bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 17: Worldviews as “Master Stories”?

James Sire comes from an Evangelical Christian point of view, so for him the miracle stories in the Gospels are crucial to the Christian worldview, especially the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus.  Belief in such miracles are indeed part of ancient Christian Creeds that are still used in most Protestant and Catholic worship services and are part of many catechisms, both Protestant and Catholic.
In Chapter 5 of Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE), Sire points to the Apostles’ Creed in order to argue for the importance of STORY in relation to the Christian worldview:
Perhaps the easiest way to see that this might be the case [that it is “better to consider a worldview as the story we live by”] is to examine the Christian worldview.  I have argued that the Christian worldview begins with ontology–an abstract concept, but soon ontology becomes lodged in story form.  The ancient Apostles’ Creed demonstrates this:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

Only the first line is utterly ontological.  The second line brings in action, and while it does not take a position on whether creation was in or out of time, it recognizes God as origin of the earth.  It is the fourth line that roots the Christian worldview in story:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

There is no need to quote further.  The remainder of the creed is steeped in story.  (NTE, p.101)
One of the earliest Christian creeds clearly summarizes the “story” of the life and death (and alleged resurrection) of Jesus.  But this is NOT being told as a fable or a myth or a legend or a tall tale.
The point of reciting this creed is, in large part, to declare that one BELIEVES that there was in fact a real historical Jesus and that the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as told in the canonical Gospels is true, at least concerning some key events that the Gospels present (the birth of Jesus, the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the crucifixion of Jesus, etc.).
Sire is confirming my point (made in Part 16 of this series) that the “story” at the heart of Christianity is, for the most part, a non-fiction story, a story about events that allegedly occured in reality.  But if this is the case, then it follows that at the heart of Christianity there is a set of related factual claims or BELIEFS (e.g. “Jesus was tried by Pilate”,  “Pilate condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion”,  “Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers”, “Jesus died on the cross”, etc.).  These beliefs about the life and death of Jesus might be false, or might be inaccurate, or some might be true and others false, some accurate and others inaccurate.
Because we are talking about a non-fiction story here, we are talking about BELIEFS or CLAIMS that could be either true or false.  If such beliefs or claims are at the heart of the Christian worldview, then the Christian worldview is fundamentally an INTELLECTUAL and COGNITIVE entity.  Once again, Sire provides evidence that supports a cognitivist view of worldviews, and that undermines his attempt to promote an alternative way of understanding the nature of worldviews.
On the next page after Sire quotes from the Apostles’ Creed, he makes a similar point about the Bible in general:
When one turns to the Bible itself, the ground of all Christian theologies–Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox–the element of story is even stronger.  Most of the Bible is story, and all of it is embedded in story–a history, a story of events that really happened (not just-so stories, or likely stories, or myths).  (NTE, p.102, emphasis added)
To the extent that Christian theology, and thus presumably the Christian worldview, is grounded in the Bible, and to the extent that the Bible mostly presents stories “of events that really happened”, at least according to Sire and other Christians, this is further evidence that the Christian worldview consists of BELIEFS and CLAIMS, namely BELIEFS and CLAIMS about events that (allegedly) happened.  Once again, Sire’s attempt to raise an objection to the cognitivist understanding of worldviews actaully provides support for the cognitivist view.
But, someone might object that a story is more than simply a list of events, even a list of related events.  The story of the life and death of Jesus, for example could be summarized like this:
Jesus was a Jewish male who was born in Palestine about 2,000 years ago.  He grew up to become a travelling preacher and faith healer, and he gathered some dedicated followers who would often travel with him around Palestine.  Jesus taught theological and eithical principles often using parables and memorable aphorisms.  In about 30 CE, Jesus was crucifed by Roman soldiers.   According to some of his followers, Jesus was then buried in a stone tomb, but came back to life just a couple of days later and met up with and spoke with some of his followers.
This is a very short story, and it is composed of various historical claims.  However, this short story has little meaning or significance on its own.  It has almost no religious or theological significance as stated above.  However, the whole point of the story, from a Christian viewpoint, is the religious or theological significance of this story.
We can asks a few obvious questions about this story, and the religious or theological significance will rise to the surface.  Why was Jesus crucified?  Did he commit some terrible crime?  No, according to Christian believers, Jesus was a very good person who never did anything bad or evil.  Well then, did Jesus protest against the proposal that he be executed?  No, according to the Gospels and Christian believers, Jesus fell silent and simply accepted the condemnation and his horrible execution.
If he was innocent, then why did Jesus not protest against being condemned to death?  Was Jesus suicidal?  Was Jesus a masochist?  Did he want to be crucified?  No, according to the Christian faith,  Jesus was sent by God with the primary purpose of suffering and dying as a sacrifice or atonement for the sins of all humankind.
Jesus was, supposedly, God in the flesh, the divine Son of God, and he had lived a life of perfect moral goodness, so because Jesus was a divine person and because Jesus was a perfectly good person, his death would have great power and value, and thus make it possible for God to forgive the sins of anyone who put their faith in Jesus as lord and savior of humankind.  Jesus submitted himself to be crucified, because this was a critical part of his mission from God.  God raised Jesus from the dead, not just as the granting of a wish to a swell guy, but as proof that Jesus had been sent by God to die as a sacrifice for the sins of humankind and to be the lord and savior of every human being.
OK, so now the “mere story” of the life of Jesus has been given a religous meaning or significance,  and it is this religious meaning that elevates the simple historical sequence of events  (summed up in the bold font above) to something of greater importance.  Note, however, that the religious meaning of the story of the life and death of Jesus is presented by means of various religous and theological BELIEFS or CLAIMS that concern the religious significance of the life and death of Jesus:

