If your debate opponent defends a position (call it H1), argue against H1. Don’t argue against positions they don’t hold (H2 or H3 or …).
In response to Wintery Knight’s recent blog post on the plausibility of objective morality on atheism, I posted a comment in the combox on his site. The comment consisted solely of a link to my YouTube video, “Naturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig.” In response to that link, WK wrote a response, which you can read on his blog. (I cannot figure out how to link to an individual comment on his blog or I would provide a direct link. In any case, I recommend you do read his comment and then come back to this post.) What follows is my follow-up reply to WK.
(Note: WK moderates the combox on his site and I just submitted my comment, so if you are unable to find this comment on his site when you look for it, that could just mean that WK hasn’t gone through the moderation queue for his blog. It doesn’t mean he has censored or blocked my comment.)
Holy fallacious objection, Batman!
Let’s review the exchange so far:
1. WK claims that atheists cannot help themselves to objective morality. In support, he links to a YouTube video by WLC and then summarizes WLC’s three objections to what WLC calls ‘atheistic moral Platonism’:
(i) ‘The Unintelligibility of Atheistic Moral Platonism’
(ii) ‘Lack of Moral Obligation on Atheistic Moral Platonism’
(iii) ‘Improbability of Atheistic Moral Platonism’
2. JJL posts a link to his own YouTube video refuting WLC’s moral argument, including these three objections.
3. WK responds, not by directly engaging anything JJL actually said in his video, but by quoting something JJL wrote about same-sex marriage (SSM). I realize that the topic may be red meat on a Christian website with a primarily Christian audience — indeed, this may be an instance of the ‘poisoning the well’ fallacy — but it’s a logically fallacious response. And so, as interesting as the topic of SSM may be, I’m not going to take the bait. Instead, I’m going to focus on the plausibility of objective morality on atheism.
Indeed, JJL’s views on same-sex marriage are as irrelevant to the plausibility of ‘objective morality on atheism’ as atheistic objections to Biblical morality are irrelevant to WLC’s moral argument for theism. Both WK’s same-sex marriage objection (to JJL’s defense of objective morality on atheism) and the atheistic objection from alleged instances of Biblical immorality (to WLC’s moral argument) are instances of a type of objection which, to my knowledge, has never been given a formal name. I propose we call such objections this: “objections from undesirable normative ethical consequences.”
The problem with both theistic and atheistic objections from undesirable normative ethical consequences is that they confuse metaethics with normative ethics. As I explain in my Primer on Religion and Morality, (see here — skip down to page 7), metaethics is the study of the nature of status of normative ethical claims, beliefs, and theories. In contrast, normative ethics is the study of what is morally good or bad, what is morally right or wrong, what morally ought or ought not to be done, and so forth.
The upshot is this. Even if, for the sake of argument, the Bible did or does contain immoral divine commands, that would simply tell us that the Bible had or has the wrong normative ethics. That wouldn’t tell us anything about whether morality is objective or, if it is, whether it is a supernatural foundation.
Similarly, even if, for the sake of argument, JJL has the wrong views on same-sex marriage, that would simply tell us that JJL had or has the wrong normative ethics. That wouldn’t tell us anything about whether JJL’s objections to WLC’s argument are successful or, more broadly, whether objective morality is plausible on atheism.
Anyone who has (or had) a loving father in their lives did not spend their time studying abstract, philosophical arguments for the existence of their father. In fact, the whole idea of “father-ist apologetics” as a thing seems weird as soon as you think about it.
Compare theistic apologetics. I suspect that many people — or at least many theists — don’t think there is anything odd about the idea of theistic apologetics. But I think the idea of theistic apologetics is odd for the same reason I think “father-ist apologetics” is odd.
For the theists who are reading this, I want to clarify my point. I am not saying that theistic apologetics is incompatible with God’s existence; on the contrary, I think theistic apologetics is logically consistent with God’s existence. Nor am I saying that, on theism, theistic apologetics is necessary for belief in God’s existence. On the contrary, I’m aware that many people believe that God exists wholly apart from or in the absence of exposure to apologetics. Rather, my point is this. If theism — especially Abrahamic theism — is true, then it is surprising that theistic apologetics exists for the same reason it would be odd if people were to engage in apologetics regarding the existence of their own (earthly) father.
