Part 1: An Introduction
Since I’ve restarted my blog, I decided to put a little work into it. In this series of posts, I am going to describe my theology, based on worldview theory. Worldview theory examines the way we integrate knowledge about the world we live in to create a coherent model. This model allows us to make predictions and provides perspective. It is the lens through which we view reality. This is the first of probably many posts.
The second post, on the definition of faith and basic worldview issues, is here.
The third post, on “Kingdom of God” theory, is here.
The fourth, on the role of the church and pastors, is here.
Oddly, I don’t expect people to read this. If you do, and you find it useful, that’s great, and if you have something you’d like to comment on, please do. But, this is really mostly for me. There is an old adage that the best way to learn something is to teach it. A corollary to that is the best way to organize your thoughts is to write it down.
Some years ago, I became interested in inference and such in forensic pathology diagnosis. We have been criticized for years by people saying that we are either ignorant and disorganized in our diagnoses, or that we are biased. I remember, over 15 years ago, going to a conference where a number of people (including one or two forensic pathologists) who got up and said we didn’t know what we were doing because we didn’t understand “deduction.” It shocked me, because medical diagnosis is specifically *not* deductive reasoning. That started a many-year interest in inferential methods in medical diagnosis. Then, a few years ago, our profession was threatened again by people, primarily lawyers, who claimed that we were full of “bias” in our diagnoses. Again, that had to be answered, and I was able to bring some of what I’d learned to bear on that.
During this period, I became increasingly interested in so-called “worldview theory” that looked at how we organized all the information and influences into a world model that essentially dictated how we approached problems. Applying this model to issues of culture and faith seemed a reasonable thing to do, and I’ve been knocking this around in my head for some time. So, I’ve decided to write it down, and see if I can describe it to myself in some coherent manner. I hope that you also find it interesting, and perhaps thought-provoking.
A few months ago, the Democratic National Committee came out against “misplaced claims of religious liberty” that disagree with their perspective. During his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Beto O’Rourke, came out against religious freedom in a more concrete way, saying that under his administration, he would revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that disagree with his social policies.
This is not surprising, and it is almost necessary in any coherent society. The multi-culti ideal of a diverse society of Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Pagans, etc. all living in with equal influence is a false dream. One worldview (or set of similar worldviews) must be dominant and the rest must be subsidiary. Whether the subsidiary perspectives are persecuted or tolerated depends on the perspective of the dominant faith, but one must be dominant.
We are seeing this in politics with the battle between Republicans and Democrats in the upcoming election. The Democratic worldview is that of “systemic racism” in which the entire American tradition is irredeemably corrupt. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the idea of individual liberty exist as tools of oppression. The entire edifice of “The American Way” must be destroyed and rebuilt anew with a purely collective consciousness.
The Republican worldview is that of the “invisible hand” where allowing individual liberty will result in optimal solutions. While imperfect, the story of America is that of continual progress towards the ideal of allowing each person to pursue his or her dream and achieve success without constraint.
These two views are fundamentally incompatible.
