The Influence of Worldview on Morality

I have been asked to address a blog response by Sola Ratione to Dr. Michael Kruger’s short video on the issue of “Morality and Evil” found on this website. Before turning to answer this critique, it is important to understand the inherent shortcomings of a short video or blog post. Both must err towards brevity and so I recommend that all readers check out the immensely helpful links found under “More Resources.” With that said, I will address two arguments made by the author of the Sola Ratione blog. Again, I am sensitive to the limitations of a blog post and thus, I will split my responses into two posts. Let us now turn to one of the objections.

Objection #1: Kruger’s answer is arbitrary because of its inherent religious preference. He asserts, “Rather than needing to take the time and intellectual effort that would otherwise be required to address each of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s moral objections, they can instead sweep them all under the same meta-ethical carpet. ‘God said it. So I believe it. End of story.’ Now this kind of response might well be ‘internally consistent’ with the Christian world-view. But that, on its own, is hardly enough to constitute a credible response to someone who doesn’t (yet) buy the truth of Christianity.” (italics original)

I’m not sure what straw-man Christian arguments the author of the Sola Ratione blog has encountered, but this critique is a far cry from that of either Kruger or other thinking believers. Indeed, many Christians have taken the time and intellectual effort to address the issues which lay behind Ehrman’s moral objections. A magical carpet may be found in Disney cartoons, but it is not used by Christian theologians or philosophers. At issue seems to be a fundamental disconnect with the concept of worldview.

James W. Sire defines worldview as “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) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic construction of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being” (Universe Next Store, p. 17). There are many parts to this definition and it would take us beyond the parameters of this post to address each one, but Sire’s notion of presuppositions is important to the present discussion. The apparent premise of the Sola Ratione blog, that faith and reason stand in conflict, seems to reveal a worldview with a conscious presupposition that truth is found through reason alone. The “other side of this coin” is the position that Christians believe in sola fide. We do. We believe it is by faith alone that one obtains salvation (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, we do not believe that faith is either blind or without evidence. Hebrews 11:1 does not say that faith is the assurance of things hoped for without any evidence or the belief in an unknown flying spaghetti monster as is often caricatured. Rather, it says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” “Not seen” is not coterminous with “not known.” Indeed, Christian faith is more akin to walking down the aisle to marry the fiancé you know and love, precisely because of your knowledge (its active trust based on active assent).

For Christians, revelation and reason work hand-in-hand. God implores people to test for truth. For example, look at Deuteronomy 18:21-22 which states, “And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has spoken? – when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (ESV). Indeed, the Bible doctrine of imago dei holds that men and women are created in the image of God and thus are thinking, rational creatures who desire truth. Our minds are such that under the right conditions (e.g., unimpaired by such things as hallucinations) we are able to comprehend God’s revealed world and word through the use of our rational cognitive faculties. For Christians, then, our worldview is not a hindrance to, but a foundation for knowing truth. As the author of Sola Ratione rightly notes, we are internally consistent to trust God’s revelation. He simply misses the boat, however, when he claims that we do so “just because.”

So what of someone who is not a Christian? What of the person who does not yet buy the truth of Christianity? Two things can be said. First, the issue of worldviews is key, as they include certain heart orientations and presuppositions which inherently limit what is real and what can be known. Thus, the heart of the matter is not whether Christians like Kruger are being unfair to other worldviews, but whether other worldviews are justified to be “the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” Take for example the worldview of naturalism, which dominates much of Western academia. Its view of reality is based on the presupposition that all reality is located within space and time and is understandable solely by the scientific method. Reality is like a closed box of pure physical matter. A priori, there is no room for things like God, souls, spirits, etc. In the end it reduces everything to a physical force or a chemical process that has survived the long chain of genetic mutations down throughout the ages. You and I are nothing more than a lump of atoms. If this is true, if the worldview of naturalism is the one to go with, why then should I trust my reason? I definitely have no reason to trust yours. After all, you are only responding to your cells as I am to mine. To answer “because it works” simply begs the question. Holding that something is meaningful because of its usefulness presupposes rationality as it uses rationality to prove it. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? You cannot start from nonrational matter to argue for something which transcends it, like rationality. Naturalism is a self-defeating worldview and totally inept to answer (rationally) life’s fundamental questions, including those of morality and evil.

Second, internal consistency is not a strike against, but a necessary mark of a true worldview. This is where Kruger sees that Ehrman’s moral objection goes awry.  A universal meta-ethic is rationally justifiable and internally consistent with the Christian worldview. The question is whether this can be said for those worldviews which compete against it. As briefly noted above, a naturalistic worldview is self-defeating and idealistic worldviews, such as Hinduism, do not really differentiate between God and the world, asserting that perceptions of such things as evil and suffering are merely illusions. Thus, while men and women of every worldview are free to talk about morality and evil, it is not intellectual or theological arrogance to assert that in doing so, many, including Ehrman, may be acting inconsistently with their worldview. For example, a position of partial agnosticism may be defensible. Surely we cannot know everything there is to know about God or reality. Christians acknowledge this; it fits within our worldview. To hold to a total, or complete, agnosticism, however, is self-defeating. One cannot claim that nothing can be known about reality and then turn around and argue this to be absolutely true. This may seem a bit trifling. After all, we could all hold to postmodernism. You can be free to believe what you want and I will be free to believe what I want. Maybe truth is relative and perspectival. Maybe Ehrman, Kruger, and the author of Sola Ratione can all be right. Thankfully, they cannot. When it comes to issues of morality and evil, we recognize that relativism will not take us where we want to go. In the end, we all, like Ehrman, want justice. This desire, this thirst for an answer which satisfies the heart and the mind, pushes us to search for a worldview which best accounts our universal concepts of right, wrong, and justice.

In conclusion, I hope that the present discussion of worldviews has helped the reader understand that issues of morality and evil are shaped and limited by one’s heart orientation and presuppositions about reality (even if they are held subconsciously). Objectors may not like this, but truth is not a matter of preference. Indeed, many thinking men, like C. S. Lewis, have come to Christianity “kicking and screaming.”

David Baker, PhD
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary