Worldviews: What are they, and can they change?

One of the great living theological and philosophical writers today is Dr. James N. Anderson. He is the associate professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Dr. Anderson holds two earned PhDs—one in philosophical theology and the other in computer science. His books include Why Should I Believe Christianity? (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016) and What’s Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), both of which are excellent additions to a Christian apologetics library. He was also a featured guest on an episode of Hank Unplugged. Here is a snippet from Hank Hanegraaff’s discussion with James Anderson on worldviews and whether or not we can get others to change their respective worldview.

HANK HANEGRAAFF: One of the things that I want to talk to you about is the whole issue of worldview. You have What’s Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions, it is one of your books, and the question is this: what are worldviews, and why do worldviews actually matter?

JAMES ANDERSON: I define a worldview as a basic perspective on the world. The word itself gives you a clue — worldviews, or a view of the world. It is not a physical view like you might get from the International Space Station. It is not a view of planet Earth. It is a philosophical outlook on all of life and experience.

Everyone has, I think, a worldview. They may not be aware of it. It is rather like the atmosphere around you or the air that you breathe, you just take it for granted but in fact you could not live without it. People have a worldview, a set of basic assumptions, or presuppositions about what exist, what is rational, what is probable, and what is normal. They can pick up their worldview in a number of ways. They might inherit it from their parents or community. They might change their worldview over time. But it is a framework that they are bringing to interpret the world. That means no one really comes to the world in a neutral way. That is not to say we cannot obtain some level of objectivity, but everybody has a bias. It is a built-in bias. It is the worldview that we have.

So, I think when we are considering Christian apologetics or anything else for that matter, one of the most important questions we have to ask is “What is the worldview that people are bringing to this issue?” Another question is going to be “Is it the right worldview?”

HANK: One of the things that I loved about your book — I am talking about What’s Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions, and the operative word for me is “interactive” — you have a heuristic interactive series of questions and answers. There is an algorithm to the book. It is fun and interactive. The design of the book: why not just write in a stuffy style? Why make this fun?

JAMES: I wanted to write a book that would help people to become more aware of their worldview and to think more critically about their worldview. One way to do it would be to just write a straight book that goes through major worldviews. Something like James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door, which is an excellent book. It goes through six or seven major worldviews. But, I wanted something that was going to be a little snappier and perhaps a little novel — have a sort of gimmick to draw people in. I drew partly on my computer science background because….

HANK: I knew it, I knew it; that is why!

JAMES: So, in computer science, one of the things you do as a programmer is you have “if-then” statements. If such and such condition is true, then this, otherwise that. You just work on sort of the basis of binary conditionals and tree structure. This was part and parcel of the work I was doing in computer science. For better or for worse, I brought that into my philosophy and my apologetics. I was thinking, “Well, if you took the full range of worldviews and arranged them as a tree structure (you first distinguish between theistic and nontheistic worldviews, and then each of those breaks down into different categories), what would be the best way to do it? How would you divide up the landscape of worldviews?” That was one thing I was bringing to it.

The other thing was — I do not know about you, but when I was growing up, there was a very popular series of books known as Choose Your Own Adventure books, and they were interactive; instead of just reading from start to finish and getting the same story every time, you got to make choices. You got to decide whether you are going to go through the left door or through the right door, then you go to a different page depending upon what decision you made, and there are different outcomes. The fun of the book was that you could change your decisions. So, if you decided you made a bad choice, you could just turn back the page and make a different choice and follow the story through a different ending — I thought, “Well, that would be an interesting model to put into this book.” Instead of a Choose Your Own Adventure,it would be choose your own worldview, except you are not actually choosing it. You already have one, and it is just a matter of identifying what that worldview is. In the same way as Choose Your Own Adventure,some outcomes are better than others. You make the wrong decision with the green goblin you encounter, and then you end up dead. So, you made a bad choice. Likewise, when it comes to worldviews, if you have a worldview that denies the existence of truth or denies the existence of objective morality or implies we cannot actually know anything about the world, then there are various kinds of worldviews that are dead ends in the sense that they lead to skepticism, futility, nihilism, and other problems. That was the basic idea behind the book. I do not know if I was fully successful in pulling it off, but I was reasonably happy with the outcome.

HANK: I will give you an A+. You mentioned a couple of times the word “change.” That brings up the operative question: can we really change the worldview of the other person?

JAMES: That is a good question. I think we can challenge the worldview of a person, but human beings are not logic machines, much as some of us would like them to be. You know, they would just perfectly process the logic of a worldview and follow through its consequences. Human beings are a mess of not only thoughts and logical ideas but also emotions and desires. People are very psychologically and emotionally invested in their worldviews. For them, the primary consideration is not “Is my worldview true or rational?” but rather “Is my worldview one that is popular, one that makes me happy, or one that allows me to live with this community that I have always associated with?”

When you challenge a person’s worldview, certainly you can challenge it on a rational basis, but there is always going to be resistance. I sometimes liken worldviews to houses. You live in a house, you get used to it, you get comfortable with it, you might decorate it, you might make minor changes, move the furniture around, but to ask someone to leave their home, relocate, and live somewhere else — that is a big deal. They are going to have a lot of motivation to do that. It is kind of like that with worldviews. There is this natural inertia or resistance to change, and we can do our best to challenge people’s worldviews, “to put a pebble in their shoe,” as we sometimes say, but when we are talking about the kind of worldview change that a conversion to Christ involves, that is not just intellectual; rather, that is spiritual, that is a change in the very soul and heart of a person, and we cannot do that. We can be agents of the Holy Spirit, but ultimately it is a work of the Holy Spirit that is going to bring about that change.

To listen to the full interview, click here.

Articles from James E. Anderson posted on equip.org:

The Inescapability of God

The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit: How Do You Know the Bible Is God’s Word?

The Philosophical Package Deal of Atheism” (Review of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions by Alex Rosenberg)

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