bookmark_borderIs Christianity True? – Part 1: What is Christianity?

I have been producing a series of podcasts on the question “Is Christianity true?”.  So far, four podcasts have been published, and I’m currently working on podcast # 5:
http://thinkingcriticallyabout.podbean.com/
The first four podcasts are introductory in nature, but in podcast #5,  I will be shifting gears and will start working on an evaluation of Christianity.  The first four podcasts are introductory, because I was working on the questions “Why think critically about whether Christianity is true?” and “What is Christianity?”.  These are questions that help to clarify the main question at issue, because clarity is of fundamental importance:
Clarity is a gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant.  In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying.  (The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder,  p.7)
In podcast #5,  I will briefly review my thinking about the question “What is Christianity?”.  This post will cover similar ground.
1. Christianity is a RELIGION, not a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus.
Dictionaries define “Christianity” as a religion, not a relationship with Jesus.  Sociologists, religious studies experts, and philosophers of religion consider “Christianity” to be a religion, not a relationship with Jesus.  Intellectual defenders of Christianity (Christian apologists) assert that “Christianity is true”, but a relationship with a person is NOT something that can be true (or false).  So, those who defend Christianity logically imply that Christianity is NOT a relationship.
A religion, however, is something that could be true (or false), so the common-sense view that Christianity is a religion supports the assumption that Christianity is something that could be true (or false).
2. Christianity is a MULTI-FACETED historical phenomenon.
I agree with the religious studies expert Ninian Smart that religions, such as Christianity, have multiple aspects or dimensions.  Here is Ninian Smart’s list of six key dimensions of a religion (Worldviews, 3rd edition, pages: 8-10):

1. Doctrinal and Philosophical

2. Mythic and Narrative

3. Ethical or Legal

4. Ritual or Practical

5. Experiential or Emotional

6. Social or Institutional

3.  RELIGIOUS BELIEFS (the “Doctrinal and Philosophical” dimension) are the MOST BASIC Aspect of a Religion.
I defend a cognitivist view of religion.  Although my cognitivist view is consistent with and is supported by most of what Ninian Smart says about religions, I don’t think Ninian Smart sees the cognitivist implications of his own views about religion, so I doubt that he would agree with me on this point.
Although we must acknowledge that religions have several dimensions, including religious experiences, religious stories (or “narratives”), and religious rituals, we can identify religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals, and distinguish them from secular experiences, secular stories, and secular rituals only by determining whether the experience, story, or ritual has religious significance, and we can determine that something has religious significance only if we can identify and recognize religious beliefs.
Religious significance or religious meaning is grounded in religious beliefs.  The identification of religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals depends upon the identification of religious beliefs.  Therefore, religious beliefs are more basic logically and conceptually than the other dimensions of religion.
4. The WORLDVIEW Associated with a Religion is the HEART (the Most Basic Aspect) of the Religious Beliefs Associated with that Religion.
A religion is fundamentally a system of religious beliefs.  What makes a collection of religious beliefs a “system” is that they are built up around a set of core beliefs called a “worldview”.  There are different ways of conceptualizing worldviews; I favor conceiving of worldviews as problem-solving schemas, on analogy with medical problem solving, involving four basic questions/concepts:

1. SYMPTOMS: What are the most important problems of human life? 

2. DIAGNOSIS: What is the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

3. CURE: What is the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

4. TREATMENT PLAN:  What is the best way to implement what is (allegedly) the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism have this logical structure, and I believe The Four Noble Truths provide a clear analysis and explication of the Buddhist worldview, and this logical structure should be used as a model for the analysis of any religious worldview or secular worldview.
5. Although there are MANY VERSIONS of Christianity, there is just ONE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW.
There are three main branches of Christianity:  Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.  Catholics and Protestants disagree about several religious beliefs and practices.  Orthodox Christians disagree with Catholics about various religious beliefs and practices, and different Protestant denominations disagree with each other about various religious beliefs and practices.  It is clear that there are many different versions of Christianity.  Christians do NOT all accept the same collection or system of religious beliefs.
However, the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many Protestant denominations do share a number of core religious beliefs, and I have argued that among the shared religious beliefs are beliefs that constitute a Christian worldview (i.e. Christian answers to the above four worldview questions).  Because the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many major Protestant denominations teach beliefs that constitute the same Christian worldview, we can reasonably conclude that there is just ONE Christian worldview (that is taught by Christian churches and denominations that include at least 80% of the population of Christian believers).
6. To Evaluate the Truth of a RELIGION, One must Evaluate the Truth of the WORLDVIEW associated with that Religion.
More specifically, to answer the question “Is Christianity true?”, one must answer the question “Is the Christian worldview true?” If the Christian worldview is false, then we can rightly conclude that Christianity is false.  If the Christian worldview is true, then we can rightly conclude that the most basic beliefs of Christianity are true, and we can also rightly conclude that the worldviews associated with other religions and secular worldviews are false (or are mostly false), making the Christian worldview the best available worldview, and also making Christian systems of religious beliefs superior to other systems of belief (that were based on false worldviews).
If the Christian worldview is true, that would NOT imply that Catholicism is completely true, nor that Orthodox Christianity is completely true, nor that any Protestant denomination’s teachings are completely true, but it would mean that these various Christian belief systems are built on a solid foundation; they would be based on a true worldview.  So if the Christian worldview were true, that would make those Christian systems of belief superior to other religious or secular systems of belief (that are built upon false worldviews).
7.  To Evaluate the truth of the CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW, One Must Evaluate the Christian Answers to the FOUR BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS.
The Christian worldview is composed of four main parts, so it makes sense to evaluate the truth or correctness of each of these parts of the Christian worldview in order to arrive at a full and complete evaluation of that worldview:
1. Are the SYMPTOMS/PROBLEMS presented by the Christian worldview correct?
2. Is the DIAGNOSIS/ROOT-CAUSE PROBLEM presented by the Christian worldview correct?
3. Is the CURE/BEST SOLUTION presented by the Christian worldview correct?
4. Is the TREATMENT PLAN/IMPLEMENTATION PLAN presented by the Christian worldview correct?
 
8. Because there are FOUR BASIC PARTS to the Christian Worldview, there are (potentially) SIXTEEN different possible EVALUATIONS of the Christian Worldview.
It is probably an oversimplification to think strictly in terms of only two evaluative options, namely “true” or “false”, so we might want to keep in mind other categories (e.g. “partially true and partially false”  and “mostly true” or “mostly false”); however, what we are shooting for ideally is a decision to accept or reject specific aspects of the Christian worldview, so ideally we will arrive at determinations of “true” or “false” for each of the four parts, to the extent that this is humanly possible to do.
Click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart:
Christian Worldview Evaluation Chart
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“TCW” means: “The Christian Worldview”.
“ATQ1” means: “Answer To Question One” (of the Four Basic Worldview Questions).
Note that to the extent that ALL WORLDVIEWS can be analyzed in terms of the four basic worldview questions, this same chart can be used in the analysis and evaluation of any worldview.
Obviously, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are correct, then the Christian worldview is true. Similarly, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are wrong, then the Christian worldview is false.
But it is possible that some parts of the Christian worldview are correct and that other parts are wrong, and it is not immediately clear how we should evaluate the Christian worldview in those cases.  In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly true”.  In other such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly false”.  In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “roughly half-true and half-false”.
But we have to consider each of the various possible scenarios or permutations of truth and falsehood in order to determine (a) whether the possible permutation is a coherent possibility (some permutations might contain a contradiction and thus be ruled out), and (b) to what extent the specified false parts (of a given permutation) diminish the overall correctness of the Christian worldview, and (c) to what extent the specified true parts (of a given permutation) enhance the overall correctness of the Christian worldview.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 10: Evaluation of Reason #9

REVIEW OF ANALYSIS OF REASON #9
In Part 9 of this series, I asserted that  the main argument in  Unapologetic is Reason #9, and I argued that Reason #9 invoved the following assumptions:

5. ANY claim that is based on faith cannot be reasonably defended.

6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.

