Saturday, May 5, 2012

Challenges from 'Atheists': Is or Is Not Atheism a Worldview?

by Rob Lundberg

This is the second part of a series responding to questions and challenges that came from dialogues with atheists at March 24th's Reason Rally.

Not long ago I posted a link entitled, young Millennials losing their faith in record numbers on my Facebook page.  Apparently the comment stirred up conversation that provides the topic for this posting, and another response to the challenges that come from atheists.  This posting has to do with whether or not atheism is indeed a worldview.  The conversation sparked by one of my atheistic friends on Facebook,  stayed cordial.  However during the exchange, he made the following comment:

"You are aware that atheism is not a worldview.  You are aware that there are many world-views consistent with atheism." - J.S.

I would like to dissect this comment a little deeper in this segment on challenges that come from "atheists."  While my counterpart in the Facebook conversation does not identify themselves in the subset of what one would consider the "new atheism," he does bring forth a popular objection which displays a reductionist view of a worldview.  What makes it a reductionistic view of a worldview is seen in the comment that a worldview is that my commenter stated that a worldview is, at least in his thinking,

"a comprehensive view of the world.  This would include, among other things, a position of God's existence, a view of "aughtness" (sic), a view of the nature of things etc."

How does this break down?  While a worldview does address some of these things, the things that are brought into this comment have to do the categories of metaphysics.  Let me sustain my point here by referring to two points in his statement.  First is the reality of whether or not God exists or not.  Also in this category, comes his statement that worldview is "a view of the nature of things."  These things have only to do with the tertiary elements of a worldview.

Second, my atheistic commenter misses the mark with his statement that a worldview has to do with "aughtness."  I think he means "ought-ness."  This has to do with the question of ethics and morality, what is right and what is wrong.  Morals have to do what is deemed right and wrong by an individual or a group of people.  Ethics has to do with what "ought" to be no matter whether the individual or a group conforms to that standard or not.

So his definition of a worldview is an attempt to "swing for the cheap seats," how ever it goes well foul by not dealing with whether or not atheism is a worldview.  Let me say that atheism is a worldview, just as much as theism is a worldview.  Many atheists will try and point out that "religions" like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other religions are world views.  Simply stated this is not true.  They are religions that have a worldview undergirding them.  Let me now sustain this for us.

What is a worldview?

To my atheist commenter's credit there are many definitions of one's understanding of a worldview.  However let it be pointed out that one short simple definition might have some facts that are true about a worldview, like it is a "comprehensive view of the world."  However this is not the only definition.  Let me give for us a definition that takes this issue of a comprehensive view of the world and expounds upon that.  By looking at the following definition by James Sire, we can see that what my commenter is saying is not the end of the ruler on defining a worldview and by using this definition we will be able to establish whether or not atheism, like theism is a worldview.

Here is the definition. . .

"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".[1]

Another writer states that "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."[2]

Let's apply this to theism and atheism?

Worldviews, in order to sustain their soundness, need to answer four questions whose answers must correspond with each other.[3]

Looking at the worldviews of theism and atheism, I think it is pretty clear they both have commitments to the orientations of the respective hearts.  Atheism commits to God's non-existence. Theism says that God exists.[4]  They both have their respective understandings about the basic constitution of reality.  Theism says it is realistic to believe that God does exist and atheism counters that with the negative, that God does not exist and that it is unrealistic for anyone to think that God exists.

Both theism and atheism seek to provide some sort of "foundation for which we live and move and have our being", whether or not my commenter wishes to go here with Phillips' definition of atheism having a view of the world and a view for the world.  Atheism surely tries to explain and interpret the world through its spectacles.  The problem that is that if we follow atheism to its logical conclusions it is quite unlivable, if those conclusions were to be lived out honestly.

What about the statement made by my commenter that Christianity is a worldview?  This is not the case.  If we were to look at two theistic religions, say Christianity and Islam, we would find that there are different tenets providing each of the religions understanding of God's existence that disagree with one another.  Some atheists wrongfully dump both Christianity and Islam in the same "worldview bucket." [5] Each hold to a theistic worldview, but they differ in their major tenets.  They are religions that hold to specific features of a worldview in the the category of what kind of God exists.  They believe that one God exists, but come to different conclusions.  They not only differ in their tenets but they differ in key areas of world views.


Atheism looks at things like God as non existent, ethics are relative, matter is eternal, and there is no need for salvation.  How an atheist lives their worldview is highly relativistic.  IF it is relativistic in morals then answering the question of living and moving and having one's being is on a slippery slope to meaninglessness and purposelessness.

Atheism answers question of origin by means of natural causation.  Meaning is grounded in subjective existentialism, in that the experiences of the individual are those things that bring meaning to the individual atheist.  Morality is subjective.  There can be no altruistic actions made by an atheist without it bringing personal pleasure for one's philanthropy or it brings a tax deduction.  The question of destiny is irrelevant to the atheist.

So is atheism a worldview?  How does it "explain and interpret the world?"  How does it explain the "basic constitution of reality?"  It does so differently from the theistic worldview and thus atheism is a worldview.  Q.E.D.[6]


1. 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

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

3. Those questions are origin ("Where do I come from?"), meaning ("Why am I here?"), morality (How can I change?") and destiny ("Where am I going once this life is complete?")  The answers to these questions must be logically consistent, empirically adequate, and experientially relevant.  If they are not then chances are there are some holes in one's worldview.

4.  By "God," I am referring to the personal, timeless, infinite, and immaterial cause of the existence and design of the universe.  This eliminates all the other deities that some atheists might like to bring into the "fight."  This definition does not refer to spaghetti monsters, nor any pagan deities that some like to throw into the mix.

5.  Another way of looking at this issue is by viewing it from how each worldview looks at God's existence, the make up and constitution of man, the issue of the need for salvation.


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