As some two billion Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday—the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s historical resurrection from the dead—it occurred to me that one way to think about one’s worldview is to look at it in terms of who or what has the last word.
Let’s very briefly examine who’s got the last word according to atheistic naturalism and Christian theism, two popular worldviews that vie for attention, especially in the Western world.
The Last Word in Atheistic Naturalism
Atheistic naturalism affirms that only the time-space-matter-energy (physical) universe exists. Nonphysical, supernatural entities such as God and immortal human souls, by definition, do not exist. According to the laws of physics, the finite and contingent universe is both expanding and cooling. It will ultimately end in an entropic heat death (when there is no longer any heat to power the workings of the universe). So the final state of the entire physical cosmos will be cold and lifeless regardless of what anyone thinks, says, or does. Likewise, physical death will be the end of each human being’s conscious existence. Thus, the last word, or final fate, in atheistic naturalism belongs to physical death, or in more cosmic scientific terms, to entropy.
The Last Word in Christian Theism
Christian theism, on the other hand, asserts that an infinite and eternal tri-personal God created all things (finite and contingent reality). This Triune God created human beings in his divine image and gave them moral capabilities and volitional responsibility. Human beings misused their freedom by breaking God’s moral commandments. Yet God provided redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ. Believers in Christ have their sins forgiven and enjoy a personal relationship with God that continues on after death into the next world. Nonbelievers, on the other hand, face God’s just wrath against sin in the next life. Thus, the last word, or final fate of humanity (either in divine grace or divine wrath), in Christian theism belongs to the Triune God.
Reflections on this Last Word Prism
In thinking about the two worldviews briefly described above, we can contemplate reasonable reflections as well as some provocative questions. First, it’s worth noting that atheistic naturalism and Christian theism are not the only worldview options open to thoughtful people. However, they represent popular secular and religious options in the marketplace of ideas today. Is there a reason these two worldviews get so much attention?
Second, simply asking who has the last word in a worldview doesn’t tell you which worldview is true or which is best supported by reason and evidence. Nevertheless, identifying who or what holds the last word seems to reveal something fundamental about the nature of the specific worldviews. What do you think it reveals?
Third, apart from rational and irrational considerations, it appears that nonrational factors (such as preference, taste, feeling, intuition, poetic vision, etc.) can greatly impact the decision to embrace a particular worldview. So is it possible that we end up believing in the worldview we are most comfortable with—in spite of the evidence?
Fourth, humanity’s existential need for hope, meaning, and purpose has to be considered when evaluating the power of a worldview’s last word. But in practice doesn’t everyone, whether believer or nonbeliever, live as if his or her life has genuine meaning?
When the big curtain closes, will the last word belong to entropy or to the Triune God or to something else? Don’t you hate it when philosophers ask so many questions?
Well, that’s my last word on what I hope you will consider a provocative philosophical thought experiment.
For more on worldview analysis from a Christian theistic viewpoint, see my book A World of Difference.