Premise (5) is a reason in support of premise (6), and premise (6) is a reason in support of premise (1d) in the main argument.
Main Argument – Revision 5:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4a. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

 Premises (1d), (2a), and (3b) work together to form a valid deductive argument for the conclusion (4a).
Here is an argument diagram showing the logic of the main argument in Unapologetic with the conclusion of the argument at the top, and the supporting premises beneath the conclusion (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Reason #9 - Later Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
EVALUATION OF  THE ARGUMENT CONSTITUTING REASON #9
The argument constituting Reason #9 is UNSOUND, because each of the three premises of the argument is FALSE.
 
PREMISE (2a) IS FALSE
The second premise of the main argument in Unapologetic is this:
2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.
It is true that much of what philosophy of religion is concerned with is evaluating the truth (or probability or reasonableness) of “the claims of religion”.  However, it is NOT true that these are the ONLY issues about which philosophy of religion is concerned.
Philosophy of religion is also concerned with “theories of religion” which are often secular or naturalistic in nature.  Karl Marx asserted that “religion is the opium of the people”, and Sigmund Freud asserted that religion was the result of wishful thinking in response to fears about natural forces and death.  Evaluations of such general claims and theories about religion are part of the work of philosophy of religion, but these two secular theories about religion are obviously NOT “the claims of religion”.
Philosophy of religion is also concerned with evaluating views and claims that are opposed to religion and religious beliefs:

  • agnosticism
  • atheism
  • naturalism
  • religious skepticism
  • secular humanism

In examining and evaluating these non-religious or anti-religious ideas, philosophy of religion is NOT directly concerned with evaluating “the claims of religion”.
Also, philosophy of religion is concerned with the clarification of religious concepts:

  • What does the sentence “God exists” mean?
  • What does the word “faith” mean?
  • What does the word “miracle” mean?
  • What does the word “religion” mean?
  • What does the phrase “necessary being” mean?

These words and phrases are related to “the claims of religion”, because in order to understand some of “the claims of religion”, we need to understand the meanings of these words and phrases.  However, analyzing the meaning of a word or phrase related to a claim made by a religion is NOT the same thing as evaluating the truth of “the claims of religion”.
Thus, premise (2a) of the main argument constituting Reason #9 is FALSE, and therefore the main argument in Unapologetic is UNSOUND.
 
PREMISE (3b) IS FALSE
The third premise of the main argument in Unapologetic is this:
3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.
It is true that many of the claims of many religions are accepted by many people “based on faith”.  However, it is NOT true that ALL of the claims of ALL religions are accepted “based on faith”.
There is some unclarity in the concept “based on faith” that needs to be dealt with now.  Being “based on faith” is not an intrinsic or objective property of claims.   Claim X can be accepted by person A “based on faith” while at the same time claim X is accepted by person B based on reason, based on facts and evidence.  Thus, a claim being “based on faith” is RELATIVE TO specific persons (or to specific groups of people), and claims are not in-and-of-themselves “based on faith”.  Even if every human being who has ever lived accepted claim X “based on faith”, it would still be possible that in the future, one human being will one day come to accept claim X based on reasons and evidence.
Some of “the claims of religion” are historical claims.  Christianity claims that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in the first century.  This is an historical claim.  Perhaps it is the case that most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”.  However, because this is an historical claim, it is very likely that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and historical evidence.  In any case, because this is an historical claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are scientific claims.  Christianity claims that all human beings descended from a single pair of humans.  This is a scientific claim, so even if most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is a scientific claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are ethical or moral claims.  Christianity claims that one ought to treat others in the way that one wishes to be treated.  This is a moral claim or principle, and moral principles can be evaluated on the basis of reason, which is what philosophers do in the sub-discipline of ethics.  So, even if most Christians accept this moral principle “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this moral principle on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is an ethical or moral claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are metaphysical claims.   Christianity claims that “God exists”.  This is a metaphysical claim, so even if most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is a metaphysical claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  There is a sub-discipline of philosophy that is focused on evaluation of such claims; it is called  “metaphysics”.  The fact that many or most Christians accept the claim that “God exists” “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
The religion of Christianity, at least, makes historical claims, scientific claims, ethical claims, and metaphysical claims.  Such claims are subject to evaluation by reason, even if most Christians accept these claims “based on faith”. It is nearly certain that some Christians believe some of the claims of the Christian religion based on reason, based on consideration of relevant reasons and evidence.
Premise (3b) appears to be FALSE based strictly on consideration of the Christian religion.   However, this premise makes a generalization that is supposed to apply to ALL religions, not just to Christianity.  So, if we include dozens of other currently practiced religions in the scope of (3b), then it seems very unlikely that ALL of the claims by ALL of the religions are accepted “based on faith” by ALL of the adherents of a given religion.
Buddhism, for example, is very empirical in character.  Buddhism emphasizes careful observation of one’s own behavior and thoughts and feelings as the basis for confirming at least some of the teachings of Buddhism as well as the basis for learning about oneself and how to improve one’s life and one’s character.  Also, the concept of “faith” does not appear to play a central role in Buddhism in the way it does in Christianity.   Perhaps there are some Buddhists beliefs that most Buddhists accept “based on faith”, but it seems rather unlikely that ALL Buddhist beliefs are accepted “based on faith” by ALL adherents of Buddhism, in view of the empirical character of Buddhism and in view of the fact that the concept of “faith” does not appear to play a central role in Buddhist thinking.
Given that there are dozens of religions in the world right now, it seems very improbable that ALL of “the claims”  of ALL of these religions are accepted “based on faith” by ALL of the adherents to those religions (i.e. that all adherents to religion X accept all of the claims of religion X based on faith).  So, premise (3b) appears to be FALSE both in view of what we know about Christianity, and also in view of the fact that there are many different religions, including some that appear not to place much emphasis on belief that is “based on faith”.
I have argued that the two clear definitions of “faith” provided by Loftus are both wrong.  However, even if Loftus failed to correctly analyze the meaning of the word “faith” as it is used in ordinary language, we can reasonably take his proposed definitions as stipulative definitions, as clarifications of what Loftus means when he uses the word “faith”.   So, we should consider interpretations of premise (3b) that are based on the two clear defintions proposed by Loftus:  confirmation bias and irrational trust.
‘Confirmation Bias’ Interpretation:
3b-CB: ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on confirmation bias.
 
‘Irrational Trust’ Interpretation:
3b-IT: ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on irrational trust.
All of the previous objections apply to both of these interpretations of premise (3b).   The Christian religion makes historical claims, scientific claims, ethical claims, and metaphysical claims, and such claims are subject to evaluation by reason.  Since such claims are subject to evaluation by reason, it seems extremely unlikely that ALL Christians accept ALL such claims of Christianity “based on confirmation bias” or “based on irrational trust”.
Since confirmation bias is a widespread human tendency, and since irrational trust is a fairly common human failing, it is likely that many Christians accept many claims of Christianity based on either confirmation bias or irrational trust, but it is almost certain that SOME Christians accept SOME claims of Christianity based on the consideration of relevant reasons and evidence, and not based on confirmation bias or irrational trust.
If we understand the scope of (3b) to include ALL religions, then the claim becomes extremely improbable, based on these interpretations of the phrase “based on faith”, even ignoring the counterexamples from the Christian religion.  So, I conclude that premise (3b) of the main argument in Unapologetic is FALSE, and therefore that the main argument in Unapologetic  is UNSOUND.
Premise (2a) is FALSE because of a mistaken understanding of philosophy of religion, which wrongly narrows the scope of issues in that field to ONLY the evaluation of “the claims of religion”.
Premise (3b) is FALSE because of a failure to understand that being “based on faith” is not an intrinsic or objective property of claims, and because of a HASTY GENERALIZATION from the fact that many or most Christian believers accept most Christian beliefs “based on faith” to the universal generalization that ALL believers of ALL religions accept ALL of the claims made by their respective religions “based on faith”.
Thus, at least two of the premises of the main argument of Unapologetic are FALSE, making this argument UNSOUND.
 
