What is a Worldview?

Report
“Few people have anything approaching an
articulate philosophy…Even fewer, I suspect,
have a carefully constructed theology.
But everyone has a worldview…
In fact, it is only the assumption of a
worldview…that allows us to think at all.”
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door

Christian Theism
 If stopping fits within God’s will, then I will stop. If not, I will go.

Deism
 Stopping is part of God’s design. I will stop.

Naturalism
 Stopping makes sense in light of natural processes. I will stop.

Nihilism
 Stopping or not stopping has no meaning. Nor does the outcome of the decision.

Existentialism
 I become human when I choose whether or not to stop.

Pantheistic Monism
 Stopping or not stopping is an illusion. I am one with the sign.

New Age
 The sign is a projection of my inner Self. Stopping or not stopping is unreal.

Islamic Theism
 If stopping is Allah’s will, I will stop. If not, I will go.

Postmodernism
 Stop signs are linguistic devices designed to exercise control over others through the
oppressive metanarrative of the traffic controllers. Stopping may be a story with
meaning for you, but not necessarily for me.
“In the simplest terms,
a worldview is a set of beliefs
about the most important
issues in life.”
Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict, 16
“A worldview (or vision of life) is a framework or set of
fundamental beliefs through which we view the world and our calling
and future in it.
This vision need not be fully articulated: it may be so
internalized that it goes largely unquestioned; it may not be explicitly
developed into a systematic conception of life; it may not be
theoretically deepened into a philosophy; it may not even be codified
into creedal form; it may be greatly refined through culturalhistorical development.
Nevertheless, this vision is a channel for the ultimate beliefs
which give direction and meaning to life. It is the integrative and
interpretative framework by which order and disorder are judged; it
is the standard by which reality is managed and pursued; it is the set
of hinges on which all our everyday thinking and doing turns.”
James H. Olthius, “On Worldviews,” in Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science

James W. Sire’s definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental
orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a
story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false)
that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the
foundation on which we live and move and have
our being.” Sire, 20

Breaking down Sire’s definition (20-22):
 Worldview as a commitment
 Expressed in a story or a set of presuppositions
 Assumptions that may be true, conscious,
consistent
 The foundation on which we live

To sketch the outline of a worldview we can
ask eight basic questions:
1. What is prime reality- the really real?
2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the
world around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?

To sketch the outline of a worldview we can
ask eight basic questions:
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments
are consistent with this worldview?

List of nine worldviews we’ll survey:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
Christian Theism
Deism
Naturalism
Nihilism
Existentialism
Pantheistic Monism
New Age
Islamic Theism
Postmodernism
Eastern
Pantheistic
Monism
Islamic
Theism
Christian
Theism
Deism
Naturalism
Nihilism
PostExistentialism Modernism
New Age

Questions to ponder:
 How would I have defined the term “worldview”
before this presentation? How would I define it now?
 Are there additional questions beyond Sire’s list of
eight that I think are vital to understanding someone’s
worldview?
 Could I answer the eight questions in regards to my
view of the world?
 Could I answer the eight questions in regards to the
view of a Muslim, a Hindu, a secular humanist?
“For any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we
should not only be able to detect the worldviews of
others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why
in the light of so many options we think it is true.”
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door
“…achieving awareness of our worldview is one of the most
important things we can do to enhance self-understanding,
and insight into the worldviews of others is essential to an
understanding of what makes them tick.”
Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict

Three primary reasons to study worldviews:
 Aids us in understanding reality- knowledge of the
truth
 Aids us in understanding what we believe and why
we believe it- basis for faith
 Aids us in communicating with others- relational
apologetics and evangelism

Aids us in understanding reality- knowledge of the
truth
 “All men desire to know the truth, that is, the way
reality really is.” Sire, 76
 As Christians we believe that God has revealed what is
true through His creation, His written Word and His
incarnation.
 As Christians we believe that a true knowledge and
acceptance of reality is necessary to salvation and
personal fulfillment.

Aids us in understanding what we believe and
why we believe it- basis for faith
 Many people, Christian and otherwise, hold an
undefined worldview.
 Many people, Christian and otherwise, hold an
unexamined worldview.
 Studying worldviews allows us to define and examine
our view, the views of others, and oftentimes the view
we thought we held, but didn’t.
 Believing what you believe you believe.

Aids us in communicating with others- relational
apologetics and evangelism
 “He who knows only one language knows no
language.”
 Understanding the internal logic of others’ views…e.g.
ethical basis within naturalism
 Understanding motivation beyond straightforward
rejection of God…e.g. hopelessness and Nihilism
(Vonnegut)

Questions to ponder:




How clearly have I defined my own worldview?
How closely have I examined my own worldview?
How much do I know about the worldviews of others?
What can I do to better understand my own
worldview and the worldviews of others?
 What do I hope to gain as a result of this increased
understanding?
 How can this increased understanding benefit others?
 How can this increased understanding become a part
of the kingdom of God being advanced?
“For there is one God,
and one mediator also
between God and men,
the man Jesus Christ”
The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 2:5 (NASB)

Opening questions:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted within
my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
This presentation is adapted almost entirely from James W. Sire, The Universe Next
Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue.

Opening remarks
 Defining terms
▪ Christian = Follower of Christ
▪ Theism = Belief in a god (Greek theos)
 Background
▪ Christian Theism is the fulfillment of Hebrew religion
▪ Christian Theism is centered on Jesus Christ’s incarnation, life,
death, resurrection and coming return
▪ Christian Theism is historically diverse in expression but
uniform in orthodox core
 Focus on conservative evangelical orthodox view

Remembering the definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental
orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a
story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false)
that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the
foundation on which we live and move and have
our being.” Sire, 20

In order to describe the Christian Theistic worldview,
we’ll ask Christian Theism the eight basic questions:
What is prime reality- the really real?
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world
around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are
consistent with this worldview?
1.
2.

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in
the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent
and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.” Sire,
28.
▪
▪
▪
▪
▪
▪
▪
God is infinite
God is personal
God is triune
God is transcendent
God is omniscient
God is sovereign
God is good

Question 2: What is the nature of external
reality, that is, the world around us?
 “External reality is the cosmos God created ex nihilo
to operate with a uniformity of cause and effect in
an open system.” Sire, 31
▪ Creation ex nihilo
▪ Creation is ordered (not chaotic) and orderly
(cause/effect)
▪ Creation is an open system- free moral agency

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Human beings are created in the image of God and thus
possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence,
morality, gregariousness and creativity.” Sire, 32
▪ In the image of God
▪
▪
▪
▪
▪
▪
Personality (unique identity/personhood)
Self-transcendence (awareness and control over environment)
Intelligence (the capacity for reason and knowledge)
Morality (the capacity for recognizing and understanding good and evil)
Gregariousness (social/relational capacity for community)
Creativity (imagine new things or endow old things with new significance)

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Human beings were created good, but through the Fall
the image of God became defaced, though not so ruined
as not to be capable of restoration; through the work of
Christ, God redeemed humanity and began the process
of restoring people to goodness, though any given
person may choose to reject that redemption.” Sire, 39
▪
▪
▪
▪
Creation
Fall
Redemption
Glorification

Question 4: What happens to a person at
death?
 “For each person death is either the gate to life with
God and his people or the gate to eternal separation
from the only thing that will ultimately fulfill
human aspirations.” Sire, 41
▪ Eternal life
▪ Eternal separation from God (i.e. death)

Question 5: How can we know anything at
all?
 “Human beings can know both the world around
them and God himself because God has built into
them the capacity to do so and because he takes an
active role in communicating with them.” Sire, 36
▪ Capacity for knowledge and the imago dei
▪ Revelation: General and Special

Question 6: How do we know what is right
and wrong?
 “Ethics is transcendent and is based on the
character of God as good (holy and loving).” Sire,
42
▪ Transcendence of ethics
▪ Character of God as basis of ethics (holiness/love)

Question 7: What is the nature of human
history?
 “History is linear, a meaningful sequence of events
leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for
humanity.” Sire, 43
▪ Linear
▪ Meaningful
▪ Divine Telos


Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?
“Christian theists live to seek first the kingdom of God, that is, to
glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Sire, 44
▪ Ultimately, Christian theism is about God.
▪ Human enjoyment/fulfillment results from glorifying God.
▪ John Piper, “God is most fully glorified in us when we are most fully
satisfied in Him.”

