Daniël Maritz & Karnu Van Heerden

The Truth About Worldviews (Part 2)

Daniël Maritz & Karnu Van Heerden | 13 July 2021 | 8 min read

“If truth is truth, then differences make a difference – not just between truth and lies but between intimacy and alienation in relationships, between harmony and conflict in neighbourhoods, between efficiency and incompetence in business, between reliability and fraud in science and journalism, between trust and suspicion in leadership, between freedom and tyranny in government, and even between life and death. Certainly, the choices are ours, but so also are the consequences.”[1]

These words of Os Guinness emphasize the paramount importance of truth. This also serves to show that a deviation from reality can, in the long run, be devastating to individuals on a small scale, and also to entire nations on a large scale. If truth is that which corresponds to reality in its “impersonal and commanding objectivity,”[2] it does indeed make a difference, for “nothing in the world can take the place of truth.”[3]

In our previous article we addressed the concept of a worldview; what it is and what some of the shortcomings associated with it are. Despite some of the problems with worldview thinking, it does not entail that the use of worldview thinking is altogether unsound. Indeed, there are redeeming qualities to the use of worldview thinking which we can rightfully acknowledge and pursue.

Take the analogy of a map for example. The correct way to initially draw up a map, is to consult reality itself as the proper and unavoidable starting point, and from there draw up a map which corresponds to reality. Therefore, a worldview, with its presuppositions and assumptions, must not be put forth as an interpretive framework or conceptual lens that we impose upon reality and then in turn also determines how reality is perceived. Rather, just like a map is drawn up to correspond to reality after going to reality itself, a worldview must arise from reality.[4]

This, in turn, means that all worldviews with their presuppositions and assumptions, must be evaluated in the light of reality. Our direct acquaintance with reality in our “ordinary daily experience”[5] is, after all, more basic than worldview presuppositions for the very reason that one must first have something to have presuppositions about. In other words, for presuppositions to be presuppositions, they must be presuppositions about things which are encountered in reality. Moreover, the evidence of our experience with reality is what “provides data for adjudicating [between] rival worldviews.” J.P. Moreland for example notes: “there is a test for ultimate worldview presuppositions, and that is direct experience of reality in which we compare our presuppositions to reality itself.”[6]

Fundamental Worldview Questions

To adjudicate between and evaluate different worldviews, it is essential to know what they entail. The following questions can serve as a starting point to try and determine what a given worldview encompasses. There is an emphasis on the phrase “starting point” as indeed there are many other questions addressing many other facets of reality. However, the following constitute essential questions of which the answers serve as foundational building blocks. Only after checking the “map” of a worldview and comparing it with knowable reality, can one accurately judge if it is in fact a good map of reality or not. For it must be the case, in the words of Etienne Gilson, that “reality is what dictates the method, and not the method which defines reality.”[7]

The Truth About Truth

Does truth exist? If it does, what is it and can it be known?

Considering the various worldviews, this is a central aspect to the understanding and justification of the worldview itself. For example, a worldview like Materialism, in reducing all of existence to matter in motion, might state that only that which is empirically verified may count as truth. All that exists is matter and all phenomena can be explained as the physical interaction of matter in motion.[8] Also consider Postmodernism which views truth to be only subjective and relative as each person forms their own truths, based upon their own lived experience, preference, and perspective.

Contrast that with Christianity, which, basing its teaching on historical grounds and events, defines truth as objective. For example, when Paul, in Acts 26:25, speaks about the “truth” of his testimony, he uses the word aletheias (ἀληθείας), which entails something as being real and actual.[9] Simply put, it refers to “the real state of affairs.” It is something that corresponds to reality and is therefore binding on all people, regardless of their own personal motives, wishes, and beliefs. Gustav Portig for example said that “Reality does not have to make itself comply with our reason, but rather, on the basis of the whole experience of the whole age, our thinking must seek to lay bare the metaphysics that God has woven into reality.”[10] When Christians consequently claim that God exists and that Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead, we are making claims about reality itself. If these claims do indeed correspond to reality, it demands a submission of our wills.