THE REASON GIVEN FOR PREMISE (1d) IS FALSE
Loftus does not just assert premise (1d); he gives a reason in support of this premise:

6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.

THEREFORE:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

Premise (6) is FALSE, and thus it fails to provide support for premise (1d).  The reason why premise (6) is false is because, as I have explained above, being “based on faith” is NOT an intrinsic or objecctive property of claims; a claim can only be “based on faith” for a particular person or group of persons.  Thus, even if every Christian accepted a particular claim X “based on faith”, it might well be possible for claim X to be accepted (or rejected) on the basis of reasons and evidence; it might well be possible to confirm or disconfirm claim X on the basis of reasons and evidence.

If it is possible for a claim to be confirmed or disconfirmed on the basis of reasons and evidence, then it would obviously be REASONABLE to use reason to evaluate that claim.  Therefore, even if a particular claim was accepted by every Christian believer “based on faith”, that claim might well be one that it is reasonable to evaluate based on reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence for and against that claim.

For example, even if every Christian believer accepted the claim “God exists” on the basis of faith, this is still a metaphysical claim which can be evaluated on the basis of reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence for and against this claim.  The fact that some people accept a claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim that is so accepted is beyond hope of being evaluated on the basis of a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence.

Thus, a sub-discipline of philosophy that focused on ONLY claims that SOME PEOPLE have accepted “based on faith” would include in it’s scope many claims that it would be reasonable to evaluate on the basis of reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence.  Therefore, premise (6) is false, and Loftus has failed to provide us with a good reason to believe premise (1d).

Furthermore, given this insight about what it means for a claim to be “based on faith”, it seems fairly clear that (1d) is also FALSE, and therefore we have a third reason for concluding that the main argument of Unapologetic is UNSOUND.

====================

UPDATE  on 01/18/17:

One more example of an important issue in philosophy of religion that goes beyond evaluating “the claims of religion” is this question:

What is the relationship between FAITH and REASON?

Although Christianity presents faith as something that is good and admirable, there is no generally agreed upon view among Christian believers or Christian theologians about the relationship between faith and reason.  Thus, when a Christian believer asserts a specific claim about the relationship between faith and reason, this claim is NOT a claim of the Christian religion, nor is it a claim of any other non-Christian religion.  Therefore, when philosophers of religion use reason to evaluate a particular view of the relationship between faith and reason, they are NOT evaluating one of “the claims of religion”.

Note also that since the issue of the relationship of faith and reason is central to Reason #9, when Loftus supports and defends Reason #9, and when I raise objections to Reason #9, we are both engaging in philosophy of religion.  In fact, the arguments of Loftus and my objections generally concern the relationship of reason and faith, and thus our arguments, both pro and con, are generally concerned with an issue that is a paradigm case of an issue in the philosophy of religion.

Therefore,  the central argument by Loftus in Unapologetic is an argument dealing with a paradigm case of an issue in philosophy of religion.  In addition to being an UNSOUND argument, this argument is self-undermining.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 13

Worldview as a Way of Life?
The third objection that James Sire raises against his older conception of worldviews, is that it makes more sense to understand a worldview as being “a way of life” (NTE, p.97) rather than to understand a worldview as being “a system of thought” (NTE, p.98) because of “the practical, lived reality of worldviews…” (NTE, p.100).
The sub-section of Chapter 5 where Sire presents this third objection is called “Worldview as a Way of Life” (NTE, p.98-100).  The first sentence in this sub-section is worth careful examination:
While worldviews have been overwhelmingly detected and expounded using intellectual categories, from the first there has been a recognition that they are inextricably tied to lived experience and behavior.   (NTE, p.98, emphasis added)
Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions” and “assumptions”.  Sire appears to believe that there is a conflict between understanding worldviews in terms of “intellectual categories” and recognizing that worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”  In the previous post, we examined a strong version of this view, namely the view that these are mutually exclusive claims:
(MEC) If X is best understood in terms of “intellectual categories” (such as “beliefs” or “propositions”), then X cannot be tied to lived experience and behavior.
I argued that worldview-related beliefs and assumptions, especially ethical beliefs, can be directly “tied to lived experience and behavior”, and thus that (MEC) is clearly false.
Another attempt to support the view that a worldview is “a way of life” is based on comments from the theologians Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton:
Worldviews are best understood as we see them incarnated, fleshed out in actual ways of life.  They are not systems of thought, like theologies or philosophies.  Rather worldviews are perceptual frameworks. (from Transforming Vision, quoted by Sire in NTE, p.98)
These comments, however, actually provide evidence against the view that a worldview is a way of life, and they provide evidence that supports my view that a worldview is a system of thought or a system of beliefs.
These comments by Walsh and Middleton presuppose the following claim about the incarnation of worldviews:
(WIC) A worldview can be incarnated in a way of life.
The first thing to note is that it is clear that a set or system of beliefs “can be incarnated in a way of life.”  Thus, my cognitivist view of worldviews is fully compatible with (WIC).
The second thing to note is that it is clear that it makes no sense to say that a way of life “can be incarnated in a way of life.”  Thus, Sire’s view that a worldview IS a way of life is NOT compatible with (WIC).  Therefore, the comment by Walsh and Middleton about worldview incarnation supports my cognitivist view but is contrary to Sire’s claim that a worldview is a way of life.
The word “incarnated” is a metaphor.  What does it mean?  God is invisible and intangible.  To say that God became “incarnated” in Jesus, is to say that Jesus is God in a visible and tangible form.  Similarly, (WIC) implies that a worldview is something that is ordinarily invisible and intangible, but that becomes visible and tangible when the worldview is “incarnated” in a way of life.
We can see and observe the behavior and habits of a person and of a group of people.  Thus, we can see and observe a way of life.  But, (WIC) implies that a worldview is not ordinarily something that we can see and observe.  This makes perfect sense if a worldview is a system of thought or system of beliefs.   We cannot see or observe thoughts or beliefs in the way that we can see or observe actions and habits and practices.
So, if we understand the meaning of “incarnated” in (WIC), then it is clear that it makes perfect sense to think about a worldview as being a system of thought or system of beliefs that can be incarnated in a way of life, and it is clear that it makes no sense to think about a way of life being incarnated in a way of life, because a way of life is already something that we can see and observe, and thus there is no need for a way of life to be “incarnated” at all.
The next comments by Walsh and Middleton also support my cognitivist view of worldviews, and do not support Sire’s view that worldviews are ways of life.  Walsh and Middleton argue that worldviews are “not systems of thought” but rather are “perceptual frameworks”.  This is basically a self-undermining argument.
First of all “perceptual frameworks” is an unclear metaphor, and thus it has an immediate disadvantage relative to the clearer and more common-sense view that a worldview is a system of beliefs.  But, if we unpack the meaning of this metaphor, it becomes fairly clear that this is just a confused way of referring to a system of beliefs.
The phrase “perceptual frameworks” is not only a metaphor, it is a mixed metaphor.  The primary literal meaning of “perceive” is to have a SENSORY experience: especially “to see or hear” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition).  Walsh and Middleton actually use the word “seeing” in this context:
Worldviews are “ways of seeing,” Walsh and Middleton say, and add, “If we want to understand what people see, or how well people see, we need to watch how they walk…”  (NTE, p.98)
The problem here is that a blind person has a worldview, and deaf people also have worldviews.  So, a worldview is NOT about literal seeing or literal hearing or about sensory experiences.  Thus, the word “perceptual” must be taken non-literally, or at least not in terms of the primary meaning of the word.  A secondary meaning of “perceive” is: “to become aware of in one’s mind; acheive understanding of” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition).  In other words, the non-literal meaning of “perception” is about: cognition, thinking, knowing, and believing.  A blind person can think.   A blind person can have beliefs.  A blind person can know things.  That is the sort of “perception” that we are talking about, when we use the phrase “perceptual framework”.
What about the word “framework”?  What does this word mean?  The framework of a building is the physical part of the building that provides structure and stability to the building.  That is the literal sense of the word.  But we aren’t talking about buildings.  We are talking about cognition, thinking, knowing, and believing.
What is it that provides structure and stability to thinking and cognition?  We have basic assumptions or beliefs that provide stability and structure to our thinking.  Our thinking and cognition and believing has a logical structure.  Some beliefs are more basic, more fundamental to our thinking and believing, than other beliefs.  So, we can reasonably infer that the non-literal meaning of “framework” is: beliefs that are basic or fundamental to our thinking and believing.  Such basic beliefs provide structure and stability to our thinking and believing.
So, “perceptual framework” does NOT refer to a literal physical framework that provides structure and stability to our vision or hearing (whatever that might mean); rather, this phrase refers to a set of basic beliefs that provide structure and stability to our thinking and believing in general.  In other words, when you get past the unclear metaphor and down to the literal meaning of it, the phrase “perceptual framework” actually refers to a system of thought or a system of beliefs.  So, Walsh and Middleton are arguing that we should set aside the clear literal phrase “a system of beliefs” and replace this phrase with an unclear metaphor “a perceptual framework”, a metaphor that when analyzed turns out to be a reference to a system of beliefs.
Therefore, Walsh and Middleton put forward two different metaphorical expressions (“incarnated in a way of life” and “a perceptual framework”), as challenges to the clear and common-sense concept of a worldview as “a system of beliefs”.   However, both metaphors, when examined more closely, support my cognitivist view of worldviews and are contrary to Sire’s claim that a worldview is “a way of life.”