(Reposting since this seems to be so popular. So far as I am aware, neither WLC nor anyone else has responded to this.)
Abstract: This paper considers William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument for God’s existence. Roughly, the argument is that the existence of objective moral values provides strong evidence for God’s existence. I consider one by one Craig’s various reasons in support of the argument’s major premise, namely, that objective moral values and the nonexistence of God are at odds with each other. I show that Craig’s supporting arguments play fast and loose with the meaning of objectivity, and that they have no force whatsoever. I conclude that Craig’s argument does not succeed in showing that the existence of objective moral values, by itself, makes God’s existence more probable than not.
- Index: Atheist Error Theorists (a handy collection of links to critiques of atheists who’ve suggested that atheism / naturalism / evolution /etc. leads to error theory or moral nihilism)
- All Secular Outpost posts in category moral argument
- All Secular Outpost posts in category nontheistic metaethics
- All Secular Outpost posts tagged with William Lane Craig
- All Secular Outpost posts tagged with moral ontology
Recommended Posts from Other Sites:
- Wes Morriston’s Papers (includes many papers written specifically in response to W.L. Craig, especially this one)
- Erik Wielenberg’s Publications (see especially the books here and here and the papers here and here)
- WL Craig on Morality and Meaning (Series Index) by John Danaher at Philosophical Disquisitions
- “Craig, Kagan, and Significance” by Andrew Moon at The Prosblogion
- Angra Mainyu’s posts on Craig’s metaethical argument (see here, here, here)
If you are meeting someone for the first time, it is a good idea to put your best foot forward, to be polite, kind, positive, and friendly. If you are trying to persuade someone to take the idea that there is a God seriously, it would be a good idea to put your best foot forward, to lay out some of your best and strongest arguments right up front.
But in her article “Is There a God?” Marilyn Adamson puts forward some obviously illogical and defective arguments for the existence of God at the very beginning of her case. No professional philosopher would put forward such crappy arguments as those that make up Adamson’s first “reason” for believing in God, so it is very unlikely that Adamson’s article was looked over by a professional philosopher or that Adamson consluted a professional philosopher for feedback on her article.
The jaw-dropping stupidity and ignorance of those initial arguments made it difficult for me to continue reading the article or to take seriously anything else that Adamson had to say in support of her belief in the existence of God. She completely destroyed her own credibility in the opening paragraphs of the article.
Here is the first of the six reasons Adamson gives for believing that God exists:
1. Does God exist? The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.
Many examples showing God’s design could be given, possibly with no end. But here are a few:
The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter. Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.
The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day.
Adamson goes on to give a couple more examples, but these first two are sufficient to show the stupidity and ignorance of this first set of reasons or arguments.
Let’s summarize these two arguments. The size of the Earth is just right:
(SJR) The size of the Earth is just right, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
The Earth is the right distance from the Sun:
(RDS) The Earth is the right distance from the Sun, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
These are clearly and obviously bad reasons for believing in God. A little knowledge about philosophy or about astronomy or about the history of cosmology and astronomy would have prevented Adamson from putting forward these stupid and ignorant arguments.
If a philosopher had reviewed her article, or if an astonomer had reviewed her article or if someone with knowledge of the history of philosophy or the history of cosmology or the history of astronomy had provided feedback to Adamson, we would have been spared from having to read this ignorant and illogical crap.
One obvious objection to these arguments (and to other similar arguments) has been available for over 430 years:
Giordano Bruno introduced in his works the idea of multiple worlds instantiating the infinite possibilities of a pristine, indivisible One. Bruno (from the mouth of his character Philotheo) in his De l’infinito universo et mondi (1584) claims that “innumerable celestial bodies, stars, globes, suns and earths may be sensibly perceived therein by us and an infinite number of them may be inferred by our own reason.” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_pluralism)
If there are “innumerable” stars and planets and “innumerable” solar systems, then it is to be expected that some of those planets would be the right size and the right distance from a star (i.e. a sun) so that it could sustain plant, animal and human life. If you buy just one lottery ticket, you probably will not win the lottery, but if you buy millions of lottery tickets, then you will have a good chance of winning the lottery. This is a very simple and obvious point related to probability.
