by J.P. Moreland
- Title: Why it is Harmful to Depict a Worldview as Glasses
- Date: 04/23/2021
- Source: An earlier version of this essay was originally published at KingdomRain.net (August 2006).
- Article Type: Website article
- Audience: Intermediate
- Kingdom Categories: Life of the Mind, Power of the Kingdom, Spiritual Formation
This paper clarifies, critiques, and presents a better alternative to the view that a worldview is a set of glasses through which we see the world. Noting both the widespread employment of and the damage to Christianity, truth and rationality that this glasses metaphor has wrought, this essay provides important guidance for how to think and talk about worldviews.
An excerpt from the opening paragraphs:
There is a widely employed metaphor for depicting the nature and function of a worldview: We should understand it as a set of glasses. Unfortunately, no matter how ubiquitous this metaphor is, especially among Evangelicals, it is not only false, but extremely harmful. To support my claim, I will focus on an example of the glasses perspective and show why it is wrong and harmful. My example is Michael Wittmer’s book Heaven is a Place on Earth (Zondervan, 2004). Now, I am not interested in picking at nits. But there is a serious problem with Wittmer’s first chapter that is contrary to common sense realism and undermines our ability to be in contact with the external word via our senses or to experience God and His voice. And, I believe, it is inconsistent with scriptural teaching. If I am right about this, then there is much of importance to learn by focusing on Wittmer’s position.
It is important to realize that the task of analyzing and presenting a careful, adequate account of a worldview is largely a philosophical, not a biblical or theological, task. Specifically, epistemology and philosophical theories of perception are front and center for this task. In what follows, I shall briefly sketch Wittmer’s fairly typical views, and offer a response that undermines his position and is more consistent with common sense realism, the nature of knowledge, and biblical teaching.
Fundamental to understanding my critique is recognizing that all “perceptual” knowing (whether employing the five senses or involving direct, intuitive awareness of something beyond the senses, e.g., being directly aware of God) is not reducible to “seeing as” or “seeing that.” One can see the world, for example, as a Christian or see that the world is made by a good God. One can see an object as an apple or see that it is an apple. The quality of such seeing is enriched by possessing various concepts or propositional contents. But it does not follow that “seeing as” or “seeing that” are the only available ways to see or to account for one’s seeing. More fundamental is a “simple seeing”: having “knowledge by acquaintance”, a seeing that directly experiences an object present to one’s consciousness. Thus, a child may directly experience an apple prior to being able to see it as an apple or to judge that it is an apple. Indeed, these later forms of seeing are actually possible and justified by the prior act of simply seeing the apple in a non-conceptual, non-propositional way.
We experience knowledge by acquaintance in a variety of ways: with an apple through visual experience, with my anger through introspection, with God, demons, or angels through spiritual perception. Did Abraham only have “seeing as” or “seeing that” in his encounter with the angel of the LORD just as he was about to sacrifice Isaac? Or what of Moses and Pharoah? Did they only see plagues and the mighty works of God – the parting of the Red Sea! – because they shared a “similar enough” conceptual lens to see? When Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, or John at Patmos had vivid dreams and visions, often filled with rich symbols and allusions, was it all “interpretation” and no direct encounter with the phenomenon itself? How did Job experience a shift in his worldview if he did not have direct experience with the presence of God? Was it only about shifting presuppositions; no “independent” basis, reliably encountering divine revelation directly? How did Job know that he needed a different interpretation of his suffering if not by gaining a perspective independent of what was “on loan” from his worldview?
Related Content: If this article interests you, you might also want to consider the following:
- Kingdom Triangle (book)
- Love Your God with All Your Mind (book)
- Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult (book)
- "The Integration of Worldview and Vocation" (article)
- "Defining 'Evangelical' in Public Discourse" (article)
- "Correcting the Strawmen: Why Most Evangelical Christians are Political Conservatives" (article)
- It shows why 'worldview-as-glasses' is philosophically problematic.
- It highlights the significance of 'thinking through' vs. 'thinking with' a worldview.
- It offers a primer on different ways of knowing and how an account of 'worldview-as-glasses' offers an inadequate explanation for knowledge by direct acquaintence.
- It offers reasons for thinking that 'worldview' does shape what we see but does not determine our seeing.