There is a third possibility that the optimum solution is to have both world views active. Sometimes it takes a little intellectual gymnastics. In this scenario one hopes that the interaction or dialectic between them will result in some optimal compromise. But even that view acknowledges that the two worldviews cannot both be dominant. Thus, in the current political conflict, you have the BLM/Antifa group acting as Jacobins to tear everything down and build it anew, you have “Trumpians” who, like the “Tea Party” folk immediately before them, cling to a libertarian ideal. But you also have classical “liberals” and “conservatives,” who believe that one or the other worldview should be dominant, but that some solutions can come from compromising in a practical sense with the nondominant worldview. An old-style liberal starts from the collectivist worldview but believes that conservatism can provide some tools for practical solutions — a little bit of individual liberty can be useful. An old-style conservative starts from the libertarian worldview but believes that some solutions require government coercion. Show More The rejection of Donald Trump by the “neocon” or “Lincoln Project” Republicans is a perfect example of this. These folk actually stand in the collectivist tent, but they differ from liberals in the degree to which they are willing to look to the opposing libertarian worldview for solutions. However, when a candidate arrives who rejects the collectivist worldview entirely, they first look to defend the collectivist worldview and, in defense of that worldview, embrace collectivist positions that they would have argued against vehemently a decade before. This is because they have moved from seeking practical solutions to particular problems and into worldview defense. John Kasich, Bill Kristol, George Will, etc. are people who basically have a collectivist/authoritarian worldview, but believed that libertarian conservatism provided useful tools for practical solutions and a propaganda tool for social control that allowed implementation of a broader agenda. But they are appalled by the thought that libertarian conservatism would become the dominant worldview. The old saw that a neocon was “a liberal who had been mugged,” is exactly right. They are still liberals, but they have decided to use some conservative tools. Today, you see this in the large number of liberals who are buying guns in response to the social unrest in liberal enclaves. Suddenly they recognize the value of individual liberty when it comes to self-defense. But they certainly have not changed their basic worldview — and they would re-create the same conditions they despair of were they to start anew. The current battle between the collectivist/authoritarian worldview and the individualist/libertarian worldview reflects a much older and more determined battle between the secular/antichristian and Christian worldviews. This battle has been going on ever since the rise of the secular worldview at the time of Christ. It should be remembered that the paganism of ancient Rome that persecuted the Christians was, in fact, essentially an atheist perspective. By the time Christianity arose, the aristocracy of Rome took a fairly abstract view of the Roman gods — much like mainline churches have come to view the story of Christ as an archetypic myth. The Roman gods represented archetypes and allegories of the human condition. Thus, when the Romans stated that the emperor should be worshipped as a god, this was primarily a political rather than spiritual statement. The primary criticism the early apologists for Christianity had to deal with was that the upper Classical society believed them to be atavistic — throwbacks to primitive beliefs in real “gods.” This is why the early apologists worked so hard to recast Christianity in terms of neoplatonic philosophy — they had to prove that they weren’t a bunch of ignorant primitives. Today, if Christians are to withstand modern (but almost identical) assaults on the Christian world view, then we must better understand how faith is the glue that holds our world view together. If we understand how worldviews are built, and the importance of Christian structures and traditions in maintaining and defending that world view against the violence that these antichristian are preparing to unleash, we can slow the movement of the world into darkness. Show Less
The rejection of Donald Trump by the “neocon” or “Lincoln Project” Republicans is a perfect example of this. These folk actually stand in the collectivist tent, but they differ from liberals in the degree to which they are willing to look to the opposing libertarian worldview for solutions. However, when a candidate arrives who rejects the collectivist worldview entirely, they first look to defend the collectivist worldview and, in defense of that worldview, embrace collectivist positions that they would have argued against vehemently a decade before. This is because they have moved from seeking practical solutions to particular problems and into worldview defense. John Kasich, Bill Kristol, George Will, etc. are people who basically have a collectivist/authoritarian worldview, but believed that libertarian conservatism provided useful tools for practical solutions and a propaganda tool for social control that allowed implementation of a broader agenda. But they are appalled by the thought that libertarian conservatism would become the dominant worldview. The old saw that a neocon was “a liberal who had been mugged,” is exactly right. They are still liberals, but they have decided to use some conservative tools. Today, you see this in the large number of liberals who are buying guns in response to the social unrest in liberal enclaves. Suddenly they recognize the value of individual liberty when it comes to self-defense. But they certainly have not changed their basic worldview — and they would re-create the same conditions they despair of were they to start anew.
The current battle between the collectivist/authoritarian worldview and the individualist/libertarian worldview reflects a much older and more determined battle between the secular/antichristian and Christian worldviews. This battle has been going on ever since the rise of the secular worldview at the time of Christ. It should be remembered that the paganism of ancient Rome that persecuted the Christians was, in fact, essentially an atheist perspective. By the time Christianity arose, the aristocracy of Rome took a fairly abstract view of the Roman gods — much like mainline churches have come to view the story of Christ as an archetypic myth. The Roman gods represented archetypes and allegories of the human condition. Thus, when the Romans stated that the emperor should be worshipped as a god, this was primarily a political rather than spiritual statement. The primary criticism the early apologists for Christianity had to deal with was that the upper Classical society believed them to be atavistic — throwbacks to primitive beliefs in real “gods.” This is why the early apologists worked so hard to recast Christianity in terms of neoplatonic philosophy — they had to prove that they weren’t a bunch of ignorant primitives.
