A Clash of Worlds (1)

Apologists Must Deal With Worldviews

From time to time one encounters an amateur atheist who is conversant enough with his literature to provide a worthwhile mental workout while not descending into ad hominen asides.  Just such a person is “Gary.”  Gary, as with not a few self-dubbed atheists, is a former Roman Catholic – bruised knuckles and all.

Gary has spouted forth a small avalanche of paper which, by putting aside the rant and concentrating on the main issues, provides us with a good outline of his atheistic belief-system.  As is quite usual with atheists, what Gary thinks is more autobiographical than philosophically defensible.

Gary has expended a lot of energy in writing against things like the Virgin Birth and other miracles, and he has assailed the Bible as full of contradictions and … well you know the old canards.  When the discussion began, it was made clear to Gary that it is futile pitting one set of “experts” against another set of “experts.”  When that happens usually the atheist will cull his data from the Jesus Seminar or Bart Erhmann or Prometheus Press, and the Christian will counter with correctives by Craig Keener or Larry Hurtado or the publishers in Grand Rapids.  So while there is definitely a place for  the setting out of evidences, their acceptance or rejection often depends on what a person will accept as evidence.  Here then, we are just interested in Gary’s outlook on the world.

Here is a small sampling of that outlook:

“I don’t believe in anything beyond the natural order of the universe.” 

“I don’t think evolution is by chance.  I think things evolve because they have an advantage in competing within the natural ORDER of things.” 

“I don’t know why you think [naturalistic] science does not acknowledge natural law…To me the fact the universe follows an order eliminates the need for God…In my opinion, natural law is more likely that (sic) supernatural existence…Natural law is predictive” 

“Natural law is within nature”

“Logic is logic.  Math is math.  It does not depend on any worldview.”†; “what is true and what is false, logical and illogical, reasoning, etc.  has been a cognitive capacity of humans…for a very long time.  It’s (sic) origin is evolutionary biology.”

“what is true and what is false, logical and illogical, reasoning, etc.  has been a cognitive capacity of humans…for a very long time.  It’s (sic) origin is evolutionary biology.”

Get the idea? Gary bets it all on naturalistic “evolutionary science.”  The question becomes one of whether the worldview of naturalism cum materialism can be justified or whether Christianity can be justified.

Worldview: An Introduction

The issue thus resolves itself around a contrast of worldviews.  Let’s have a definition of a “worldview.”  I’ll use a good recent definition.

“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of propositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” – James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 4th edition, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004, 17.

It is these commitments which are at issue.  To avoid discussing ultimate commitments or worldviews is to talk around the problem.  We want to get at ultimate issues.

Clearly, the way we see the world and interpret it and our place in it will be a product of our world and life view.  For example, if I am a Hindu, I believe that all is One: Maya.  The world as we see and experience it is not real, but is illusory.  With such a worldview (were it to be followed rigorously) I would see no difference between my car  and someone else’s car.  There would be no place for the law of non-contradiction, since, of course, A would always equal Non-A.  Thus, this basic aspect of the Hindu worldview does not comport with reality as we know it (just try to move into the mansion overlooking the lake and see whether there is a difference between it and your house).  Such an outlook is unlivable.  If Hindus believed it they wouldn’t build temples or seek to transcend this realm for another, since all is really One.

In the Biblical Worldview (as opposed to the Roman Catholic worldview, which intersects the Bible at certain points, although never fully) the eternal Triune God, who is Spirit not matter, is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.  He is also the Purposer of history and the Judge of the behavior of His rational creature – man (with apologies to all those evangelical feminists out there).  Within this plan of history is a motif of creation – fall – redemption.  Since God is the perfect Source of all that is, He is also the standard by which all that is will be measured. 

God, who created human language, has promised humanity in His written verbal revelation, the Bible, that He will uphold the course of this world until He appears in final judgment.  Till then, man, who is made in God’s rational image, is to govern the world in accordance with the absolute principles of morality revealed to him by His Maker.  He is also to investigate and develop his environment to the glory of God and for the betterment of his neighbor.

In the Evolutionary-Naturalistic Worldview the universe (or multiverse) is impersonal.  There is no Creator, no Sustainer, no Interpreter of history, no moral Law-Giver.  The list goes on.  There is just “Nature” and its impersonal, purposeless, evolving yet aimless “laws.”  All reality is physical.  All explanations must, therefore, be justified in terms of matter and motion and the chance combinations (possibilities and probabilities) of what they can produce.

Each competing Life-perspective must be able to give adequate warrant for reality and what we know about it.  Each must be able to be “lived” in principle.  If one or other of these worldviews cannot provide justification for the world as we know it, it must, perforce be false, and ought to be discarded as such.  Naturalism, in whatever guise, is just such a unsatisfactory outlook and is overdue a one-way trip to the garbage dump.

Time For Some Predictions:

From interacting with and reading atheists for a long time one can safely hazard a few predictions about how they will argue.

  • First, they will generally adopt a form of “Scientism.”  Science has all the answers.
  • Second, they will avoid ultimate issues like the plague.  This will involve them in blind faith statements of “everyone knows that” or “it’s just there.”  They don’t like answering the “Why?” question.  No explanations necessary, at bottom, that’s the way it is.
  • Third, because they won’t discuss ultimate issues they will produce “value statements” which would have no foundation (and so would be essentially meaningless) if their worldview were right! They use words like “true” “false” “right and wrong” “fact” “order” etc. but they will not tell you how these terms are to sustain an absolute meaning, thus rising above the level of opinion, when uttered from their perspective.
  • Fourth, they will absolutize their imaginations, so that what they can conceive has the magical ability to become an actual state of affairs.  Remember these four things whenever you engage an atheist – especially a “New Atheist.”

Since we’re talking about what we do and do not know, this brings us to a definition of “knowledge.”

Knowledge = Justified Warranted True Belief.

People assert all sorts of things.  For example, a person can say, “I know that Bill Clinton was US President when the twin towers were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.”  It is a matter of historical fact that he is wrong.  If he is wrong then his claim to “know” is clearly false.  One cannot know something that is untrue.  Thus, all knowledge must be true knowledge (otherwise it is not knowledge).

Another person may say to a friend, “I just know you will become a famous actress.”  The individual may have some grounds for their belief (or they may not), but they cannot “know’ that their friend will become a famous actress until she actually is a famous actress.  The word “know” in this person’s opinion really means “I think” or “I hope” or “I expect.”  But one cannot know something that hasn’t happened yet (unless you’re God, who has predestined everything.  But that’s another subject).

Or, again, after winning the lottery, someone may say, “I knew I would win the lottery this week.”  They may have had some sort of belief they might (they bought a ticket); and what they believed turned out to be true; but they had no justification for “knowing” they would win.  Hence, they did not really “know” they would win the lottery.

Finally, one must have “warrant.”  You watch the lottery on TV and your numbers come up – you’ve won!  Except, no you haven’t, because a mistake occurred at the TV studio and they played last month’s program.  You had justified true belief – your number really did  come up.  But you didn’t have warrant – your information was wrong.  In fact, warrant covers all the other three.

Knowledge has to have these four elements: it must be a belief that something is true which is justified, plus being warranted based on the facts of the case. Without these elements we can believe we’re right, but it is mere opinion.

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