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 10

As Ninian Smart points out, there are secular worldviews as well as religious worldviews.   According to Smart, a religion is a religious worldview as opposed to a secular worldview.  Marxism and Secular Humanism are examples of secular worldviews.  Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are examples of religions or religious worldviews.
Smart, however, asserts that worldviews (both religious and secular) encompass six dimensions:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.
Smart uses the word “worldview” in order to emphasize the fact that there are secular analogues to religions (e.g. Marxism and Secular Humanism).  Given the way that Smart uses the word “worldview”, a religion IS a worldview, namely a religious worldview, as opposed to a secular worldview.  I have no objection to this use of the word “worldview” by Smart.  I think he is right that there are secular analogues to religions and it makes sense to have a word to refer to a general category that includes both religions (like Christianity and Buddhism) as well as secular analogues to religions (like Marxism and Secular Humanism).
However, I intend to use the word in a narrower sense than this.  I intend to use the word “worldview” to refer to the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion or of a secular analogue to a religion.  I take it that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension includes the ethical or legal dimension of a religion or of a secular analogue to a religion, since ethics is a major sub-discipline of philosophy.
I will use the word “worldview” in keeping with the definition proposed by the Christian apologist James Sire in his book The Universe Next Door (3rd edition; hereafter: TUND):
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world.  (TUND, p.16)
Given this narrower understanding of the word “worldview”, and given Smart’s plausible view that a religion has at least six dimensions, including the narrative or mythic dimension, the ritual or practical dimension, and the experiential or emotional dimension,  a religion is NOT a worldview.  Rather, a religion includes or encompasses a worldview (i.e. a doctrinal or philosophical dimension), but it also includes or encompasses other dimensions as well.  So, a religion is more than just a worldview.  Christianity is a religion; thus, Christianity is more than just a worldview, more than just the Christian worldview (in my narrower sense of the word “worldview”).
However, when a Christian apologist or Christian believer asserts that “Christianity is true”, what that person is saying is that “The Christian worldview is true.”   They are NOT saying that “Christian rituals are true.”, nor are they saying that “Christian religious experiences are true.”, nor are they saying that “Christian organizations are true.”  It is the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of Christianity that can be evaluated as true (or false).  Rituals, experiences, and organizations cannot be evaluated as true (or false), so those aspects of Christianity are necessarily out of scope, when someone makes the claim “Christianity is true.”
It is less obvious whether religious narratives or myths can be true (or false).  I’m going to temporarily set that question aside for now, and return to it later.
Although I recognize Smart’s point that a religion is more than just a philosophy or system of beliefs, I still maintain a cognitivist view of religion, because in my view the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is more basic and fundamental than the other aspects of a religion.
As I have argued in previous posts, a ritual is a religious ritual only if it has a religious meaning or significance, and an experience is a religious experience only if it has a religious meaning or significance.   Religious meaning is grounded in the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion, so what makes a ritual or experience a religious ritual or a religious experience is the relationship of that ritual or experience to some religious beliefs.  Thus, the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is more basic and fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension and more basic and fundamental than the  experiential or emotional dimension.
At the turn of the century, James Sire revised his understanding of the concept of a “worldview” and wrote a book advocating this revised understanding: Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE).  Some of the the key changes that Sire makes to his conception of a “worldview” are defended in Chapter 5 of NTE:
…the discussion so far has proceeded as if a worldview were a set of propositions or beliefs that serve as answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions.  This certainly is how I understood the notion of worldview as I wrote The Universe Next Door.  I still believe that this is a useful way to define the concept, but I have become aware that it both overemphasizes the systematic nature of worldviews and misses some other important aspects.  So what is inadequate?  And what is missing?  Those are the subjects of this chapter [i.e. Chapter 5].   (NTE, p.91)
In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE this way:
Is a worldview primarily an intellectual system, a way of life, or a story? (NTE, p.22)
One of his key conclusions from Chapter 5 is clearly stated in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions or a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
If Sire is correct, then my cognitivist view of religion is wrong, and if my cognitivist view of religion is correct, then Sire’s view about the nature of worldviews is wrong.   So, I am going to attempt to defend Sire’s earlier conception of worldviews against his own objections, the objections that led him to revise his understanding and definition of the word “worldview”.
Question 1: Must a Worldview Contain “a complete system” of Beliefs?
Sire describes Freud’s understanding of worldviews this way:
One clear expression of the notion of a worldview is Sigmund Freud’s equation of worldview with a complete, tacked-down, systematic, virtually certain philosophy of life… (NTE, p.92)
In TUND, Sire did point to seven basic philosophical questions to clarify what sort of “propositions or beliefs” are included in a worldview:

  1. What is prime reality–the really real? …
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
  3. What is a human being?
  4. What happens to a person at death?
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
  7. What is the meaning of human history?(TUND, p.17-18)

