Becoming an Ambassador, part 3

Third post in a series. Part one and part two.

In this post I want to deal with the third leg of my metaphor for evangelism, knowledge. Again from Stand To Reason’s article on the ambassador model, at a minimum an ambassador “…must know the character, mind, and purposes of his king.” The scope and depth of subjects one could study is, candidly, staggering. Thus in this post I want to look at the knowledge required of a Christian ambassador by looking at Christianity as a worldview in contrast to other worldviews we encounter today.

What is a worldview?

Before we begin, let me offer some clarification of the term worldview. Unfortunately it is used so often in Christian circles that it becomes a slogan or sound byte, or it is attached to any and every idea. In The Universe Next Door, James Sire offers the following definition:

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) that 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.[1]

In his book, Mind Your Faith, David Horner offers the following caveats regarding the study of worldviews. “Worldviews are not just sets of beliefs or structures of propositions. A worldview, as Sire says, is a ‘fundamental orientation of the heart’¾ in the full biblical sense of heart: the center of one’s personality, including one’s thinking, feeling, choices, attitudes, and loyalties. How we look at the world shapes and is shaped by all these aspects.”[2] In other words, when addressing the question of whether or not a worldview is true or false, we are necessarily engaged in an intellectual exercise. We must realize that many other things are part of and contribute to a person’s worldview. This is not an indictment of rational analysis of worldviews so much as an admission to the comprehensive nature of the concept of a worldview.

How to think about worldviews

There are many different ways to approach our analysis of different worldviews. The table below summarizes the views of three different authors.

Sire[3]

Nash[4]

Horner[5]

Domains of Study

What is prime reality-the really real?

God

What is Real?

Metaphysics

What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?

Ultimate reality

What is a human being?

Humanity

Who are we?

Anthropology

What happens to a person at death?
What is the meaning of human history?
How do we know what is right and wrong?

Ethics

What is good?

Ethics

What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?
Why is it possible to know anything at all?

Knowledge

Epistemology

 

For this post, especially since I am not trying to write a book, I want to consider the three questions suggested by David Horner: What is real? Who are we? What is good? These three questions define three areas of study: metaphysics (the study of reality), anthropology (the study of humanity) and ethics (the study of morality). With these three questions I will contrast naturalism and Christian theism.

Christian Theism vs. Naturalism

What is Real? – Metaphysics according to Naturalism

According to Naturalism the physical cosmos (matter, time and space) is all that exists. Immaterial concepts like thoughts, consciousness, or spiritual beings do not exist. Consequently, and obviously, God does not exist. There are a few implications that flow out of this.

First, the physical universe in some form or another has always existed. As Sire puts it, “Nothing comes from nothing. Something is. Therefore something always was. But that something, say the naturalists, is not a transcendent Creator but the matter of the cosmos itself.”[6] The reader may be aware of claims made by physicists such as Lawrence Krauss that the universe came into existence out of “nothing.” What rings hollow about such ideas is how one must equivocate on the meaning of “nothing.” For the philosopher, nothing really means “no thing,” while the physicist is referring to a theoretical concept known as a “quantum vacuum.”

Descriptions of this concept are typically similar to the following: “The quantum vacuum is thought of as a seething froth of real particle-virtual particle pairs going in and out of existence continuously and very rapidly.”[7] Whatever this is, it certainly seems disingenuous to call it “nothing.”

Another and perhaps more significant implication, is that the universe is (1) a closed system (2) ruled by the causes and effects of natural laws. These two concepts need some elaboration. A closed system is best understood by appealing to the metaphor of a sealed cardboard box. Whatever is inside the box is completely isolated by the box. Nothing goes in or out of the box. No information, no energy, no matter, nothing from outside the box can influence what is inside. Which leads naturally into the uniformity of cause and effect in the universe. Science, especially physics and chemistry, describes the ways in which all the matter in the universe interacts. However, if all that exists is “molecules bumping into each other” then the laws of physics and chemistry determine every event in the entire history of the universe.

Who are we? – Anthropology according to Naturalism

The view of humanity that flows from naturalism is that humans are merely complex biological systems. As one apologist once put it, we are merely “meat computers.” Drawing upon the uniformity of cause and effect via natural laws one must conclude that human beings are as determined as the rest of the cosmos. If physical laws govern all matter and human beings are merely material entities, then we too are governed by physical laws. Some consequences of this should be highlighted.

The human mind is an illusion created by the biological complexity of the brain. This has dramatic implications for a variety of ideas. For example, reason and rationality are seriously undermined. Whether a person perceives a proposition as true or false is not determined by weighing evidence and arguments, rather the current physical state of their brain determines what is “true” or “false.” Another example would be the nature of free will. Human decisions would in fact be determined by physical states. Nothing “outside of the box” has any bearing on the actions people take, it is merely the outworking of a very complex physical process.

It is important to point out that many naturalists will deny some of these bleak conclusions about the nature of humanity. I would simply contend they are clinging to an echo of theistic concepts that have no evidential support according to their worldview.

What is Good? – Ethics according to Naturalism

Ethics, the study of morality, is difficult to reconcile with naturalism. While the existence of morality is universally acknowledged by nearly every worldview, the source of moral values is far more difficult to determine. According to naturalism, morals do not exist as transcendent concepts. There is no objective standard of right and wrong. There is no such thing as ought that exists between any two persons. (I ought not steal from my neighbor.) Rather, the morals observed in human cultures are merely descriptions how people behave. The many different descriptions of how morality developed, all typically fall back to the outworking of an evolutionary or sociological process. The closest a naturalist can come to a transcendent concept of morality is an appeal to the utility derived from moral behavior.

