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Comparing Three Worldviews: Are They Rational?

This article will look at what a worldview is. Some questions that a worldview will typically try to answer. And will look at some specific worldviews to see how rational they are.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

Defining a Rational Worldview?

Some Definitions

First some definitions –
  Rational:
      1. Consistent with or based on reason; logical: rational behavior.
  Worldview:
      1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
      2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.

A worldview, by definition, is how one sees and interprets the world around them; the glasses they view the world through.  It seems to me that everyone has a worldview of one form or another whether it contains religious elements or is entirely secular.  They may not be able to clearly define what that worldview is, but it does impact the way they view the world and events around them.

There seems to be no requirement that a worldview is rational or logical.  In fact, the worldviews of many people are not well thought out. Instead, they are just a collection of inconsistent beliefs that are oftentimes at odds with each other.  A rational worldview, on the other hand, would be one that is internally consistent and that offers a valid explanation for why the world is the way it is and offers to its holders a consistent way of interacting with it.

There also does not seem to be any requirement that a rational worldview is true.  So long as the worldview is internally consistent and offers an explanation for what a person experiences it can be called rational.

Defining Questions

One of the ways to formalize a worldview is to respond to a series of ‘big’ questions.  Your response to these questions reveals the framework through which you view the world.

There are many different sets of questions that are used to define a worldview. The following is one that I found somewhere in the past and have been using, although I no longer know where it came from.

  1. Is anyone or anything in control of this world? If so, who?
  2. How can I know what’s really true? Is there such a thing as absolute truth?
  3. How did this world, and the whole universe, come to exist?
  4. How and why did humanity come to be? What is my place within humanity and the world?
  5. What’s gone wrong with the world? Where does evil come from?
  6. Can anything be done to fix the problems of this world?
  7. How can I find peace and happiness?
  8. What is my place in the world? Where do I belong?
  9. What happens after my life ends here?

Your answers to these questions will formulate your worldview. It doesn’t really matter if you have adopted the answers from some other person, or even your cultural group, or have spent the time to answer them yourself. They are a reflection of how you view the world around you and your place within it.

But Is It Rational?

As mentioned before, there is no requirement that a worldview is rational. And it is likely that for most people there is a certain amount of irrationality in the way they view the world. For instance, if you believe that there is no god(s), life on earth is an accident, and there is nothing after this life; then why would you believe that your place in this world is to make a difference in the lives of other people? That doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, if you believe in God, that the Bible is true, that God has an eternal purpose for you after this life; then why would you cling so tightly to this life and what it has to offer? Shouldn’t you rather be looking forward to what heaven holds for you and eagerly anticipating it?

As a Christian, I have a specific worldview, one that I believe is rational. Others, who are also Christians, may have a slightly different worldview, that may also be rational. A Hindu could have a rational worldview. And an atheist could also have a rational and consistent worldview, even though atheism itself does not define a specific worldview. Remember that for a worldview to be rational it only has to cohesively make sense. There should be no conflicts or inconsistencies within the worldview.

Examining Three Worldviews

During the bulk of this article, I will be taking a look at three distinct worldviews and the impacts that they have on the person holding to one of them.

Christianity

The first one I will examine is a Christian worldview, specifically mine. Not every Christian will agree with everything I write, but I do believe that most evangelical Christians will generally hold to something like this. For reference purposes, you can see my statement of belief here.

At the heart of this worldview are some basic premises

  1. There is a purposeful, all-powerful and all-knowing creator of this universe; God.
  2. He created humanity to be in relationship with himself.
  3. Humanity rebelled against him.
  4. The result of that rebellion was a fallen creation and broken relationship between humanity and God.
  5. God has taken the initiative to restore both the creation and our relationship.
  6. Those who respond to him will experience a renewed and eternal relationship with God.

My contention is that these premises are logically coherent. And thus this Christian worldview is consistent. And, if it is consistent, then it is a rational worldview. While there may well be other rational worldviews that are entirely different than this one, that does not negate the rationality of this particular worldview.

The Casual Theist

The second worldview I will examine will be that of someone who I will call a casual theist. They might identify as a Christian, or hold to some other religious background. But it is simply an intellectual or cultural belief and not one that impacts their lives. Functionally they are not dissimilar from the atheist described below.

This worldview has fewer premises associated with it. This is due in large part to its being one that has developed, not by thought, but by going with what feels good.