  •  Jesus was sent by God with the primary purpose of suffering and dying as a sacrifice or atonement for the sins of all humankind.
  • Jesus was God in the flesh, the divine Son of God.
  • Jesus was a good person who lived a life of perfect moral goodness.
  • The death of Jesus  made it possible for God to forgive the sins of anyone who put their faith in Jesus.
  • God raised Jesus from the dead as proof that Jesus had been sent by God.

So, it is the combination of the “mere story” of the life of Jesus (consisting of various ordinary historical claims) with other religious or theological claims concerning the religious significance of those (alleged) historical events, that constitutes the full story, from a Christian point of view.
While it is true that the “mere story” or sequence of ordinary historical events is not sufficient to constitute the heart of the Christian worldview,  the difference between the “mere story” and the “full story” is a matter of adding some religious or theological BELIEFS or CLAIMS to the ordinary historical claims in order to spell out the religious significance of the events in question.
Thus, to the extent that the “full story” of the life and death of Jesus constitutes the core of the Christian worldview,  the Christian worldview must be made up of BELIEFS and CLAIMS and thus it is fundamentally a COGNITIVE and INTELLECTUAL entity.
Sire has again failed to show that there is any significant problem with his older cognitivist conception of a worldview (see his book The Universe Next Door, pages 16 & 17) as a set or system of beliefs.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 16

