Both Sides of Every Story

open book apologetics worldviews

As quotable as C.S. Lewis is, my favorite quote of his has to be the following:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

As was his style, in this one statement he says so much. The Christian worldview is not without its evidence. However, multitudes of skeptics over the centuries, to include Lewis, have been convinced, not only by the truth they see in Christianity but also by the truth that it enables them to see.

Ultimately Ultimate

We can categorize worldviews at the most general level by their concept of ultimate reality. They may be defined by how they answer questions about the nature of being, namely “What is there?”—what philosophers call ontology—and “Where did it come from?”—what philosophers call cosmology. Based on their answers to answers to these questions, every worldview essentially falls under one of three categories: naturalism, pantheism, or theism.

There are worldviews that affirm ultimate reality as ultimately physical. That is to say, “there is nothing more to the mental, biological and social realms than arrangements of physical entities.”[1] These worldviews are often grouped in the category of naturalism.

There are worldviews that affirm ultimate reality as ultimately spiritual. That is to say, there is only “a single spiritual entity, of which the physical world must be understood as a partial manifestation.”[2] These worldviews are often grouped in the category of pantheism.

Finally, there are worldviews that affirm ultimate reality as ultimately “owed to one supreme Being, who is distinct from Creation.”[3] That is to say, there is “a dualistic relation between God and the world,”[4] typically asserting that God is both transcendent, existing outside of and being sovereign over the physical universe, as well as immanent, existing inside of and being involved with the physical universe.

These descriptions are massively oversimplified by necessity. Each category includes a long list of specific philosophies and religions, many of which have precious little in common with others in the same category. Some seem to be more viable options than others. Some have many more adherents than others. However, the one thing that unites them is their view of reality, what is ultimately ultimate.

The question we have now is, which one is ultimately right?

One Side of the Story

Many aspects of naturalism are attractive, especially in terms of the value of rationality and science. That is not to say that other worldviews are lacking in rational thinking or scientific understanding. But, when you believe the physical universe is all there is, you sort of have to become an expert on it.

Many aspects of pantheism are attractive, especially in terms of spiritual and emotional wellbeing. The wildly popular “mindfulness” trend claims marvelous physiological and psychological benefits. However, much of these practices take a page directly from Zen Buddhism and other Eastern religions.

In spite of all that we can appreciate about these worldviews, the problem lies in whether or not they have the ability to address the whole of reality and human experience.

But, here’s the thing…

Closer examination and wider application reveal a fundamental flaw in both naturalistic and pantheistic worldviews. While giving a substantial account of reality, they really only tell one side of the story. Both sides fall short when adherents are forced to live a reality that their worldview cannot explain.

This is what Christian apologist Greg Koukl describes as “bumping into reality.”[5]

Those who hold to a naturalistic worldview, with all of its scientific explanatory power, ultimately “bump into reality” in several ways.

  • They observe the universe, but their worldview has no way to explain its existence. After all, the idea that the universe brought itself into existence is absurd. Nevertheless, there is nothing above or outside of the universe to have caused it.
  • They observe moral and natural evil, but their worldview has no way to define those terms. After all, morality is simply a relativistic mechanism we have developed to survive. Good and evil are terms that are relative to cultural and personal preference.
  • They observe human consciousness, but their worldview has no way to appreciate it. After all, “consciousness is an illusion of the brain, for the brain, by the brain.”[6] There must be a conscious effort to understand that consciousness is an illusion.

Those who hold to a pantheistic worldview, with all of its spiritual experiential power, ultimately “bump into reality” as well.

  • They observe relationships, but their worldview does not allow for such distinction. After all, whatever is not really ultimate is not ultimately real. Relationships are only a hint of an impersonal oneness.
  • They observe moral and natural evil, but their worldview sees these only as the negative end of a positive movement. After all, destruction is a necessary part of creation. Both flow equally from the spiritual oneness.
  • They observe human desires, but their worldview has no way to satisfy them. After all, they are merely part of the illusion that is the physical world. Desires must be denied fulfillment if oneness with the universe is to be realized.

Naturalism views physical reality as the only reality, denying the spiritual as an illusion. Pantheism views spiritual reality as the only reality, denying the natural as an illusion. Each side only tells one side of the story.

Both Sides of the Story

Theism, as with naturalism and pantheism, is found in a myriad of religions throughout the world. Much like the other two categories, each variation may be judged for better or worse by their explanatory power. However, despite whatever competition there may be between the many of theisms of the world, there seems to be only one contender. Christian theism rises to the top. It not only has what every other theistic worldview fails to have; it has what any other worldview fails to have.

Christian theism tells both sides of every story.

The Christian narrative begins with a God who is the ultimate reality, existing in timeless, spaceless, and immaterial transcendence. As a self-sufficient, non-contingent being, God creates a universe of time, space, matter, and energy. The pinnacle of that creation, made in God’s image, was humanity. The genuine relationship God desired required humanity’s freedom to choose—or reject—that relationship. Knowing this, God established a plan to set right what humans corrupted with their freedom. Humanity rejected the relationship, eternally offending the eternal God. Nevertheless, because only a human could pay for humanity’s offense, and because only God could endure God’s wrath, God became a human. The God-man took the place of humanity, paid for humanity’s offense, and beat the death punishment.

In Christianity, we have the equipment to tell both sides of every story.

  • God is the personal uncaused cause of the universe. His volitional glory is the reason why there is something rather than nothing.
  • Our consciousness is a part of God’s image in us. Our creative, contemplative, relational superiority over other created beings reflects God’s superiority over us.
  • God modeled the relationships we have with one another after the relationship that God wishes to have with us. That is why only a father can picture the love he has for us. Only a husband and wife can picture the love Christ has for his church. Only a close friend can picture the love with which the Holy Spirit abides.
  • Human desires are mere echoes of a longing that can only be satisfied in eternity. They are gifts from God to be satisfied in his will for his glory, pointing us to heaven.
  • Evil is the corruption of God’s good creation. We only know of its awfulness because of God’s holiness. We only feel its pain because we were not made to live in it. We look forward to its abolition because God became one of us to abolish it.

That is what Christianity has, which no other worldview has: Jesus Christ. He, who created the physical universe, stepped into his creation to rescue it from corruption. Christian theism tells both sides of the story because Jesus Christ is both sides of the story.

[1] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/#MakCauDif

[2] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pantheism/#UnitCosm

[3] http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/theogloss/theism-body.html

[4] ibid

[5] https://www.str.org/publications/solid-ground-september-2014-materialism-bumping-into-reality#.WszKC4jwZjU

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in2FXOjq7g8


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