To put it another way, morality according to naturalism, is relative. Whether considering a person, a community, a society, a country or even a species, morality is determined by the consensus. Morality is reduced to preferences and utility. It becomes as fluid as the choices and circumstances of the individual.

What is Real? – Metaphysics according to Christian Theism

The contrast between Christian theism and naturalism can be seen immediately with reference to the first question posited by Sire (referenced in the table above). Let’s consider Sire’s answer to this question. “Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.”[8]

It is worth highlighting that some of these attributes of God, while found in the Bible, can also be derived from the cosmological argument for God’s existence. In other words, in contrast to the idea that the material universe is eternal (which big bang cosmology undermines), we find coherence with special and general revelation about the attributes and existence of a creator. Therefore we have reason to accept those attributes of God revealed by special revelation (immanence, omniscience, sovereignty, moral perfection).

This question of what is ultimate reality can be simplified, as Nash pointed out, to “what is God?” This might seem a strange question to ask an a naturalist, but if the question of ultimate reality is pressed in any worldview you will eventually arrive at something that is the source of everything and is most likely to be eternal.

The answer to Sire’s second question related to metaphysics, pertaining to external reality, shows another important distinction with naturalism. “External reality is the cosmos God created ex nihilo to operate with a uniformity of cause and effect in an open system.”[9] Naturalism cannot explain the creation of the cosmos nor can it allow the possibility of the spiritual realm influencing creation. It is also important to note some common ground between Christian theism and naturalism: what science can discern about the natural world. Christian theism is not only compatible with science it is the worldview that made the scientific revolution possible. Christian theism argues that the design and stability of the natural world reflect the intelligence and providence of a creator. The natural laws discerned by science continue because God sustains creation moment to moment. This gives the theist an argument in support of miracles. Miracles are usually dismissed as impossible because they “violate the laws of nature.” However, if God is the author and sustainer of those laws, it is within the God’s prerogative and ability to suspend those laws to suit His purposes. To put it another way, the laws of nature control what happens if nothing interferes.

Who are we? – Anthropology according to Christian Theism

The nature of humanity is a mystery. In one sense we appear to be at the top of creation. Consider Hamlet’s quip regarding man. “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.” Sire summarizes what is glorious about man, observing, “Human beings are created in the image of God and thus possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, morality, gregariousness and creativity.”[10]

Yet that is not the whole story. Man is capable of a great many noble and wonderful things, but humanity is also capable of incredible evil. As Sire also observes, “Human beings were created good, but through the Fall the image of God became defaced, though not so ruined as not to be capable of restoration; through the work of Christ, God redeemed humanity and began the process of restoring people to goodness, though any given person may choose to reject that redemption.”[11]

The Bible is completely unique among religious texts in its assertion and explanation of these divergent truths. The human mind can comprehend physical universe with mathematics and symbolic language. Humanity is also capable of creating and appreciating beauty in art, literature and music. These are but two examples of phenomena that have little utility for survival. Yet we are also capable of incredible cruelty and evil. Physics and chemistry cannot explain these observations. These topics cannot even be discussed in terms available within the naturalist’s worldview.

What is Good? – Ethics according to Christian Theism

Finally, we consider what Christian Theism has to say about morality. Of the many different views on moral values and where they come from, only Christian theism offers an explanation for the existence of transcendent moral values, the character of God. We learn from Romans that an awareness of God’s moral character is part of every human beings character. We simply choose to suppress it, in varying degrees, to pursue our own selfish pursuits.

So What?

My desire to serve the Church through apologetics is inspired by many different things. Through the ministry of Stand To Reason and their ambassador model I have discovered how to expand the discipline of Christian apologetics into a method of discipleship. These three areas: knowledge, wisdom and character cannot be mastered they can only be pursued. As I said in part 2, “These are placeholders for a life style of Christian discipleship. Each of these areas is unique and requires different types of effort and study.”

Knowledge is by far the most vast in terms of academic, book-oriented study. If we believe God is the creator we should not be surprised that nearly every aspect of reality and human existence bears a divine fingerprint for the apologist to find. Character, while not an intellectual discipline per se, opens up the Christian to the realm of spiritual growth through spiritual disciplines and Bible study. Finally, wisdom cannot merely be learned it must be practiced. Unless we are willing to witness to those who don’t know God we cannot experience the joy and excitement of being God’s ambassadors.

Recommended Resources:

Beckwith, Francis J., and Gregory Koukl. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Horner, David A. Mind Your Faith: A Student’s Guide to Thinking and Living Well. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.

Koukl, Gregory. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

Samples, Kenneth. World of Difference, A: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th Edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.


[1] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th Edition, 05 ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 20.

[2] David A. Horner, Mind Your Faith: A Student’s Guide to Thinking and Living Well (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 259.

[3] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 22–23.

[4] Ronald H. Nash, “The Problem of Evil,” in To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 203–223.

[5] Horner, Mind Your Faith, 125.

[6] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 69.

[7] “The Quantum Vacuum,” http://www.cosmiclight.com/ofquasarsandquanta/vacuum.htm, (accessed October 17, 2012).

[8] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 28.

[9] Ibid., 31.

[10] Ibid., 32.

[11] Ibid., 38–39.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Ken Mann

Ken Mann is a graduate student in Biola’s Science and Religion program. A software engineer by way of vocation, a physicist by way of education, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ, in his words, by necessity, Ken sees the most powerful argument for Christianity as its relevance to every facet of human existence. Studying theology, apologetics, and philosophy of science is the latest expression of that belief in his life. After Biola, Ken hopes to encourage other believers with the powerful evidence for God’s providence and presence in creation. He blogs at http://www.hieropraxis.com