Reasons to Believe

A Worldview Thought Experiment

In the simplest terms, a worldview may be defined as how one sees life and the world at large. How a person makes sense of the world depends upon that person’s vision, so to speak. The interpretive lens of a worldview helps people make sense of life and comprehend the world around them. Worldviews also shape people’s understanding of their unique place on Earth. But given that there are many worldviews, can the strengths and weaknesses of worldview perspectives be tested by the proper application of human experience and reason? Try the following philosophical thought experiment on for size.

Suppose you entered a virtual reality machine in which you could actually select the particular worldview that you’d like to live within. Three options are available: (A) secular naturalism, (B) Eastern mysticism, or (C) Christian theism. These three selections reflect the worldview vision of billions of people throughout the world.

Upon making your selection, you and every person you encounter have the characteristics and qualities ascribed by that particular worldview. The chosen worldview immediately causes all people to be configured according to that specific model (or paradigm) of humanity.

Each person corresponds to an eight-point humanitarian pattern or ideal. This blueprint fills in the answers to the following worldview concerns: (1) man’s most distinguishing characteristic, (2) his origin, (3) his nature, (4) man’s basic problem, (5) the prescribed solution to the problem, (6) man’s outlook, (7) his chief purpose, and (8) his destiny.

So, depending upon the worldview you chose, human beings would be constituted, arranged, and oriented quite differently. Would humans be the fittest biological survivors in the evolution contest? Would they be reincarnated souls in search of godhood? Or would they be personal (both material and spiritual) creatures made in the image and likeness of Almighty God? Would the basic problem of humanity be physical survival, a cosmic spiritual identity crisis, or evil in the form of sinful rebellion against a holy and righteous Creator?

Would the essential outlook of humanity be optimistic or pessimistic?—the nature of human beings good, bad, or neutral? And what would be the final destiny of each human being: physical extinction, perpetual reincarnation, or eternity with or without an eternal and infinite God?

Now you leave the virtual reality machine and reenter the real world. Upon looking around and reflecting on both yourself and other people, which view of man most corresponds to the way humanity actually appears? Does your view of man and human nature match what could be expected if the biblical perspective on humanity is really true?

Does this thought experiment give you an intuition that particular worldview perspectives on human beings can somehow be tested through observation and experience?

The worldview that best accounts for or explains man and his condition in life may then possess superior explanatory power. Could it be that careful and sustained reflection about human beings may hold the answer to what is ultimately true and real?

Seventeenth-century scientist and religious writer Blaise Pascal thought that Christianity possessed great explanatory power because it could explain the enigma of man. As Pascal put it, man is both "great and wretched." The greatness comes from being made in the image of God; whereas the wretchedness flows from being a fallen sinner.

Do your reflections about life, and man in particular, correspond to those of Pascal?

For more on the concept of worldview thinking, look for my new book due out this fall, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Baker Books, 2007).

Subjects: Worldviews

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.