In his book Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE), the Christian apologist James Sire raises various objections against his previous analysis of the concept of a “worldview” that he had presented in his earlier book The Universe Next Door (hereafter: TUND).
I have reviewed three of Sire’s objections to his earlier cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview” and argued that those objections were unsuccessful (see previous posts 10, 11, 12, and 13).
In post 15, I argued that Sire’s belief that the Christian worldview is true contradicts his belief that worldviews, including the Christian worldview, are “ways of life”.   A way of life can be neither true nor false, so on the assumption that the Christian worldview is just a way of life, it follows that the Christian worldview is neither true nor false.  The claim that the Christian worldview is true seems to be the most important belief to Sire, so he ought to give up the view that the Christian worldview is a way of life.
In this post I will consider some of Sire’s comments in support of the view that a worldview is a story or a “master story”.  The comments that I will now consider are all from a section of Chapter 5 of NTE called “Worldview As Master Story” (on pages 100-105).
Sire’s initial comment in the first paragraph of this section concerns the cross-cultural phenomenon of story telling:
Folklore, myth and literature around the world and from the ancient past to the present tell stories that put present human reality in the larger context of universal cosmic and human meaning.  They act as orienting patterns.  (NTE, p.100)
It is important to understand what Sire is saying about the function of stories found in folklore, myth and literature:
They put X in the larger context of Y.
In the case of such stories, X refers to “present human reality”, and Y refers to “universal cosmic and human meaning”.
It seems to me that whenever we put something “in the larger context” of something else, we are doing something that is essentially and necessarily INTELLECTUAL and COGNITIVE.  Furthermore, if we go beyond the vague and abstract phrases that Sire uses to describe X and Y here, it becomes very clear that he is talking about something that is essentially and necessarily INTELLECTUAL and COGNITIVE.
The very general phrase “present human reality” might refer to feelings, experiences, observations, or events in the lives of humans.  One example of a “present human reality” is death.  More specifically, the death of a parent or the death of a child.  The “present human reality” involved in the feelings, experiences, observations, and events concerning the death of a child can have a great impact on the human who is the parent of the child.
Religions, especially the Christian religion, provide stories to help and guide people in dealing with such difficult experiences and events.  A religious story can put such an experience “in the larger context of universal cosmic and human meaning.”  But in order for such a story to have any significant impact on a person, the story must have some meaning or significance, and the meaning or significance must have some logical relationship or relevance to the experience or event of the death of a child.  Otherwise, the story will be meaningless, insignificant, and irrelevant.
Some Christian beliefs are obviously relevant to such a difficult circumstance:

  1.  All humans die sooner or later.
  2. Death is the result of human sin and disobedience towards God, the creator of human beings.
  3. Although death puts an end to our ordinary earthly life, it also marks the beginning of another life in a spiritual realm.
  4. If one has faith in Jesus as the savior of mankind, then one can obtain eternal life in heaven, and upon death such a believer in Jesus will begin an eternal life of happiness.
  5. When a loved one dies, that is not necessarily the last time one will enjoy the company of that person, for if he or she had faith in Jesus as the savior of mankind, then that person will enjoy eternal life in heaven, and any friends or relatives who also have faith in Jesus will one day be re-united with that person in heaven.

