Wednesday, December 8, 2010

James Sire on Worldviews

Here is yet another quote I found over at the Apologetics315 blog:

"A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being."

- James Sire

Critiquing the "Sunday Quote" over at Apologetics315 is starting to become something of a recreational activity for me. What makes this particular critique different from my previous two entries (in which I critique quotes by Lee Strobel and Peter Kreeft, respectively), is that I very much appreciate this quote by James Sire.

My respect for James Sire began during my freshmen year of college in 1993, when I first read his most well-known work, The Universe Next Door (TUND), the book in which the above quote finds its home. Appropriately, it served as the textbook for my "Introduction to Worldviews" class. The book is referred to as "A Basic Worldview Catalog," and while Sire's Christian bias is noticeable throughout, TUND stands as a quality introduction to the competing paradigms found in the world today.

Sire's definition of worldview as "a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart" indicates that the beliefs we hold about the "basic constitution of reality" are more than mere intellectual assent; they resonate with our most deeply held emotions, passions and values. We define ourselves by our worldviews, and thus value our beliefs as dearly as we value ourselves. For many people, critiquing their paradigm is the same as attacking their being. This is why, in the majority of cases, arguments alone do not sway a person's thinking.

The worldviews to which we adhere have been passed down from one generation to the next. We learn how to view the world at an early age, accepting the assumptions of our parents or the culture in which we were raised. Ideas have been passed down through the generations. We in the West are the intellectual grandchildren of Plato and Aristotle, even though most US citizens have never read any of their works.

This reminds me of something R.C. Sproul wrote that I often referred to when I was a Christian. Don't freak out; this quote might possibly be the only thing he's ever said or written that I actually like. In the description of his book, The Consequences of Ideas, Sproul writes:

If you think philosophy is irrelevant to your daily life, think again. You need only observe the world around you to discover how substantially the ideas of history's thinkers affect us still... In the media, your music, your children's classrooms. You can see it in our public policies, on every bookstore shelf, in the way we understand our very existence--even in the church.

We like to believe that we create our little worlds from scratch and then live in them. But the reality is, we step into an environment that already exists, and we learn to interact with it. The game has been conceived long before us; the rules and boundaries already decided.

We may be amused when René Descartes labors so long in order to conclude that he exists, or puzzled by Immanuel Kant spending his life analyzing how we know anything. Yet these men were not simply contemplating minutiae. The foundational thinking of philosophy tries to lay bare all of our assumptions, revealing our false and sometimes dangerous beliefs so that we may arrive at a coherent worldview.

Of course, Sproul contradicts his claim that the study of philosophy is meant to "lay bare all of our assumptions... so that we may arrive at a coherent worldview" with what he writes immediately after:

The greater our familiarity with the ideas that have shaped our culture over the centuries, the greater our ability to understand--and influence--that culture for Christ.

Here Sproul lays his cards on the table: studying philosophy and understanding worldviews isn't about laying bare our assumptions, or arriving at a coherent worldview - and it damn sure isn't about thinking objectively or seeking the truth irrespective of one's desires or preconceived notions; rather, it's about evangelism. *Sigh*

But let's pretend Sproul's words were written by someone else: someone without an evangelistic agenda. What he says is true: we step into an environment that already exists. We learn to interact with the presuppositions of our culture. The assumptions we accepted as children were set in place long before we came along. This is why, as Sire says, we hold these assumptions "consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently." We didn't arrive at our worldview by sitting down and thinking through every tenet or maxim or truth claim. The majority of people never think much about their beliefs at all. By the time we reach the age where abstract thinking is possible, we already have a worldview.

The goal, then, should be, as Sproul says (but doesn't actually do), to consider the importance of philosophical inquiry, and engage in the attempt to "lay bare all of our assumptions, revealing our false and sometimes dangerous beliefs so that we may arrive at a coherent worldview"; to live the examined life grounded in objective, critical thinking; to come a little bit closer to understanding truth.

No comments: