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 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 12

Sire’s First Two Objections
Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist 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.  In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE:
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)
In a previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The second objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview (covered in the previous post), is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE:
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Based on the comparisons Sire makes between his seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, 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 this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.  Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so:
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  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?)
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.  Thus, the second objection represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.
Worldview as a Way of Life?
The third objection that 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)
Recall a key conclusion of Chapter 5, which Sire states in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions of a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
So, clearly Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions”.  This is a mistake, according to Sire, because worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”
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.”  Let’s consider 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.
It seems fairly obvious that (MEC) is false.  Consider the following belief:
(AIM)  Having an abortion is an instance of murdering an innocent child.
Some people hold this belief.  If someone holds this belief, they are likely to be reluctant to have an abortion, and are unlikely to encourage someone else to have an abortion, and will be reluctant to vote for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice.
If someone frequently has abortions (and has no regrets about having them) or frequently encourages others to have abortions (and has no regrets about doing this) and has no reluctance about voting for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice, then we would rightly doubt the claim that this person believed (AIM) to be true.  That is because beliefs have implications for choices and actions, and beliefs have an influence on a person’s choices and actions.
This is especially the case with ethical beliefs, and it is clearly the case with beliefs that people have concerning the most basic questions of ethics:
(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?)
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a sane adult person to have no beliefs about these questions. If a person has some beliefs about these basic questions of ethics, then those beliefs will influence the choices that person makes and the behavior of that person.
In Sire’s older book The Universe Next Door, he describes the view of morality that is part of the worldview of Christian Theism:
7. Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good (holy and loving).
This proposition has already been considered as an implication of proposition 1 [i.e. 1. God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.] .  God is the source of the moral world as well as the physical world.  God is the good and expresses this in the laws and moral principles he has revealed in Scripture.  (TUND, p.35)
Theism…teaches that not only is there a moral universe, but there is an absolute standard by which all moral judgments are measured.  God himself–his character of goodness (holiness and love)–is the standard.  Furthermore, Christians and Jews hold that God has revealed his standard in the various laws and principles expressed in the Bible.  The Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the apostle Paul’s ethical teaching–in these and many other ways God has expressed his character to us.  There is thus a standard of right and wrong, and people who want to know it can know it.  (TUND, p. 36)
If someone holds these various beliefs about right and wrong, then such a person is likely to consult the Bible when they are struggling with a moral issue or question, and such a person is likely to take seriously arguments based on the Bible concerning that and other moral issues.  If some person has no interest or concern about what the Bible teaches about various moral issues, and if that person never takes seriously any arguments about moral issues that are based on the Bible, then it would be perfectly reasonable to doubt the claim that this person holds the above beliefs about right and wrong.
Furthermore, if a person is firmly convinced that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X, and if that person holds the above BELIEFS about right and wrong, then we would expect that person to be reluctant to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing X), and we would expect that person to be reluctant to encourage others to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing so).
If some person has no reluctance about doing X and never appears to feel bad about doing X, and if that person often encourages others to do X and never appears to feel bad about encouraging others to do X, then it is quite reasonable to doubt the claim that this person firmly BELIEVES that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X and that this person holds the worldview-related BELIEFS about right and wrong found in Sire’s description of Christian theism.
Beliefs have implications, and a person’s beliefs influence how that person thinks and how that person feels, and how that person acts.  That is why worldview-related beliefs are important and significant, because they influence our thinking, our feelings, the choices we make, and the actions we take.
Richard Swinburne, one of the world’s leading defenders of the Christian faith, argues that there is a logical or conceptual tie between beliefs and actions:
Belief has consequences for action, for it is in part a matter of the way in which one seeks to achieve one’s purposes, the goals or ends one seeks to achieve.
