philosophy theology


There are different ways of understanding what a worldview is, or what questions it seeks to answer or how it is gained or what it is shaped by.

When people of different perspectives, beliefs (and yes, different worldviews) discuss what a ‘worldview’ is, it is easy for their own worldview to influence things.  I freely admit the likelihood of my Christian worldview/perspectives/beliefs to influence me in this process, and I’d hope others would admit the same tendencies.

For example, I think most would agree that ‘world’-view means the same thing as ‘reality’-view.  Different claims will be made between different people with different views on what ‘reality’ is.  Indeed, sorting through these different kinds of claims is very much (if not exactly) the same thing as sorting out what a reality/world-view is.

In the comments of my last post, I mentioned Apostel’s seven components of what he thinks makes up a worldview.  As yet, I see no reason why this is not a helpful indicator of what makes up a worldview.  One can be needlessly mystifyed by the big words, so I summarise them here:

  1. An assessment of the world’s ‘being’ (ontos) or existence (what can/does and what cannot/does not exist? – ontology)
  2. An assessment of how the world ‘works’ (explanation).
  3. An assessment of the world’s future (where is the world heading? – futurology).
  4. An assessment of value, answers to ethical questions (what should we do).
  5. An assessment of actions needed to attain goals (praxeology, or methodology, or theory of action – how should we attain our goals?).
  6. An assessment of how we know anything (epistemology, theory of knowledge – what is true and false?).
  7. An assessment of its own make-up (etiology).

N.T. Wright provides a somewhat simpler understanding of what a worldview is: “Worldviews may be studied in terms of four features; characteristic stories, fundamental symbols; habitual praxis; and a set of questions and answers.” He explains each of these:

  1. ‘[worldviews] provide [characteristic] stories through which human beings view reality. Narrative is the most chacteristic expression of worldview, going deeper than the isolated observation or fragmented remark.’
  2. ‘[F]rom these stories one can in principal discover how to answer basic questions that determine human existence: who we are, where are we, what is wrong , and what is the solution?’
  3. ‘Stories and the answers provided to the questions are expressed in cultural symbols’
  4. ‘Worldviews include a praxis, a way-of-being-in-the-world.’

Certainly, a worldview has to do with ‘making sense of the world’ or ‘connecting the dots’.  One thing that makes these two proposals different from the 3-step approach in my last post is that they (broadly speaking) roll all my 3 steps into one (or 7 or 4).

Worldviews are the stuff of life.  Life in the world.  Obviously, I’ve not drawn any conclusions here.  For the moment, I’m interested in discussing why we live and think differently about these things.

10 replies on “worldviewing”

Dale, you have previously used words like ‘naturalism’ and materialism.’ Do you define these as ‘world views’? If so, what names would you give to the opposite ‘world view(s)’?

Is a worldview more than a particular philosophy, belief system or religion? Some speak of a biblical worldview. What do they mean by that. Do they mean that they have a unbiased, nonrevisionist insight into the way people thought and acted as recorded in the Bible and thereby try to follow an ancient code of practice? Or are they saying that in general terms they critique everything around them from an interpretation of the Bible and Christian theology based on hundreds of years of scholarship?
As far as labeling goes, life and science does it all the time. That’s how we navigate our way through the maze of things we encounter every day in life.

In a sense, yes, I think words (‘labels’, or shorthand summaries of views/beliefs) like ‘naturalism’ and ‘materialism’ can indeed represent real views of real people who would give ‘naturalist’ or ‘materialist’ responses (albeit with varying nuance, of course) to the points in both Apostel’s and Wright’s descriptions of worldviews. In other words, ‘yes’ – but of course, there’s always room for differences within these views…
As for the ‘opposite’ of naturalism/materialism, grammatically it would be ‘un-naturalism’/’supernaturalism’ and ‘immaterialism’/’non-materialism’ or something. Certainly not too common! Some (but certainly not all – or even most?) forms of buddhism have something close to this – ‘reality’ as an illusion, etc. (again, not wanting to paint all buddhists with such a broad brush)
And, of course, between these two ‘extremes’ (though perhaps there could be views even more extreme?), there are, of course, many ‘worldviews’ which take a ‘both’ approach (with different emphases, etc.).

Excellent questions, re ‘biblical worldview’. I think it means vastly different things to different ‘biblical’ Christians. :)

‘‘un-naturalism’/’supernaturalism’ and ‘immaterialism’/’non-materialism’ ” – Most of these are very clumsy.

I agree there are lots of nuances but, I think, it can be useful to have a few (perhaps two) broad categories.

What simple label would you give to your world view?

If worldview is about making sense of the world, and connecting the dots then surely it must be forever changing from birth, as we learn. How then do you put a simple label on it?