The same logic applies to the probability of there being a planet that is the right size and the right distance from a star so that the planet can sustain plant, animal and human life. If the universe contains billions or trillions of solar systems, then it is to be expected that some planets would be the right size and the right distance from a sun so that they could sustain plant, animal and human life. There is no need for the hypothesis of an intelligent designer to explain the existence of a planet with the right size and located at the right distance from a sun to support life. Any professional philosopher or astronomer would understand this point and would immediately reject these two arguments put forward by Adamson.
Bruno’s theory about the universe is called “cosmic pluralism”:
Cosmic pluralism, the plurality of worlds, or simply pluralism, describes the philosophical belief in numerous “worlds” in addition to Earth (possibly an infinite number), which may harbour extraterrestrial life.
Actually, this idea was around long before Bruno was born. In fact, cosmic pluralism was introduced into western thought near the very beginning of western philosophy by Anaxagoras, a pre-socratic philosopher:
If Empedocles acheived a kind of immortality as a precursor of Darwin, his contemporary Anaxagoras is sometimes regarded as an intellectual ancestor of the currently popular cosmology of the big bang. Anaxagoras was born around 500 BC in Clazomenae, near Izmir, and was possibly a pupil of Anaximenes. …
Here is his account of the beginning of the universe: ‘All things were together, infinite in number and infinite in smallness; for the small too was infinite. While all these things were together, nothing was recognizable because of its smallness. Everything lay under air and ether, both infinite’ (KRS 467). This primeval pebble began to rotate, throwing off the surrounding ether and air and forming out of them the stars and the sun and the moon. The rotation caused the separation of dense from rare, of hot from cold, of dry from wet, and bright from dark. But the separation was never complete, and to this day there remains in every single thing a portion of everything else. …
The expansion of the universe, Anaxagoras maintained, has continued in the present and will continue in the future (KRS 476). Perhaps it has already generated worlds other than our own. As a result of the presence of everything in everything, he says,
men have been formed and the other ensouled animals. And the men possess farms and inhabit cities just as we do, and they have a sun and a moon and the rest just like us. The earth produces things of every sort for them to be harvested and stored, as it does for us. I have said all this about the process of separating off, because it would have happened not only here with us, but elsewhere too. (KRS 498)
Anaxagoras thus has a claim to be the originator of the idea, later proposed by Giordano Bruno and popular again today in some quarters, that our cosmos is just one of many which may, like ours, be inhabited by intelligent creatures.
(A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 1: Ancient Philosophy, by Anthony Kenny, p.24-25)
The idea of cosmic pluralism has been around for nearly 2,500 years! This idea was born at about the same time that western philosophy began to exist.
Presumably, Adamson is ignorant of ancient philosophy, and has no knowledge about Anaxagoras and his idea of cosmic pluralism. Presumably, Adamson is ignorant of the history of philosophy in the Renaissance and the history of the Roman Inquisition (Bruno was burned at the stake –by the brilliant intellectual Christians who were leaders of the Roman Inquisition–for his various dangerous and heretical ideas, including cosmic pluralism). But because cosmic pluralism has been a part of Western thought for about 2,500 years, even someone who is completely ignorant about the history of philosophy and the history of astronomy ought to be aware of this view of the universe.
Has Adamson never seen a Star Trek episode or movie? Has Adamson never seen a Star Wars movie? Has Adamson never read a science-fiction book or story? Science-fiction stories and movies commonly assume the truth of cosmic pluralism, so one would have to religiously avoid reading any science-fiction story or watching any science-fiction movie or any science-fiction television program in order to be unfamiliar with the idea that our universe might be filled with solar systems and with planets that are the right size and that are at the right distance from a sun, so that they can support plant, animal and human life. What planet did Adamson come from? Apparently, she came from a planet where there are no science-fiction stories, no science-fiction movies, and no science-fiction television programs. What a sad little world that must be.