Any stories from the Christian religious tradition that help to communicate some or all of these BELIEFS will obviously have some significance and relevance to Christian believers who experience the death of a child.  Any stories which have no connection with any of these (or other important Christian beliefs about death or loss) will be a story that either fails to have any relevance or significance, or that fails to have any specifically Christian significance.  We see from this specific example, that to “put X in the larger context of Y” is essentially and necessarily an INTELLECTUAL or COGNITIVE activity that involves connecting various beliefs to particular experiences or events.
In the remaining portion of the first paragraph in the section called “Worldview As Master Story”  Sire identifies worldviews with stories:
In short, they [stories that constitute “Folklore, myth and literature”] function as worldviews or parts of worldviews.  The worldviews of Buddhism, Hinduism and primal religion are embedded and embodied in stories.  …these are the stories by which societies interpret the universe and life around them. (NTE, p.100)
Once again, Sire’s language implies INTELLECTUAL and COGNITIVE activity: “by which societies interpret the universe and life…”  Interpretation essentially and necessarily involves the use of beliefs and the formation of beliefs.  Interpretation is an INTELLECTUAL and COGNITIVE activity.
Sire uses a metaphor here that is very similar to the previously discussed metaphor of “incarnation”.  My cognitivist analysis of the concept of a worldview fits very nicely with the idea that a worldview can be “embedded and embodied in stories”.   In other words, stories can be used to communicate beliefs, to teach or inculcate beliefs, and to reinforce beliefs.  So, beliefs and systems of beliefs can be “embedded and embodied in stories”.
But, it is also possible for a STORY to be “embedded and embodied in [other] stories”.  In fact, the idea of a “master story” suggests that a general overarching story can be incorporated into various other more specific stories.  So, it is not plausible to use my previous line of reasoning to dismiss Sire’s idea that a worldview IS a story.   Both my cognitivist view of worldviews as systems of beliefs and Sire’s proposed view that a worldview is a story fit with the metaphor of being “embedded and embodied in stories”.
Sire expresses doubt about his previous conception of worldviews, based on the idea that stories play a very important role in how we understand life and make important decisions:
Both in the works of most Christian worldview analysts–such as James Orr, James Ulthuis, Arthur Holmes and Ronald Nash–and my own Universe Next Door, worldview is first described in intellectual terms, such as “system of beliefs,”  “set of presuppositions” or “conceptual scheme.”  I want now to ask whether this is quite accurate.  Does it not miss an important element in how people actually think and act?  Isn’t a story involved in how we make the decisions of belief and behavior that constitute our lives?  Would it be better to consider a worldview as the story we live by? (NTE, p.100-101, emphasis in original)
I think the main objection I have to this comment by Sire is that stories must be interpreted and understood in order to have meaning and significance, in order to influence our thinking and behavior.  Interpretation, understanding, meaning, and significance are all essentially and necessarily intellectual and cognitive in nature.  Stories have impact and influence only if they are relevant to what we believe and what we value.
A second objection, or perhaps another way of getting at the first objection, is that at the heart of Christianity there are some non-fiction stories, and a non-fiction story IS a set of beliefs (that is organized in a certain way).  Therefore, to the extent that non-fiction stories are essential to the Christian worldview,  a “set of presuppositions” or a “system of beliefs” are essential to the Christian worldview.   The idea that the Christian worldview is a story (a non-fiction story) is NOT an alternative to the idea that the Christian worldview is a set of beliefs; rather, this IMPLIES that the Christian worldview is a set of beliefs.
There are two basic types of stories: fiction and non-fiction.  With a fiction story, such a story can have meaning and significance even though the story is not true, and it is not intended to be viewed as being literally true.  Jesus sometimes used parables to communicate his point of view.  Some parables are fiction stories, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Those parables consist of short fiction stories that make a significant point in a memorable way.  So, clearly fiction stories sometimes play a role in communicating a religion or a part of a religious point of view.
However, for Christianity at least, the stories that are of greatest importance are non-fiction stories.  Non-fiction stories are put forward as being true,  as something that should be viewed as being literally true.  A non-fiction story can, however, turn out to be false.  People sometimes lie to detectives who are investigating a crime, and sometimes people misremember the details of an event and so unintentionally provide false information to detectives.  The accounts or stories that these people tell the detectives are false, or are partially false, but these stories are still non-fiction; they are non-fiction because they are stories that are put forward AS being true, AS being factual, even though the stories are not true, or are not completely true.
The Gospels tell stories about the life, ministry, and death of Jesus, and they also tell stories about Jesus coming back to life after being crucified and buried.   These stories about Jesus include theological claims and about events in the life of Jesus.  Almost all Christian believers, including liberal Christians, take the Gospel stories about Jesus to be non-fiction stories.  This is clearly the case with conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelical Christians.  Liberal Christians doubt some or all of the miracles in the Gospel accounts, but they do not doubt that there was an historical Jesus, and that Jesus gathered several disciples or followers, and that Jesus taught many of the things that the Gospels say that he taught, and that Jesus was crucified by the Romans.  Liberals will often accept the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus, they just shy away from the idea of a physical or bodily resurrection.  But liberal Christians generally believe that Jesus overcame death and that Jesus is active and alive today.
In any case, very few Christians are willing to say that the Gospels are purely fictional.   Christians sometimes reject some of the details of the Gospel stories.  Christians sometimes reject some of the miracles reported in the Gospels.  But Christians usually believe that the Gospels are at least partially true accounts of the life and death of Jesus, and of the teachings of Jesus.
The liberal scholars of the Jesus Seminar, for example, are very skeptical about the contents of the Gospels, but most of them believe that Jesus was an actual historical person, and that the canonical Gospels (as well as some non-canonical gospels) contain sayings and teachings that do in fact originate with the historical Jesus.   So, although the scholars of the Jesus Seminar reject a large portion of the Gospel stories about Jesus and a large portion of the sayings of Jesus presented in the Gospels, they still view some of the stories and some of the sayings as being historical, as being more-or-less true information about the historical Jesus.
News stories are examples of non-fiction stories.  A news story can, of course, be false, or be partially false.  But a news story is presented AS being a true story, as presenting information that is literally true.  Here is a recent news story that most of us have heard:

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

Orlando shooting: 49 killed, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance

By Ralph Ellis, Ashley Fantz, Faith Karimi and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Updated 11:05 AM ET, Mon June 13, 2016
Orlando, Florida (CNN) An American-born man who’d pledged allegiance to ISIS gunned down 49 people early Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11, authorities said. …

Mateen carried an assault rifle and a pistol into the packed Pulse club about 2 a.m. Sunday and started shooting, killing 49 people and wounding at least 53, officials said.
After a standoff of about three hours, while people trapped inside the club desperately called and messaged friends and relatives, police crashed into the building with an armored vehicle and stun grenades and killed Mateen.
http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/12/us/orlando-nightclub-shooting/
=================

This story is composed of a series of claims:

  1. An American-born man who’d pledged allegiance to ISIS gunned down 49 people early Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
  2. This event was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States (according to “authorities”).
  3. This event was the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11 (according to “authorities”).
  4. Mateen carried an assault rifle and a pistol into the packed Pulse club about 2 a.m. Sunday and started shooting (“officials said”).
  5. The shooting by Mateen resulted in killing 49 people and wounding at least 53 (“officials said”).
  6. After a standoff of about three hours, police crashed into the building with an armored vehicle and stun grenades and killed Mateen.
  7. During the three hour standoff, people trapped inside the club desperately called and messaged friends and relatives.

Some of these claims are qualified with phases like “officials said” and “authorities said”.  In this case, these phrases function basically as evidence for the claim in question.  The intention is to ASSERT the claim, and to back up the claim with the evidence that the claim came from a reliable authority.  So, this news story IS just a series of factual claims.  It could be the case that some of these claims are false, or that some of these claims are inaccurate, but the intention of the reporter is to present this as a TRUE story, and that means that the intent of the reporter is to assert a series of factual claims as being true claims or true beliefs about some events.  This news story is an example of a non-fiction story, and we can generalize from this example to non-fiction stories in general.  A non-fiction story presents a series of factual claims as being true claims or true beliefs about a person or animal or place or thing or event.
Thus, to the extent that the Christian worldview is concerned with non-fiction stories about the life and death of Jesus, then to that extent the Christian worldview is concerned about a series of factual claims about the life and death of Jesus that are presented as being true claims or true beliefs about the life and death of Jesus.  If the Christian worldview is primarily concerned with non-fiction stories about Jesus, then the Christian worldview is primarily concened with factual claims about Jesus that are asserted to be true claims or true beliefs about Jesus.  Sire goes on to argue that the Christian worldview involves and is primarily concerned with a story or stories about Jesus.  I will have more to say about this in the next post.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 15

In his book Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE), the Christian apologist James Sire raises various objections against his analysis of the concept of a “worldview” that he had presented in his earlier book The Universe Next Door (hereafter: TUND).
I have reviewed three of Sire’s objections to his earlier cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview” and argued that those objections were unsuccessful (see previous posts 10, 11, 12, and 13).
I plan to review more of Sire’s objections from NTE, but for this post I will simply re-iterate and reinforce a basic argument against Sire’s proposal in NTE that we take a worldview to be “a way of life”:

  1. Sire (and nearly all Christian apologists) believes that “The Christian worldview is true.”
  2. The belief that “The Christian worldview is true.” makes sense ONLY IF a worldview is something that can be true or false.
  3. But, if a worldview is “a way of life”, then a worldview is NOT something that can be true or false.

THEREFORE:

4. Sire (and nearly all Christian apologists) must either give up the belief that “The Christian worldview is true.”  or else he must reject the belief that a worldview is “a way of life”.

It is clear in TUND that Sire believes that a worldview is something that can be true or false.  In the “Preface to the Third Edition” he speaks of worldviews as being “true” and as needing “justification”:
…I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own–why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.  I can only hope that this book becomes a stepping stone for others toward their own self-conscious development and justification of their own worldview.  (TUND, p.10, emphasis added)
Furthermore, his very definition of “worldview” in TUND includes a clear reference to the idea of truth:
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)
But it is not just in the earlier book TUND where Sire speaks of worldviews in terms of truth and falsehood.  In the very first paragraph of the Preface of NTE, we find Sire still talking about worldviews being true or false:
Moreover, developing a cognizance of my own worldview has provided a way of orienting not just my own thoughts but my whole take on life itself.  I have, in short, long been interested in detecting the basic intellectual commitments we make as human beings, reveling in their variety, delighting in the depth of their insight when they have grasped the truth and despairing over their disastrous consequences when they have proven false.  (NTE, p.11, emphasis added)
And, at least initially, Sire more or less repeats the definition of “worldview” from his previous book, including the reference to truth:
A worldview is composed of a number of basic presuppositions, more or less consistent with each other, more or less consciously held, more or less true.  (NTE, p.20, emphasis added)
But in later chapters of NTE, Sire raises objections to his previous cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview” and rejects that previous analysis:
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)
Despite rejecting his previous cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview”, Sire persists in speaking about worldviews in terms of truth and falsehood.  At the end of Chapter 6, for example, Sire speaks of a worldview being “objectively true”:
Traditional Christians in general are not about to give up the idea of objective truth.  I do not think I speak only for myself when I say that every fiber in my being cries out for a worldview that is not just my own story, my own set of propositions, my own interpretation of life, but one that is universally, objectively true (NTE, p.118, emphasis added)
In Chapter 7 of NTE, Sire uses the words “true” and “false” and “accurate” of worldview “assumptions”:
The presuppositions that express one’s commitments, may be true, partially true or entirely false.  Since there is a way things are, the assumptions one makes about this may be more or less accurate.   (NTE, p.129, emphasis in original)
Sire illustrates this point with the important example of the Christian-worldview belief that “there is a God”:
If there is a God, and we believe in God, our belief is a true belief.  (NTE, p.129, emphasis added)
Later in Chapter 7, Sire speaks about the possibility of having “contradictions in our worldview” and the need to “eliminate” such contradictions:
One inconsistency is quite common.  Some self-confessed Christians believe in reincarnation.  I am convinced that those who do this have not understood very well what Christianity teaches.  For if it is true that each person is made in the image of God, then each person is unique.  The doctrine of the resurrection of the body at the end of human history assures that each person is that same person and that person alone.  But reincarnation involves the notion that one individual at death reverts to a state in which he or she can return as another individual in another body.  This happens not just once but over and over.  The two concepts of what happens at death–resurrection and multiple, perhaps eternal, reincarnations–cannot both be the way things are.   One precludes the other.
If we are to have a Christian worldview, we will want to eliminate the contradictions in our worldview.  (NTE, p.131, emphasis added)
Concern about contradictions in a worldview implies a concern about TRUTH of the beliefs or assumptions that constitute the worldview.  Note that Sire explains the problem or contradiction here by using the concept of truth: “For if it is true that each person is made in the image of God, then each person is unique.”  Worldviews can contain contradictions, because worldviews are composed of beliefs or assumptions which can be true or false.
Near the end of Chapter 7, Sire speaks about “errors” in worldviews:
Some errors in worldview will become apparent and be eliminated only with much prayer and supplication.  That will be true of our own errors as much as those of others whose views we try to change. (NTE, p.135, emphasis added)
The idea that a worldview can contain “errors” supports the previous statements by Sire where he speaks of worlview “assumptions” being “true, partially true or entirely false.” (NTE, p.129).
At the end of Chapter 7, Sire re-iterates his view that ontological assumptions, such as belief in the existence of Godare the most basic and important aspect of a worldview:
…because the mainstay of one’s worldview is ontological, a commitment to a specific notion of fundamental reality, we will take a person’s notion of God or nature or themselves to be the most important aspect of their character.  Their support or rejection of any ethical principle–say prochoice or prolife–is less fundamental than the notion of what is ultimately real.  Christians proclaiming either ethical principle will do so primarily from an understanding of who God is… A change of position on this issue [i.e. on their understanding of who God is] will mean worldview change at a deep level. (NTE, p.135-136, emphasis added)
The primary ontological belief in the Christian worldview is that God exists.  As we saw earlier, this belief or assumption is one that Sire thinks can be true or false:
If there is a God, and we believe in God, our belief is a true belief.  (NTE, p.129, emphasis added)
Although Sire raises many objections against his earlier cognitivist analysis of the concept of a “worldview”, and although he rejects this cognitivist analysis, he continues to speak of worldviews in terms of “assumptions” and “presuppositions” and “beliefs” which are to be evaluated as  “true, partially true or entirely false.”  (NTE, p.129).  And since Sire also continues to speak of worldviews as potentially being “objectively true” (NTE, p.118), Sire is caught in a significant self-contradition: he must either give up his claim that a worldview is “a way of life”, or else he must give up his view that a worldview is something that can be true or false.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 5

