Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is Matt Dillahunty's Atheism a Worldview?

Introduction.

You may have heard it said that everybody has a worldview.” In recent discussions with online atheists and having viewed several videos, I have noticed that this does not seem to be the case. Some are saying that atheism is not a worldview.  For example, one video that I stumbled upon was one from The Atheist Experience” with Matt Dillahunty, was asked about the atheist worldview. Mr. Dillahunty interrupted the caller by saying that atheism is not a worldview, with the following,

There isnt one (a worldview). Atheism isnt a worldview. It is a position on a single issue and that is whether or not a God exists; however once you get to that point and youre now a person who is living a life without interference from gods, you then have to  begin  to put together a worldview that will allow you to assess the reality you experience. And so what youll find is that there are quite a lot of atheists who share similar views about science and things like that, but that doesnt necessarily mean that is the case. For example Buddhists are primarily atheists, and they have a number of supernatural ideas that I reject. So I am a skeptic and that’s what drives my atheism. I am applying skepticism and critical thinking to the ‘god claim’.’ Now I apply that to others as well but skepticism and humanism are far more along the lines of my worldview than atheism.  Atheism is just my take on the ‘god claim’. You can be an atheist and not support church state separation.[1]


In this posting I want to examine Dillahuntys statement and answer the question, is atheism really a worldview? As I navigate through this question, I believe Dillahuntys has either a misunderstanding, or is making a misrepresentation of the definition of a worldview.

So the approach I will be taking will be from the classical definition of the term worldview coming from James Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door and draw in four fundamental questions that every worldview must answer.  After examining the definition and introducing the questions, I hope to give a fair assessment of Dillahuntys worldview statement. As we walk through question, I think it will be evident that Matt is making his definition of a worldview subject to his atheism instead of having the guidelines of a worldview evaluating his atheism.  So what does the term “worldview” really mean?

What is a worldview?

In any conversation with someone skeptical to Christianity, it is vitally important to define our terms. This scenario is no different being that it is important to define what we mean by a worldview.  Since the popularization of the word, “worldview,” many definitions have come to the forefront, all of which hinge around one definition which I think best answers the question. I like James Sires definition which states the following,


a worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions, that may be true, partially true, or false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides that foundation on which we live and move and have our being.[2]


Gary Phillips in this book, Making Sense of Your World defines a worldview this way,

a worldview is, first of all, an explanation and interpretation of the world, and second, an application of this view to life.  In simpler terms, our worldview is a view of the world and a view for the world.”[3].

While Phillips’ definition is not as verbose as Sire’s, he is straight to the point in a worldview explaining and interpreting the world around us. His definition also points to the necessity of an life application of those explanations and interpretations.

Looking at Worldview from Four Questions Since the definition seems a little on the technical side, let me now streamline Sire’s definition using four questions.  This will assist in understanding and evaluating Matt Dillahunty’s worldview statement. These questions come from using the methodology of one of my heroes in apologetics, and whose methodology I have enjoyed studying over the years. Ravi Zacharias has four questions as part of his 3-4-5 grid for examining life’s questions within a worldview.[4]

Before I move into examining Dillahunty’s worldview statement, I had an atheist tell me that “atheism was not a worldview and that there were many worldviews consistent with atheism.” Think of that for just a moment. The only thing consistent between atheism and the other world views is these questions. Every worldview, including atheism, has an answer for these questions.

Origin:  The first question is the question of origin; where do we come from? What do atheists say our origins come from? Obviously those origins from an atheistic perspective say that we came about via evolutionary processes, time + matter + chance. Contrast that to the Christian worldview that states we are a unique creation of our Creator, and created in His image and likeness.

Meaning: The second question is the question of meaning; why are we here? What do atheists say about the purpose of their existence. Over and opposed to atheism, what does are the Christian assumptions and presuppositions? Depending on where the individual atheist stands on this position, I could summarize some of different assumptions that I have heard on this question. But we will not do that here for it would create a whole other lengthy summation not warranted for this posting.

Morality: The third question is, what is right and wrong? This is the question of morality. As Christians we believe that morals are absolute and point right back to God, who is the moral lawgiver. The atheist answers this question from a relativistic framework, having no solid foundation for being moral. Can an atheist be moral and do good things? Absolutely! They just have no solid reason for living out a moral life. 

Destiny: The fourth question, is the question of destiny; where does man go after this life is over? In the mind of the atheist, the end of this life leads to nothing. Once you’re dead, that’s it. The Christian worldview puts a human soul in one of two places depending on their standing before God. One is heaven for the redeemed, and the other is eternal separation from God in a place called Hell for those who have not called on God for salvation. It is the difference between a mortal soul versus the immortal soul.

Let me move now to the assessment of Matt Dillahunty’s worldview statement. 

Matt Dillahunty’s “Worldview.”

How does this measure up with Matt Dillahunty’s view of atheism not being a worldview? Is atheism nothing more than “a position on a single issue and that is whether or not a God exists; however once you get to that point and youre now a person who is living a life without interference from gods, you then have to begin  to put together a worldview that will allow you to assess the reality you experience?”   Or is his statement what Sire would call “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart. . . which we hold about the basic constitution of reality?

I would posit that it is the latter. What Dillahunty does is places his atheism, which is a commitment to an assumed reality that God does not exist. His commitment is to the reality of the nonexistence of the absence of a Moral Lawgiver (morality). His commitment is to an assumed reality that the purpose of life is to live and then die and cease to exist with no real significant purpose (meaning & destiny). His commitment is to an assumed reality that all that we see comes from time+matter+chance evolutionary processes and that we are nothing more than, maybe a little higher than the animals (origin).

Matthew Dillahunty places his atheism over the definition of a worldview. This tells me that he either ignores any definition of a worldview or he just refuses to understand how the definition of worldview relates to atheism being a worldview.

Alongside the lack of foundation for being moral, Dillahunty’s atheism has reason to believe in a special creation (origin). All atheism sees is Darwin’s evolutionary processes. We are living as nothing more than being higher evolved creatures, with no purpose other than to eek out a life until it ends.


Conclusion.

Again, Dillahunty does not define a worldview. Using a brute fact statement to place one’s atheism over the meaning of a worldview does not change the fact that atheism is a worldview. So with that said, atheism is a worldview, because atheism is a commitment to a set of presuppositions that God does not exist. Because of this assumption it impacts how one sees reality. Reality to the atheist is a naturalistic one. The Christian sees reality through two lenses, natural and supernatural. Because of how one views reality, whether from a theistic or an atheistic worldview, that worldview will be played out in how one lives their life, and makes their moral choices. Dillahunty would do well to look at Sire’s definition of a worldview and see that his position falls subservient to the definition, not the other way around.

Notes.


[1] Clip from the “Atheist Experience #835”, consulted at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Eo4O51vqzg

[2] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 17. Even Wikipedia has a page that defines a worldview pretty well and can be found here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_view.)

[3]W. Gary Phillips and William E. Brown, Making Sense of Your World (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 29.

[4] Ravi Zacharias’ recent talk at Trinity International in Deerfield on the subject of “The Gospel in the Light of New Spirituality” presented these questions and his methodology summarized (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0GtdFuP-7c). If you want to fast forward his methodology comes up around 11:45 into the video.

This posting is a Christian Apologetics Alliance Original and can be found here