Cheers. Indeed, those are clumsy expressions; and just to be clear, I certainly wouldn’t identify with them.

When it comes to labels (not to mention ‘simple’ ones!), I think they are kind of a double-edged sword; on one hand, they can be helpful for summarising a set of beliefs/assumptions/etc. and thus providing a foundation for dialogue and (at least) mutual understanding; but they can also be constricting and/or easily used to present a caricatured and easily mocked version of a differing view.

It is in this sense, and only with these qualifications and caveats that I’d want to use terms like ‘materialist’ or ‘naturalist’ to refer to your worldview.

As for a label for my worldview, there could be several that may be helpful? ‘Christian Theist’, or ‘Creational, Ethical Monotheism’.

Good points. In one sense, yes, I think we’re (hopefully) always maturing, growing, refining, changing, progressing in terms of our views about things. In another sense, I do think we often do have ‘fixed’ points around other things turn (if that makes sense). These can (again, ‘often’) be summarised into a basic, ‘simple’ worldview ‘label’.

It seems to me that labels like ‘materialism’ and ‘naturalism’ are quite useful – at least for people who identify with these world views. The problems come from use by opponents (like Dominic) who dogmatically wish to impose the wrong understanding of the terms.

I am looking for some term to describe a non-materialist world view – but a general term encompassing more than Christians, theists, atheist Buddhists, etc., etc.).

What , in your view, is unacceptable with the term I have been used to from my early days of learning philosophy – ‘idealist.’ Is it objectionable? Would it exclude your world view? If so – what general, abstract, term would suffice?

Cheers Ken,

…the wrong understanding of the terms. [‘materialism’ and ‘naturalism’]

(((Just a quick distinction, I think ‘wrong’ (in this context of acknowledging – as opposed to agreeing with – other worldviews) is too strong. Now, it’s certainly ‘wrong’ for someone to describe you as having views which you in fact don’t have, but merely to have a different definition of ‘materialist’ than you isn’t (a priori) ‘wrong’…)))
Now, as for the ‘materialist’ and ‘idealist’ labels, I’m quite OK with them (of course, when used flexibly, etc.).
As for mutual understanding etc., I think it’s helpful to agree on what questions a worldview seeks to answer. Here, I quite like Wright’s 4-point approach.

If it is wrong to ascribe inappropriate views to a person, and we are conscious that words like ‘materialism’ and ‘naturalism’ (and I guess idealism) mean different things to different people – doesn’t this necessarily follow that we should avoid using those labels to describe the views of another? Particularly if we see that person’s views as being wrong or mistake (ie. we see them as an opponent)?

I ask this because I find it interesting that I could go through my scientific career without these labels being used. Also, I find in discussions on my blog the only people using these terms do so as a form of attack – or at least from a position of seeing someone with that world view as ‘wrong’ – even evil. Those people in the discussion who are more or less ‘on the same team’ never use these terms. And interestingly (although everyone trades abuse from time to time) they never use ‘world view’ labels (eg. ‘idealist’) on an opponent.

I wonder if this is because there is a heightened consciousness of the ‘materialist’ and ‘naturalist’ labels among theist activists these day. Perhaps these concepts are being pushed more in theology classes? Or, perhaps, it reflects a heightened attack on science coming from ideologically motivated groups like the Wedge strategists who openly use these terms and attack scientific methodology.

Having said all that I think one can usefully use the naturalist-materialist/idealist models to differentiate two different starting points (objective reality vs belief/idea) which will be reflected in outcomes. And that doesn’t reflect a science/religion differentiation.

For example – Marx had a materialist world view in his approach to analysing society – specifically capitalism. However (and despite all his protestations about scientific socialism vs utopian socialism) he was idealist in his approach to political transformation (he listened to his wishes more than accepting reality). Stalin and Mao were classic idealists in attempting to imposed their ideas of socialism on to reality and refusing to accept the evidence from reality.

In this sense science is basically materialist/naturalist because it starts with reality and tests its ideas/theories against reality (rather than idea or belief).

Disclaimer: my use of ‘materialism’ and ‘naturalism’ does not include the naive mechanical definition of (and reliance on) matter

Thanks for the thoughts. I agree that the use of labels can be both unhelpful (i.e. ‘attacks’ and ‘strawmen’) and helpful (basis of dialogue and understanding).
Having thought more about this, I think the topic (and yes, yet another post!) of ‘epistemology’ (‘the study of knowledge’) is immediately relevant to all of this. Right through all of these conversations is the need to appreciate different kinds/modes/layers/strata/ways/etc. of ‘knowing’.
I’ll try to put something up soon…

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