However, it is not stated that clear and consistent answers to ALL seven questions were required in order for “a set of propositions or beliefs” to count as a “worldview”.
The definitional phrase “a set of propositions or beliefs” does NOT imply that a worldview must contain “answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions.”  But even if we require that a worldview contain SOME “answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions” it does not follow that the answers will themselves be “systematic”.  While it is plausible to say that everybody has a philosophy of life, this does not mean that everybody has a carefully thought out, complete and systematic philosophy of life.
Sire made this point clear in TUND, even in the wording of his definition of “worldview”:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world.  (TUND, p.16, emphasis added)
If one can hold a worldview “subconsciously”, this implies that the worldview need not be a carefully worked out system of beliefs.  If one can hold worldview beliefs “inconsistently”, this also implies that a worldview need not be a carefully worked out system of beliefs.
A person can be all about love, peace, and brotherhood on Sunday morning at church, and then on Monday morning at work embrace the view that it’s a hard-cruel world, and that it is every man for himself, and that what life is all about is looking out for number one.  Such logical inconsistency is common, and maintaining such logically inconsistent views generally requires that one NOT carefully and systematically work out one’s philosophy of life or worldview.
In any case, Sire’s clarification on this point seems reasonable:
A worldview needs to be neither conscious nor basically consistent.  It need not answer every question that can be raised, only those relevant to each person’s life situation.  In The Universe Next Door, I do identify a series of somewhat consistent worldviews–Christian theism, naturalism, pantheism, for example–but these are ideal types outlined for heuristic purposes, not because anyone, including myself, holds precisely the worldview as described.  Everyone’s worldview is a bit different from that of everyone else… (NTE, p.93)
Sire does not provide an argument for the claim that something can be a worldview even if it does not provide clear and consistent “answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions.”  However, it does seem reasonable and plausible to say that although every adult of normal intelligence has a worldview, most adults of normal intelligence do not have a clear and consistent system of beliefs that provide answers to a systematic set of basic philosophical questions.
In other words, one can have a philosophy of life, without that philosophy being clearly and logically and systematically developed.  Similarly, every religious adult of normal intelligence has a theology, or a set of theological beliefs, but not every religious adult of normal intelligence has a clear and consistent systematic theology.
A theologian will try to develop a clear and consistent systematic theology, but we don’t expect that sort of thinking from the average religious believer.   Since Sire’s point here seems reasonable and plausible,  the fact that he fails to provide an argument for this point is not sufficient reason to reject it.
However, this does not constitute a good objection to his earlier concept and definition of “worldview”.  The fact that a worldview must contain SOME answers to a systematic set of basic philosophical questions, does NOT imply that a worldview must contain a clear and logically consistent system of beliefs that answers ALL of the basic philosophical questions outlined by Sire in TUND.  The actual worldview of a human person can be partly subconscious, can contain logically contradictory beliefs, and can be somewhat unclear and incomplete in relation to providing answers to a systematic set of basic philosophical questions.
But that much was already clear in the conception of a worldview presented by Sire in TUND. Sire has failed to show that his earlier concept of a worldview  “overemphasizes the systematic nature of worldviews” (NTE, p.91)
Other key questions raised by Sire in Chapter 5 of NTE:
Question 2: Was the practical “lived reality” aspect of worldviews “missing from the definition given” in TUND? (see NTE pages 97-100)
Question 3: Was the central role of stories and myths in worldviews “missing from the definition given” in TUND? (see NTE pages 100-105)
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? INDEX

The primary goal of my Ten Year Plan is to evaluate Christianity, to answer the question “Is Christianity true or is it false?”
I have started a couple of series of posts related to this project. One series related to the project is called “What is Christianity?”.  Here is a list of the posts in that series (so far), with brief  quotes from each post, to provide an idea of the content of that post:
What is Christianity? – Part 1
I am a cognitivist when it comes to the concept of a “religion”.  To me, a religion is fundamentally a point of view, a philosophy of life, a worldview.  I focus in on the intellectual or cognitive aspect of religion.  …
If religion is fundamentally about ideas, claims, and beliefs, and if Christianity is a religion, then it would make sense to ask the question “Is Christianity true or false?”  Ideas, claims, and beliefs are the sorts of things that can be evaluated as true or false, so if religions are fundamentally sets of ideas, claims, or beliefs, then we can evaluate the ideas, claims, or beliefs that constitute a particular religion, and make an overall evaluation of the truth of the whole religion that way.
What is Christianity? Part 2
One objection to my cognitivist view of religion and Christianity is this popular little bit of stupidity:
“Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I have three initial responses to this statement: (1) read your freaking bible, (2) read your freaking dictionary, and (3) use your freaking brain. [I cover points (1) and (2) in this post.]
What is Christianity? Part 3
I have a third initial point to make in support of the view that CHRISTIANITY is a RELIGION:
3. USE YOUR BRAIN
Of course, we need to use our brains when reading the Bible and use our brains when reading a dictionary, so what I have in mind here is using our brains to understand a specific simple bit of logic:
1. If Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP, then Christianity is NOT the sort of thing that can be TRUE.
2. If Christianity is NOT the sort of thing that can be TRUE, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is TRUE.
Therefore:
3. If Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is TRUE.
On the other hand, if Christianity is a religion, then Christianity IS the sort of thing that can be true (or false), so the claim that “Christianity is true” at least makes sense, if we assume that CHRISTIANITY is a RELIGION.  As I explained previously, a cognitivist view of Christianity is one that sees Christianity primarily as a system of beliefs, as a philosophy of life, as a worldview.
What is Christianity? Part 4
Ninian Smart is a religious studies expert from UC Santa Barbara … . Smart’s conception of a worldview includes philosophical beliefs or doctrines but also includes other “dimensions”:
1. Doctrinal and philosophical
2. Mythic and Narrative
3. Ethical or Legal
4. Ritual or Practical
5. Experiential or Emotional
6. Social or Institutional
(Worldviews, p.8-10)
So, Smart’s conception of a worldview represents a challenge to my congitivist view of religion, which focuses on beliefs or doctrines.
James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door treats worldviews as systems of beliefs, in keeping with my cognitivist view of religions:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the makeup of our world. (The Universe Next Door, p.16)
However, after reviewing a number of different thinkers who have discussed the concept of a worldview, Sire made some significant revisions to his conception of a world view. …
What is Christianity? Part 5
But in a more recent book called Naming the Elephant (IVP, 2004; hereafter: NTE),  Sire takes a closer look at the concept of “a worldview”, and he changes his mind about the kind of thing that a worldview is, and he no longer considers a worldview to be “a set of presuppositions”.  His new definition goes like this:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides a foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (NTE, p.122, emphasis added)
I don’t think this is an improvement over Sire’s original definition.  There are a number of problems with this new defintion, but the most basic problem is that Sire now defines “a worldview” as a kind of commitment, not as a set of presuppositions.  The problem I have with this is that a commitment is NOT the sort of thing that can be true:
1.  If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment.
2. If the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
Therefore:
3. If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
What is Christianity? Part 6
Religious experience is another thing that some Christians would like to identify with Christianity or the Christian worldview, but this is just another example of the sort of category mistake made by moronic T-shirt buyers and by James Sire:
1B.  If Christianity is an experience, then Christianity is true only if an experience is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2B.  An experience is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
Therefore:
3B. If Christianity is an experience, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is true.
If someone wants to claim that “Christianity is an experience”, then he/she will have to give up the widely held belief (among Christians) that “Christianity is true”.
People are free to define “Christianity” or “the Christian worldview” however they wish, but people are not free to define “Christianity” and “the Christian worldview” in a way that contradicts some other statement that they wish to proclaim to the world.  So, if Christians want to stop proclaiming that “Christianity is true”, then I have no problem with them re-defining “Christianity” to mean whatever they want it to mean.
What is Christianity? Part 7
If I am to maintain my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, then I need to explain and justify my viewpoint in relation to Smart’s interesting and plausible six-dimensional approach to religions and worldviews.  It is tempting to just say that Smart is right that religions and worldviews have these six dimensions, but that I am only interested in the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension).
[…]
But while this is a tempting route to take, I think it fails to recognize the central role that beliefs and claims play in religions and worldviews.  My task, then, is to try to maintain the centrality of beliefs and claims in religion and worldviews, while also recognizing that religions and worldviews generally do involve the six dimensions to which Smart draws our attention.
First, I wish to point out the apparent centrality of beliefs/claims in Smart’s discussion about the concepts of “a religion” and “a worldview”.  The very title of his book suggests the centrality of beliefs:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
[…]
So, the very title of his book elevates “beliefs” above other aspects of religions and worldviews,  thus suggesting that the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension) plays a more important role than the other dimensions, perhaps a central role.
Also, in the introduction, Smart says things that also suggest the centrality of “beliefs”.
[…]
The second paragraph of the Introduction also suggests the importance or centrality of beliefs/claims in religions and worldviews:
The modern study of worldviews…explores feelings and ideas and tries to understand what exists inside the heads of people.  What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true.  (Worldviews, p.1-2)
What is Christianity? Part 8
A religion is a point of view.  A religion is a worldview.  Christianity is a religion, thus Christianity is a worldview…
Let’s consider the second dimension: the narrative or mythic dimension.  Clearly, religions involve myths and narratives:
Religions set great store by stories–stories of God and gods or of the founder, of the organization, and so on.  (Worldviews, p.9)
But not all stories are religious stories.  Classical fairy tales, for example, are not religious stories.  Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood are not religious stories.  What is the difference between a religious story and a non-religious story?  The primary difference is that a religious story has religious significance, religious meaning.
But identification of religious significance or religious meaning requires that one be able to distinguish between religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs.  Thus, one must have awareness of the doctrines or philosophy of a religion in order to identify religious stories, and to identify religious stories that relate to a particular religion.
[…]
Thus, in order to recognize that a story is a religious story, and that a story has religious significance, we must first be able to distinguish between religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs.  In order to recognize a story to be a religious story for a particular religion, we need to know something about the religious beliefs of that religion.  Similarly, in order to recognize that a story is associated with a particular worldview, we must first have some familiarity with the beliefs (i.e. the doctrines or philosophy) of that worldview.
Therefore, the doctrines or philosophy of a religion/worldview are more central, and more fundamental than the stories involved in that religion/worldview.  This is because in order to recognize that a story belongs to, or is part of, a religion/worldview, one must first have some familiarity with the doctrines or philosophy of that religion/worldview.  It is awareness of the doctines or philosophy of a religion/worldview that allows one to recognize or identify when a story has significance or meaning in relation to that religion/worldview.
What is Christianity? Part 9
In this post I’m going to argue that the same holds true of the ritual or practical dimension.   In other words, the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion is more basic and more fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension of that religion.
Consider baptism, for example.  People take baths and showers and go swimming all the time, without there being any religious meaning or significance to these activities.   But sometimes, when a person is sprinkled with water or when a person is submerged into water, this activity has a religious meaning or significance.   In order to recognize the difference between the Christian religious ritual of baptism and other non-religious activities like swimming or taking a shower, we need to understand that the use of water in baptism has a religious meaning.   Baptism is a religious ritual because it has a religious meaning or significance, and the religious meaning or significance of Baptism is necessarily and unavoidably connected to religious beliefs.  Christian baptism is connected to Christian beliefs.
[…]
We recognize that baptism is a religious ritual, that baptism is something more than just taking a quick dip or swim, more than just taking a bath to get dirt off one’s body, because we understand that baptism has a religious meaning or significance.   The religious meaning or significance of baptism for Christians is necessarily and unavoidably connected to religious beliefs, to Christian beliefs.  Thus, we recognize and understand baptism to be a religious ritual only because we recognize that it is closely connected with religious beliefs, with the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of the Christian religion.
Therefore, it is clear that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of Christianity is more basic and more fundamental than the ritual or practical dimension of Christianity, because what makes something a religous ritual or a Christian religous ritual as opposed to being a non-religious ritual, is that the ritual has a religious meaning or significance and such a meaning or significance is necessarily and unavoidably tied to religious beliefs or doctrines.
What is Christianity? Part 10
Ninian Smart uses the word “worldview” in order to emphasize the fact that there are secular analogues to religions (e.g. Marxism and Secular Humanism). Given the way that Smart uses the word “worldview”, a religion IS a worldview, namely a religious worldview, as opposed to a secular worldview.  However, I intend to use the word in a narrower sense than this. I intend to use the word “worldview” to refer to the doctrinal or philosophicaldimension of a religion or of a secular analogue to a religion.
One can have a philosophy of life, without that philosophy being clearly and logically and systematically developed.  James Sire’s point here seems reasonable and plausible; however, this does not constitute a good objection to his earlier concept and definition of “worldview”.
What is Christianity?  Part 11
“What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.” (NTE, p.97).  This objection can be re-stated in terms of practical concerns: Sire’s seven worldview questions lack a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.  If we broaden Sire’s question (6) just a bit, then that would help Sire’s seven questions to have a proper emphasis on practical or ethical concerns. Here is my suggested alternative:  (6A) How should I live my life? (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?).    Although Sire’s seven questions might not have done a great job in capturing the heart of ethics, I think if we revise his question (6) to (6A), and if we understand that there are ethical aspects to questions (3) and (7), then Sire’s set of worldview questions would provide a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
What is Christianity?  Part 12
The third objection that James Sire raises against his older conception of worldviews, is that it makes more sense to understand a worldview as being “a way of life” (NTE, p.97) rather than to understand a worldview as being “a system of thought” (NTE, p.98) because of “the practical, lived reality of worldviews…” (NTE, p.100).  Sire appears to believe that there is a conflict between understanding worldviews in terms of “intellectual categories” and recognizing that worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”
Since beliefs are an “intellectual category” and since our beliefs–especially our worldview-related beliefs–impact and influence our choices and actions, it is clear that Sire’s third objection fails. Worldviews can be understood in terms of “intellectual categories” such as beliefs and assumptions and propositions and presuppositions, and this does NOT imply that worldviews are disconnected from “lived experience and behavior”.
What is Christianity?  Part 13
Walsh and Middleton (Christian theologians quoted by James Sire in NTE) put forward two different metaphorical expressions (“incarnated in a way of life” and “a perceptual framework”) as challenges to the clear and common-sense concept of a worldview as “a system of beliefs”.   However, both metaphors, when examined more closely, support my cognitivist view of worldviews and disconfirm Sire’s claim that a worldview is “a way of life.”
What is Christianity?  Part 14
This post provides a brief summary of conclusions and claims from the previous posts in this series.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 7