Today, if Christians are to withstand modern (but almost identical) assaults on the Christian world view, then we must better understand how faith is the glue that holds our world view together. If we understand how worldviews are built, and the importance of Christian structures and traditions in maintaining and defending that world view against the violence that these antichristian are preparing to unleash, we can slow the movement of the world into darkness.
We all have an idea of what a worldview is, but most of us don’t spend a lot of time looking at the nuts and bolts of it. It just comes naturally. In the next post, I’ll discuss what a worldview is in more structural sense and how it is built.
1) We don’t live in the “real” world. We live in a model of the world we create in our minds.
This is best understood by looking at the idea of “theory of mind.” This theory recognizes that we cannot experience being another person in the real concrete sense, so we cannot “know” exactly what another person is experiencing or thinking directly. Instead, we build models of other people based on our understanding of them. We use that model to infer what the other person is thinking, their motivations, and how they will react to what we say. When we interact with that person, we observe how they act, and modify our internal model of them to accommodate those observations. People with autism have difficulty creating these models, which interferes with their ability to interact with other people.
The key here is that when we interact with other people, we are “really” interacting with a model of that person we have in our head, and use the responses by the person to test and modify that model on the fly. Sometimes, when the person’s actions do not fit the model, we are put in the awkward position of either having to change the model or ignore (or reinterpret) the response. We see this all the time, in which we discount what a person says or we assume some sort of occult motivation that belies the obvious one.
This same principle applies to our entire existence, and in particular, how we view the world we live in. We “live” in a world model we created in our minds, and use our experience and received “facts” to test and modify that model on the fly. Similarly, when we have experiences that are inconsistent with that model, we are put in the same kind of awkward position. Of course, these models sometimes have to be tested against cold hard realities. A famous example from history is the war between the Shawnee and the United States led by Tecumseh and the prophet Tenskwatawa. Tecumseh established a confederacy of a number of Indian Nations to oppose the westward expansion of the United States. Tenskwatawa claimed that he had spells that would make his fighters immune to bullets. It didn’t work, and the confederacy was broken at the battles of Tippecanoe and Moraviantown, which helpled usherin the War of 1812 (due in part to the US’ belief that the British had supported the Tecumseh Confederation).
But the benefits of these models are profound. Without them, the world is inchoate and incomprehensible. We have to balance challenges to our world views against the benefits of having a necessary way of comprehending our existence.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that reality doesn’t exist. I’m not a postmodernist denying the existence of ground truth. I’m talking about how we organize, accept, refuse to admit, and connect those ground truths, and what “truths” that are not ground truths that we choose to accept as ground truth.
1.2 Our world views are inherently subjective. While we may use “science” in creating and testing our world views, our world views are inherently not “scientific.”
This world model is centered around our immediate existence, but extends far, far beyond it. I know a great deal about my neighborhood and neighbors. I know a fair amount about my little town and how it works. I know a moderate amount about what goes on in the large city near my little town. I know a fair bit about how my State works. I have some ideas about how my country should work, but I am constantly presented with disappointing surprises. I have a vague idea about how the international community works. I have a hand-wavy idea consisting mostly of buzzwords about how the sun works. I have a slight idea about what’s going on in the solar system. I have minimal literacy in how the galaxy works. I don’t pretend to know how the universe works. I have no idea what’s beyond the universe.
And we are all like that. We all create models of our existence that include beliefs about the nation, the world, the solar system, the universe, and everything that’s in it. Sure, we accept that there are things we don’t know, but we still often act as if we do when those beliefs impact our actions. The technical term for this is that our models are “underdetermined,” at least in the large. A theory is “underdetermined” when there is insufficient evidence to choose, in some real probabilistic sense, between competing ideas.
Strictly, “underdetermined” applies when two or more ideas are equally likely, but in a practical sense, it can also apply when it is impossible to say that one theory is overwhelmingly more likely. This is because of three important findings about belief.