“So the greatness of God is the central tenet of Christian theism.
When a person recognizes this and consciously accepts and acts
upon it, this central conception is the rock, the transcendent
reference point, that gives life meaning and makes the joys and
sorrows of daily existence on planet earth significant moments in
an unfolding drama in which on expects to participate forever, not
always with sorrows but someday with joy alone.” Sire, 46

Questions to Ponder:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
“Since Christian Theism is only one of many
competing worldviews, on what grounds can
people make a reasoned choice among the
systems? Which worldview is most likely to be
true? What is the best or most promising way
to approach this kind of question?”
Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict


Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing
Christianity in a World of Ideas, addresses the issue of
defending Christian Theism from a philosophical
perspective, not a theological perspective.
Some important terminology for philosophy:
 Metaphysics- the study of first things/principles such as
being, knowing and cause
 Epistemology- the theory of knowledge, especially
methods and validation
 Logic- the science of reasoning, proof, thinking and
inference
 Ethics- the study of “oughtness”, morality, distinguishing
between right and wrong, good and bad

Utilizes the following tests in concert with one another:
 The Test of Reason
 The Test of Experience
 The Test of Practice

Given the subject matter, Nash is not attempting to prove
Christianity as true through formal logic (2+2=4).
 Rather, he is demonstrating the probability of the claims of
Christian Theism.
 Moral certainty can, and often does, result from probability,
rather than proof. In other words, we make many moral and
meaningful decisions in our lives based on what we believe to
probably be true, rather than on what we can/do prove.

The Test of Reason
 By reason Nash means logic, specifically the test of non-
contradiction:
▪ “A, which can be anything whatever, cannot be both B and non-B
at the same time in the same sense.”
▪ Contradiction = error
 Worldviews with demonstrable contradictions fail the test
of reason and should cause us to suspect their veracity.
 Is reason contrary to Christianity? Is Christianity full of
contradictions?
 Two major so-called “contradictions” within Christianity:
▪ The problem of evil
▪ The incarnation

The Test of Experience
 “Worldviews should be relevant to what we know about the
world and ourselves.” Nash, 57
 The Test of the Outer World
▪ Does our worldview account for evidence from the world around us or
does it contradict that evidence?
▪ Are people innately good? Are miracles impossible? Are pain and
death nothing but illusions?
 The Test of the Inner World
▪ Does our worldview account for what we know about ourselves as
human beings?
▪ Do I think, experience pain, have hopes, feel guilt? Am I conscious of
past, present and future? Are my actions determined or
undetermined?
▪ “No matter how hard it may be to look honestly at our inner self, we
are right in being suspicious of those whose defense of a worldview
ignores or rejects the inner world.” Nash, 61

The Test of Practice:
 “…can the person who professes that worldview live
consistently in harmony with the system he
professes? Or do we find that he is forced to live
according to beliefs borrowed from a competing
system?” Nash, 62
 Typically, this problem is seen most clearly in
epistemological and ethical questions:
▪ How can the skeptic know that we can’t know anything at
all?
▪ How can the moral relativist claim that anything is wrong?



Now we will apply the three tests (Reason,
Experience, Practice) to the Christian Theistic
worldview as presented by Sire.
We will look at each of the eight worldview
questions and see if it fails any of the three
tests.
We will not take time to do this with the other
worldviews, but as we present them we will
point out their failings at various points.

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the
Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and
immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.” Sire, 28.
▪ The Test of Reason
▪ There is nothing internally contradictory about this claim.
▪ The problem of evil and the incarnation are the best critiques that have
been offered, but neither actually produce a contradiction, only
difficulties/paradoxes.
▪ The Test of Experience
▪ Neither the inner nor outer world render such a claim impossible.
▪ The Test of Practice
▪ Life can be lived consistently in accord with this belief.

Question 2: What is the nature of external reality,
that is, the world around us?
 “External reality is the cosmos God created ex nihilo to
operate with a uniformity of cause and effect in an open
system.” Sire, 31
▪ The Test of Reason
▪ There is nothing contradictory in the internal logic of this statement.
▪ The Test of Experience
▪ Nothing in the inner or outer world of experience render this impossible.
Big bang/evolution are the largest critiques and can both be incorporated
into this worldview.
▪ The Test of Practice
▪ Life can be consistently lived with this understanding of the cosmos.

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Human beings are created in the image of God and thus
possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence,
morality, gregariousness and creativity…through the Fall
the image of God became defaced, though not so ruined
as not to be capable of restoration; through the work of
Christ, God redeemed humanity and began the process of
restoring people to goodness, though any given person
may choose to reject that redemption.” Sire, 32, 39

The Test of Reason
 There are no inherent contradictions in the internal
logic of the statement.

The Test of Experience
 Both our knowledge of our inner and outer world
indicate the existence of moral ambiguity, innate
goodness, conscience, evil and redemption.

The Test of Practice
 A person can live consistently in accordance with this
view of humanity.

Question 4: What happens to a person at death?
 “For each person death is either the gate to life with God
and his people or the gate to eternal separation from the
only thing that will ultimately fulfill human aspirations.”
Sire, 41
▪ The Test of Reason
▪ The statement, while it cannot be proven, is not self-contradictory and is
not subject to falsification.
▪ The Test of Experience
▪ Nothing in the inner or outer world disprove this idea and some
evidences seem to support it.
▪ The Test of Practice
▪ People can live their lives in accordance with this belief.

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “Human beings can know both the world around them and
God himself because God has built into them the capacity to
do so and because he takes an active role in communicating
with them.” Sire, 36
▪ The Test of Reason
▪ Nothing inherently self-contradicting or illogical.
▪ The Test of Experience
▪ Our knowledge of ourselves and the world around us indicates a capacity to
know, perceive and learn. This capacity does appear to be enhanced in
numerous ways when coupled with God’s revelation.
▪ The Test of Practice
▪ People can and do live in accordance with this view, resulting in countless
advances in philosophy, science, medicine, technology, etc.

Question 6: How do we know what is right and
wrong?
 “Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God
as good (holy and loving).” Sire, 42
▪ The Test of Reason
▪ Nothing inherently self-contradictory here.
▪ Objections typically involve the problem of evil and some of God’s actions in
Scripture that do not fit imposed notions of good/evil.
▪ The Test of Experience
▪ Most people remain convinced, regardless of their worldview, that there is a
transcendent component to ethics resulting in universal standards of good
and evil.
▪ The Test of Practice
▪ A person with this view has no need to borrow from another worldview in
addressing ethical questions/situations.

Question 7: What is the nature of human history?
 “History is linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading
to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity.” Sire, 43
▪ The Test of Reason
▪ There is nothing self-contradictory in this view.
▪ The Test of Experience
▪ Both inner and outer observation indicate that time is in fact linear and
made up of a meaningful sequence of events. Whether this is in fulfillment
of God’s purposes cannot be proven or disproven through logic.
▪ Once more, the problem of evil is often cited here to question God’s
purposeful oversight of creation.
▪ The Test of Practice
▪ Most humans, regardless of worldview, can and do function with the idea
that their life is linear and made up of meaningful events.
Christian Theism passes the tests of Reason, Experience
and Practice.
 As we continue to survey other worldviews you will note
that this is not necessarily a claim that other worldviews
can make, even worldviews that claim to be generated by
these tests.
 You will also note that in the case of Pantheistic Monism
and New Age, some worldviews reject these tests
altogether.
 Ask yourself, could I be satisfied with a view of reality that:

1.
2.
3.
failed to be reasonable?
failed to agree with my experience of the inner and outer
world?
was impossible to live in accordance with?
“Deism is the isthmus between two great
continents—theism and naturalism…
In theism God is the infinite-personal Creator and
sustainer of the cosmos.
In deism God is reduced; he begins to lose his
personality, though he remains Creator and (by
implication) sustainer of the cosmos.
In naturalism God is further reduced; he loses his
very existence.”
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door

Opening questions:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted within
my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
This presentation is adapted almost entirely from James W. Sire, The Universe Next
Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue.

Opening remarks
 Defining terms
▪ Deism = Belief in a god (Latin deus)
 Background history
▪ 18th & 19th centuries saw shift from Theism
▪ Rationalism and scientific progress contributed
 Focus on “Cold” Deism
▪ “Warm” vs. “Cold” Deism
▪ End with comments on popular form of modern warm
Deism

Remembering the definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental
orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a
story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false)
that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the
foundation on which we live and move and have
our being.” Sire, 20

In order to describe the Postmodern worldview, we’ll
ask Postmodernism the eight basic questions:
What is prime reality- the really real?
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world
around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are
consistent with this worldview?
1.
2.

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “A transcendent God, as a First Cause, created the
universe but then left it to run on its own. God is thus
not immanent, not triune, not fully personal, not
sovereign over human affairs, not providential.” Sire, 51
▪ God is the “prime mover”
▪ The “clockwork God”
▪ God is impersonal, perhaps an intellect, certainly not
incarnate and non-revelatory

Question 2: What is the nature of external
reality, that is, the world around us?
 “The cosmos God created is determined, because it
is created as a uniformity of cause and effect in a
closed system; no miracle is possible.” Sire, 52
▪ Closed in that God has determined not too act upon His
creation.
▪ Closed in that humans are incapable of transcending the
divine design in order to modify it.

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Human beings, though personal, are a part of the
clockwork of the universe.” Sire, 52
▪ Humans have self-consciousness and self-determination,
but only in regards to themselves and one
another…personal relationship with God is not possible.
▪ Humans have intelligence, morality, and a capacity for
community and creativity, but none of this is grounded in
God’s character.
▪ Humans are what they are by design, not be virtue of being
created in God’s image or relating to Him.

Question 4: What happens to a person at
death?
 “Human beings may or may not have a life beyond
their physical existence.” Sire, 53.
▪ Afterlife similar to Christian Theism
▪ Alternative visions of afterlife
▪ No afterlife

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “Through our innate and autonomous human reason
and the methods of science, we can not only know the
universe but we can infer at least something of what
God is like. The cosmos, this world, is understood to be
in its normal state; it is not fallen or abnormal.” Sire, 54
▪ Humans function as God created them, including the capacity
for understanding and gaining knowledge.
▪ Creation, when studied, can yield some insight into the
Creator, as Creator. God is an impersonal designer, not an
immanent Person.

Question 6: How do we know what is right
and wrong?
 “Ethics is intuitive or limited to general revelation;
because the universe is normal, it reveals what is
right.” Sire, 56
▪ Recall that there is no “Fall” in Deism; humanity and all
of creation is as God designed it to be.
▪ Thus, the intuition of humanity and the order of creation
indicates right vs. wrong, good vs. evil.

Question 7: What is the nature of human
history?
 “History is linear, for the course of the cosmos was
determined at creation. Still the meaning of the
events of history remains to be understood by the
application of human reason to the data unearthed
and made available to historians.” Sire, 57
▪ History unfolds according to the design of the cosmos;
without divine intervention.
▪ If history has “meaning” it can be discovered through
human reason; not revelation.

Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this
worldview?
 “Cold deists use their own autonomous reason to
determine their goal in life; warm deists may reflect on
their commitment to a somewhat personal God and
determine their goal in accordance with what they
believe their God would be pleased with.” Sire, 59.
▪ Deism and “personal freedom”.
▪ Deism and pluralism.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (Christian Smith)
1. “A God exists who created and orders the world and
2.
3.
4.
5.
watches over human life on earth.
God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each
other, as taught in the Bible and by most religions.
The central goal in life is to be happy and to feel
good about oneself.
God does not need to be particularly involved in
one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a
problem.
Good people go to heaven when they die.”

Opening remarks
 Defining terms
▪ Naturalism = Belief in the natural world as ultimate
 Background
▪ “Deism is the isthmus between two great continents—
theism and naturalism…In intellectual terms the route is
this: In theism God is the infinite-personal Creator and
sustainer of the cosmos. In deism God is reduced; he
begins to lose his personality, though he remains
Creator and (by implication) sustainer of the cosmos. In
naturalism God is further reduced; he loses his very
existence.” Sire, 67

Remembering the definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental
orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a
story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false)
that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the
foundation on which we live and move and have
our being.” Sire, 20

In order to describe the Naturalist worldview, we’ll ask
Naturalism the eight basic questions:
What is prime reality- the really real?
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world
around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are
consistent with this worldview?
1.
2.

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “Prime reality is matter. Matter exists eternally and is
all there is. God does not exist.” Sire, 68
▪ Carl Sagan, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will
be.”
▪ Matter, in one form or another, has always existed and is all
that has ever existed.
▪ Recently some naturalist scientists have proposed that
matter originated at some point in the past from nothing.

Question 2: What is the nature of external
reality, that is, the world around us?
 “The cosmos exists as a uniformity of cause and effect
in a closed system.” Sire, 70
▪ Deterministic, but not designed.
▪ “…the occurrence of events, qualities and processes, and the
characteristic behaviors of various individuals, are contingent
on the organization of spatiotemporally located bodies,
whose internal structures and external relations determine
and limit the appearance and disappearance of everything
that happens.” Ernest Nagel, as quoted in Sire, 71

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Human beings are complex ‘machines’; personality is an
interrelation of chemical and physical properties we do not
yet fully understand.” Sire, 71
▪ Descarte’s “mind and machine” is reduced to mind as a function
of machine. “the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes
bile.” Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, quoted in Sire, 72.
▪ No transcendence beyond matter…which is all there is, ever was
or ever will be.
▪ Humans are unique from other composite matter because of
intelligence, speech, culture, etc. Thus, humanity has “value” as
humanity vs. other matter.
▪ Determinism is not considered absolute by some
naturalists…humans can act other than they do, thus providing a
basis for naturalist ethics.

Question 4: What happens to a person at
death?
 “Death is extinction of personality and
individuality.” Sire, 74
▪ “Human destiny is an episode between two oblivions.”
Ernest Nagel, quoted in Sire, 75
▪ When matter breaks down, the individual comprised of
that matter breaks down.

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “Through our innate and autonomous human reason,
including the methods of science, we can know the
universe. The cosmos, including this world, is
understood to be in its normal state.” Sire, 75
▪ Human reason is the result of unguided evolutionary
processes.
▪ Knowledge comes through human experience,
experimentation, examination and empirical evidence.
▪ Humanity and creation are not “fallen”, but are
functioning as they naturally should.

Question 6: How do we know what is right
and wrong?
 “Ethics is related only to human beings.” Sire, 76
▪ “…values are constructed by human beings.” Sire, 77
▪ Consciousness and self-determination alone result in
ethics. Thus, ethics arose through evolution with the
appearance of conscious and self-determining humans.
▪ No “natural law”.
▪ Ethical systems arise as individual humans interact
within human groups in pursuit of human survival.

Question 7: What is the nature of human history?
 “History is a linear system of events linked by cause and
effect but without an overarching purpose.” Sire, 80
▪ “Natural” history pre-dates, and will almost certainly postdate, “human” history.
▪ Natural history began with a “big bang” or “sudden
emergence”. The origin of natural history is in dispute, but
naturalists agree that it was self-activating.
▪ The origin of human history is understood to be evolutionary
processes. However, humans represent a new phase in
evolution because of self-consciousness. Thus, human
history is meaningful in a way natural history is not;
participants in the history are aware of it.
Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?

 “Naturalism itself implies no particular core commitment
on the part of any given naturalist. Rather core
commitments are adopted unwittingly or chosen by
individuals.” Sire, 84
▪ Returns to questions of determinism and ethics.
▪ Many naturalists would self identify as “secular humanists”
▪ Secular = no supernatural/divine
▪ Humanism = “…the overall attitude that human beings are of special
value; their aspirations, their thoughts, their yearnings are significant.”
Sire, 85

Questions to Ponder:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
“…nihilism is the negation of everything—knowledge,
ethics, beauty, reality. In nihilism no statement has
validity; nothing has meaning.”
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door
“…there is at least one being in whom existence
precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be
defined by any concept, and…this being is man. First
of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and,
only afterwards, defines himself.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism

Opening questions:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted within
my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
This presentation is adapted almost entirely from James W. Sire, The Universe Next
Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue.

Opening remarks
 Defining terms
▪ Nihilism = belief in nothing/negation
 Background
▪ Nihilism arises as the logical conclusion of Naturalism.
▪ While Naturalists persist without moving to Nihilism,
most Nihilists are former Naturalists.
▪ Nihilism is alive and well, but likely had its heyday in the
middle of the previous century.

Remembering the definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental
orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a
story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false)
that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the
foundation on which we live and move and have
our being.” Sire, 20

“Nihilism is more a feeling than a philosophy,
more a solitary stance before the universe than a
worldview. Strictly speaking, nihilism is a denial
of any philosophy or worldview—a denial of the
possibility of knowledge, a denial that anything is
valuable. If it proceeds to the absolute denial of
everything, it even denies the reality of existence
itself. In other words, nihilism is the negation of
everything—knowledge, ethics, beauty, reality. In
nihilism no statement has validity; nothing has
meaning. Everything is gratuitous, de trop, that
is, just there.” Sire, 94

In order to describe the Nihilist worldview, we can’t
ask the eight basic questions of a worldview:
What is prime reality- the really real?
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world
around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are
consistent with this worldview?
1.
2.

Instead, we’ll simply look at the way in which
Naturalism, when taken seriously, logically leads to
Nihilism.
 Not all Naturalists inevitably move to Nihilism.
 However, Naturalism forms the foundation for Nihilism,
particularly as a bridge from Theism/Deism to Nihilism.

Nihilism has emerged, in part, because of Deistic
and Theistic arguments against Naturalism.
 Rather than reject the internal inconsistencies of
Naturalism in favor of a different worldview, Nihilists
embrace these inconsistencies in favor of denying
worldviews altogether.

Let’s observe the move from Naturalism to Nihilism.

Necessity & Chance
 Nihilism takes the deterministic nature of human action
seriously. Say goodbye to free will.
▪ Humans are nothing but machines responding to stimuli over
which they have no control. “A person does not act on the world,
the world acts on him.” B.F. Skinner, as quoted in Sire, 100.
▪ There is no such thing as “free will” or responsibility; our actions
are nothing more than the inevitable outcome of our genetic and
environmental make-up.
 Nihilism takes the implications of evolutionary processes
driven by chance seriously. Say goodbye to meaning.
▪ Humans exist in a closed system of cause and effect driven by
mere chance.
▪ There can be no purpose or meaning of any kind when things
occur only as they must and only through the absurdity of chance.

Metaphysics and Epistemology
 If matter is all that exists, then there can be no confidence
in the capacity for matter to accurately perceive matter.
▪ “The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s
mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals,
are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the
conviction of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such
a mind?” Charles Darwin, as quoted in Sire, 103-4.
▪ “It is only when you are asked to believe in Reason coming from
non-reason that you must cry Halt, for, if you don’t, all thought is
discredited.” C.S. Lewis, Miracles, 32.
 If humans are inside a box and the box is all there is, then
how can they know with any certainty that they are inside
a box?

The death of ethics
 Ethics is a statement of what “ought” to be; despite what
“is”.
 In Naturalism, there is no universal ought; ethics are
simply social constructs of groups of humans.
 Nihilists recognize that this is not truly ethics, because it
no longer describes what “ought” to be versus what “is”,
it simply describes what “is” in various social contexts.
 Nihilism recognizes that in a closed natural system there
is no basis for ethics; nothing is right, nothing is wrong,
nothing is good, nothing is evil…these are terms without
meaning.

An existence without meaning
 Nihilism recognizes the logical conclusion of
naturalism:
▪ There is no “free will” or responsibility for human action
▪ There can be no confidence in human thought
▪ There is no such thing as ethics in the sense of “oughtness”
 In short, Nihilism denies the existence of philosophy
(metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics). In doing
so, Nihilism envisions an existence without the
possibility of meaning.

The difficulty of living as a Nihilist:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
From meaninglessness follows nothing…or anything. No
action or inaction could be considered appropriate or
inappropriate.
Thought, and particularly trust of thought, is inconsistent and
absurd.
Nihilism is a negation of something one claims does not exist.
Nihilists have attempted to use art to convey the meaning of
their non-worldview…but insofar as art conveys meaning it
undermines the essential claim of Nihilism, there is no
meaning.
Nihilism poses severe psychological problems for the Nihilist.
A life lived without meaning in negation of value, significance,
dignity, worth, etc. is by definition miserable and pointless.

Opening remarks
 Defining terms
▪ Exist = to be present in time and space
▪ Existentialism = the belief that human existence is primary,
essence is secondary
 Background
▪ Existentialism as a response to Nihilism, seeks to “transcend”
Nihilism
▪ Emerged in distinct forms in the 19th century (atheistic
Existentialism in response to Nihilism and theistic Existentialism
in response to dead orthodoxy), but did not become a widely held
worldview until the second half of the 20th century.
▪ We will focus on the “mainstream” of atheistic Existentialism as
expressed by Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.

In order to describe the Existentialist worldview, we’ll ask Existentialism
the eight basic questions:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.


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?
What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this
worldview?
Existentialism is essentially Naturalism with an attempt to reclaim
human meaning from the depths of Nihilism.
Thus, Existentialism answers questions 1, 4,5,6, & 7 essentially the
same as Naturalism. We will review these only briefly, and focus on 2,
3 & 8.

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “Matter exists eternally; God does not exist.” Sire, 119
▪ Carl Sagan, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will
be.”
▪ Matter, in one form or another, has always existed and is all
that has ever existed.
▪ Recently some naturalist scientists have proposed that
matter originated at some point in the past from nothing

Question 2: What is the nature of external reality, that is,
the world around us?
 “The cosmos is composed solely of matter, but to human beings
reality appears in two forms—subjective and objective.” Sire,
119
▪ The “objective” world is the world of objects, things, mechanisms, all
that which is “it”. Essentially, all that which is non-human.
▪ The “subjective” world is the world only experienced by the human who
has evolved to a place of self-consciousness and self-determination.
▪ Science and logic have access to the objective, but not the subjective
world.
▪ The subjective world is only accessible through human experience.
▪ Humans live as strangers in an objective world because they are
subjective creatures. Both the organization and the chaos of existence
are problematic for the human because they are objective and
impervious to the subjective will of the human.

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Human beings are complex ‘machines’; personality is an
interrelation of chemical and physical properties we do not
yet fully understand. For human beings alone existence
precedes essence; people make themselves who they are.”
Sire, 121
▪ “…there is at least one being in whom existence precedes
essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any
concept, and…this being is man. First of all, man exists, turns up,
appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, quoted in Sire, 121
▪ “Salt is salt; trees are tree; ants are ant. Only human beings are
not human before they make themselves so.” Sire, 121
▪ Humans are defined by their experiential existence and actions.

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Each person is totally free as regards his or her nature
and destiny.” Sire, 122
▪ The human capacity for subjective experience gives them
infinite potential and freedom to act as they will; for their
existence precedes, and determines, their essence.
▪ “We can think, will, imagine, dream, project visions,
consider, ponder, invent. Each of us is king of our own
subjective world.” Sire, 122.

Question 4: What happens to a person at
death?
 “Death is extinction of personality and
individuality.” Sire, 119
▪ When matter breaks down, the individual comprised of
that matter breaks down.
▪ Death is the greatest absurdity and most difficult, if not
impossible, reality to transcend for the Existentialist. In
death, the subjective being becomes objective matter.
“So, says Camus, we must ever live in the face of the
absurd.” Sire, 123

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “Through our innate and autonomous human reason,
including the methods of science, we can know the
universe. The cosmos, including this world, is understood
to be in its normal state. In full recognition of and against
the absurdity of the objective world, the authentic person
must revolt and create value.” Sire, 119-123
▪ Human reason is the result of unguided evolutionary processes.
▪ However, human reason moves the human beyond the absurd
objective world of laws, boundaries, restrictions and inevitability
(i.e. determinism) into a transcendent place where they can and
must experience the subjective in the face of the objective.

Question 6: How do we know what is right and
wrong?
 “Ethics is related only to human beings. The good action is
the consciously chosen action.” Sire, 119-124
▪ “To choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the
value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We
always choose the good.” Sartre, as quoted in Sire, 124.
▪ So is there a standard for “good” other than conscious choices?
Yes, the conscious choices of others provide an ethical center of
subjectivity whereby we ascertain whether our good choices are
good for humanity.
▪ But how to deal with competing notions of what is good for
humanity? Existentialism falls short of answering this query.