In the previous post in this series,  I argued that the Christian apologist James Sire makes a fundamental mistake in his book Naming the Elephant, by defining “a worldview” as being a kind of commitment.  A worldview is something that can be true (or false), but a commitment is NOT something that can be true (or false); therefore, a worldview is NOT a commitment.
One can have a strong belief or “intellectual commitment” towards a worldview, but in that case the worldview is the OBJECT of the commitment, not the commitment itself.  Although there are some other interesting points made by Sire in this book that are worth considering,  because Sire’s concept of  “a worldview” is fundamentally flawed, I’m going to set that book aside for now, and move on to consider another book by a different author who has also done much thinking about the concept of “a worldview”.
Ninian Smart is a recognized expert on religions, and in his book Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (3rd edition, 2000; hereafter: Worldviews), he advocates that the scholarly study of religion be conceived of, and engaged in, as “worldview analysis”.  An important part of “worldview analysis” is that it encompasses the examination of both traditional religions (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) and secular ideologies (Marxism, Secular Humanism, etc.).  In terms of my purposes here, concerning clarification of the concept of “a worldview”, Smart makes the interesting and plausible claim that a worldview involves six “dimensions”:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.  However, Smart’s six-dimensional approach seems quite sensible and plausible.  Of course religions and ideologies involve narratives/myths.  Of course religions and ideologies involve ethics or laws.  Of course religions and ideologies involve rituals or practices.  It seems undeniable that religions and ideologies generally manifest all six of these dimensions, and thus that beliefs and claims are only one small aspect of religions, ideologies, and worldviews.
If I am to maintain my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, then I need to explain and justify my viewpoint in relation to Smart’s interesting and plausible six-dimensional approach to religions and worldviews.  It is tempting to just say that Smart is right that religions and worldviews have these six dimensions, but that I am only interested in the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension).
The doctrines of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  The philosophical beliefs/claims of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  Since my concern is with the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of beliefs/claims that are “contained” in a religion or worldview,  I could just focus on the first dimension, and do so while acknowledging that there are other aspects of religions and worldviews that I am setting aside and ignoring.
But while this is a tempting route to take, I think it fails to recognize the central role that beliefs and claims play in religions and worldviews.  My task, then, is to try to maintain the centrality of beliefs and claims in religion and worldviews, while also recognizing that religions and worldviews generally do involve the six dimensions to which Smart draws our attention.
First, I wish to point out the apparent centrality of beliefs/claims in Smart’s discussion about the concepts of “a religion” and “a worldview”.  The very title of his book suggests the centrality of beliefs:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Note that Smart did NOT use any of the following alternative titles:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Myths
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Laws
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Rituals
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Experiences
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Emotions
 Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Organizations
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Institutions  
So, the very title of his book elevates “beliefs” above other aspects of religions and worldviews,  thus suggesting that the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension) plays a more important role than the other dimensions, perhaps a central role.
Also, in the introduction, Smart says things that also suggest the centrality of “beliefs”.  Here is a comment from the very first paragraph of the Introduction:
…at the level of everyday life, a knowledge of worldviews is increasingly significant.  First, civilizations are importantly interwoven with them.  Whether you believe them or not is beside the point.  (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Smart immediately characterizes a worldview as something that can be believed (or not believed).   Smart does not speak here of rituals, experiences, or institutions; rather, he speaks of belief, which suggests he is focused on beliefs or claims involved in a religion or worldview, and thus is focused on the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
Another comment from the very first paragraph also supports the centrality of beliefs/claims to religions and worldviews:
Second, religious values and more broadly those of worldviews are in debate among the humanities.  Anyone who reflects about human values has to take into some account the values of the religions. (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Although “religious values” could be taken to include the “ethical or legal dimension”, the word “values” encompasses more than just moral values; it encompasses any sort of norms and any sort of evaluation.  Also philosophy encompasses ethics, so the “ethical or legal dimension” clearly has significant overlap with the “doctrinal and philosophical dimension”.  (Perhaps “ethical” refers to fairly specific rules and norms of behavior while the “philosophical” dimension includes more general ideas and principles regarding morality and behavior.)
In any case, if “religious values” and “worldview values” are “in debate among the humanities”, then Smart is clearly talking about something that is intellectual or cognitive in nature.  He is presumably talking about claims or beliefs concerning how people ought to behave or what people ought to care about.  Once again, this is an indication of the importance or centrality of the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
The second paragraph of the Introduction also suggests the importance or centrality of beliefs/claims in religions and worldviews:
The modern study of worldviews…explores feelings and ideas and tries to understand what exists inside the heads of people.  What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true.  (Worldviews, p.1-2)
Here Smart mentions “feelings and ideas” in summing up what is studied when one studies a worldview.  The study of “ideas” clearly relates to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension of a worldview.  It could also relate to  the mythical and ethical dimensions, but the ethical dimension, as I have previously mentioned, can be encompassed by the philosophical dimension.
The word “feelings” points to the experiential or emotional dimension.  However, in the very next sentence, Smart talks about “What people believe” and “whether or not what they believe is true”.  This language again points towards the doctrinal or philosophical dimension.  Experiences and emotions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Rituals are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Organizations and institutions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).    While myths and stories can be thought of as being true (or false),  myths and religious stories are often believed to have significance apart from whether they are literally true (or false).
When Smart talks about “what exists inside the heads of people” this relates most directly to beliefs and feelings and experiences, but not directly to rituals, practices, organizations, or institutions.
The focus on “beliefs” continues at the end of the second paragraph:
To some extent anthropology tried to give objective accounts of foreign beliefs, but often the other cultures were treated as uncivilized or inferior.  To some extent there were attempts through comparative religion to describe foreign beliefs, and sometimes Christian missionaries managed warm accounts of other faiths.  (Worldviews, p.2)
In these sentences Smart equates other “worldviews” and “other faiths” with “foreign beliefs,”  not with “foreign rituals” , not with “foreign practices”, not with “foreign experiences”,  not with “foreign organizations”, not with “foreign institutions.”  So, at both the beginning and the end of the second paragraph of the Introduction, Smart focuses on beliefs/claims, and this suggests that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion or of a worldview is more important, more central, than the other dimensions.
In paragraph three of the Introduction, Smart discusses the importance of “epoche” or suspension of judgment when one is studying the worldview of another people or culture.  One should, Smart says, “suspend your own beliefs about the other (whether that be culture, or group, or individual)”(Worldviews, p. 2, emphasis added).  So, the modern study of religions and worlviews attempts to acheive objectivity by setting aside one’s own “point of view”.  Thus, one’s own beliefs and point of view can bias one’s understanding of other religions and other worldviews.  Presumably, this is because the beliefs one has as, say a Christian, may conflict with the beliefs held by people who have a different religion or worldview (say Islam or Buddhism or Marxism).  So, it apears that paragraph three of the Introduction also suggests that beliefs are central to religions and worldviews.
Paragraph four provides a brief characterization of “worldview analysis” and once again focuses on “beliefs”:
The study of religions and ideologies can be called “worldview analysis.”  In this we try to depict the history and nature of the symbols and beliefs that have helped form the structure of human consciousness and society.  This is the heart of the modern study of religion.  (Worldviews, p.2, emphasis added)
Note that Smart does NOT say that “worldview analysis” depicts the history and nature of “rituals” or “experiences” or “feelings” or “organizations” or “institutions”.  I will argue later that “symbols” have a very close connection with the beliefs and claims of a religion or worldview.
At the beginning of paragraph six, Smart talks about our understanding of “others’ beliefs and values”, and about exploring the “thoughts and values of others” in characterizing efforts to “explore other people’s religions”.  At the end of paragraph six, Smart talks about bias that existed in the early history of “the comparative study of religion”:
But such explorations were often somewhat supercilious in regard to alien faiths.  Westerners were often inclined to dub other beliefs as primitive.  (Worldviews, p.3, emphasis added)
He does not say that there was an inclination to dub “other experiences” as primitive, or “other rituals” as primitive, or “other institutions” as primitive.  Once again, Smart’s focus is on “beliefs”, thus suggesting that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a worldview is more important, more central than the other dimensions.
In short, in the opening paragraphs of the Introduction to Worldviews, Ninian Smart repeatedly talks about worldviews in terms of “beliefs”, “ideas”, “thoughts”, and, perhaps most importantly in terms of truth (or falsehood):
What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true (Worldviews, p.1-2)
This emphais on “beliefs” is also present in the very title of the book:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Therefore, although Smart argues that the modern study of religion should touch on at least six different dimensions, it also seems to be the case that he recognizes that “beliefs” or the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is of greater importance (or is more central) than the other dimensions or aspects of a religion or a worldview.
In the next post, I will start walking though the other five dimensions of worldviews, and examining how they relate to “beliefs” or to the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of worldviews.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 4