The first is that most of the probabilities we “know” about things are very noisy, if not wrong. Every week, there’s a new finding that shows that things we “knew” and held as “settled science” are false. Worse, much of it is hearsay. We don’t critically read the studies ourselves. Instead, we accept some pre-digested story in a newspaper or blog or conversation.
The second is that “belief” is not a logical function. One can make probabilistic statements about things — sometimes — but “belief” about something is entirely subjective. In medicine, questions about causality are often evaluated using the “Bradford Hill Criteria” that invoke things like dose relationship, temporality, and such. While these have been used as a checklist, Bradford-Hill called them “viewpoints,” not “criteria,” and pointed out that there is no algorithmic way to determine causality. Bradford-Hill denied that there were hard and fast rules for belief about causality, and noted that belief was fundamentally intuitive.
The third is that the amount of evidence necessary for belief is a function of utility and importance to one’s immediate life — it is a cost-benefit issue. Thus, for instance, it is very important to know the facts when determining whether or not a mushroom you picked in the woods is safe to eat, because if you are wrong you may die. It’s not so important to have much information when deciding whether or not to believe there is sentient life on other planets in the universe, since it makes little difference in your life (probably).
All of us have relatively small collections of “hard” information, and only slightly larger collections of “soft” data, but we have acres and acres of received information that we accept as “fact.” From that small collection of hard data, we sift through all the rest, choose what we like, and build this huge, largely coherent worldview. The key here is that because the really known data set is so small, most of our world view is either inferred or collected from accepted “facts” that other people with similar world views give us, that we accept mostly because it’s consistent with the world view we already have.
1.3 Every world view is different.
We build these world views as we grow. As we build them, we build connections between the things we “know” that reinforce our way of “knowing.” If we are successful, as we mature our world view becomes more coherent and less easily challenged. Because of this interaction between things we know and things we accept, two people who accept the very same data can perceive them in dramatically different ways because the interconnections between them are different.
Every person has a different world view. We are, in fact, islands, because we live in different perceptual worlds. Sometimes, the worlds of two people may be very similar and largely overlap, sometimes not. This reflects how we think in general. In his book on inference in intelligence work, Schum notes:
“The problem is that most inferences involve processes or variables that are nonindependent in various ways, with genuinely interesting evidential subtleties. A causal assumption of complete independence among identified processes would in most cases invite inferential calamity. So we have no choice but to do our best at capturing what we believe are avenues of probabilistic dependence among processes of concern. To do so, we link nodes representing these processes by various patterns of arcs. I can think of no inference problem, outside
the classroom, whose structure is either provided for us of immediately apparent. Constructing a network representation of an inference problem is a purely subjective judgmental task, one likely to result in a different structural pattern by each person who performs it.”
(Schum DA. The evidential foundations of probabilistic reasoning 1 ed. New York:Wiley, John & Sons; 1994.)
Just as our inference processes are idiosyncratic, so are the worlds we build from them.
New information we receive is viewed in light of that world view, and if possible, is made to conform to it. Otherwise, it would require modification of the world view, which can be difficult. Often this is done by accepting the objective evidence, but assuming missing data to be such that it fits into the world view. Thus, for instance, a Progressive who sees Joe Biden threatening the Ukraine in order to get a prosecutor fired sees it as a reasonable act for which there is almost certainly an innocent explanation, and sees a phone call from Trump to the Ukrainian President as a clear attempt to influence and election because of implied, but unstated, meaning. A Trump supporter will see the same evidence, and make the opposite interpretation. Both can do this because they can assume there is missing data makes the known information fit their world view.
Often, arguments about “facts” are based primarily on consistency with one’s model more than whether or not they are “facts.” For instance, when Atheists denigrate Christian beliefs, they frequently do it not because they dispute direct observations that Christians put forward, but instead, simply point out that they have alternative explanations in the Atheist world view. The Atheist argument against God is simply that God is not “necessary” because their world view is coherent without Him. Since God is not necessary in this world view, then He must not exist. I will expand on this in the section on apologetics in a later post.