Question 7: What is the nature of human history?
 “History is a linear system of events linked by cause and
effect but without an overarching purpose.” Sire, 80
▪ The origin of human history is understood to be evolutionary
processes. However, humans represent a new phase in
evolution because of self-consciousness. Thus, human
history is meaningful in a way natural history is not;
participants in the history are aware of it.
▪ Human history can have meaning insomuch as self-conscious
and self-determined humans make choices that define their
existence individually and corporately.


Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?
“The core commitment of every full-blown atheistic
existentialist is to himself or herself.” Sire, 126
▪ “Since they themselves make themselves who they are, they are
responsible only to themselves. They admit they are finite beings in
an absurd world, subject to death without exception. The
authenticity of their value comes solely by virtue of their own
conscious choices.” Sire, 126
▪ Albert Camus attempted to portray a “saint without God” in his story
The Plague, but ultimately one is left asking, “Why are the actions of
this ‘saint’ preferable to the actions of other characters in the story?”
In rejecting any objective standard of truth, Existentialism can only
offer a subjective answer to this question.

Questions to Ponder:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
“Atman is Brahman.”
Hindu confession of faith
“Know that you are God;
know that you are the universe.”
Shirley MacLaine, Dancing in the Light

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 6, Episode 4
 Otto, a “shape-shifter” has been separated from his species his




whole life and never experienced their shared being as a single
entity (the “Link”).
He meets another shape-shifter and temporarily “links” with her
by becoming the same substance.
This “link” brings understanding/unity beyond thoughts and
words, and gives him insight into what the great “Link” might be
like.
In one scene he is speaking with the other shape-shifter about the
experience of merging with all other shape-shifters in the “Link”.
Let’s take a look at their conversation as it will prepare us to
understand the basic concept underlying both Pantheistic
Monism and New Age.
Otto- “You haven’t told me your name.”
Shifter- “What use would I have for a name.”
Otto- “To differentiate yourself from the others.”
Shifter- “I don’t.”
Otto- “But, you are a separate being aren’t you?”
Shifter- “In a sense.”
Otto- “When you return to the Link, what will become of the entity I’m talking to right
now?”
Shifter- “The drop becomes the ocean.”
Otto- “And if you choose to take solid form again?”
Shifter- “The ocean becomes a drop.”
Otto- “Ah, yes, I think I’m beginning to understand.”
Shifter- “Then you can answer your own question, ‘How many of us are there?’”
Otto- “One…and many, it depends on how you look at it.”
Shifter- “Very good, you are beginning to understand. But there is so much you don’t
know.”
Otto- “Tell me.”
Shifter- “Oh, words are insufficient. Link with me again, it is the only way I can give you
the understanding you seek.”

Watch for these ideas to come to the fore:
 Lack of differentiation
 The relationship between the ocean and the drop
 The paradox between one and many
 The inability of words and thought to give full
access to the Link.
 The need for “link” experience to gain
understanding.

Opening questions:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
This presentation is adapted almost entirely from James W. Sire, The Universe
Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue.

Opening remarks…Journeying East
 Defining terms
▪ Pan = All, Theos = God, Monism = One
 Background
▪ The influence of Eastern religion on the Western world has been increasing
over the past 150 years.
▪ The 1960’s marked a significant turning point as a disillusioned generation
sought an escape from traditional Western religion and the Western
philosophies that sought (unsuccessfully) to reject it.
▪ Fifty years later, “Eastern” thought is pervasive and influential in Western
society.
 Focus will be on the form of Eastern philosophy that is most popular
in the West. It is the root worldview that underlies much of Hindu
religion.
 “Pantheistic monism is distinguished from other related Eastern
worldviews by its monism, the notion that only one impersonal
element constitutes reality.” Sire, 147

Remembering the definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental
orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a
story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false)
that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the
foundation on which we live and move and have
our being.” Sire, 20

In order to describe the Pantheistic Monist worldview, we’ll ask
Pantheistic Monism the eight basic questions:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
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?
What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this
worldview?
However, we need to understand that Eastern and Western thinking
are radically different. It is not simply that the Eastern worldview has
different categories, meaning or content, but that the Eastern
worldview often rejects categories, meaning and content.


Example: Law of non-contradiction vs. refusal to differentiate

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “Atman is Brahman; that is, the soul of each and every
human being is the Soul of the cosmos (ultimate
reality).” Sire, 149
▪
▪
▪
▪
Atman = the essence/soul of any person
Brahman = the essence/Soul of the whole cosmos
Each person is, in essence, God.
God is understood as the “one, infinite-impersonal, ultimate
reality. That is, God is the cosmos. God is all that exists;
nothing exists that is not God.” Sire, 149
▪ Things that exist that appear not to be God, including all
distinctions are “maya”, i.e. “illusion”.

Question 2: What is the nature of external
reality, that is, the world around us?
 The nature of reality is Brahman. All is one; all is
united. Atman is Brahman.
▪ Nevertheless, “Some things are more one than others.” Sire,
150. The distinction appears to be a matter of consciousness.
Self-realization makes one experientially aware of their
Oneness with ultimate reality.
▪ Experientially, a fully-realized human is more one than a rock.
However, a fully-realized human loses all consciousness when
it achieves oneness.
▪ Distinctions between those that are more or less one than
others are ultimately “maya”.

Question 3: What is a human being?
 On one hand, a human being is an individual
embodiment of Atman. On the other hand, an
“individual, personal” human being is a category that
suggests separateness in a reality of Oneness.
Ultimately, there are no “individual, personal” human
beings, as such, there is only the cosmos; there is only
Brahman.
▪ “To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond
personality.” Sire, 154
▪ Humans might be described as those who are moving
toward being through inaction and awareness of Oneness.

Question 4: What happens to a person at death?
 “Death is the end of individual, personal existence, but it
changes nothing essential in an individual’s nature.” Sire,
158
▪ All that dies in death is one individual embodiment of Atman.
▪ Atman is eternal and is embodied in billions of other ways
eternally.
▪ Reincarnation/transmigration of the soul is understood in
impersonal, ultimate ways, not individual or personal ways.
▪ When Joe dies, it is not Joe in the personal/individual sense that comes
back to life as a tiger. When Joe dies, Atman lives on and embodies a
tiger. The tiger will die, but Atman lives on and embodies a tree. Atman
embodies/incarnates all things…Atman is Brahman.

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass
beyond knowledge. The principle of noncontradiction
does not apply where ultimate reality is concerned.”
Sire, 155
▪ Knowledge, as understood in Western terms, can all be
summed up in one word…”maya”.
▪ Realization of Oneness comes through Realization, not
Knowledge. In that Realization, knowledge has no
meaning, for knowledge distinguishes.

Question 6: How do we know what is right and
wrong?
 “To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass
beyond good and evil; the cosmos is perfect at every
moment.” Sire, 156
▪ “Brahman is beyond good and evil.” Sire, 157
▪ Good and evil are categories of “maya”.
▪ Karma is a system of balancing this illusion of good and evil
throughout the progress of the transmigrating soul back to
the One. This ongoing cycle is indefinite, during which, the
individual incarnations of Atman may perceive right and
wrong as meaningful categories, but upon moksha, good and
evil cease to have meaning.
▪ The cosmos is perfect because the cosmos is Ultimate.

Question 7: What is the nature of human
history?
 “To realize one’s oneness with the One is to pass
beyond time. Time is unreal. History is cyclical.”
▪ Consider a river vs. the water cycle. Time is an illusion,
like describing water as that which passes by a given
point on the river bank. In reality, there is no time, there
is only the eternal flow and cycle of existence, the
eternal One.
 Consider the sharpness of contrast here between
Eastern thought and Christian theism.


Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?
“Core commitments among individual Eastern pantheistic
monists may vary widely, but one consistent commitment is,
by the elimination of desire, to achieve salvation, that is, to
realize one’s union with the One.” Sire, 163
▪ The problem humans face is the illusory sense of
separation/distinction from the One.
▪ This illusion results in the desire of things other than Oneness,
resulting in suffering.
▪ By eliminating desire for anything other than Oneness, suffering is
eliminated and realization of Oneness is made possible.
▪ “Many (if not all) roads lead to the One.” Sire, 151

Opening remarks
 Defining terms
▪ New – While routed in animism and ancient Gnosis, the New Age
understands itself to be new and novel in that it represents a new stage of
evolution.
▪ Age – The newness of the age is predicated on the new being that humans
are becoming through evolution into new consciousness.
 Background
▪ New Age, as a syncretism of animism, existentialism and Eastern thought
has a long and complex history.
▪ It has emerged since the 1960s as an increasingly popular and pervasive
view, now commanding entire sections of most bookstores and influencing
many who are unaware of its teachings.
▪ Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra are probably the two most influential
popular proponents today, although past generations were influenced
heavily by Shirley MacLaine, Aldous Huxley and John Lilly.

In order to describe the New Age worldview, we’ll ask
New Age the eight basic questions:
What is prime reality- the really real?
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world
around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are
consistent with this worldview?
1.
2.

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “Whatever the nature of being (idea or matter, energy or
particle), the self is the kingpin, the prime reality.” Sire,
181
▪ Humans are in an ongoing evolutionary process in which
major changes are occurring at the level of consciousness.
▪ A new age/consciousness/humanity is emerging, thus the
emerging “self” is primary.

Three options for New Age adherents:
 The Occult Version
▪ A “fifth dimension” spirit-world truly exists alongside normally
perceived reality. Altered consciousness opens “doors of
perception” to this supernatural reality.
 The Psychedelic Version
▪ Altered states of consciousness are simply projections of the self;
humans can create alternative realities from within themselves.
 Conceptual Relativism
▪ “…altered states of consciousness allow people to substitute one
symbol system for another symbol system, that is, one vision of
reality for another.” Sire, 201
▪ We have no direct access to reality, only various ways of perceiving
it. New age is an alternative to other ways. The “best” way is the
one that yields beneficial results.

Question 2: What is the nature of external
reality, that is, the world around us?
 “The cosmos, while unified in the self, is manifested
in two more dimensions: the visible universe,
accessible through ordinary consciousness, and the
invisible universe (or Mind at Large), accessible
through altered states of consciousness.” Sire, 186
▪ Similar to Naturalism in accepting the reality,
orderliness and cause/effect nature of the natural world.
▪ Similar to Pantheistic Monism in recognizing the
individual self as one with the Mind at Large.
Mind at Large
Natural World
Self

Question 3: What is a human being?
 A human being is an incarnation of the self. The self is one
with the Mind at Large, but most human beings do not
realize their true nature. “As human beings grow in their
awareness and grasp of this fact, the human race is on the
verge of a radical change in human nature; even now we
see harbingers of transformed humanity and prototypes of
the New Age.” Sire, 181
▪ Human beings who do not recognize their oneness with the Mind
at Large have the potential to do so.
▪ Human beings who realize oneness with the Mind at Large
recognize their identity as god, with the power to create anything
they can imagine (Sire quote from MacLaine, 185).

Question 4: What happens to a person at death?
 “Physical death is not the end of the self; under the
experience of cosmic consciousness, the fear of death is
removed.” Sire, 195
▪ Death is simply a transition from one form of life to another.
▪ The “higher consciousness”, i.e. the self, cannot die.
▪ New Age proponents point to “past-life regressions”,
reincarnation, out-of-body experiences (particularly near
physical death) as evidence of existence beyond the body.

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “The core experience of the New Age is cosmic
consciousness, in which ordinary categories of space,
time and morality tend to disappear.” Sire, 190
▪ The natural world is accessed through the typical
consciousness of the self and understood in typical categories
of space, time, ethics, etc.
▪ The Mind at Large is accessed through “doors of perception”
such as drugs, meditation, trance, biofeedback, acupuncture,
ritualized dance, music, etc. Here, anything can happen
because reality is created by the self, “anything the self sees,
perceives, conceives, imagines or believes,
exists…Appearance is reality. There is no illusion.” Sire, 191
▪ See quote in Sire, 192-193

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “Human beings can understand reality because in a
state of God-consciousness they directly perceive it.
Nonetheless, when New Age teachers present this view
to others, they often cite the authority of ancient
Scriptures and other religious teachers.” Sire, 204
▪ We are all god, we just don’t all realize it.
▪ Those who become one with the One have not only direct
access to knowledge, they create knowledge.
▪ Those who have not realized their oneness require teaching,
guidance, etc. in order to reach self-realization.
▪ The “wise” of other religions are enlisted to teach the “truths”
of the New Age, particularly Jesus and Buddha.

Question 6: How do we know what is right and
wrong?
 “The core experience of the New Age is cosmic
consciousness, in which ordinary categories of space,
time and morality tend to disappear.” Sire, 190
▪ In our perception of the natural world, humans choose from
any number of ethical systems. Some New Age proponents
claim that some form of ethics remain even in cosmic
consciousness.
▪ In embracing oneness with the Mind at Large or “cosmic
consciousness”, ethics lose all meaning in theory.
▪ One ethic does appear to remain…it is “better” to be one with
Oneness than not to be.

Question 7: What is the nature of human history?
 “History as a record of events that actually occurred in the
past is of little interest, but cosmic history which ends with
the deification of humanity, especially the individual human
self, is seen as a great vision and a great hope.” Sire, 207
▪ Events in the historical record mean little, while the
experience/consciousness of those events by those who
experienced them is of interest.
▪ “Cosmic formation—big bang, galactic and planetary formation,
the formation of the earth…emergence of organic life, its evolution
into humanity’s present state, its teetering on the edge of a
transition to cosmic consciousness…[and the eventual] arrival of
the New Man, the New Woman and the universal New idyllic Age” is
considered of paramount importance. Sire, 207


Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?
“New Agers are committed to realizing their own individual
unity with the cosmos, creating and recreating it in their own
image.” Sire, 207
▪ New Agers take varying paths to achieving higher consciousness.
▪ Since all experience is simply perception of the reality created by the
self, the behavior of New Agers is not entirely predictable. Some
attend Christian churches, others consult mediums, others practice
alternative medicine, while others mediate in Buddhist monasteries.
Some do all of these things while others do none.

Questions to Ponder:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
“There is no God but Allah
and Muhammad is
the Prophet of God.”
Muslim confession of faith

Opening questions:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
This presentation is adapted almost entirely from “A View From the Middle East:
Islamic Theism” by Winfried Corduan in James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A
Basic Worldview Catalogue.

Opening remarks
 Background
▪ Islam arose in the late sixth century through the
theological/philosophical teaching and political/military
reforms of Muhammad, the “Seal of the Prophets”.
▪ Muhammad was the final prophet, and the one through
whom complete revelation came
▪ Today some 1/6th of the world’s population practice some
form of Islam.
▪ Islam has become particularly relevant in recent times
because of its pervasive presence in Western countries and
because of military/political concerns throughout the world.
 Will focus on mainstream conservative form of Islam

Remembering the definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental
orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a
story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false)
that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the
foundation on which we live and move and have
our being.” Sire, 20

In order to describe the Islamic Theistic worldview,
we’ll ask Islamic Theism the eight basic questions:
What is prime reality- the really real?
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world
around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are
consistent with this worldview?
1.
2.

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “The fundamental reality of Islam is God (Allah), described
as monotheistic, infinite, personal, transcendent,
immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.” Corduan,
246.
▪ Oneness
▪ Allahu akbar = “God is greater than all others” or “God is the one and only
supreme being.”
▪ Transcendence
▪ Emphasized over immanence. Incarnation/indwelling would be
unthinkable, would amount to cardinal sin of shirk (lit. idolatry).
▪ We can know Allah’s attributes, but not Allah in any direct sense.
▪ A “personal” relationship with Allah, in the Christian sense, is blasphemy.
▪ Immanent in the Qur’an? See Denny quote on 254
▪ Sovereignty
▪ Despite His transcendence, Allah rules over the created universe.

Question 2: What is the nature of external
reality, that is, the world around us?
 “God (Allah) created the universe ex nihilo, and all
creatures are responsible to him. However, the
world is a closed system insofar as nothing happens
in the world outside of his divine decrees.” Corduan,
254.
▪ Ex nihilo. Allah says “Be” and it is.
▪ Doctrine of “Qadr”, literally “power”. See Murad quote,
256-7.

