Saturday, July 30, 2011
Reasons In and Out of a Worldview
In so many of my interactions with people, I have found that they have already made a commitment one way or the other to certain worldviews and are looking for intellectual reasons to either maintain that commitment, be public about the commitment or escape another commitment. I know people who are ready to accept any worldview except for X and others who are committed to accepting any form of worldview Y. Some are currently in worldview Z but are looking for intellectual reasons to either remain in or to get out.
I have found that Christianity is not immune to this observation. Some people are looking to get in but need intellectual reasons, while other are looking to get out but need intellectual reasons. I have seen people leave Christianity because someone asked them "well, who created God?". I have seen people come to Christianity for "fire insurance". Neither of those being logical reasons.
All worldviews need to be able to explain this phenomenon with regards to their own worldview while remaining consistent with all other internal beliefs. Every person has a worldview (even the agnostics), so it is impossible to be completely objective about this, and the person putting forth the explanation must accept that they are subject to the explanation (they are not above it). I want to offer a Christian perspective on this issue.
For those not familiar with the content in my psychology class series, it has been discovered that the emotional center of the brain is the filter that controls all final decisions (including basic actions). If one is emotionally committed to a certain conclusion, any logical conclusion that contradicts the emotional commitment is interpreted as wrong- the logical conclusion is therefore rejected and the process that gave that conclusion is returned for further investigation to find a possible way to reach a conclusion identical with the emotional commitment. Some people have multiple emotional commitments, and the one that is held most strongly will have final say.
For instance: a person states that they are committed to atheism and that they are also committed to finding the truth of reality. After going through the evidence (which is not completely conclusive, but highly probable), they decide that some god must exist. But another person with the same two commitments decides that a god must not exist. Which of the two emotional commitments had precedence? From the worldview of any theist, the emotional commitment to truth (of the first person) is the final, yet for the second person truth takes a backseat to the commitment to atheism.
There may be present even more commitments that interact with one another to form a hierarcy of emotional commitments or "tests" that a logical conclusion must pass before the person will accept and act upon the logical conclusion. A lot of the commitments are not a priori. The vast majority of our commitments are the results of what we have experienced and thought through (they are not just assumed). But the problem is that if all of our commitments are the results of experience and careful thought, then we end up with an infinite regress of asking "where did that commitment come from; and where did that one come from; and where did that one come from..." Every person has an emotional commitment that they begin with. It could be against a specific religion, for a specific religion, or it could be to search for what is true (these tend to develop in the formative years). This commitment may appear to change with time (bad experiences with certain worldviews may poison our investigations and taint our commitments), but that is only because one of the first two options is not what we were committed to in the first place. If the search for truth is our commitment, then as we discover what is true, what we are committed to (based on our investigations) and defend will change respectively, but the ultimate commitment, itself, to finding the truth never changed.
The easiest way to determine your ultimate commitment is to look at not just what you defend but how you defend it. Obviously if one defends naturalism, then the commitment could be specifically for naturalism. If someone defends something specifically against naturalism, then the commitment could be against naturalism. However, many people would not be willing to accept the conclusion of their commitment just based on what they defend. So, let's look more closely. Let's see how the defense is conducted. The quickest way to identify if the commitment is to truth or for (or against) a specific worldview is to see if the person grants good points and acknowledges when their own arguments, though strong, are not conclusive (another dead-giveaway is sharp focus on the topic at hand [few red-herrings] and the absence personal attacks). For instance, the kalam cosmological argument does not demand that a god created the universe- it only demands that something outside the universe is responsible for the universe's creation- that "thing" could be a god, it could also be something else, like a multiverse generator (how often is that point granted?). Another example would be the idea that all life shares similar DNA- many overstate the power of their conclusion by saying that common DNA supports only common decent, when it also supports common design (how often is that point granted?). For more on avoiding overstating the power of your conclusions, click here and how to overcome the limitation of the extra options in my post "The Power of a Cumulative Case". Not only is there the test of granting points, but also altering one's worldview to accommodate new evidence. Some alterations are slight; others are huge, and still others require a complete abandonment of a worldview. This process is very similar to the process scientists use to develop and test models (see Dr. Hugh Ross' book "More Than A Theory").
Those who are ultimately committed to the truth have nothing to fear from recognizing good points from the other side. They also don't have a problem changing details in their worldview to accommodate new evidence (the Christian can refer to my page "Nature vs. Scripture" for more on this touchy topic). If a person is unwilling to grant points where logic demands that the points be granted, and they refuse to alter their worldview as new information becomes available, we have a sure sign of a commitment to (or against) a specific worldview (or even minute details of a worldview) rather than a commitment to the truth- further, if personal attacks and red herrings are offered in "defense" of their position, you may be certain that you have identified the commitment accurately. Try doing this for others and yourself (that's the most difficult).
Because experience has so much power to sway our emotional commitments, we must constantly remind ourselves that our commitment should be to finding the truth. I had to put my own experiences to the side in my search for truth. When I was younger the closest people in my life (Christians) failed me in devastating ways; a Christian ministry (apologetic in nature, believe it or not) failed me in intellectual ways. Both of those had a huge impact on my emotional commitments. For a short time, I was committed against Christianity. I could have found many "intellectual" reasons to reject the faith (as a defender of the faith now, I know of the vast cafeteria that was available). However, as soon as I realized what my commitment had become, I reaffirmed my commitment to truth. I didn't care if those who failed me were right, I would follow the evidence where it led me. I investigated, and I did follow. I found many things wrong with the specifics of the worldviews of those who did fail me, and I have resolved to not hold to those false beliefs. In fact, I have discovered more consistency between Christianity and reality by NOT holding those specific beliefs. Because of the purpose, the hope, the forgiveness and the love provided by true Christianity, I do not for a second regret my commitment to finding the worldview that reflects reality (truth). Because of my emotional commitment to the truth, I allowed an intellectual investigation for the truth, and as a result I have found intellectual, emotional and spiritual fulfillment.
For anyone who has had experiences that has caused them to turn away from Christianity, I urge you to allow those experiences to take a back seat to your commitment to truth. Look at the evidence. See that the only worldview that can take the all the observations that man has from the sciences, all the issues raised logically in philosophy, and all the experiences life produces, and can present them in a coherent and consistent manner is the Christian worldview. The reason that Christians seem to "have an answer to everything" or "can get out of any challenge" is not because they are playing "word games" or are interpreting things as those things are not, it is because Christianity properly understood is true.
I recently finished reading "Has Christianity Failed You" by Dr. Ravi Zacharias. He addresses many of the reasons that people have commitments against Christianity. If you have not read this book (Christian or not), please get a copy and read it all the way through. It frankly and soberly addresses issues in the Church and misunderstandings about who Christ is and what it means to be a follower of Christ. For the non-Christian, it will challenge you to continue to reject Christianity based on a true understanding of it and yourself. For the Christian, it will challenge you to understand where the non-Christian might be coming from. Defending the faith is not about winning an argument, being right all the time, or even converting people to get more notches in your belt. It is about loving people enough to not just demonstrate to them their problem, but lead them to the Solution. It is up to them to decide whether or not to accept the truth of that Solution.
Other Related Posts:
Positive and Negative Arguments
What is Faith?
Can A Religion Be Tested For Truth?
Nature Vs. Scripture
Consistency Among Disciplines
* Thanks to Greg West at The Poached Egg for posting this quote- Follow him on Twitter here.