How to Choose a World View by Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins
Do you have worldview? The term worldview was used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2) Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.
Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:
Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
Death: What happens to a person at death?
Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world?
First of all, some advice on how not to pick a world view is in order. This common-sense advice can save a lot of time and headache, as well as heartache.
1. You cannot read everything: Life is not long enough to read everything on all these views. In fact, life is not long enough to read everything on even one of them, or even a significant fraction of the books on one view. You should read enough to understand the basic beliefs of each of them. Remember what a wise man of old once said: “My son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body” (Eccles. 12:12). Sooner or later you must stop reading and start deciding.
2. Beauty is only skin deep: Most would agree that it is not wise to pick a spouse simply because he or she is physically attractive. Those who marry only for sex appeal sometimes find that even that loses its appeal after they discover that a wretched personality came with it.
“All that glitters is not gold” is also true of world views. You should not choose a world view simply because, on the surface, it appeals to you. Like sex, certain aspects of the world view may appeal to your desires but will not fulfill your total human needs.
3. What works is not always true: Simply because a belief system works does not make it true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true. Telling the boss that you’re sick might work at getting you the day off, but the result does not validate the lie. Expedience is not a test for truth. Surely we could not determine the truth (and innocence or guilt) in a court of law were the witnesses to take the stand and say, “I swear to tell the expedient, the whole expedient, and nothing but the expedient. So help me, future results!”
If a world and life view is true, it will work in life (if properly understood and applied), but simply because something works does not make it true. One cannot determine truth by desired results any more than he can pick the best golf ball on the basis of which one made the hole-in-one. Success does not necessarily mean truth. Even swindlers are successful. Truth is determined by reality, not simply results. The majority can be wrong. “All of my friends are doing it.” So what! Columbus ’s friends were wrong, too. The truth of a world view is not decided by majority vote. Peer pressure is strong, but if it is pressing in the wrong direction, it should be resisted. Any dead fish can float down stream.
It takes a live one to swim up stream. Do not fall prey to the reverse error either: “The fewer the truer.” “Everyone is wrong but me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee.” Something is not necessarily true because only a select “enlightened” few believe it. On the other hand, something is not necessarily false because most people reject it. Truth is “telling it like it is,” whether most people like it or not.
4. Difficulty should not prompt quick rejection: Experience reveals that what has value often comes with great difficulty. Ask any great athlete or artist for confirmation. All great Olympians and musicians practice long and hard for their rewards.It is true that some people fall into a fortune. However, many of them also fall out of it almost as easily. The fact that some discover the truth without difficulty does not mean that all will. It is a fact of life that truth is often discovered only after great questioning, conflict, and difficulty. Major court cases are sufficient testimony to this.
5. The unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable: We should not reject a view merely because it is difficult to understand or conceive. There are probably mysteries in all world views. No scientist rejects nature because of anomalies. For example, it is difficult to imagine how light can be both waves and particles, as physicists claim. Nevertheless, most scientists accept this as a limitation in our understanding, not a contradiction in nature. The lack of ability to explain fully how all the pieces fit together is not adequate grounds for rejecting a world view. Were the truth told, all world views (being constructions of human minds) have this same problem. The important thing is that the view be able to show that all the pieces can satisfactorily fit together.
6. Remember that all worldviews can’t be true since they hold mutually exclusive views on many essential points: For example, atheism and theism cannot both be true, for atheism affirms that “God does not exist” and theism affirms that “God does exist.” Likewise, God cannot be both finite (finite godism) and infinite (theism). Nor can miracles be possible (theism) and impossible (deism, atheism). The opposite of truth is falsehood. Hence, if one view is true, then the opposite must be false, unless, of course, one claims that there is no such thing as truth. But the problem with such a statement is that it claims to be true, thereby defeating its own claim that nothing is true.
1. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.