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s [Allah’s] creation.
They have been given abilities of which other creatures, such
as angels and jinn, are not capable. However, their high
standing also brings with it the responsibility to live up to
God’s standards.” Corduan, 257.
▪ Humanity was created as superior to angels.
▪ An angel named Iblis refused to bow to Adam and was cast out as a
rebel, becoming Shaytan.
▪ Shaytan successfully tempted Adam into disobedience to God, but
Adam was restored to fellowship with God through repentance and
obedience.
▪ Humans are born pure, capable of faithfully obeying Allah, and
expected to actualize their faith through obedience.

Question 4: What happens to a person at
death?
 “Death is a time of transition between this life and
our eternal state, which will consist of either
paradise or hell.” Corduan, 260.
▪ Soul sleep or purgatory?
▪ Final judgment unto either hell (desert oasis with
poisonous water) or Paradise (desert oasis with every
sensual pleasure).
▪ Judgment is based on having good works that outweigh
evil works for all but martyrs, pre-pubescent children and
the mentally ill.

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “Allah has endowed human beings with the capability of
knowledge by means of reason and the senses. Thereby, they
can also know God’s revelation. However, God’s sovereign
decrees limit human knowledge.” Corduan, 262-3.
▪ Humans can understand and accept truth through reason and senses.
▪ Allah has revealed truth through Prophets to provide the content of
Islamic belief. In order of importance, the prophets are Muhammad,
Abraham, Jesus (virgin born and capable of working miracles, but
neither divine nor crucified) followed by numerous OT and extrabiblical characters.
▪ Prophets provided accurate accounts of truth, but unbelievers rejected
and corrupted their testimony, accounting for falsehoods in OT and NT
accounts.
▪ Knowledge is ultimately limited by the will of Allah who wills for some
to become believers and others to reject truth.

Question 6: How do we know what is right
and wrong?
 “Right and wrong are based on the teachings of the
Qur’an, as amplified by the Hadith and interpreted
by the schools of law, the shari’a.”
▪ It is not the role of humans to ask “why?” Rather, it is
their duty to simply obey what Allah commands.
▪ Hadith and shari’a are interpretations and applications
of the Qur’an.
▪ Muslim life is strictly regulated and based on the five
pillars.

Question 6: How do we know what is right and
wrong?
 The Five Pillars of Islam
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Reciting the confession, “There is no God but Allah”
Prayer five times a day
Fast during the month of Ramadan
Give annual contribution for the poor
Make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once
 Three categories of action
▪ Fard- those things directly commanded
▪ Halal- those things that are permitted
▪ Haram- those things that are forbidden

Question 7: What is the nature of human
history?
 “Human history has significance in demonstrating the
absolute sovereignty of God but, even more so, as the
opportunity for people to demonstrate their
submission to him.” Corduan, 269.
▪ Individual submission through obedience
▪ Corporate submission through the development of Ummat,
the community of Islam as the geo-political power
▪ Final judgment follows immediately upon the end of time,
a topic about which Muslims do not universally agree


Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?
“A devout Muslim is grateful to Allah for providing the
opportunity to serve him and will strive to follow the divine
instructions in even the smallest part of life.” Corduan, 271
▪ Life is an ongoing test that must be passed if Paradise is to be
achieved. Nevertheless, acceptance into Paradise depends upon
Allah’s decree…the purest obedience does not ensure entry.
▪ Gratitude and hope are held in tension with constant devotion and
uncertainty about one’s destiny.

Questions to Ponder:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
“The picture of the universe shifts
from tongue to tongue.”
Benjamin Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality, 57.
“Those who hang on to their metanarrative as if it really
were the master story, encompassing or explaining all
other stories, are under an illusion. We can have
meaning, for all these stories are more or less
meaningful, but we cannot have truth.”
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 223

Opening questions:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
This presentation is adapted almost entirely from James W. Sire, The Universe
Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue.
Community, Season 2, Episode 11- Abed Nadir (a Muslim
character) is in search of the true meaning of Christmas.
 Climaxes with cast singing a song in which the meaning of
Christmas is described variously by a Christian, Jehovah’s
Witness, Jew, Buddhist/hedonist, New Ager, existentialist:









“A time to sing”
A “Hanukkah thing”
“The Birth of Jesus Christ”
A time to remember that it’s “good to be nice”
“Music, cookies, liquor, and trees”
“Video games for two straight weeks”
“Hanging out with the people you love, saying I love you”
“The meaning of Christmas is, the idea that Christmas has
meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.” Abed Nadir

Opening remarks
 Definition
▪ Post = after
▪ Modernism = The period of history/method of thought dominated by the
movement from Deism-Naturalism-Nihilism-Existentialism (i.e.
Science/Reason)
 Background
▪ Used in the 1930s in regards to art/architecture.
▪ Emerged as a player in cultural analysis in the 1970s after being used by
Jean-Francois Lyotard to mean “incredulity toward metanarratives”.
 Is Postmodernism a worldview?
▪ However else it can be described, perhaps the best description of
Postmodernism is that it defies definition.
▪ The difficulty with the eight basic questions…
1.
What is prime reality- the really real?
 No direct access if it exists
2.
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
 No direct access if it exists
3.
What is a human being?
 No direct access
4.
What happens to a person at death?
 No direct access
5.
Why is it possible to know anything at all?
 Not possible
6.
How do we know what is right and wrong?
 Not possible
7.
What is the meaning of human history?
 Unknown, constantly evolving
8.
What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with
this worldview?
 Unstipulated, varies radically

Remembering the definition of a worldview:
 “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the
heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of
presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or
entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of
reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and
move and have our being.” Sire, 20
According to postmodernism all such worldviews (i.e.
metanarratives) are linguistic fabrications.
 Isn’t such a claim the most significant and oppressive
metanarrative of all?

 “The rejection of all metanarratives is itself a
metanarrative…there is no way to get around this except to
ignore the self-contradiction and get on with the show, which is
what postmodernism does.” Sire, 239

Question 1: What is prime reality- the really real?
 “The truth about reality itself is forever hidden from us.
All we can do is tell stories” Sire, 222
▪ We do not have access to reality.
▪ All that we consider to be “prime reality” is simply the
product of narratives we have accepted as true.
▪ Ontology is replaced with “meaning” divorced from “reality”.

Question 2: What is the nature of external
reality, that is, the world around us?
 “The truth about reality itself is forever hidden from
us. All we can do is tell stories.” Sire, 222
▪ “The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can,
once we have programmed ourselves with a language,
cause us to hold beliefs. But it cannot propose a
language for us to speak. Only other human beings can
do that…Languages are made rather than found,
and…truth is a property of linguistic entities, of
sentences.” Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and
Solidarity, 6-7

Question 3: What is a human being?
 “Stories give communities their cohesive character…There is no
substantial human self. Human beings make themselves who
they are by the languages they construct about themselves.”
Sire, 225-6
▪ The question itself cannot be answered, but humanity functions and
relates according to the metanarratives they accept.
▪ Humans function as they understand themselves to be within their
unique communities. Shared stories tell humans how to act, interact
and perceive themselves.
▪ “We are only what we describe ourselves to be.” Sire, 226
▪ “Focault claims that we are now realizing that ‘humanity’ is nothing
more than a fiction composed by the modern human sciences…The self
is no longer viewed as the ultimate source and ground for language; to
the contrary, we are now coming to see that the self is constituted in
and through language.” Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, 130.

Question 4: What happens to a person at
death?
 We cannot know the answer to this question; our
response will simply represent the narratives we
have accepted.
▪ Postmoderns may believe in any number of stories
related to death and afterlife.
▪ None of the stories possess a truth of correspondence to
reality; rather they carry meaning for those who tell
them.

Question 5: How can we know anything at all?
 “The truth about the reality itself is forever hidden from us. All
we can do is tell stories…All narratives mask a play for power.
Any one narrative used as a metanarrative is oppressive.”
Sire, 222, 225
▪ “So in postmodernism there is a movement from (1) the Christian
‘pre-modern’ notion of a revealed determinate metanarrative to (2)
the ‘modern’ notion of the autonomy of human reason with access to
truth of correspondence to (3) the ‘postmodern’ notion that we create
truth as we construct languages that serve our purposes, though
these very languages deconstruct upon analysis.” Sire, 224
▪ Truth of correspondence = “propositions are true if they correctly describe the
realities they purport to describe, false if they do not.” Erickson, 15
▪ Metanarratives are illusory. Stories allow people to exercise power
over others who believe their stories.
▪ Stories have functional value, not truth value. All stories are
inherently contradictory and vary in degree, not kind.

Question 6: How do we know what is right and
wrong?
 “All narratives mask a play for power. Any one
narrative used as a metanarrative is oppressive…Ethics,
like knowledge, is a linguistic construct. Social good is
whatever society take it to be.” Sire, 225, 228
▪ Ethics only exist within individual stories.
▪ Societal ethics are simply the shared stories of a society.
▪ The imposition of one’s story of ethics onto another is
oppressive.
▪ Anarchy is often the accepted logical conclusion of this belief
system.

Excursus- Epistemology & Ethics
 The power of the “strong poets”
 The oppressive nature of any narrative that is
accepted by more than one individual.
 “There is nothing deep down inside us except what we
have put there ourselves, no criterion that we have
not created in the course of creating a practice, no
standard of rationality that is not an appeal to such a
criterion, no rigorous argumentation that is not
obedience to our own conventions.” Richard Rorty,
The Consequences of Pragmatism, xlii.

Question 7: What is the nature of human history?
 “Postmodernism is in flux, as is postmodernism’s take on
the significance of human history, including its own
history.” Sire, 229
▪ If history is simply a stream of ever-evolving narratives, one
might observe and describe this stream, but assigning meaning
or organization to it would consist of developing a metanarrative.
▪ Even those who observe and describe the stream are in fact
creating narratives with which they hope to exercise power over
others.
▪ “History is written by the victors” becomes an accusation that can
be equally leveled at anyone who would attempt to say anything
about history.

Question 8: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?
 “Postmodernism is in flux…This means that the core
commitments of many postmodernists are in flux as well.
Postmodernists, in short are committed to an endless
stream of ‘whatevers’.” Sire, 229
▪ Postmoderns are free to accept the metanarratives of their
society, another society, or no society or to create their own
narratives.
▪ The life and choices of a postmodern are shaped and re-shaped
through their use of language…the stories they tell, how they
tell them, and why they tell them that way.

Questions to Ponder:
 Who do I know who holds this worldview?
 Where do I see this worldview being promoted
within my culture?
 How has this worldview influenced me?
 Is this my worldview?
“…the range of Christian responses is often presented as a
dichotomy: either one is for it or one is against it. The
actual fact of the matter is more complex than that. Not
only is the Christian community beginning to realize that
the postmodern turn is varied and complex, but it is also
learning that responses to it may be varied.”
Myron B. Penner, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views
This presentation is based in large part on material from Millard J. Erickson,
Postmodernizing the Faith: Evangelical Responses to the Challenge of Postmodernism and
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue.

Christian responses to postmodernism have varied
widely.
 Millard Erickson has summarized six views across a
spectrum of response, from total rejection of
postmodernism to a desire to reinvent Christianity along
postmodern lines.
 Before considering these different approaches, let’s
compare/contrast the pre-modern, modern, and postmodern mindsets to get a better sense of what is being
discussed.

Consider the question, “How do each of these views
(pre-modern, modern, post-modern) compare to the
Christian worldview?”

The “Pre-Modern Mindset”-Medieval & Ancient
 Belief in the rationality of the universe.
 Observable nature was not the whole of reality, thus a
dualism of one kind or another:
▪ Religious: Belief in the existence of God or gods
▪ Philosophical: Reality was in “Forms” or “Ideas”, the pure essences
of concrete entities (Platonism)
 Teleological view of reality
▪ History, humanity, etc. had purpose
 Belief in objective reality and correspondence theory of
truth.
 Referential understanding of language:
▪ “Language does not simply refer to other language, but to
something extralinguistic.” Erickson, 15

The “Modern” Mindset- Enlightenment-Present
 Similar to Pre-Modern View in Embracing:
▪
▪
▪
▪
Metaphysical realism
Correspondence theory of truth
Referential theory of language
Discernible pattern to history
 Major shift came in movement from a supernatural
reference to a natural point of reference.
▪
▪
▪
▪
Naturalism & Nature
Humanism, Individualism & Anti-authoritarianism
The scientific method, Reductionism & Progress
Certainty & Determinism

The “Postmodern” Mindset- Currently Emerging
 Knowledge is not objective.
 Knowledge is thus uncertain.
▪ There are no foundational “first principles” upon which to build a
worldview (i.e. Foundationalism).
 Metaphysical and historical metanarratives are impossible




and should be abandoned.
Inherent goodness of knowledge is dubious.
Progress is thus rejected.
Community defines individuals and truth; the modern
myth of individualism is rejected.
Truth is not arrived at strictly through logical/scientific
means, but other means such as intuition.

“Soft” Postmodernism
 Rejects the following tenets of “hard” modernism:
▪ “dogmatic naturalism and antisupernaturalism”
▪ “reductionist view of reason”
▪ “Limitation of knowledge to sense experience” and of
language to verifiable, objective facts
▪ Description of human personality as mere evolutionary
machinery
▪ Naivety that denies the effect of historical and cultural
situations.
“Soft” Postmodernism shares a great deal in common
with Christianity that opens the door for dialogue and
connection.
 With “soft” postmoderns we affirm that:

 There is more than just the “natural” realm
 Reductionism does not sufficiently account for human nature




and reality
Knowledge is bigger than sense perception and individual
rationality
Language is broader than scientific fact and does have
immense sociological ramifications
Human personality is more than bio-chemical machine
Perspectives are conditioned by time, place and
culture/community

“Hard” Postmodernism
 Goes an additional step in “deconstructing”:
▪ Rejects any idea of objectivity and rationality
▪ All metanarratives are seen as power plays
▪ Rejects any objective or extralinguistic reference for meaning
and language
▪ Moves from relativism (all perspectives are particular and
relative to one another) to pluralism (all perspectives are of the
same value and kind)
▪ Meaning is in the eye of the beholder, not the transmitter.
“’What it means to me’ is its meaning, even if that is quite
different than what it says to you.” Erickson, 19.

Over against “hard” postmodernism we say:
 The rejection of objectivity and rationality assumes, and
claims, an objective and rational basis.
▪ Scripture claims an objective and rational reality
 Postmodernism is a metanarrative…who stands to gain
from this power play?
▪ Christians recognize the ways in which Christianity and other
religions/philosophies are used as power, including
deconstructionism.

Over against “hard” postmodernism we say:
 “…there is an unresolvable paradox in using language to claim
that language cannot make unambiguous claims.” Sire, 240
▪ Language is a tool for relating in love to God and one another and for
conveying reality about God and His creation.
 While we can admit to the reality of human relativism, we cannot
allow for ideological pluralism.
▪ Humans are relativistic, God is absolute. To the degree that God has
revealed Himself and given humans the capacity to understand, humans can
grasp and articulate absolute truths (i.e. reality as it really is).
 There is reality and meaning beyond the varied perception of
reality and meaning, by which those perceptions can be judged
relative to their conformity to that reality and meaning.
If we ask the question, “Is Christianity compatible with
Postmodernism?” the answer on the previous slides is “Yes
and No.”
 However, other Christians answer the question differently.

 Let’s consider an illustration from Millard Erickson regarding
the ways in which Christians are responding to postmodernism.
 The illustration asks, “Can Deconstructed Horses Even Be Led
to Water?” (Erickson, 151-7)
 In other words, “Can moderate-hard postmoderns possibly
embrace Christian evangelicalism, and if so, how?”

Hopefully, the significance of this question for apologetics,
evangelism, cultural relevance, etc. is apparent.

Can Deconstructed Horses Even Be Led to
Water?
1. Yes, but it must be deconstructed water.
2. Yes, but we must use deconstructed rope.
3. Yes, but the horse is not really deconstructed.
4. Yes, but we must first de-deconstruct the horse.

Questions to Ponder:
 What is my response to postmodernism?
 What is my relationship with those who I know
that hold various postmodern notions?
 How can the gospel message be effectively
communicated to a soft or hard postmodern?
 Who is responsible for finding points of
connection between postmoderns and Christians?

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