Monday, March 7, 2011

Worldview Wars

There are many different definitions of worldview. Various sources list from four to ten major categories of worldview. The definitions and categories overlap, but there is a basic consistency. James W. Sire, Christian author of The Universe Next Door, defines worldview as “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 construction of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”

This is a wide ranging definition. Whatever affects our worldview, as Sire defines it, is a serious, even solemn matter. Our upbringing, our education, our circle of friends, our church, and our culture--all of these contribute to the formation of our worldview. One author, whose thoughtful analysis I respect, has made a startling statement about another factor which shapes our worldview. Del Ratzsch, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, has declared, in Science and Its Limits, that “Our worldviews, in short, are now inescapably shaped by science.” Few people are consciously aware of the importance of science in shaping our worldview.

Many people in our society are impacted by scientific claims, perhaps without specifically considering their influence on our worldview. Whether we attend to the latest claims of the pharmaceutical industry, the incessant reminders about man’s purported influence on global warming, or the drone of scientists repeating the claims of evolution and how it gives unity and coherence to our view of reality, science is indeed center stage. Ratzsch warns, “If science has become an ineradicable part of our worldviews, and if our picture of science is skewed, then other parts of our worldviews that must adjust themselves to that skewed picture are at risk of undergoing deformations of their own. That raises a further crucial question. If mistaken conceptions of science go deeply enough into our worldviews, might it even be possible for the resulting deformations to touch aspects of our religious beliefs?” Ratzsch concludes by saying, “We had better know.”

One example of a religious belief deformation is provided by our view of the literality of the Biblical Adam. Theistic evolutionists do not acknowledge Adam was a real person. This means we must see the many Genesis references to Adam, his activities, and the events described in Genesis 1-4 and beyond as figurative or allegorical. When the Apostle Paul in his epistles refers to Adam as he does in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15, theistic evolutionists must assume he is talking about related doctrinal issues as mere symbolism. In turn, we may then be free to be skeptical of the veracity of almost anything in scripture. What creation events or miracles described in scripture will we accept as true? Which ones will we reject as untrue? We may be entering the territory of the slippery slope.

Evolution has been accepted by the larger community of science professionals. We are instructed not to fear the “science” of evolution. Rather, we are told we should accept this science and integrate it into our belief system. In this manner, science molds our worldview, and our worldview, in turn, affects our religious beliefs. Stated explicitly, faulty science may adversely impact our worldview and a faulty worldview adversely impacts our religious views.

In the 17th and 18th centuries higher criticism of the Bible fostered a belief among many that the Bible was not a supernatural production but rather, a natural production. Stated another way, many skeptics were given license to doubt the supernatural authority of many scriptural writings. This process continues unabated in our day. Scripture is held to have no authority over what we believe in areas of doctrine or practice, because many higher critics do not accept some of the Bible as reliably true for a variety of reasons.

Honest and responsible scholarship intended to discover the true meaning and trustworthiness of scripture is a desirable activity. But when the motivation behind textual criticism is rooted in fundamental distrust or doubt, Christians should be extremely cautious. When many overarching questions are confirmed or denied by the truth or falsehood of the historicity and literality of the Biblical Adam, we must be humbly cautious as we attempt to acquire and preserve correct scientific views, worldviews, and religious views.