  1. There is a god of some kind who is created the universe
  2. God seems mostly indifferent to what is happening on the earth
  3. Morality seems to be largely whatever the surrounding culture accepts
  4. If the good I do in this life outweighs the bad, God will reward me

The Atheist

The final worldview I will examine and compare is of an atheist. This is not necessarily the worldview of every atheist. Rather it is a composite view that I have built based on my own online interaction with those claiming to be atheists. Like the two previous worldviews, there is no single worldview among atheists. This will simply be an example.

This worldview also has some basic premises associated with it. While technically only one of these is clearly defined by atheism, the others logically flow from it and seem to be generally held by atheists.

  1. There is no divine being, no god.
  2. The universe, and all it contains, was produced by purely naturalistic processes.
  3. Humanity, as well as all life, is the result of some unknown beginning followed by blind naturalistic evolution. Life was not produced for any purpose or according to any plan.
  4. Morality derives from both evolutionary derived hard wiring as well as cultural conventions.
  5. There is nothing beyond this life. Once a person physically dies, they are no more. There is no afterlife.

Answering the Big Questions

Is anyone or anything in control of this world? If so, who?

For the Christian, the answer to the first question is yes, and to the second is God. God is the uncaused ’cause’ for the universe that we live in. God has life in himself and is eternal. He is without limits concerning his power, knowledge, and presence. He is both transcendent and immanent in the universe. And he created this universe for a purpose, a purpose that he is actively working toward.

The causal theist would acknowledge that there is a creator and would agree with much of the paragraph above. And they might accept that God is immanent in the universe and is actively at work in our world. This position while potentially, and intellectually, accepting that there is a God, lives their life as if there was not.

This is one point that all atheists will likely agree on. There is no entity that is in control of this world. If anything, they would say that this world is controlled by the natural laws of the universe. While there may or may not be a cause of creation, any potential cause has no effect on the current functioning of the universe, of the earth, or of life.

How can I know what’s really true? Is there such a thing as absolute truth?

Probably most people in all three groups will acknowledge that there is some degree of absolute truth. Few people will doubt that they actually exist, that the sun shines and warms the earth, or that physical death will overtake all of us. But the question here is really related to moral truths. Is there such as thing as absolute moral truth?

I believe that there is. And that it is primarily found in the pages of the Bible. The Bible is a God-inspired collection of books written over a long span of time and by a variety of human authors. The Bible is given to us to guide us into the truth about God, about ourselves, and his purposes for us. Some of the moral laws given in the Bible are applicable to specific times and cultures, while others are absolute. The Ten Commandments are an example of the latter.

The casual theist will likely argue that there are absolute moral laws established by the creator. Most often these people will hold to a more relative and changing truth, at least morally. Their beliefs concerning right and wrong will change along with the culture they find themselves in. For them, truth is found in whatever voice is the loudest and most appealing.

The atheist will generally argue against absolute morals since that implies an absolute moral lawgiver. They will argue instead that all morality is either built into us via evolution or is culturally derived and learned. This would seem to imply that the morality of one culture is as good as that of another. Yet they will generally hold that their morality is better; implying a standard of some sort.

How did this world, and the whole universe, come to exist?

The Christian will claim that all of the creation was intentionally produced by God. Some believe creation was by divine fiat 6000 years ago, while others, myself included, believe the creation to be much older. But all agree that God has directed and guided the creation to his intended end.

The casual theist would agree that God is responsible for the creation. Like the Christian, they will be divided on the how but will be more likely to reject a literal understanding of Genesis and opt for whatever their culture accepts.

The atheist will generally say that they do not know how the universe came to exist, but they deny that it was at the hand of any kind of god. That the universe as we know it began to exist is generally accepted. But the how, in spite of many theories, is unknown. Acceptance of a multiverse that produces island universes like our own only pushes the question back one level.

How and why did humanity come to be? What is my place within humanity and the world?

The Christian believes that humanity was created by God and in his image. How God created us is not important. That we are created in his image is. Being created in his image means that we bear some resemblance to him. We can rationally make sense of the world around us. And we carry within us some semblance of some of God’s attributes: love, mercy, sense of right and wrong, etc. God has also created us to provide order and management to the rest of the creation. We are caretakers for the earth, responsible for its care.

