Lesson 2: Understanding World ViewsRelated Media
If you’re sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you. ― William Lane Craig
It used to be that most people in America believed there was a God and that the Bible was God’s word. They believed in heaven and hell, even the Apostles Creed or something to close it. Hurdles to the gospel were apathy, lack of personal response, or wrong views of how to get to heaven. Now all that has changed. Many people now don’t believe in God. They don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God. Now people don’t agree on issues of morality and sin and don’t accept the foundational tenets of Christianity. Now, if you try to present the gospel to someone, you’re more likely to have them say, “That’s just your opinion.” Or, “That may be true for you, but not for me.”2 When one is surprised that you believe in the resurrection of Easter or the virgin birth of Christmas it is likely because they are operating with a different world view than you are. The diversity of world views in America and elsewhere is something critical for Christians to understand if the church is to have some positive impact for Christ in our pluralistic world. How does Christianity fit into the larger contexts of other world views? Is there a God? How do we know? Why is there evil and suffering? These are some questions this lesson is going to try to survey.
Christianity/Theism in Worldview Contexts
To start with, it is helpful to try to understand how Christianity fits into a larger context of world views. These large categories of worldviews can be classified into the larger categories of Theism, Pantheism, Naturalism and Pluralism.
Theism is the belief that there is a personal God outside of time and space who created the universe out of nothing and is involved in events (supernaturally). He reveals himself to man through nature and through the Bible (Christians) or the Tanakh = Old Testament (Jews) or the Koran (Muslims). He sets the rules for mankind. And there will be eternal consequences for breaking the rules. Theism allows for the possibility of miracles since God can act in the world. If one denies that God created the universe or that he acts in human history with supernatural events, it is because they have a different world view.
Deism is a form of theism. God created everything, but is no longer involved in creation. Deism stresses God’s transcendence or distance from creation. To illustrate Deism, one can describe creation as a clock. God made the clock, wound it up and started it running according to its design, but in essence left it after that. 3
There are various forms of the world view termed Panthesim. At its core, Panthesim teaches that everything is god: humans, animals, and plants are god. The world is god and god is the world. God is neither personal nor conscious. God is not a “He” but an “It.”4 The universe is one. Everything material is an illusion. Knowledge is getting in touch with the cosmic consciousness. One of the favorite terms you’ll hear from pantheists is “enlightenment.” History is cyclical and men are reincarnated until they realize their own divinity. This world view is the basis for Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian Science, and New Age teaching.5
Naturalism (or Modernism) takes the basic position that there is no God (Atheism), or the position that God’s existence or nonexistence of God cannot be known or that God is unknowable (Agnostism). The emphasis of naturalism is that there is no supernatural. We live in a closed system in which God is not operating and the world and mankind just evolved. People are the product of their environment. Morality is decided by man. Reason and science are the basis of authority and pursued for the good of mankind. There is no purpose to history; it just happens. When you die, you cease to exist. For example, someone who denies the possibility or likelihood of miracles may be operating from a world view of Naturalism.
Pluralism (or Post-Modernism) is sort of a cafeteria style world view. People mix and match various aspects of the other world views as well as blend in new ideas. Generally, they reject the idea of objective truth and no one view may be considered right. People are suspicious and skeptical of authority. They are in search of identity, not from knowledge, but through relationship. They are on a quest for a meaningful community. They seek transcendence or spirituality, but not religion. They express the “knowing smirk” (= Yah right) at anyone who says they know the truth.6 One may encounter pluralism by hearing something like: there are many ways to God; there is no one truth; or even absolute truth itself does not exist.
Increasingly, we as Christians find ourselves in this melting pot of various world views. But let’s move to a basic starting question. Is there a God? And if so, how might we know?
Is there a God?
Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion stated, “we are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”7 Another outspoken atheist, Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great stated, “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”8
But is it true that there no evidence for God? Paul states in Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (Rom 1:18-22). These verses say that God is known by all or at least certain aspects about God based on the evidence of the created universe, specifically, his eternal power and divine nature. How powerful must a Being be to be able to create something as large and magnificent as the universe? Think about it. The revelation that God has given in creation makes man responsible to God in honoring him as God and giving thanks. The story is told of Napoleon who while on one of his ships at night heard some of the sailors mocking the idea of God’s existence. As he pointed up to the stars he said, “Gentlemen, you must get rid of those first.”9
Yet why do people reject the existence of God? First one has to say that rejection of God is primarily a moral (sin) problem and intellectual arguments will not solve this. If someone does not want to be morally accountable to God, they will not accept even good arguments. The Bible presupposes a belief in God and much of the Bible is defining who the true God is. The very first sentence of the Bible assumes God. “In the beginning God created . . . .” (Gen 1:1). But do we just have to merely accept the existence of God by faith, or is our belief in God based on evidence too? It’s that old debate of presuppositional apologetics versus evidential apologetics again. God gave Moses signs to prove to Israel that God had sent him and to prove to Pharaoh that the God of Israel was the one true God (Exod 4:1-9). Thomas needed evidence for Jesus’ resurrection when he asked to see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and spear pierced side (John 20:25).
One way to address the issue of God’s existence is to consider some of the basic traditional evidences for God. These represent apologetic arguments that should not be considered absolute proof of God or without counterargument. These evidences, especially when taken together, lead one to believe that the existence of God is more reasonable than the belief that God does not exist. These arguments can be termed and classified as: 1) the cosmological argument, 2) the teleological argument, and 3) the moral argument.
The Evidence for God: The Cosmological Argument
The basic cosmological argument is that everything that exists has a cause, and since the universe exists, it must have had a first cause. Another way to state it is to stress the inception of the universe. If the universe began to exist then the universe has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a cause.10
Sometimes the counter argument is made that the universe was caused by “chance.” But there are two problems with this: 1) chance can’t cause something; chance is not a being; it is just a mathematical probability and 2) when one looks at the odds (what the chances are), it becomes evident that it is not a probability – it is an impossibility. The “Big Bang” presupposes matter/energy before the “Bang” happened but where did this matter come from? What or who caused this? To try to get around this, some say that the universe is eternal. Carl Sagan said, “The universe is all there is, and was and ever will be.” There are two logical problems with the view that the universe is eternal: 1) Scientists have discovered that the universe is expanding (or moving) and if you go back far enough, the expansion (or moving) had to have started sometime in the past. What started this motion? 2) The “Kalam” argument stresses that the universe had to begin to exist a finite time ago. You can’t get to “now” if you start from infinity because “now” never arrives. Only if you have a finite beginning can you arrive at “now.”11
Therefore, it is reasonable that that first cause must be something outside of time and space (since the universe came into being at some time in the past), immaterial (since the universe is made up of matter), powerful enough to “create” everything and a personal agent. For example consider dominos falling. Each domino falling is caused by the one before it, but you fall into an infinite regress unless you have someone pushing that first domino over. That first event is caused by an “agent,” some being who chose to start the process. What would be an adequate cause for the effect of the creation of the universe? Some Being like the God of the Bible would be that adequate cause.
Related to and part of the cosmological argument are the laws of thermodynamics. Simply, the first law of thermodynamics is also referred to as the conservation of energy. It is an established scientific fact. The law in essence states that energy/matter cannot be created or destroyed in a closed natural system. Therefore, the existence of matter and energy must have come about by a supernatural event or force outside of the system.12 The second law of thermodynamics simple stated is that is energy is becoming less usable. It is also called the law of entropy. It also is an established scientific fact. Things are winding down, becoming more disorderly, the energy is continually being spread out in less and less usable forms. Since the universe contains highly concentrated energy sources (e.g., sun) it cannot be eternal but must have had a beginning.13 And this beginning must have had a cause.
The Evidence for God: The Teleological Argument
The basic teleological argument states that since the world is so complex and so ordered, it had to have been designed/created by some intelligent being. The design points to a designer, a car points to a manufacturer, a watch points to a watchmaker, an I-Phone points to Steve Jobs etc. The universe and everything in it is too complex, orderly, adaptive, apparently purposeful, and/or beautiful to have occurred randomly or accidentally. Therefore, it must have been created by an intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful being. God is that intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful being.14
The Evidence for God: The Moral Argument
The moral argument states that since everyone has conscience and a concept of right and wrong, this must reflect some higher conscience or higher moral absolute. If God does not exist, objectionable moral values do not exist. Objectionable moral values do exist. Therefore, God exists. Paul states, “For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them” (Rom 2:14-15). Here the Bible says that man’s conscience bears the work of the law on it. C.S. Lewis points out that when someone quarrels, they are not just saying that something the other person did displeases only them. They are appealing to some standard of behavior that says what that other person did was wrong. Where does this sense of fairness come from?15 If survival of the fittest is the evolutionary law of nature why should not stronger nations commit genocide against weaker nations? Why would this be morally wrong?
These three apologetics evidences strongly suggest that belief in a powerful personal God has a reasonable basis to it. One might add that most people in history have been persuaded by the evidence seen in creation to believe in God in some fashion. While these are valid evidences for the existence of God, there are objections. The very existence of evil is sometimes presented as a major objection to the existence of God.
Why is there Evil and Suffering?