The Truth About Human Beings

What are human beings? Are human beings unique? Do humans have a soul?

The very nature of a human being is also important to consider. For example, in some worldviews like Eastern Pantheistic Monism, human beings actually form part of the divinity that is inherent in everything, and which ultimately absorbs everything. Some circles of the New Age spirituality reduce human beings to pure spirits with no material side to them. In a worldview like Deism, human beings are like complex machines that were created and then left to their own devices by an impersonal and unknown Creator.

In Christianity human beings are a compound unity of body and soul. From the very beginning in the Bible this unity represents the vital being of man.[11] A human being can therefore not be reduced to pure spirit or pure material machines. The two dimensions of body and soul are composed and together form the very nature of what it means to be human. The soul survives the death of the body, but is naked and incomplete without it, and therefore expects the resurrection of the body. Humans possess “intellect, emotion, will, and conscience. That is, he or she is capable of thinking, feeling, and choosing, and also has the moral capacity to know right from wrong.”[12] Moreover, human beings are stated to be created in the image of God.[13] Human beings are neither God, nor are they just among the other beasts of the earth. As creatures of God, we are distinct from God, but as image bearers of God, we uniquely reflect God in our unity of “soul and body,” and in all our “faculties and powers, in all conditions and relations.”[14]

The Truth About Morality

What is the foundation for determining good and evil? Is there a real foundation or is morality just subjective and illusory?

A worldview like Nihilism suggests that there is no objective foundation for morality, for there is no objective meaning, order, or purpose whatsoever. There are, however, disputes amongst naturalists as to the foundation of morality. Some, for example, hold that there could be an objective moral framework that is built upon systems like Utilitarianism.[15] On the other hand, some hold that morality is not objective but is in fact subjective, holding to a mere moral or cultural relativism.[16]

Christian Theism, on the other hand, holds that there is a real and objective morality rooted in the very nature of God. God manifests this moral order through the revelation that He has given. In general revelation, God has constructed the universe with purpose and order, even endowing every human being with a conscience to infer what is good and what is evil. Moral duties can therefore be “drawn from the right of nature itself,” which is, in turn “found both on the nature of God, the Creator… and on the conditions of rational creatures themselves.”[17] God has also revealed very explicit moral commands within special revelation, as seen in Scripture.[18] These moral commands found in God’s revelation are meant for the flourishing of humanity and the honour of God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything.

The Truth About Meaning

Does life have any meaning? Is there an ultimate purpose and end to things?

Certain streams of the New Age, maintain that a mass enlightenment and deification is the ultimate purpose of humanity. In short, everyone will be gods. Other positions like Nihilism state that there is no objective meaning whatsoever. The concept of real meaning in an ultimately meaningless existence is futile, absurd, and illusory. In an attempt to escape Nihilism, Existentialism proposed that individuals are free to create their own sense of meaning and purpose.

On the other side of the spectrum, Christianity holds that God created the universe, especially human beings, with purpose, meaning, and an ultimate end. Meaning in this life is objective in that human beings are made to find ultimate fulfilment in God Himself. As humans, here and now, we are most ourselves, not when we want to become gods, not when we attempt to run from God, not when we resist God, but when we submit to God and His purpose. This is why the Westminster Larger Catechism answers the question over the “chief and highest end of man” as follows: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” Since we are created by God, we will one day be returned to Him. The ultimate consummation of history involves the union of human beings directly with the Triune God in the beatific vision of God Himself. As Thomas Aquinas said: “Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence.”[19]

Conclusion

There is, of course, much more that can be added. However, it is our hope that these basic elements of worldview thinking will be a good guide to both analyse and evaluate worldviews. Truth as correspondence with reality is essential, and when looking at all the different worldviews, they make fundamental and mutually exclusive truth claims:

“In summary, reality, or all that exists, is either the universe only, God only, or the universe and God(s). If the universe is all that exists, then atheism is right. If God is all that exists, then pantheism is right. If God and the universe exist, then there is either one God or many gods. If there are many gods, then polytheism is right. If there is only one God then this God is either finite or infinite. If there is one finite God, then finite godism is correct. If this finite God has two poles (one beyond and one in the world), then panentheism is right. If there is one infinite God, then either there is intervention by this God in the universe or there is not. If there is intervention, then theism is true. If there is not, then deism is true. In short, there are seven basic mutually exclusive world views. Only one can be true.”[20]

That is why we encourage you to seek the truth, ask questions, analyse worldviews, and see if they are true with respect to how things are. With enough effort, clear and undeniable reality, from which our thinking starts can “correct, confirm, or disconfirm” many things. Not all paths lead to the “top of the mountain.” One path, however, does – the one that “best explains the world is the one that best interprets the world in a way that comports with our interpretive-independent direct access to that world.”[21]

Suggested Readings

Bavinck, Herman. Christian Worldview. Trans. Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton and Cory C. Brock. Wheaton: Crossway, 2019.

Gilson, Etienne. Methodical Realism: A Handbook for Beginning Realists. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.

Howe, Thomas A. Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation. Altamonte Springs, FL: Advantage Books, 2015.

Sire, James W. Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. Downers Grover: IVP Academic, 2015.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.


[1] Os Guinness, Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, & Spin (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 18.

[2] Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experiecne: The Medieval Experiment, The Cartesians Experiment, The Modern Experiement (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press), 49.

[3] Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 40.

[4] This implies the notion that certain truths in reality are undeniable and unavoidable. No matter how hard one might try to deny and avoid them, no one can succeed in not knowing them. In fact, to use reality as a standard to measure worldviews, implies undistorted access to, at least, certain aspects of reality.

[5] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: ProlegomenaTrans. Bolt, J. & Vriend, J. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic], 223

[6] “Why It is Harmful to Depict a Worldview as Glasses” by J.P. Moreland, p. 3 & 8, available at http://www.jpmoreland.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/JPM_Critique-of-WV-as-glasses-042321-Web.pdf accessed June 20, 2021.

[7] Etienne Gilson, Methodical Realism: A Handbook for Beginning Realists (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 86.

[8] Usually, in a materialist worldview, the way to truth is through Logical Positivism. Logical Positivism basically entails that only that which can be empirically verified can be true.

[9] Acts 26:24-26 reads as follows: “And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.’”

[10] As quoted by Herman Bavinck, Christian Worldview, Trans. Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton & Cory C. Brock, (Wheaton: Crossway), 47.

[11] See Genesis 2:7.

[12] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers), 78.

[13] Genesis 1:26-27 reads as follows: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

[14] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, Trans., John Bolt, and John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 555.

[15] John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) defined Utilitarianism as follows: “The creed which accepts as the foundations of morals ‘utility’ or the ‘greatest happiness principle’ holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure” (John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, Volume 10, Chapter 2, § 2 [In Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, 33 volumes, ed. J. Robson, Toronto: University of Toronto Press]).

[16] Moral relativism entails that whatever is good or evil is determined by each individual. Cultural relativism states that good and evil is determined by the greater social group or culture.

[17] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, Trans. J.T. Dennison Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing), 2-3.

[18] See Exodus 20.

[19]Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, ed. by The Aquinas Institute, trans. by Laurence Shapcote (Green Bay; Steubenville, OH: Aquinas Institute; Emmaus Academic, 2018), STh., I-II q.3 a.8 resp.

[20] Norman L. Geisler & W.D. Watkins, Worlds Apart: a Handbook on World Views (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 19.

[21] “Why It is Harmful to Depict a Worldview as Glasses” by J.P. Moreland, p. 11.

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