Suppose that I seek to get to London, and I come to a junction in the road.  Then clearly if I believe that it is more probable that the road on my right leads to London than that the road on the left does, I shall take the road on the right.  (Faith and Reason, 2nd edition, p.9)
Clearly, the choices and actions that a person makes or takes are indications of the beliefs held by that person, and Sire appears to acknowledge this point:
…we can assess whether we ourselves (or anyone else) hold a particular worldview by observing how we or others act.  (NTE, p.98)
How we view life affects the life we live; it governs both the unconscious actions we engage in and the actions we ponder before acting.  (NTE, p.99)
In Chapter 6 of NTE, Sire explicitly ties worldview-related assumptions to actions and behavior:
Everyone has a worldview.  Whether we know it or not, we all operate from a set of assumptions about the world that remain to a large measure hidden in the unconscious recesses of our mind. …
I wake up in the morning, not asking myself who I am or where I am.  I am immediately aware of a whole host of perceptions that my mind orders into the recognition that it’s morning:  I’m home, I’m crawling out of bed.  In this immediate awareness I do not consciously ask or answer, What is the really real?  How do I know I am home?  or, How can I tell the difference between right and wrong?  Rather, my unconscious mind is using a network of presumptions about how to interpret for the conscious mind what is going on.  In some way all of the basic worldview questions are being answered by the way I am acting and behaving.  (NTE, p.107-108)
The “assumptions about the world”  and the “network of presumptions” that Sire speaks of here are BELIEFS held by the person in question.  So, in this passage Sire clearly implies that a person’s worldview-related BELIEFS guide their choices and actions.  Therefore, Sire agrees with Swinburne’s view that our beliefs are closely connected to, and influence, our choices and actions.
Therefore, since beliefs are an “intellectual category” and since our beliefs–especially our worldview-related beliefs–clearly impact and influence our choices and actions, it is clear that (MEC) is false.  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”.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 11

Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist 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 revised understaning of the nature of worldviews is wrong.   So, I am attempting 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”.
In the previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The next objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview, is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE.  Sire compares his seven basic questions (see the previous post for his list of questions) to questions proposed by others (mostly Christian theologians) who have attempted to analyze worldviews by means of a small set of such questions.  After briefly comparing his questions with the questions proposed by a few other key thinkers, Sire draws this conlcusion:
It appears, therefore, that my seven questions are in fact fairly comprehensive.  They include in some way the essence of all the questions others have formulated.  This should not be surprising, since the questions address ontology, epistemology, and ethics.  What else besides aesthetics is left?  
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  True, the fourth question (“What happens to persons at death?”) is existential, but the others are not. …  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Is there a problem with a lack of “existential relevance” in Sire’s previous account of worldviews?  Before we can answer this question, we first need to understand what “existential relevance” means.  The meaning of this phrase is best understood in terms of this specific context, namely in relationship to the contrast that Sire makes between his conception of “worldview” and that of others in this particular subsection of Chapter 5.
In the subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” Sire begins by comparing his questions with a similar series of questions in a quote from Wilhelm Dilthey (emphasis added by me):
The riddle of existence . . . is always bound up organically with that of the world itself and with the question of what I am supposed to do in this world, why I am in it, and how my life in it will end.  Where did I come from?  Why do I exist?  What will become of me?  This is the most general question of all questions and the one that most concerns me. (NTE, p.95; quoted by David Naugle in Worldview: The History of a Concept, p.83)
I take it that the question “Why do I exist?” is NOT a scientific question.  This question would not be answered by explaining the biology of sexual reproduction and the historical circumstances that led to one’s parents having sexual intercourse, which then resulted in one’s conception and birth.  Such a scientific or causal explanation is not what is desired here.
Rather, this question is about the purpose or meaning of one’s life.  A clearer expression of the intended question would be “Why should I continue to exist, as opposed to killing myself?”  That is a question with “existential relevance”.  I have also emphasized the phrase  “the question of what I am supposed to do in this world” because, as we shall soon see, this is at least an important part of what Sire means by “existential relevance”, namely relevance to practical decisions concerning what actions one should take or what choices one should make.