One might object, at this point, that cosmic pluralism is a matter of speculation. Anaxagorus was not a scientist, at least not in the modern sense. He did not use a telescope to observe the planets in our solar system or the stars in our galaxy. Bruno was not a scientist; he was a philosopher and theologian. Bruno arrived at his theory of the universe based on abstract philosophical and theological reasoning, not on the basis of empirical science, not on the basis of careful observations and measurements, not on the basis of experiments. Science-fiction stories and movies might well assume the truth of cosmic pluralism, but that doesn’t mean that we ought to believe that cosmic pluralism is true; fiction can be based on false or unproven assumptions.
In the next post in this series, I will address this question about whether cosmic pluralism is reasonable and whether there is scientific evidence to support it.
I was bored one night a few weeks ago and did a Google search on “Does God exist”. One of the top hits that came back was for this webpage:
This webpage contains an article written by Marilyn Adamson, called “Is There a God?”, which according to the sub-title presents “six straightforward reasons to believe that God is really there.”
According to the “About” page the EveryStudent.com website is sponsored by “an interdenominational Christian organization: Cru.”. I did not recognize the name “Cru”, so I poked around a bit, and clicked on a link to a sister website called StartingwithGod.com, which is also sponsored by “Cru”. The “About” page for this sister site has a link to a statement of faith for “Cru” and that link took me to a website for “Cru”. The “About” page for the “Cru” website unlocked the mystery of the name of the sponsoring organization:
Cru is the name of Campus Crusade for Christ International in the U.S.
Marilyn Adamson is the director for the EveryStudent.com website, and that website was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ International.
So, the webpage where Adamson presenst six reasons for the existence of God is not just a personal webpage where Adamson is expressing and justifying her faith, it is a publication sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. So, the crudeness and ignorance of Adamson’s arguments are not simply due to the ignorance and foibles of Adamson; they represent the ignorance and foibles of an International Christian organization, an organization that targets it’s messages to college students:
If you are uncertain about your relationship with God, or would like to pursue spiritual questions, we recommend visiting EveryStudent.com. The site helps explain who God is and what it might be like to know God. The site was built for college students (hence the name EveryStudent), but many adults have found it to be extremely helpful. (from the “About” page for StartingwithGod.com, emphasis added)
Since “Cru” wants to communicate with and persuade college students to become Christian believers, or to remain Christian believers, one would expect that a website sponsored by “Cru” and called EveryStudent.com and specifically targeted to college students would use the best available arguments for the existence of God, and would avoid the use of arguments for God that are clearly and obviously illogical or defective, especially if those illogical and defective arguments are generally recognized to be illogical or defective by philosophers of religion.
To use obviously illogical or defective arguments for God that are generally recognized to be illogical or defective by philosophers of religion is bad form no matter who the intended audience might be, but it is especially shameful to use such arguments when your target audience is college students, students who should be encouraged to study philosophy, to think carefully and logically about philosophical issues, and to learn about philosophy from experts in that field.
Some of the arguments presented by Adamson are worthy of consideration (e.g. the First Cause argument is a classic argument and is still defended by some philosophers, and the Fine Tuning argument is a modern argument that has been widely discussed by philosophers in recent decades), but others are obviously illogical or defective and generally recognized to be so, particularly the first set of arguments presented in Adamson’s article.
Furthermore, the arguments that are worthy of consideration are presented poorly, and in a way that encourages illogical thinking, thinking that philosophers of religion would generally recognize as being illogical. So, Cru provides college students crappy arguments that are unworthy of serious consideration (other than to show them to be illogical or defective) plus Cru also provides college students with a couple of arguments that are worthy of consideration but that are presented in a crappy way that encourages illogical thinking about the existence of God.
The EveryStudent.com website is promoted as “A Safe Place to Explore Questions About Life and God” but this website is NOT “A Safe Place” in terms of intellectual integrity and the central educational goal of promoting critical thinking. This website promotes, at least in the key web article written by Adamson, illogical and uncritical thinking as well as ignorance concerning the philosophy of religion. This website might be “A Safe Place” if someone is fearful of logical and critical thinking, and is afraid that knowledge and scholarship might challenge their Christian beliefs, but it is NOT “A Safe Place” for college students who want to become educated, well-informed, critical thinkers.