In his book The Universe Next Door (IVP, 3rd edition, 1997; hereafter: TUND), James Sire speaks of worldviews as things that can be true:
…I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own–why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.  (TUND, p.10, emphasis added)
In the opening pages of Chapter 1, Sire loosely equates faiths, worldviews, and collections of beliefs:
The struggle to discover our own faith, our own worldview, our beliefs about reality is what this book is all about.  (TUND, p.15)
This seems right to me.  The Christian faith can be thought of primarily as a worldview, as the Christian worldview, and the Christian worldview is basically a collection of “beliefs about reality”.  Furthermore, if this is correct, then it makes sense to ask the question: Is Christianity true?  This question would be equivalent to asking the question: Is the Christian worldview true?  These questions would make sense because a worldview is basically a collection of beliefs about reality, and beliefs are the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
This understanding of the nature of the Christian worldview is captured in Sire’s definition of “a 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)
According to this defintion, a worldview is made up of a set of presuppositions or assumptions.  Presuppositions or assumptions are the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Thus, a “set” or collection of presuppositions can be true (or false) too, if all of the presuppositions in a set are true, or all of them are false.   If some presuppositions in a set are true and others are false, then the situation is more complicated, and some standard would need to be established to distinguish between sets that are “mostly true” and sets that are “mostly false”, and with sets of presuppositions we probably need to leave room for a gray area between truth and falsehood, where a particular set has a good number of true presuppositions combined with a good number of false ones.
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).
Premise (1) is obviously true, and (3) follows logically from the combination of (1) and (2), so the only possible mistake here would be if premise (2) was false (or its truth was not known).
But it seems clear to me that a commitment is NOT the sort of thing that could be true (or false).  If I am correct about premise (2) being true, then one is forced to choose between Sire’s definition of “a worldview” and a claim that Sire and nearly all Christians wish to make: Christianity is true (i.e. The Christian worldview is true).
If I borrow twenty dollars from a friend and make a commitment to pay back the twenty dollars within a week, is my commitment true or false?  Does it even make sense to speak of my commitment as being true or false?  In this case, my commitment is basically a PROMISE.  Can a promise be true?  Can a promise be false?  I don’t think so.  Promises don’t describe reality.  Promises also don’t describe or predict the future.  In promising that I will pay the twenty dollars back next week, I’m NOT predicting that I will pay the money back next week.
I can be insincere in making a promise.  That happens if I have no real intention of paying the money back when I make the promise to pay it back.  An insincere promise is a deceptive promise, but that does not make the promise false, because the function of promising is NOT to describe how things are or even to describe how things will be in the future.
If I was sincere in making the promise to pay back the money, then the promise was a sincere one, but even so I might fail to pay the money back.  Perhaps a theif steals all my money shortly before I was going to pay back the loan.  Perhaps I have enough money to pay back the money but I get into a car accident and because of a head injury I go into a coma that lasts for two months.  Does this mean the promise I made was false?  No.  Truth and falsehood don’t apply to promises.  In these scenarios, I fail to keep my promise, but have a good reason for my failure.
If a promise is not the sort of thing that can be true (or false), then this suggests to me that a commitment is not the sort of thing that can be true (or false), since a promise is a kind of commitment.  Are there other types of commitments that can be true (or false)?
What about a parent’s commitment to love, raise, and care for, a child?  No doubt it is a good thing for a parent to love, raise, and care for his or her children.  Sometimes it can be difficult and challenging to love, raise, and care for a child, especially if the child becomes sick or disabled or has emotional problems.  Commitment to loving, raising, and caring for a child is needed to ensure that these activities are persisted in for the long haul and even when this becomes difficult and challenging.
