually assume I think or belive this or that based on a pigeon hole they have put me in. One has to recognize that people do have opinions and different ways of seeing things even within a worldview. What is worse is that often people have "pigeon holes" based on a misunderstanding of what a given worldview consists of.

David Howard said...


Justification by faith is really in antithesis to Justification by works.
The point of the gospel is that redemption comes through grace based on the finished WORK of Christs propitiation.
But initial acceptance and faith must lead to change otherwise faith without works is dead.
A gospel based on works alone robs the free gift from God (Grace).

All people have their pat answers whether they understand them or not.
The agnostic, charlatan normally responds with, "each to his own" or some other typical non committal response.
If someone responds with an answer like that, then you can either drop the conversation or ask another question.

You seem to have an enquiring mind Civis and ask some good questions, which makes those of us who pigeon hole themselves, take note.
Which is good, because there is such a pressure on people today to accept dialectic synthesis.

Civis said...

You mentioned, “A gospel based on works alone.” What denomination believes in that? I didn’t know anybody who believes in that.
Glad you like my questions. As I was telling someone else, 1) what C.S. Lewis said about how it is best to confront doubts and questions, lay them out on the examination table, make them is big and ugly as they can be 2) How (I’m told) Jewish families encourage children to ask questions, raise concerns, objections etc. 3) The way St. Thomas Aquinas would ask a question, list every objections to the corrects answer that is out there, then go back and show the problem with each objection 4) Socratic dialogs.

What did you mean by “those of us who pigeon hole themselves” and “dialectic synthesis”? I’m not sure I understand.

Here in the next couple of days I’m going to try to recap my questions regarding worldview and share my thoughts (I’ve been picking everyone’s brain so I thought I would give a little feedback and let them know what I’m thinking).

Anonymous said...


Joshm from COAS here

I just finished "Naming the Elephant" by Sire (its his redefinition of worldview). It was great, and I would highly recommend it to you. It deals in part with the question: "why study worldview at all?" I think one of his best answers is the simplest. Everyone has a worldview, whether it is right or wrong, consistent or inconstant. By studying worldview we are able to evaluate and critique our own worldview.

This does not mean that worldview thinking must be relativistic. In fact Sire argues that if worldview thinking were relativistic he would be opposed to it.

Anyway, I feel that I have a good understanding of what a worldview is from that book, and I am now ready to explore various worldviews. I will be starting "Universe Next Door" this week. I look forward to talking with you about it.

Civis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Civis said...

Guess I'll have to add NAMING THE ELEPHANT to my list! It sounds like my study would be incomplete without it and you have piqued my interest.

I'm glad someone will be reading NTE and THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR at roughly the same time as me.

What do you mean by "This does not mean that worldview thinking must be relativistic."

Ditto on looking forward to discussing WV.