However, of course, the flip side of this is equally convincing to a Christian. The existence of God is completely consistent with the Christian world view, and the will of God is a coherent explanation for all observable facts. It is not possible to “prove” that God does not exist, the existence of God provides a reasonable and rational explanation of observations, and there are well-proven practical benefits to belief.
The difference is not one of facts, knowledge, or rationality. It is one of divergent world views. Certainly there are advocates of many world views in which people ignore or deny “hard” facts that contradict the world view, and some people just make stuff up, but they do not make up the vast majority of either Atheists, or Christians. And, of course, this is not an issue just of Christianity versus Atheism. The same applies to all faiths, and most philosophies.
Consider the following diagrams. Let the small ellipses and dots in illustration 1 represent the bits of knowledge that we objectively know:
Now, we, as Christians, build our model of the universe by extending from these data and fitting received information from indirect sources to build our world view. There are too many pieces of information out there for us to integrate it all. So, we select information to believe, information to reject, and information to hold in abeyance. Then we build connections between all of this to create a map of our reality.
Now, an Atheist will do the same thing, and build his or her world from these data, integrating it into the structure of their faith. There will be overlap of things both world views experience directly, and overlap of things that are not observed, but are received more indirectly. The further one goes away from direct observation and experience, the less overlap it will have with a very different world view.
Since our experiences are affected by our world view, just as they help build it, the more entrenched a world view is, the more it will build itself on things alien to a different world view. For instance, a Christian mystic will integrate perceptions derived from meditation/contemplation, and will interpret sensations within the context of spiritual revelation that will enhance and increase the coherency of that religious model. In contrast, and atheist will either not experience the same perceptions, or will experience and interpret them in an entirely incompatible manner (as does, for instance, the atheist mystic George Battaille). One of the more startling conversations I’ve ever had regarding the mystical experience was with a cousin of mine, Alice Notley, who is a well-known poet living in Paris. A few years ago, I sat down with her to discuss mysticism. I thought, because of her poetic imagination, she would be sympathetic. The interesting thing, however, was that her concept of the mystic experience seemed to be determined largely, if not entirely, by her critical reading of mystical literature, particularly medieval literature, such as the Cloud of Unknowing. She viewed mysticism entirely by how it was expressed verbally. When I pointed out that the verbal/written literature on the mystic experience was necessarily incorrect, since the experience is a pre-verbal/nonverbal one, she had a difficult time connecting to it. Her world view was so oriented towards verbal expression, she had a difficult time accepting a world view that rejects its importance.
This worldview construction affects our basic perceptions. I remember reading a wonderful book many years ago on the first interactions between the eastern and western cultures when early Europeans went to Japan. In one episode, the King of one of the western countries (Portugal, I believe) presented a ruler in Japan with a painting of the royal family. The ruler of Japan asked why the ruling family didn’t wash their faces. What we as westerners see as shadows that provide a very three-dimensional feel to a painting was very different than how the Japanese conveyed three dimensions in theirs, and they simply did not perceive the shadowing in the same way. To them, they were just dark smudges. When I was an undergraduate, I was an Asian Studies minor. One of the more intense experiences I had was the first time I “really” perceived the 3D effect of a Japanese landscape watercolor. In many of these paintings, distance is encoded by position in the composition, with different distances separated by lines of clouds or other obstruction. This is in contrast to western landscapes, which rely more on perspective distortion and shading. When I first looked at them, they seemed like 2D stacked scenes. Then, one day, I glanced at one and perceived the 3D effect. It was startling.
A different kind of Christian will have a different world view than mine. For instance, many traditional Protestants in America are very suspicious of mysticism. While the overlap of these Christians’ world view with that of the Christian mystic will be large, there will still be areas where they do not overlap.
The key is that most of what we “know” are things we don’t know directly, but instead accept on the basis of some criteria. One important criterion is how well it fits into what we already know. A wonderful political example of this is discerning the “hidden” meaning in the statements of Donald Trump. Those who dislike Donald Trump say that he praised white nationalists after the Charlottesville protest in which a protester was killed. Those who support Donald Trump say he did not. Both look at the very same words. One side dismisses his explicit condemnation of white supremacists on the grounds that he didn’t mean it, and insist that when he said there were “good people” on both sides of the issue of tearing down monuments, he “meant” that as praise of white supremacists. The other side insists he meant it when he condemned white supremacists, and that he was praising people who are appalled at the rewriting and censoring of history — just as they were alarmed when the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamyan. Both sides look at the same data, but integrate it into their worldview differently. Sometimes things are truly ambiguous.