Can such a commitment be true (or false)?  I suppose that a person might pretend to have such a commitment towards a child, while secretly looking for an opportunity to escape from the situation and to abandon the child.  That would be a fake or insincere commitment.  But we don’t talk about a parent’s commitment to a child being true (or false).  We could say that a parent was “truly committed” to loving, raising, and caring for his/her child.  But that just implies that the commitment is sincere and strong.  If a parent publically declares “I am committed to loving, raising, and caring for my child.” that might be either like making a promise (to love, raise, and care for the child) or it might be an assertion which describes his/her attitude, an assertion that could be true (or false).  But what is true (or false) in this case is NOT the commitment, but the STATEMENT about the existence of that commitment or attitude.  Statements or assertions can be true (or false), but commitments and attitudes cannot be true (or false).
In the earlier book The Universe Next Door, Sire clearly believes that the Christian worldview is true, and his defintiion of “a worldview” in that book supports this idea, because it makes sense to talk about “a set of presuppositions” being true (or false).  But it seems that in his more recent book Naming the Elephant, Sire still wants to talk about worldviews as being true (or false) even though his new definition seems to rule this out.  In the opening paragraph of the Preface, Sire speaks about worldviews in terms of truth:
For almost fifty years I have been trying to think in worldview terms.  It was worldview analysis that made the literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance come alive for me in graduate school at the University of Missouri.  It was the history of worldviews that formed the skeleton on which as a teacher I hung the flesh of English literature.  Moreover, developing a congnizance of my own worldview has provided a way of orienting not just my own thoughts but my whole take on life itself.  I have, in short, long been interested in detecting the basic intellectual commitments we make as human beings, reveling in their variety, delighting in the depth of their insight when they have grasped the truth and despairing over their disastrous consequences when they have proven false. (NTE, p.11, emphasis added)
To what does the prounoun “they” refer in the last sentence of this paragraph?  Since the opening sentence, the second sentence, the third sentence, and the fourth sentence are all about worldviews, it seems reasonable to take the pronoun “they” as referring to “worldviews”.  In that case Sire assumes that at least one worldview has “grasped the truth” and that at least one worldview has “proven false”.  So, Sire appears to still want to say that a worldview can be true (or false).  But given his new definition of “a worldview” it seems to me that it no longer makes any sense to talk about a worldview being true (or false).
In the opening paragraph of the Preface to Naming the Elephant, Sire appears to assume that a person’s worldview consists of “the basic intellectual commitments” that a person makes.  What is an intellectual commitment?  Can an intellectual commitment be true?  By modifying the term ” commitment” with the adjective “intellectual” it seems to me that Sire is trying to build the idea of a belief or proposition back into the sort of thing that a worldview is.  An “intellectual commitment” is something much like a FIRM BELIEF, or better: FIRM ASSENT.  But assent is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false), in my view.
Think about the traditional Justified-True-Belief analysis of KNOWLDEGE:
Someone S knows that proposition P is the case IF AND ONLY IF:
1. S has sufficient justification for believing that proposition P is true, 
AND
2.  Proposition P is true, 
AND
3.  S believes that P is true.
The belief condition (3) can be satisfied even if the truth condition  (2) is not.  In other words, we can believe a FALSE proposition.  It doesn’t matter how FIRMLY S believes P, even if S feels completely certain that P is true, S might be mistaken, and P might be false, in spite of how strongly S believes that P is true.  It is not the believing or the ASSENT that is true (or false); it is the proposition, the object of the believing or assenting, that is true or false.
Someone might firmly believe that proposition P is true, but have no good reason for believing this.  Such belief might be irrational or unreasonable belief, belief which is lacking in rational justification.  Such believing is generally bad or undesirable, but we don’t say that foolish or irrational believing is true (or false).  It is the OBJECT of belief or assent that can be true (or false), not the believing or assenting.
If “intellectual commitment” means something like “firm belief” or “firm assent”, then this attitude is NOT something that can be true (or false). Therefore, if “intellectual commitment” means something like “firm assent”, then, based on Sire’s new definition, a worldview is NOT something that can be true (or false), and thus the Christian worldview is NOT true (or false).  But Sire does not appear to realize that his definition of “a worldview” turns Christianity into something that CANNOT be true (or false).