The casual theist would acknowledge that in some way God has created humanity. But it is likely that they give little thought to any purpose God might have had in their creation or what he expects of them. And it is likely that they see their place in the world just to be wherever they happen to find themselves.

The atheist will hold to naturalistic evolution. An unguided and blind process that just happened to produce humanity. Humanity is not the product of an intelligent being and thus owes no allegiance to a creator. On that, all atheists will likely agree. Where they will differ is on our place in the world. Do we have a responsibility to care for the rest of the world? Or are we no different than any other evolved creature in the world? Most seem to opt for the former, although there is no logical reason for that position that I know of.

What’s gone wrong with the world? Where does evil come from?

The Christian answer to this is that humanity is a fallen species. We are living apart from the life God created us to experience and are currently in rebellion against him. The moral evil in the world is a direct result of our estrangement from God and devotion to self.

The casual theist is likely to be in general agreement with the above paragraph. They will at least acknowledge that humans sin, and that sin is the cause of much of the trouble in the world.

The atheist will generally deny the existence of sin since sin is disobedience to a deity they do not believe exists. Moral evil is also a challenge since it can be taken to imply some sort of universal standard that is not being met. They will generally acknowledge that the moral problems in the world are human-caused and come from our own ignorance and greed.

Can anything be done to fix the problems of this world?

The Christian will argue that there is nothing that we as humans can do to fix the problem. Only our creator is capable of fixing the mess we have made of his creation. And he has done that by inviting us into a relationship with himself and giving us a new heart. It is only through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus that our brokenness can be restored.

The casual theist might believe something similar to the above. But it is more likely that they will believe that the world is getting better and it is just a matter of time before all of our problems are resolved. If the world’s problems are human-caused, then it is up to us to fix them.

The atheist generally seems to advocate that science, technology, and education will be what saves the world. Since there is no god, if the problems are going to be solved, it is up to us to do it.

How can I find peace and happiness?

The Christian holds that the only way we can find true peace and happiness is by the surrender of our wills to the lordship of Jesus. When we do we are reborn and brought back into the relationship with God we were created to have. Only in him can we truly experience joy.

The casual theist and the atheist alike would contend that individually we may or may not be able to find peace and happiness. For them, these are based largely on external circumstances. Circumstances that are often beyond our control. We can work toward them, but nothing is guaranteed.

What is my place in the world? Where do I belong?

As Christians, believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are the salt and light of the world. We should be working to advance the kingdom of God in the midst of a fallen world. We are temporary residents of this world, serving our Lord until he calls us home.

The casual theist will generally look to live a good life, but one that maximizes their own enjoyment and fulfillment. If in doing so they can be helpful to others around them, so much the better. They will generally seldom think about anything beyond the life they have here.

The atheist will look in a variety of different directions for purpose. There is no god-given purpose, only what a person can find for themselves. Like the casual theist, their purpose is frequently simply to survive in this life, and hopefully leave the world a better place when they are gone.

What happens after my life ends here?

For the Christian, the ending of this life is merely the transition into an eternity in the presence of my creator; living the life he called me to live. Apart from him, my life would end in eternal destruction, separated from the life of God. This life is only the first step in eternity.

The casual theist will generally hold that if they do enough good, and adhere closely enough to their religious framework, they will end up in some version of heaven. If not then either punishment and/or non-existence awaits them. It is not uncommon though for them to hold out hope that ultimately everyone will end up in heaven.

The atheist believes that this life is all there is. Once it is over you are gone. The only thing that is left behind is your legacy and the part of you that is carried by your offspring.

Is Your Worldview Consistent?

This is not a question concerning the truthfulness of any of the answers given above. Or of the worldview as a whole. Rather, do they logically fit together into a coherent whole? Or are there contradictions and logic gaps when comparing the answers? If all of the answers given above fit comfortably and coherently together then the worldview is consistent.

Two of these worldviews, the Christian and the atheist, are fairly easy to evaluate. For the most part, their answers to the questions are generally well thought out and defined. It is the third worldview, the casual theist, that is more challenging. It is not so much a well-thought-out worldview as it is a lazy approach to life’s questions.

In the end, any of these worldviews could be internally consistent and rational. They could also be internally contradictory and irrational. The rationality of one’s worldview can only be determined by looking closely at it. And that it is an exercise that is highly recommended. Answer those nine questions for yourself. Are your answers logically coherent and consistent? Then you have a rational worldview. That does not make it true. But it is a first step.

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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