If God is good and God is all-powerful then how can there be evil in the world? It may be claimed that since there is evil, there must not be a God. Or if there is a God, he must not be good or he must not be all-powerful. This problem is also called theodicy and constitutes one of the major objections to God’s existence. But there is no logical fallacy in that statement of the problem of evil and the existence of a good God. All of the following statement can be true. God is good. God is all-powerful. God created the world. The world contains evil. Where is the contradiction? What they really mean is this: God is good. God is all-powerful. God created the world. The world shouldn’t contain evil. However, the idea, that the world should not contain evil is just an assumption on their part. One could also respond that objective evil presupposes objective good. It has been said, “Shadows prove the existence of sunshine.” Some additional responses to theodicy can be summarized as follows:
1) Necessary for free-will to work. If it was impossible to disobey God, then we’d never have to choose to obey. We would be like robots. One could also supplement this: for true love to exist it must be reciprocal with a choice made by both parties freely. For those of you who are married, do you want to be married to someone who chooses to be married to you or to someone who was forced to (due to no choice of their own)?
2) Necessary for human spiritual growth. If there are no dangers, difficulties or disappointments in life, how can we gain character traits such as patience or endurance? C.S. Lewis rightly described that pain is God’s megaphone that rouses the ear of a deaf world. When are the times people have grown closest to God? Are they the good times or the hard times? Are they the times of feasting or the times of mourning? James stated: “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything” (Jas 1:2-4).
3) Necessary to promote the greater good and God’s glory. The chief purpose of life is to glorify and know God. It is not human happiness! God’s role is not to make life comfortable for us. However, if we recognize that the evil, which causes human suffering, is leading people to know God, then there is a greater good. There is a good example of this in John’s gospel when Lazarus, Jesus’ friend gets sick and dies. “When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’”
4) Temporal suffering compared to eternal glory. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul compares the suffering of this life with the eternal weight of glory. Compared to eternity with God the sufferings of this world are a “slight, momentary affliction.” This perspective is critical for Christians who are undergoing suffering.
5) It is too complicated for us to understand. Even if we can see some possible purpose in some evil/suffering, there are events which we can’t understand and we just have to recognize that we are finite creatures who can’t know God’s purpose in allowing those things.
Jesus summarized an important lesson when considering situations of evil and suffering. Luke 13 reads, “Now there were some present on that occasion who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He answered them, ‘Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered these things? No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well! Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you! But unless you repent you will all perish as well!’” (Luke 13:1-5). First, notice that two different types of situations of evil and suffering are presented. The first one refers to moral evil in which Pilate governor of Judea had killed some Galileans. Why they were killed is not known. In the second case, a tower had fallen apparently accidently and killed 18 people. One might call this a natural evil or disaster. The Jewish people might have been asking the question from a theological perspective concerning why this happened. They came to the conclusion that it was because these people who died were sinners. But consider Jesus’ point. He basically says you are all sinners and unless you repent you will perish as well. In other words, do not focus so much on why these evil events occurred but focus on your own relationship with God to make sure it is right.
Sin and evil are not things created by God. They are a deprivation of things created by God. Just like darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat, evil is really the absence of good. This was one of Augustine’s arguments.16 The Bible says: God created the world and it was “good” (Gen 1). However, man sinned and brought sin and suffering into the world (Gen 3). God is in the process of eradicating sin, suffering and Satan and all this will happen in his perfect timing (Rev 20-22). The apostle John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist . . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist anymore – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist (Rev 21:1, 4).”
- How could one begin to share the gospel with someone who does not believe the Bible?
- How did Paul adjust his gospel presentation to the Athenians who did not accept the Jewish Scriptures (Acts 17)? Is there a lesson there for us today?
- What convinces you that God really exists?
- Does evolution contradict the Bible? Does it allow for a denial of the existence of God?
- How would you answer the question of why God allows natural disasters and moral evil in the world?
- Should American society have a theistic worldview in governmental matters, for example having “In God we trust” on US money?
1 This lesson is an abbreviated formation of a series entitled “Understanding World Views” (http://bible.org/series/understanding-world-views) Hampton Keathley IV, which was edited and modified by James F. Davis.
2 See Jim Keller, The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World. Audio message from desiringgod.org.
3 Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 151-171.
4 Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 184-185, 193.
5 Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 151-171.
6 Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Post-Modern World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 26.
7 Richard Dawkins, (Date accessed Nov 5, 2012).
8 Christopher Hitchens, (Accessed Nov 5, 2012).
9 (Accessed Nov 7, 2012).
10 Norman Geisler, Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 172.
11 (Date accessed March 5, 2013).
12 See Jeff Miller, (Date accessed March 5, 2013).
13 See Jeff Miller, (Date accessed March 5, 2013)
14 Based largely on Wikipedia, (Date accessed March 5, 2013).
15 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (The McMillian Company, New York, 1960), 17-18.
16 Augustine states, “For has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name .” Augustine, City of God, 11.9.