Sire also considers another list of questions that James Orr asks in relation to the analysis of a worldview, and Sire makes a general comment about those questions:
James Orr notes that two types of causes–speculative and practical–are involved in the formation of worldviews.  Both “lie deep in the constitution of human nature.”  On the one hand, we want a comprehensive theoretical understanding of the “origin, purpose, and destiny” of the universe and our lives.  But we also want a practical understanding of these issues so that we can properly order our lives. …  (NTE, p.95, emphasis added by me)
Sire notes that Orr views the basic questions that define a worldview as encompassing both theoretical and practical issues.  This is another indication that “existential relevance” is closely related to practical issues and concerns.  (The first indication was the phrase quoted from Dilthey “…the question of what I am supposed to do in this world…”).  Also, among the list of questions from Orr quoted by Sire is this one: “By what ultimate principles ought man to be guided in the framing and ordering of his life?”  (NTE, p. 96)
I find the worldview questions that Sire quotes from the theologians Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton very appealing.  Walsh and Middleton ask only four basic questions, and two of them are, in my view, of particular importance:
(3) What’s wrong?  Or, what is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from fulfillment? …
(4) What is the remedy?  Or, how is it possible to overcome this hindrance to my fulfillment? …  (NTE, p.96)
Like me, Walsh and Middleton conceive of worldviews in terms of problem-solving.  The basic problems being practical in nature: How should I live my life?  What do I need to do to live a good life or to live my life well?  These are basic questions in the sub-discipline of philosophy called ethics.
When Sire sums up the comparisons of his seven questions with the questions put forward by Dilthey, Orr, and Walsh & Middleton, he closely associates “existential concerns” with questions that have a “practical” focus:
With Dilthey, Orr, and to some extent, Walsh and Middleton, the questions focus on existential concerns.  They are all about us.  While the answers will involve God and nature, the emphasis is practical.  What are the implications for us as human beings looking for a satisfying life?  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added by me)
Based on the particular context of the comparisons made between Sire’s seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, we can clarify this objection to Sire’s seven worldview questions:
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 this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.
Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  To the extent that Sire succeeded in this intention, his seven questions would include one or more basic questions of ethics, and in doing so he would have provided a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.  I believe that some minor changes to Sire’s seven worldview questions would be sufficient to resolve this issue.
Three of Sire’s seven questions appear to be related to ethics (from NTE, p.94):
3. What is a human being?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
Question (3) relates to metaphysics (e.g. Do human beings have souls or spirits?  What is the relationship between a human mind and a human brain?).  But question (3) is also related to ethics: Do human beings have free will?  Are human beings moral agents who can be worthy of moral praise or moral blame?  Do human beings have a right to life?  Is the life of a human being of more value than the life of a non-human animal, like a dog or a deer?
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so.  This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  The basic question of ethics is “How should I live my life?”.
One partial response to this question could be “You should live your life in a way that is morally good and morally responsible.”  But morality, even if it is an important aim for life, is not the ONLY thing that can make a life a good life or a bad one.  What about pleasure and creativity and obtaining knowledge?  In addition to being a fair person, and being a considerate person, and being an honest person, isn’t it also good to enjoy life? to make use of one’s imagination and creative abilities?  to learn about history and science and art?  Perhaps being morally good is more important than enjoying life or being creative or learning new things, but to live a life that is focused exclusively on morality seems like it would make a person rather narrow and uptight and unhappy and difficult to live around.  In any case, it begs important questions to simply assume that the only goal that one ought to aim at in life is to be a morally good person.
Question (6) is Sire’s attempt to get at the heart of ethics, and his intention was a good and proper one, but question (6) does not fully capture the heart of ethics because it is a bit too narrow.  If we broaden (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?)
Questions of morality and right vs. wrong actions are obviously relevant to this general question, but so are other important values and considerations, such as pleasure, creativity, and knowledge.
Question (7) asks about the “meaning” of human history.  This question relates to ethics in that the goodness of a person’s life can be judged, in part, in relation to their contributions or impacts on human progress or on the acheivement of valueable goals that occur after the death of the person in question.
A military officer’s actions in a battle might help his country to win a war, but the winning of the war might happen years after that officer’s death.  The discoveries of a scientist might help other scientists to find a cure for cancer, but the cure might not be found until decades after the death of that scientist.  In such cases, we often think that there was some good or value in that person’s life because of the positive impact their actions had on the lives of others long after that person had died.
We want our lives to be meaningful and significant, and part of that desire involves a desire to have a significant impact on people and events beyond the limited scope of the people we meet and the events we experience in the limited time that we are alive.  These sorts of concerns and desires are all relevant to the basic question of ethics that I spelled out in question (6A).
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.  Thus, the objection that we were considering, represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.  There is no need for a major revision to Sire’s seven questions.

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 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).

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.