Sunday, June 19, 2016

But can it explain your destiny?

In the closing chapter of "Why I am not an atheist" (which I have just finished reading), Ravi Zacharias summarises part of his own book "The End of Reason" (which I have not read), and among other things, makes the following claim:
"A world view basically offers answers to four necessary questions - questions that relate to origin, meaning, morality, and hope that assures a destiny. These answers must be correspondingly true and, as a whole, coherent"
He then spends most of the chapter explaining how the Christian worldview succeeds better than an atheist worldview at answering these questions. He never questions the questions. 

Why must a worldview answer all these? Why are they necessary

Surely that biases our opinion in favour of or against certain worldviews by definition, before we've even got to consider them?

Let's start in the middle - Morality. I think I agree with Ravi that our worldview has to give us some guidance as to how to live; what ought we to do? However, I'm not sure this is an 'ought' - we each simply do live according to our worldviews. Anyone who lives in a way apparently contrary to their own worldview, generally does so because they do not fully understand their own worldview, or have not adequately or honestly expressed it. (The first example of this that springs to mind is the huge number of Christians who have sex with people to whom they are not married. They say 'true love waits' is part of their worldview, but actually then mitigate that idea with concepts of a God who'll forgive anything, and so they do it anyway, because they want to. But anyway, I digress...)

So, fundamentally, our morality does flow from our (honestly expressed and fully defined) worldview, because it can't do anything else. But there is no way of judging worldview against worldview here, my morality is fully consistent with my worldview, yours is fully consistent with your worldview. But there are no objective standards outside of either worldview to judge which is better, are there? If your morality is inconsistent with my worldview, does that make my worldview correct? No. It doesn't validate your worldview either.

What about Meaning? Must our worldview offer meaning? The search for a meaning in life is something that only really begins once the questioner has attained a certain amount of leisure and comfort in life. Those who struggle to survive don't need any meaning other than survival, and don't generally have time to think about it anyway. I am convinced that life is better than non-life, so survival itself could be all the meaning that there really is. Does there need to be someone or something greater than me to bestow meaning on my life? I don't think so. We find ourselves in a universe that is far more massive, complicated and interesting than we can possibly comprehend, so if we need to find some meaning for ourselves, it shouldn't be too hard.

There must be an Origin. I agree with that. But does my worldview actually need to have a coherent answer to the question of where we came from before it can be taken seriously as a viable worldview? I'm not sure it does. "I don't know" is a perfectly valid answer to the question of origins. Indeed, I think it is more than that. I think it is "I don't know and neither do you!" You may believe something about the origin of all things, but you certainly can't claim to know in any meaningful way. The more I think about the big questions of life, the more I understand that we really don't know very much about anything with certainty. You can have belief about something. You may even have some philosophical reasoning to justify that belief. You might even have hints of evidence that make a case. But what you can't have is sufficient justifiable certainty to attain knowledge of anything that happened millions or billions of years ago - what happened then is so far beyond our experience horizon that we can only guess, estimate, and hypothesise. So maybe your hypothesis is consistent with some observation of reality, that doesn't prove it, or disprove any other hypothesis, for that matter.

Fair enough, if your worldview offers a story of origins which is inconsistent with reality, then we would be right to challenge and dispute that worldview, but if your worldview offers no answer to the question of origins, it can't be shown to be false in this regard. Its more justifiable to hold to a worldview that doesn't have an explanation of origins than to hold to a worldview that does have an explanation that seems inconsistent with reality. Postulating a pre-existent, transcendent, everlasting, timeless deity as creator actually has far more problems cohering with reality than admitting "I don't know" does. 

Finally, what of Destiny and Hope? Certainly a worldview that "assures" a destiny seems, on the face of it, more appealing than one that doesn't, but what if the future is actually unknown and unknowable? In reality, we don't actually know what will happen in the future. Sure, we can observe trends and make general predictions about large systems, like the weather, for example, but we can't make specific and accurate predictions about that. Will it rain on my garden at exactly midday tomorrow? We can't see that. More importantly, questions like "will I live to see my 50th birthday?" cannot be answered, not in your worldview or in mine. Hope? I hope I live to see 50. Destiny? It isn't written yet. You might think that it is written and pre-planned somewhere, by some God, but you can't know what is going to happen to me, on this side of death or on the other. If there is an 'other' that is. So much of religious worldviews of destiny relies on there being some life post-mortem - your worldview requires it to give hope to those without hope. But is there any evidence for it? No. All you have are (interpretations of) biblical promises that you will never find out the reliability of until after death, if you are able to find out anything after death, that is. My worldview says "I don't know" on the life after death issue too. Does that make your worldview better than mine? Ravi Zacharias thinks it does, but I think his criteria for judging between worldviews are simply begging the question.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that you may have missed the point. I am not as smart as Ravi but lets look, for now, at your views on morality. You argue that there is no objective standard by which to measure which is correct. If that were true, then we would have no laws. The reason laws exist is because there is an inherent absolute by which we all measure. Suppose my worldview says I am superior to you and can take your life as and when I will. And your worldview says life of man is sacred and should not be taken away arbitrarily, how are we going to determine whether I have the right to kill you or not?

Ricky Carvel said...

Hi there, thanks for the comment. And don't put yourself down, until evidence is presented to the contrary, I'll assume that you are at least as smart as Ravi!

But I think you have it the wrong way about. We only need laws because we disagree with others on what is right and wrong. If everyone agreed on what was the right thing to do, everyone would do it, and nobody would need told to do it. There would be absolutely no need for laws.

It is only when there is no 'inherent absolute' we can agree on that we (society) need to create laws. Laws are not an 'inherent absolute' but rather an agreed standard.

You pose the situation of two people, one who believes himself superior to the other, and therefore feels he has the right to kill, and the other who feels himself equal to the other, and therefore believes he has no right to kill. Who can judge between these two? No individual, with an individual opinion can do this, only somebody (or a jury of people?) representing the consensus will of the wider society can judge right or wrong here. There is nothing 'absolute' in this, there is only societal consensus.

In this instance the laws are imposed because the opinion of the many outweighs the opinion of the individual.