Apologetics to the Glory of God

An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 16 – Internal critique.

By C.L. Bolt

It follows from what has been said up to this point that ultimately the way to engage in an apologetic encounter is at the level of worldviews. A worldview must be taken as a whole and looked at that way. It is possible to critique a worldview from another worldview. It might even be beneficial to do so. For example, the reason that the non-Christian worldview fails ultimately is because it does not match up to the Christian worldview. We look at the claims of the Christian worldview and find fault with other worldviews in part and in whole upon the basis of our own worldview. An objection here is that it is somehow wrong or unreasonable or unfair to judge the merits of another worldview upon the basis of a different worldview that has elements which are foreign to it, but even this complaint is forced out from the inside of some worldview. Part of believing the Christian worldview is believing that this is God’s universe. Everything belongs to Him, and our reasons are no exception. That which God determines to be out of accord with His revealed will is by its very nature wrong, and it would be inconsistent with the Word of God to ever imagine that there is something objectionable about lodging a complaint against the non-Christian worldview upon the basis of its failing to meet up with standards of the Christian worldview.

At the same time, rather than critiquing an opposing worldview from the outside and applying categories from a foreign worldview onto that worldview in order to state that something does not match up, we can take the opposing worldview upon its own terms and derive some manner of arbitrariness or absurdity from the worldview’s own claims about itself. We carry out this procedure to illustrate the foolishness of unbelief. Even starting with the non-Christian worldview we find that the non-Christian worldview fails. It fails on its own terms! Not only does it fail on its own terms, but there is no possibility of accounting for this failure without a direct appeal to the Christian worldview. That is, the Christian worldview is ultimately seen to be the precondition for internal critique itself and the intelligibility of the results of that critique.

A worldview must be taken as a whole and “tested” for internal consistency on a number of different levels. Some of the different ways to “test” a worldview for internal consistency are to ask questions and offer arguments pertaining to its coherence, correspondence with reality, livability, and justifiability.

Coherence refers to whether or not the elements of a worldview are logically compatible with one another.  For example, if a worldview rejects contradictions, but claims that there is a magical ghost from a distant planet that exists and does not exist at the same time and in the same respect, that worldview does not cohere – it does not fit together logically – it is incoherent. This worldview fails the test for coherence. Please note that the coherence of a worldview does not guarantee that the worldview is true. Coherence is not a sufficient condition for truth, but it is a necessary condition. A worldview that is logically incoherent – one that does not “stick” together with itself – is an extremely problematic worldview. It is fatally flawed.

Worldviews must likewise correspond to reality. For now we can set aside some of the more detailed questions about what this would look like. The point to take note of is that a worldview which assumes a great deal about reality and yet finds itself rejecting the bulk of its own view of reality is problematic. Here we are speaking of matching up to the way that things actually are in a much fuller way than being able to account for (or failing to account for) a few insignificant pieces of evidence. Does the worldview match with reality taken as a whole, or is it “distant” from the way that things are to the extent that it is counter-intuitive? For example, if the majority of evidence points to the fact that we as humans possess “free will,” where we are rational agents who engage in mental activities like believing and desiring etc. and adherents to the worldview in question even accept that things do indeed appear to be this way and yet reject that they are actually this way there may be a substantial objection to that worldview made due to the conflict between the claims of the worldview and the way that even its adherents believe that things appear to be in reality.

An important feature of a worldview is its livability. When critiquing a worldview we must ask whether a person who believes in the worldview can actually live it out. A key to finding out whether or not a worldview is livable is to observe to see if the adherent to the worldview acts inconsistently frequently. Inconsistent behavior is an indication that inconsistent beliefs may be underneath that behavior.  There might even be statements or behavior which denies fundamental claims of the worldview. For example, if a professor teaches the class that all truth is relative and then grades the class on a test and gives them different grades according to how many questions they answered correctly, then the professor is acting inconsistently with the claim that all truth is relative. Another commonplace example is when people deny in some sense or another that morality exists and then go on to behave as though it does by complaining when someone offends them or does something morally evil.

Another part of internally critiquing a worldview is questioning whether or not the claims of that worldview are justified. It may be the case that the worldview is simply and blatantly arbitrary or contains arbitrary claims. Often it is the case that major, foundational features of the worldview in question cannot be justified or accounted for in terms of the very same worldview. Some claims or needed justifications are inconsistent with the view they allegedly support. Other times there is simply no good reason for accepting worldview claims even in terms of the worldview in question. The worldview in part or as a whole may be merely the result of prejudice, arbitrariness, and guesswork and it may be obvious that this is the case. For example, Muslims will often claim that the Christian Bible is corrupted in terms of its transmission to the extent that it is no longer reliable. However, there is not a shred of evidence in support of this claim. Rather, the Muslim is beginning with the assumption that Islam is true, and when faced with the apologetic challenge of the Christian worldview, the Muslim arbitrarily makes up a claim motivated by prejudicial guesswork.

There is certainly some overlap between the different smaller tests considered here as ways to begin an internal critique of a worldview. These suggestions just hint at some of the ways that we can begin to look at and eventually take apart a worldview. Some may object that these methods are themselves “standards” or at any rate rely upon standards that belong to the Christian worldview. While this is certainly worth noting and true, they may be used within the context of a competing worldview. It is not being suggested here that some external means of testing a worldview be forced upon it, but rather that these ways of understanding and evaluating worldviews typically exist in some form or fashion within those worldviews. If they don’t, then whatever the worldview itself proposes with respect to other worldviews and internal critique must again be put to the test with categories from the worldview in question. For example, if a worldview claims that internal consistency is not something that it strives for, then note that it has no complaints to raise with respect to the Christian worldview, and hence the apologist has done his or her job. However it may then be said of the worldview which claims no consistency that it is an exceedingly consistent worldview. The adherent will likely get upset, but only because she is not following her worldview consistently. Of course she need not follow her worldview consistently since it makes no claims to consistency, but that means at the same time that it makes every claim to consistency. A worldview which describes itself as wholly inconsistent must simultaneously describe itself as wholly consistent. At any rate the Christian faith has been defended and the opposing worldview rendered helpless against it. Apologetics can only go so far. If someone wants to reasonably argue against the Christian worldview then we are ready with an apologetic response, but if someone wants to spout nonsense she is no longer looking for an apologetic discussion.

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