Who Has the Last Word in Your Worldview?

As some two billion Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday—the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s historical resurrection from the dead—it occurred to me that one way to think about one’s worldview is to look at it in terms of who or what has the last word.

Let’s very briefly examine who’s got the last word according to atheistic naturalism and Christian theism, two popular worldviews that vie for attention, especially in the Western world.

Red Stage CurtainThe Last Word in Atheistic Naturalism

Atheistic naturalism affirms that only the time-space-matter-energy (physical) universe exists. Nonphysical, supernatural entities such as God and immortal human souls, by definition, do not exist. According to the laws of physics, the finite and contingent universe is both expanding and cooling. It will ultimately end in an entropic heat death (when there is no longer any heat to power the workings of the universe). So the final state of the entire physical cosmos will be cold and lifeless regardless of what anyone thinks, says, or does. Likewise, physical death will be the end of each human being’s conscious existence. Thus, the last word, or final fate, in atheistic naturalism belongs to physical death, or in more cosmic scientific terms, to entropy.

The Last Word in Christian Theism

Christian theism, on the other hand, asserts that an infinite and eternal tri-personal God created all things (finite and contingent reality). This Triune God created human beings in his divine image and gave them moral capabilities and volitional responsibility. Human beings misused their freedom by breaking God’s moral commandments. Yet God provided redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ. Believers in Christ have their sins forgiven and enjoy a personal relationship with God that continues on after death into the next world. Nonbelievers, on the other hand, face God’s just wrath against sin in the next life. Thus, the last word, or final fate of humanity (either in divine grace or divine wrath), in Christian theism belongs to the Triune God.

Reflections on this Last Word Prism

In thinking about the two worldviews briefly described above, we can contemplate reasonable reflections as well as some provocative questions. First, it’s worth noting that atheistic naturalism and Christian theism are not the only worldview options open to thoughtful people. However, they represent popular secular and religious options in the marketplace of ideas today. Is there a reason these two worldviews get so much attention?

Second, simply asking who has the last word in a worldview doesn’t tell you which worldview is true or which is best supported by reason and evidence. Nevertheless, identifying who or what holds the last word seems to reveal something fundamental about the nature of the specific worldviews. What do you think it reveals?

Third, apart from rational and irrational considerations, it appears that nonrational factors (such as preference, taste, feeling, intuition, poetic vision, etc.) can greatly impact the decision to embrace a particular worldview. So is it possible that we end up believing in the worldview we are most comfortable with—in spite of the evidence?

Fourth, humanity’s existential need for hope, meaning, and purpose has to be considered when evaluating the power of a worldview’s last word. But in practice doesn’t everyone, whether believer or nonbeliever, live as if his or her life has genuine meaning?

When the big curtain closes, will the last word belong to entropy or to the Triune God or to something else? Don’t you hate it when philosophers ask so many questions?

Well, that’s my last word on what I hope you will consider a provocative philosophical thought experiment.

For more on worldview analysis from a Christian theistic viewpoint, see my book A World of Difference.

9 responses to “Who Has the Last Word in Your Worldview?

  1. An interesting post. It’s difficult to tell from the content which view you hold. Given my nickname, it can’t be difficult to determine my stance. It is only the theist that posits there is something after this life. Despite seemingly fair treatment, you have left everything to question but hinted that the afterlife is important by using the terms of final word. In this I think you misunderstand atheism… there is nothing past the final word. There is no credible reason to think that there is. It’s not a choice thiing. It’s a fact thing. If one cannot accept the evidence for a triune god, there is no accpetence that such a god offers an afterlife and so the end does not matter. Believer and non-believer will both die. This is assured.

  2. To myatheistlife:

    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found the content of my article fair.

    When you consider such meaningful realities as the human mind, personhood, reason, and consciousness: Is it more credibly reasonable to conclude that these profound realities ultimately came from a source that lacked all of these qualities (atheistic naturalism) or from a source that possesses all of these qualities exponentially (Christian theism)?

  3. Another interesting post here. With your thought experiment, isn’t this an appeal to consequences? If so, I believe the scientific argument would be that however bad the end result is, that cannot influence its likelihood. If I fall off the top of a building, I could break both my legs or simply fly away. I’d much rather fly away, but it doesn’t matter what I’d prefer. As Scotty said, “I canna change the laws o’ physics!”.
    Regarding your point about the origins of personhood, reason and consciousness, surely evolution through natural selection has got that one covered. Also, I’m not sure that you can claim reason as a quality that Christian theism possesses, exponentially or otherwise. If anything I believe that theology has often been the opponent of reason, example of which are too numerous to even begin listing here, although I’d be happy to if you wish!

  4. Adam:

    Three more points for your consideration:

    1. One test of a worldview, though admittedly not the most important test, is whether the worldview offers human beings hope and meaning.
    2. Even the leading atheist philosopher of mind Thomas Nagle admits that natural selection doesn’t come close to explaining the hard problem of consciousness.
    3. Christians have sometimes stood in the way of reason, but it was the Christian theistic worldview that gave rise to university education and modern science.

    Loved your Scotty quote!

  5. Thanks for your response Kenneth.
    1. This definitely could be taken into consideration, and very often is in my experience, however, the stunning realisation that I’m a tiny, tiny organism in a vast, complex universe and part of a species that can count the electrons of an atom as well as observe pulsars billions of lightyears away, this gives me hope, comfort, joy and wonder. In fact I’d argue that science offers a deeper meaning than most platitudes I hear from spiritual leaders like the Pope or the Dalai Lama (of whom my wife said “isn’t he basically the hippy Pope?”).
    2. Thomas Nagel, despite causing quite a stir in creationist circles by the looks of things, is a single voice who specializes in neither evolutionary biology nor neuroscience. I believe he’s damaged his professional reputation, but hey, he’s gained a whole new audience, so maybe he’s not so stupid after all!
    3. I’m more than happy to acknowledge the crucial role played by Muslim, Hindu and Christian scholars in the early development of science. The concept of zero comes from India, our numbers are arabic, and, well, I’m sure you’re well versed on Christian scientific achievements. Sadly, however, doctrine got in the way of the free inquiry necessary for science to flourish, and so, in my opinion, true scientific development could only really have progressed separately from any of the organized religions.

    So there you are. I’m happy to address any further points you’d like to make. Would you like to address any of the points I made? :)

  6. Adam:

    Your comments are fair-minded and measured. Again I appreciate that. I’d like to think that thoughtful people who disagree can carry on a respectful discourse.

    Just a couple comments:

    1. I’m sure you live a very meaningful and purposeful life. But a question about the naturalistic worldview: If there is no ultimate meaning to life, how can there be meaning in life by reflection and choice when human beings lack requisite control (i.e., a type physical determinism seems to necessarily accompany naturalism)?

    2. We differ concerning Nagel. He isn’t alone in being troubled by the hard problem of consciousness and he’s hardly unfamiliar with evolutionary biology and neuroscience. But isn’t it an act of faith on the part of the naturalist to believe that reason initially emerged from reasonlessness?

    3. I concur that other civilizations made important contributions to mathematics and technology (China, India, Greece, Rome, Baghdad), but a truly experimental scientific enterprise arose only once in history and that was in Christian Europe.

    Thanks again for your stimulating comments.

  7. Hello again Kenneth,

    1. I’ll be honest here, I’m no theology expert, as you may have noticed, so the only part of this that I think I understood was “…how can there be meaning in life by reflection…?”
    If you’re asking, “if there’s no meaning to life, how come I can imagine that there’s a meaning to life?”, then I would say, I don’t know. By the same token, however, you could ask “if the universe isn’t balanced on an infinite pile of turtles, how come I can imagine it being turtles all the way down?
    To me, that would be equally valid, but as I say, perhaps I haven’t understood the question, and in which case I apologize.
    2. I would propose that it’s entirely reasonable that the ability to use logic and reason could be seen as being on a spectrum, each slight increase in the ability to reason being genetically advantageous, and therefore I find evolution a reasonable explanation for the creation of what we call reason. I also support this theory because I’m not aware of any alternative hypotheses.
    3. I would question this, as I could give examples such as the Babylonian experiments that accurately calculated the circumference of the earth long before the birth of Jesus, or the engineering works of the Egyptians, but I don’t wish to downplay the wonders of science that have taken place in Europe. Einstein was a Jew, of course, and Turing a homosexual atheist, but sure, Europe has played a central role. The importance of the prevailing religion during those developments is questionable, but I shan’t begrudge you a little of the glory!

  8. Adam:

    You’re quickly becoming my favorite skeptic.

    I hope you’ll consider commenting on some of my future articles and posts.

    Best regards.

  9. Why thank you very much, I certainly shall!

    I’ve never really understood where us skeptics managed to get a reputation for grumpiness and negativity, but I suppose going around chipping away at other people’s world views doesn’t always make friends!

    Kind regards

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