Since Cru, through the prominent publication of the article “Is There a God?” by Marilyn Adamson, has failed to model critical thinking and thinking about God that is well-informed by knowledge and understanding of philosophy (especially philosophy of religion), and thus provided an UNSAFE website for students who desire to become educated, well-informed critical thinkers, I plan to point out the various failings of Adamson’s article in detail in future posts.
I recently had an interesting discussion here at SO on Sam Harris’s views on “moderate” believers. One commentator took me to task for saying that Harris holds that “moderates” are “just as bad” as extremists. I think he may have had a point that this was unfair, but Harris clearly does make some fairly serious charges. So, I wrote to a couple of friends, men of the cloth, to ask how they responded. One has graciously replied at length. I am giving below my letter of inquiry and his response.
I hope you both are well and looking forward to an America made great again by Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Ahem. The real purpose of my missive is this: I have been having an interesting discussion with some commentators at Secular Outpost—the blog to which I am a contributor—about religious “moderates,” broadly defined. In his book The End of Faith, Sam Harris, noted author of the “new atheist” movement, says that those people of faith who do not hold that scripture is the “literal and inerrant” word of God, and who are willing to accept the established facts of history and science—those Harris terms “moderates”—are nevertheless morally culpable. Perhaps they are not as much to blame as extremists, fanatics, and those who carry out violence in the name of God, but they still must bear a considerable degree of responsibility for the bad things caused by religion. If “moderates” do not themselves commit acts of intolerance, they are at least enablers and fellow travelers of those that do because they continue to preserve and promote dangerous doctrines with a proven history of inspiring persecutions, pogroms, witch hunts, crusades, etc.
Harris says that you can maintain your moderation in religion only by ignoring the actual content of scripture. For instance, Deuteronomy 13: 7-11 says that if your brother, child, spouse, or best friend says that other gods than Yahweh are to be served then you should stone that person to death and, indeed, strike the first blow yourself. I Samuel, Chapter 15: 3 commands that Saul should commit genocide upon the Amalekites, killing them all regardless of age, condition, or sex. II Kings, 2: 23-24 tells us that as Elisha approached Bethel, children of the town mocked his bald head (I empathize). He cursed them in the name of The Lord, and two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty two of the children. Indeed, the Bible contains so many such passages, that Thomas Paine was moved to write his famous denunciation in The Age of Reason:
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which over half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon rather than the word of God.
Non-fundamentalist believers, says Harris, make no effort explain away or give non-literal interpretations of such horrors; they simply look the other way and refuse to acknowledge the actual content of their holy book. In short, he thinks you have no principled reason to ignore the horrific aspects of your tradition. You have no rational basis for not being a fundamentalist and embracing the full content of scripture down to the last “smiting.” Rather, you simply ignore the bad parts because they are now so incompatible with the liberal, tolerant, rational ideals that have become dominant since the Enlightenment.
Actually, Harris says quite a bit more, but I know that you are busy and to keep from burdening you, I will stop there. I would very much like to know what you would say back to Harris besides, or in addition to, that he should go [BLEEP] himself. Seriously, how do you regard those horrific scriptural elements and all the cruel, vindictive elements decried by Paine? Knowing you, I know that Harris is wrong to imply that you just put your fingers in your ears and shout “La, La, La‼!” when you hear such passages. I and the readers of SO would like to hear how you hold that Christians should think about the bad stuff in the Bible. You may reply at any length, and, with your permission, I would like to post your responses on Secular Outpost. Thanks.
This reply is from an old (back to first grade) friend, The Reverend Dr. Paris N. Donehoo, Senior Pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Elgin, Illinois. He is also a fantastically talented singer/musician/composer and recording artist. Last, but perhaps most impressively, he can quote the entire corpus of Monty Python verbatim.