Sometimes it takes a little intellectual gymnastics. I remember reading a book on feminist cosmology a number of years ago, where the author argued for a non-masculine view of physics that integrated the idea of a loving and caring universe. Her point was that it was possible to believe that the sun was a dead nuclear machine that radiated heat because of the mechanics of nuclear reactions at its core, but it was also possible to believe that the sun was a caring and loving being that radiated warmth because she loves us and wants us to flourish — and does so via that mechanics of nuclear reactions. The authors point was that what we know about the sun does not contradict either view, in her mind. Whether the warming of the earth is a *byproduct* or the *purpose* of the sun transcends the boundaries of traditional scientific thought.
The point is that the “masculinized” or “colonized” thinking who embraces traditional science and the “feminist” thinker who embraces a living and nurturing universe both accept the very same data, but make connections within the existing data in their worldview to make the data fit.
Sometimes you just reject the information that doesn’t fit. Atheists who dismiss tales of miracles simply dismiss witness accounts, for instance. In political discussions people commonly just refuse to believe what people tell them.
Sometimes you create information based on your worldview — essentially making conclusions and then accepting them as fact. One of the classic examples of this in my experience was going to church as a child man and listening to the story of the creation of Eve. My Sunday School teacher finished the story with the statement “And that’s why women have one more rib than men.” I believe that well into my later school years when I was taught anatomy.
Sometimes you bend information to fit your worldview. I used to attend a very conservative church that believed that drinking alcohol was a horrible sin. When I asked about all of the instances of Jesus drinking or facilitating the drinking of alcohol, such as creating wine at a wedding, I was told that it was all unfermented grape juice — that Jesus firmly condemned any drinking of wine.
But this is not a post about apologetics. This is a post about faith for Christians. I believe that most Christians have an appreciation of faith that does not recognize its profound importance of consciously forming our world view. A deeper appreciation of faith not only forms a better foundation of belief, but also provides an explanation of why some of the other features of Christian life, particularly the church, is so important.
1.3 This is not postmodernism
It may seem that what I am saying is very similar to the postmodern position. It is both similar and very different. The stringent postmodern position is that fundamental truth itself is a matter of perspective. In another post of mine on the BLM/Antifa movement, I link to a video of a man talking to a young postmodern woman talking about whether or not the number of candies in a box is odd or even. The young lady says that there is no inherent truth to whether or not there is an odd or even number of objects — you can’t just count them an see. Instead, there has to be a person in authority who defines the truth, and the result is based on that dominant narrative.
For me, there are “basic” truths and facts that we accept or deny. The thing that makes our worldviews different is primarily determined by how we connect these facts. The choice we make about which basic truths we accept or deny is also important, don’t get me wrong, but it is actually a smaller part of the issue than how we connect them. This acceptance of a baseline reality of fact is what separates my position from the stronger constructive postmodernist vision.
2) The creation of a coherent world view requires work and time
From my conversations with other Christians, the general opinion seems to be that “faith” really just means “I believe in the divinity of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and His atonement for sins.” But it’s a lot more than that, and failure to recognize it means that Christians often have problems both defending their beliefs to others, and are at risk of falling into doubt when challenged.
Faith is much more than belief. Faith is *choice* to build a Christian world view and experience the world through the lens of that world view. Belief in Jesus is the *beginning,* not the substance of faith. But here’s the catch. A complex and coherent world view is not something that is built overnight. It requires work. It requires commitment. A well built worldview is resistant to attack, a poorly constructed one is fragile. A coherent world model requires integration of the objective knowledge we have with the Christian constructs that we use to expand into areas we don’t know directly. A mature Christian “sees” God in everything — in the wonder of nature, the beauty of a sunrise, the laugh of a child. There is no such thing as coincidence, since everything is God’s plan.
