Sunday, 24 September 2017

Worldview thinking

Peter Leithart wrote a critique on worldview thinking back in 2003. Some of this may be in reaction to how he was seeing this played out at the time. Nevertheless, I don't find the complaints generally valid.

God has an opinion about everything. As God is truth, his opinion is correct. In as much as we think correctly we are thinking God's thoughts after him. At its simplest: the Christian worldview is the worldview of God; of Christ.

All people have a worldview. All worldviews are at least somewhat incorrect and usually inconsistent in places. One may therefore complain that we cannot know God's thoughts for certain, which is true. Because we are not outside ourselves how can we, with an imperfect worldview, know the true worldview. The errant man is chasing an inerrant truth external to himself but is only judging with his own errant perspective.

These complaints are true enough. But they are not insurmountable. And they neglect how we know and approximate truth.

Leithart's complaints are: 1) how do we get external to ourselves to judge (as my above paragraph); 2) worldview thinking is intellectual, specifically how do we know whether our worldview forms our externals compared to whether our externals shape our worldview; 3) worldview presupposes a birds eye view; and 4) worldview philosophy overrides theology.

The 4th complaint is merely a problem to avoid. And it is not a problem confined to worldview thinking. It is a problem all men take to the Bible, at least men who see the Bible giving a somewhat consistent testimony. We all systematise to some extent and we all categorise our ideas; thus our prior ideas may frame our theology at the expense of Scripture. Fine as a warning, but a warning all men need. And at least worldview thinking reminds us that theology is philosophy, or rather our philosophy is our theology.

The first 3 complaints are very much related. It is a confusion that appears to come from a more binary perspective: truth is not falsehood. Which is entirely correct. But falsehood is not entirely untrue and incompletely understanding is not necessarily false understanding.

We gain knowledge by degrees and we modify our thinking incrementally. This is a design feature. We learn from our elders, and our reason. And our ability to reason leads us into increasing amounts of truth. So complaint 2 is in fact not a problem, but why worldview thinking works. Our thinking comes from our surroundings and shapes our surroundings. That is how we grow in knowledge. God gives all men nature from which we gain knowledge. He gives us all the ability to reason. These externals (nature and reason) lead us to more truth. And the truth allows us to modify our environment based on that truth. It is a spiral of gaining more and more truth. Worldview thinking does not know everything that is true, rather it gains knowledge of the truth. Thus complaints 1 and 3 are also dealt with. We don't get external to ourselves, but we judge from what true knowledge we do have, using that knowledge to weed out wrong ideas and gain new right ideas. And we do end up getting a bird's eye view or sorts, only incomplete, out of focus and a few misinterpreted pictures. But as our view gets better the gaps are slowly filled in, items come into focus, and we come to realise that some of the things we thought we were seeing are in fact something else.

Or to change the analogy. We struggle with advanced calculus but we can count. We learn our times tables. We are taught what primes are. Then the trigonometry we were getting wrong we now get right; and not only do we get it right, we can see why it is right.

Further to natural knowledge we have Scriptural knowledge. This gives us greater understanding than natural knowledge and curbs the extent our reasoning can mislead us. When we submit ourselves to Scripture we allow God to guide us into truth increasingly. The spiral goes inward to truth.

This also explains why those who consciously reject God have a tendency away from the truth; how overtime their worldview becomes increasingly incorrect. Worldviews are not just an intellectual exercise. We need faith that God has given us reason. We need faith in our fundamental presuppositions, and faith that God will guide our divine-originating (but broken) reason into truth. Those who reject trust in God grow in foolishness as God does not protect them from their faulty presumptions and faulty reasoning.

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