I must admit that your request has been on my mind ever since you sent it. I have been swamped with tons of administrative duties lately, and I wanted to chuck them all and sit down and write about this. Yet, duty called. But I have a little time on my day off, so here goes.
Harris’ attacks on the Bible, of course, are not new, nor are they without some merit. His attacks on moderate Christians (or the term “progressive” Christians is gaining in popularity) are not new either, but let me deal with the Bible first. Harris and others of his ilk, make the same mistake fundamentalists make with scripture; that is, all of it must be taken on the same level. It’s what I call the “ironing board” approach to scripture. Any portion of the Bible has to be equally as important as every other portion. If the Bible had been written like the fundamentalists claim—some form of divine dictation—then that argument might hold water. But it wasn’t written that way. The Bible is like a library. It’s a collection of various writings cobbled together by a dizzying array of authors and editors over thousands of years in different situations and social contexts, each one with its own theological ax to grind.
To claim that a horrific story like Elisha and the she-bears must be put on the same plane as Isaiah’s suffering servant poems would be tantamount to claiming that Nathan Bedford Forest’s defense of slavery must be as equally important as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Why does my faith dictate I put Paul’s instructions about women covering their heads in church (1 Corinthians 11:10-16) on par with Paul’s sweeping pronouncement that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)? Fundamentalism twists itself into pretzels to try and make those two passages equally important. Personally, I think Paul himself would reply, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
What I teach my congregation is this: biblical interpretation always starts with Jesus. As a follower of Jesus I believe scripture must be viewed through the lens of Jesus. Thus, when I come across a passage like Deuteronomy 13:7-11 I weigh it against Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). When I come across a passage like 1 Samuel 15:3 I weigh it against Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:39, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” In neither case do I ignore the offending passage. Intellectual and theological honesty means I must not ignore it, but, as a follower of Jesus, I practice what Jesus taught. The difficult passage becomes grist for comparison, historical study, or literary criticism, but not moral instruction. When a portion of the Bible conflicts with what I know about Jesus, informed by the Gospels as well as my own spiritual sense, Jesus always wins, hands down.
Unfortunately, many in the church seem to have forgotten Jesus, and opt instead for picking and choosing whatever suits their social or political anger at the moment (read “Ted Cruz”). However, there is a growing movement, mostly among young adults, called “Red Letter Christianity.” The name is taken from the fact that some editions of the Bible print Jesus’ words in red. “Red Letter Christians” are attempting to live their faith according to the words of Jesus, and they are doing some incredible work for social justice. I don’t think I ever hear Harris or his kin give even grudging support for such efforts.
I keep wondering why fundamentalists on the left and right think truth must be one-dimensional? Are they such prisoners of the Enlightenment that all truth must be measurable, verifiable, and notarized in order to be true? Does the story of Noah’s flood have to be literally true, and all the pieces line up the way I think they should, in order to teach me about a God who will “remember me” (Genesis 8:1) in the midst of the floods that sweep over my life? I don’t think so. The late Marcus Borg said, “The Bible is all true, and some of it actually happened.” I would hate to live a world where poetry and story have no lesson to teach, no challenge to give, or no comfort to offer without fitting Harris’ puny definition of truth.
Of course, as a pastor, I also must say a word about the place of the community of faith in biblical interpretation. I wish the record here was more encouraging, but the church has much to answer for in terms of fomenting the kind of hatred and intolerance Harris denounces, and rightfully so. However, at its best, the church can act as a conduit for the “better angels” of scripture study while holding each disciple accountable to others so that Bible study doesn’t wander off into the nether regions Harris decries. Unfortunately, fundamentalist churches, with their preference for Leviticus over Luke, have become the most vociferous voices for claiming “what the Bible teaches,” while mainline churches, like the one I serve, have ceded the biblical ground out of a fear of being lumped into the fundamentalist camp. The result has been to allow Harris and others to paint all of us with the same brush. I have spent a great deal of time and energy over the years trying to rectify the biblical illiteracy rampant in my church. Little by little I believe we are making progress.
When Harris claims that Christians like myself are enablers of intolerance along with fundamentalists he borrows the logic of Islamophobes: “If there are moderate, peace-loving Muslims, why aren’t they doing something to stop Isis and Al Queda?” I hear this argument a lot these days. Evidently, all Muslims are culpable because some of them interpret the Qur’an poorly. I want to give Harris the benefit of the doubt and assume he isn’t falling for such demagoguery about Islam, so why it is OK to make the same claim about me and my faith? I don’t think I am enabling the disgraceful antics of the KKK or the Westborough Baptist Church. I don’t see much of Jesus in either of them.
Well, this may be WAY more than you wanted, but, as you can see, this has been percolating in me for some time. Looking back over this I wonder if it needs a discussion about what it means for me to claim the Bible is “inspired” by God, but maybe that’s outside the scope of what you asked for. Without possessing your philosophical credentials I have no idea how any of this holds up, but it works for me. And, as we have discussed before, it all comes down to choice.
Note: The choice Dr. Donehoo mentions at the end arises from our discussions of John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religion. Hick argues that neither a naturalistic nor a religious view is rationally compulsory, and therefore there is considerable epistemic freedom in how we interpret the nature of reality. Reasonable people following their best lights may arrive at opposite conclusions given the “religious ambiguity” of the universe, as Hick puts it. Thus, two kids, baby boomers and best friends, both born in August 1952, and both attendees of Knollwood Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia from 1958-65, can wind up in very different places, but retain deep respect for each other and for each other’s convictions.
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
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:
- What is prime reality–the really real? …
- What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? …
- What is a human being? …
- What happens to a person at death? …
- Why is it possible to know anything at all? …
- How do we know what is right and wrong? …
- 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)
Prof. Alexander Pruss considers the traditional doctrine of hell and its alternatives:
The three salient proposals, then, are these (2 and 3 are quotes from Prof. Pruss’s post):
(1) The traditional doctrine: At death there can be no further changes in one’s eternal destiny.
(2) Imposition: God imposes moral transformation on those who do not freely opt to love him.
(3) Endless Second Chances: God ensures that those who refuse him nonetheless always have another chance.
According to the traditional doctrine, those who die in a state of grace go to heaven at death, with perhaps, according to RC doctrine, an initial stay in purgatory. Those who die unrepentant and unforgiven go directly to hell, where they remain for eternity. The second possibility is that God, wielding his omnipotence, simply forces a moral transformation upon sinners, psychologically altering them so that they duly repent and accept forgiving grace. The third scenario is that the unregenerate would have a postmortem, presumably non-punitive existence (perhaps something like the first circle of Dante’s hell), but would be endlessly invited to accept Christian salvation.
Pruss argues that the second option is unacceptable because it would involve a gross abrogation of personal freedom. He says: “It’s pretty plausible (pace compatibilists) that in Imposition, God takes away the agent’s freedom to refuse him.” The third option really reduces to the second, he says. Although you may be free on any given occasion to reject God’s offer of grace, you would not have the stamina to resist endless importunities over eternity. Endless nagging would eventually wear you down. Sub specie aeternitatis, option three gives you no more freedom than option two. By implication, then, neither seems to be an acceptable alternative to the traditional doctrine.
As a compatibilist on the free will issue, allow me to comment on why one kind of imposition need not be seen as an abridgement of freedom. For compatibilists like me, the paradigm case of a free choice would be to be allowed to choose solely on the basis of my beliefs, my values, and my desires. For instance, in an election, my vote is free if nothing interferes with my ability to vote for the candidate whom I sincerely believe to best represent my values and whose desires for the good of the country or community are most consistent with my own. However, I do not (or at least do not entirely) choose my beliefs, values, and desires. Ideally, my beliefs are determined by what seems true to me; my values are determined by what seems right to me; my desires are determined by what seems desirable to me. Seeming true to me, seeming right to me, and seeming desirable to me, are not, or at least not entirely, under my control.