3) An incomplete world view is vulnerable to challenge
This leads to some important considerations. The first is an understanding of how integral our world view is to our being. There is a fair amount of research into world views, and it turns out that most people react to a threat to their world view with the same emotional response that they react to threat of death. In the jargon of the academic trade, this perceived threat of death or recognition of mortality is called “mortality saliency.” Humans are unique in the world in how they view death. It turns out that our world view provides a mechanism for mitigating fear of death, and conversely, attacks on our world view result in responses similar to our response to death threat. Thus, we tend to be very supportive of people who have world views similar to ours, and we tend to be very antagonistic to those who have very different world views.
As one researcher notes:
Although treated by the individual as absolute reality, the cultural worldview is a fragile social construction in need of constant validation from others. Consequently, the existence of others who share one’s worldview bolsters faith in that worldview, thus increasing its effectiveness as an anxiety buffer, and the existence of others who do not share one’s worldview threatens one’s faith in it, thus reducing its effectiveness as an anxiety buffer. As a result, people generally respond favorably to those who share their worldviews and negatively to those who do not. Accordingly, a series of studies have shown that MS leads to especially positive evaluations of those who validate one’s worldview and especially negative evaluations of those who challenge it.
(McGregor HA, Lieberman JD, Greenberg J, Solomon S, Arndt Jamie, Simon L, Pyszcynski T. Terror management and aggression: Evidence that mortality salience motivates aggression against worldview-threatening others. J Personality and Social Psychology 1998 74(3) 590-605.)
3.1) There are may strategies to deal with threats to a world view.
There are many studies that demonstrate a large number of ways people work to protect their world views. These include aggression, derogation of opposing world views, intolerance of expression of other world views, reliance on external supports of the world view, partial accommodation of the world view to destabilizing assertions, and others. A number of personality traits are also important. Self-esteem is protective. Intellectualization/rationalization is important. And there are many others.
But here’s the key. People who have the combined disadvantage of a poorly integrated world view *and* limited defensive tools suffer a double whammy. Because their world views are incomplete, they often accept many of the premises of other world views. Because they are not used to defending their world view, they tend to use primitive defense mechanisms, such as intolerance, anger, denial, and aggression.
Consider the issue of evolution in Christianity. There are a number of ways of dealing with it. The first thing one has to decide is whether or not it even matters at all. People who challenge Christian beliefs argue that evolution somehow “disproves” God. But, in fact, to many Christians it is simply irrelevant and a non-issue.
For instance, one early 20th century Roman Catholic Cardinal said when he heard an explanation of Darwinism “How wonderful it is that God not only makes life, but makes life that can make life.” Or, as John Paul II wrote in 1985, “Rightly comprehended, faith in creation or a correctly understood teaching of evolution does not create obstacles: evolution in fact presupposes creation; creation situates itself in the light of evolution as an event which extends itself through time – as a continual creation – in which God becomes visible to the eyes of the believers as ‘Creator of heaven and earth’”
Billy Graham said something similar when he stated:
I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren’t meant to say. I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. […] whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.
(Frost, David. Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man. Chariot Victor Pub., 1997. p. 72)\
Many Christians, particularly Protestants, on the other hand, accept the atheist position that evolution is incompatible with faith. These folk outright reject evolutionary theory, either by focusing on the problems that still exist in evolutionary theory, or by creating theories that either deny or explain away findings in support of evolution.
And, of course, there are a number of gradations between the two. The acceptance of evolutionary theory may be considered an “accommodation” strategy. Opposition to evolutionary theory may be scientific, may be simple denial, may involve derogation or even intolerance to expression of evolutionary thought (as in opposition to teaching evolutionary theory in school).
From the atheist side of things, it is very similar. There are significant lacunae in evolutionary theory, and many issues that are not resolved. Advocates of evolutionary theory accept that these lacunae will be filled on the basis of faith, thought they adamantly refuse to acknowledge it. Their insistence there there are no real issues with evolutionary theory is the same kind of defense mechanism as used by those who refuse to evaluate positive evidence objectively.
The key, however, is that while what we observe certainly affects our worldview, our worldview often dictates how we interpret (or even accept) what we observe, and what received information we incorporate.
In the next post, a world view theology of faith.