I think of Christianity as being a worldview. But what is a worldview? How should we analyze and compare and evaluate worldviews?
There are different ways of understanding and analyzing worldviews, so before I defend my cognitivist view of religions, I should make an attempt to clarify the concept of “a worldview” that I plan to use in my evaluation of Christianity.
Here are some books that analyze worldviews and/or discuss the concept of a worldview:
CHRISTIAN APOLOGISTS
Worldviews In Conflict by Ronald Nash
The Universe Next Door by James Sire
Naming the Elephant by James Sire
OTHER PHILOSOPHERS/SCHOLARS
The Religions of Man by Huston Smith
Seven Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs by Ninian Smart
Leslie Stevenson and Ronald Nash both treat worldviews as philosophies or systems of beliefs, so their understanding of the concept of a worldview is closest to mine. Nash does, however, briefly mention the idea that there are “Nontheoretical foundations of theoretical thought” (Worldviews in Conflict, p.23-26).
Huston Smith analyzes Buddhism in a way that is very similar to the way that Stevenson analyzes worldviews (compare The Religions of Man, pages 102-103, with Seven Theories of Human Nature, pages 5-9).
Ninian Smart is a religious studies expert from UC Santa Barbara (he was commencement speaker at my wife’s graduation from UCSB, and my plan was to ask him to be part of the comittee for my dissertation on the resurrection of Jesus). Smart’s conception of a worldview includes philosophical beliefs or doctrines but also includes other “dimensions”:
1. Doctrinal and philosophical
2. Mythic and Narrative
3. Ethical or Legal
4. Ritual or Practical
5. Experiential or Emotional
6. Social or Institutional
(Worldviews, p.8-10)
So, Smart’s conception of a worldview represents a challenge to my congitivist view of religion, which focuses on beliefs or doctrines.
James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door treats worldviews as systems of beliefs, in keeping with my cognitivist view of religions:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the makeup of our world. (The Universe Next Door, p.16)
However, after reviewing a number of different thinkers who have discussed the concept of a worldview, Sire made some significant revisions to his conception of a world view. He develops and explains his new conception in his book Naming the Elephant:
The time for rethinking the concept of worldview has come. If the analysis that follows is correct, four important revisions to my own earlier definition of worldview are in order. First is a recognition that a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Second is an explicit insistence that at the deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of the “really real”. Third is a consideration of behavior in the determination of what one’s own or another’s worldview really is. Fourth is a broader understanding of how worldviews are grasped as story, not just as abstract propositions. (Naming the Elephant, p.13)
Near the end of the book (see Chapter 7), Sire puts forward his new definition of a worldview:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (Naming the Elephant, p.122)
This revised definition of “a worldview” by Sire appears to depart from the purely cognitivist view of religion and worldviews that he had in his earlier book The Universe Next Door. So, his more recent concept of “a worldview” represents a challenge to my cognitivist view of religions and of Christianity.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? – Part 1

Since I am planning to invest the next ten years (or more) of my life in an effort to investigate and answer the question “Is Christianity true or false?”,  I need to start out by clarifying and defining the word “Christianity”.
There are those who would argue that Christianity is not the sort of thing that could be true, and is not the sort of thing that could be false.  If Christianity is not the sort of thing that could be true, and is not the sort of thing that could be false, then I would be investing ten years (or more) of my life on a wild-goose chase, so it is important to do a bit of thinking now about the meaning of my basic question, and whether this question even makes any sense.
[Note: “As wild-goose chase literally means ‘a chase for wild geese’, it is usually hyphenated as shown for clarity. The form without the hyphen is also commonly seen, and can be construed as a ‘wild chase’, not an inevitably fruitless one, after a possibly domesticated and flightless goose, rather than after a wild goose.”Wiktionary article on wild-goose chase.]
What sort of a thing is “Christianity”?  The genus seems fairly obvious: Christianity is a religion.  There are many different religions, and Christianity is one of them.  What is a religion?  Is a religion the sort of thing that can be true or false?  People sometimes talk about the question “Which religion, if any, is the true religion?”.  Does this question make any sense?
I am a cognitivist when it comes to the concept of a “religion”.  To me, a religion is fundamentally a point of view, a philosophy of life, a worldview.  I focus in on the intellectual or cognitive aspect of religion.  This way of looking at religion is somewhat controversial.  Not everyone thinks about religion in terms of claims, ideas, and beliefs.  Some people are opposed to a cognitivist view of religion, so I need to consider some of the main objections to my cognitivist view of religion, and consider alternative views of the nature of religion, to see whether there is a different view about the nature of religion that is as plausible or perhaps more plausible and more reasonable than my cognitivist view.
If religion is fundamentally about ideas, claims, and beliefs, and if Christianity is a religion, then it would make sense to ask the question “Is Christianity true or false?”  Ideas, claims, and beliefs are the sorts of things that can be evaluated as true or false, so if religions are fundamentally sets of ideas, claims, or beliefs, then we can evaluate the ideas, claims, or beliefs that constitute a particular religion, and make an overall evaluation of the truth of the whole religion that way.
Suppose that my cognitivist view of religion is correct, and that a religion is fundamentally a collection or system of beliefs.  There are at least two dimensions of evaluation that can be applied to a set or system of beliefs: (1) each individual belief can be evaluated as true or false, and (2) the logical relationships between the beliefs can be evaluated to determine whether some beliefs contradict or disconfirm other beliefs in that system (and whether some beliefs imply or support other beliefs in that system).  Note that if we discover that one belief in a system of beliefs contradicts another belief in that system, this should cause us to reconsider previous judgments that both of these individual beliefs were true.
Ideally, we would find a system of beliefs such that (1) every belief in that system is true (as far as we can tell, based on a careful evaluation of each individual belief), and (2) none of the beliefs contradict or disconfirm any of the other beliefs.  However, reality is rarely so kind to us.  It seems reasonable to suppose that in virtually every human system of beliefs there are some beliefs that are false (as far as we can tell, based on a careful evaluation of each individual belief), and that in virtually every human system of beliefs there are some beliefs that contradict or disconfirm other beliefs in that system.  I don’t expect to ever come across a human system of beliefs that is completely flawless.
If there is no such thing as a flawless human system of beliefs, does that mean that ALL human systems of belief are FALSE?  Should we conclude that all religions are false? and that all secular worldviews and philosophies are false?  I don’t think so.   Everything we touch, see, hear, smell and taste is imperfect and flawed in some way and to some degree.  Nevertheless, there is a difference between eating a delicious steak hot off the grill and eating a dry moldy crust of bread.  The steak might not be absolutely perfect, but it is clearly better than the dry moldy crust of bread.  I see no reason to have a different view about imperfection in the intellectual realm.  Given a choice between two systems of beliefs, even if neither one is perfect or flawless, one might well be much better than the other, much closer to the truth.
This is partly a matter of quantity.  If 95% of the beliefs in system X are true, and only 75% of beliefs in system Y are true (as far as we can tell), then system X is to be preferred over system Y, other things being equal.  But quality is also important.  A set or system of trivial beliefs that was 100% true might well be less desirable than a system of significant beliefs where only 80% of the beliefs are true.  Thus, truth is not the only relevant consideration in evaluating a system of beliefs.
In any case, declaring ANY particular system of human beliefs to be TRUE will require some degree of qualification and some degree of sophistication in spelling out what that means, since it presumably does NOT mean that every single belief in that system of beliefs is true and that no belief in that system contradicts or disconfirms any other belief.  We need to allow some room for imperfection in systems of belief, while still drawing a line between systems that are epistemically GOOD and systems that are epistemically BAD, with probably a significant portion of systems of belief residing in a gray area between epistemically GOOD and epistemically BAD.
While composing this post, a few objections against my cognitivist view of religion have come to mind: (1) What about the important role of rituals and symbols in religions?  Doesn’t that imply that a religion is more than just a system of beliefs?  (2) What about the importance of ethics and morality in religions?  R.B. Braithwaite, for example,  argued that the primary function of religious assertions was not to make factual statements, but to express a personal commitment to a certain ethic or way of life.  Doesn’t that imply that religion is not the sort of thing that can be evaluated as true or false?  (3) What about Wittgenstein’s view of the nature of religious language?  If Wittgenstein or philosophers of religion who follow in his footsteps (e.g. D.Z. Phillips) are correct, then religious assertions that appear to be making factual claims actually have a different purpose and meaning, and thus are not the sort of assertions that can be evaluated as true or false. (4) “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”  – I cannot neglect responding to this popular little bit of stupidity.
I will start dealing with objections to my cognitivist view of religion in the next post in this series.