Beliefs, then, do not appear to be totally under our control. Indeed, I would say that there are instances of what we might call “epistemic compulsion.” Perhaps the best instance of epistemic compulsion would be a genuine instance of an experimentum crucis. In July 1945, Los Alamos scientists had produced two designs for an atomic bomb, the simple, gun-design uranium bomb, and the more complex implosion-design plutonium bomb. They were confident that the uranium design would work and did not plan a test, but the plutonium bomb had to be tested, and hence the Trinity Test in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. Many of the assembled Manhattan Project scientists were deeply dubious that “The Gadget” would work. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the project, bet that it would have a yield of only 300 tons of TNT—a fizzle. At 5:29 A.M. The Gadget went off with a yield of 20,000 tons of TNT. When the light “brighter than a thousand suns” filled the desert and the shock wave hit like an earthquake, there could be no doubt that The Gadget worked. Here we have a case of epistemic compulsion if ever there were one. All doubts were banished in that moment.
Epistemic compulsion, making the truth so plain that it cannot be doubted, is not a restriction of freedom in any pejorative sense. My freedom to believe is not unfairly or illicitly abridged by having the truth plainly demonstrated. Indeed, insofar as I am rational, I very much want my beliefs compelled in the right way, i.e. by a clear and accurate perception of the truth. The very measure of the strength and value of evidence is the extent to which it constrains our interpretive freedom. Many incompatible interpretations are possible when evidence is scanty or vague, but eventually we hope that the evidence will become so clear and compelling that wiggle room is reduced to nil.
Interestingly, Scripture in places also seems to endorse proofs that make doubt impossible, at least temporarily. I Kings, chapter 18 tells the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal. Elijah challenges the worshippers of Baal to a contest. Elijah will build an altar to The Lord and the priests of Baal will build one to their deity. The side that calls down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice will be proven to represent the true God. The priests of Baal try all day to no avail, as Elijah mocks and taunts them. Elijah then calls upon The Lord and a vast torrent of fire falls upon Elijah’s altar instantly consuming the sacrifice and even the altar itself. The assembled multitudes are given an overwhelming display of the power of The Lord, and they celebrate with a salutary massacre of the priests of Baal. This is about as good an instance of an experimentum crucis as one could want.
Suppose then, that after death I were greeted by angelic beings who then reveal to me in no uncertain terms the resplendent majesty, power, and goodness of God. I would then have no choice but to admit that the naturalistic/atheistic convictions that I had maintained in life were 100% wrong. It would also be clear to me that I needed to “get with the program.” I might wonder, as Bertrand Russell said he would under such circumstances, why I had not been given such evidence before. However, I would certainly not think that my freedom to disbelieve had been abridged in any harmful way. Indeed, I would be deeply grateful that the truth had (finally) been shown to me. The upshot is that, for the compatibilist, imposition, in the sense of epistemic compulsion would be not only permissible, but wonderful.
It is not even clear that epistemic compulsion would rule out freedom in the libertarian sense that, I imagine, Pruss favors. One could, like those who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, simply refuse to consider any evidence, experiment, proof, or demonstration. Further, as I understand it, libertarian freedom encompasses the freedom to be irrational, to know the truth and to reject it anyway. Sadly, there are many instances of human beings who, even when confronted with hard, undeniable evidence, blithely and willfully persist in folly. Even when shown the indubitable truth, one might still choose, like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, to wallow in one’s own crapulence. After all, do not Satan and the fallen angels persist in evil even though they have known God face-to-face?
A viable alternative to the ones Pruss considers therefore seems to be for God to demonstrate, or at least offer to demonstrate, The Truth in a manner that makes it indubitable. This will not constitute an illicit violation of freedom either on the compatibilist or the libertarian sense. For many of us unbelievers, our rejection of the “truth about Christ” is not due, as I think Prof. Jerry L. Walls puts it, to “concupiscence and hardness of heart.” Rather, we do not believe because we cannot. The Christian message seems to us no more believable to me than the stories of The Prose Edda, and those latter ones are a lot more entertaining. Many of us have read the arguments of Plantinga, Swinburne, Moreland, Craig, Alston and others as well as the works of Christian apologists, yet, guided by our best lights, we are thoroughly unconvinced. If we are wrong, we would consider it a great boon to be shown that we are, in this life or the next.
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.
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).
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).
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.