A Worldview Sketch
by John Drury
What follows is a sketch of my world view. I will outline my answers to the basic questions of life and attempt to defend the answers the best I can. A world view sketch, however, requires much prolegomena (Greek for “things coming before”). So before diving into the deep end, I will openly share certainly assumptions and methods which will inevitably guide what is to follow.
First of all, I call upon the two virtues of humility and mercy as guiding lights in my intellectual journey. A humble spirit confesses the inability to know in a conclusive manner. The humble person may be convinced or assured of truth, but never haughty about it. Alongside humility comes mercy, which turns away wrath toward other systems no matter how great their error. The merciful person holds tightly to what he or she believes, but does not use it to hurt or alienate others.
These virtues lead me down an alternate intellectual path. Many demand certainty -- to know truth in a way which removes all doubt. Humility and mercy guide me to search for truth itself and the effect of truth upon myself. Certainty is a mere by-product; it is not the goal. Certainty is an adjective by which one might describe the truth they posses. Truth itself is the object worth searching, and it possesses me. My worldview sketch is an exploration into the truth of the world. Any certainty I gain is a by-product which I hold tentatively by means of humility and mercy.
A search for truth guided in this manner will be open to realizing the great quantity of paradoxes or dualities which permeate our existence. The paradox is in many ways the beginning of all inquiry. The moment when the child asks why a word means one thing here and another thing there is the moment when he or she has become a philosopher. Unfortunately, the search for certainty that plagues many philosophers has misguided this inquiry, for their aim is to resolve the paradox rather than to explore it. A paradox may be kept in healthy tension. This is not easy for the inquiring mind, but one may be content as long as he or she is guided by humility and mercy.
And so I embark on a humble and merciful exploration into the poetry of the cosmos. My senses collect data that often contradict each other. My reason offers systems that each describe a portion of reality yet are mutually exclusive. My intuition inquires after objects that I can never verify. I need not despair, however, for the cosmos is interconnected. From the smallest particle that is pulled to another particle by gravity to the most sublime of relationships between humans, the universe is attracted to itself. In light of this interconnectedness, all these questions and answers relate to one another in beautiful tension. The following world-view sketch is my personal attempt to portray this cosmos in all its paradoxical beauty.
The question of ontology is the most basic question of all philosophy and science. One cannot inquire into any subject without first saying something about being. For the philosopher, the question of being often comes under the rubric of metaphysics. For the scientist, the question of being is discussed in the realm of physics. These two seemingly antithetical categories of knowledge are actually asking the same question: “What is being?”
Are physical realities merely predicated on thoughts in my mind? Or is my mind a mere phenomenon of my physical reality? The conflict between these two positions has dominated physics and metaphysics. We take for granted that something exists, for we are conscious of it. But which is the source of which? Which comes first? Although distinct, the physical world and the spiritual world are not in contradiction with one another. They are two parts of the same reality. Being is both spiritual and physical. The reductionist belief that existence rests entirely on the physical denies basic tendencies in humanity to transcend itself and cannot sufficiently explain all the data collected from the world. The idealist belief that the physical world is a mere extension of thoughts in my mind or the mind of God escapes the harsh realities of life. There is more than just what we see, yet what we see is really there. They are not independent of each other, but quite interdependent. This is the beautiful tension between the physical and the spiritual realm.
From what did being originate? It is difficult to speak of the being which comes “before” time or “outside” space. Yet whatever this being is, it is responsible for the interdependent cosmos which we experience. Being-itself is the root of all being. So the universe does have an origin. I call this creation -- the moment when God as being-itself brought the being we know into existence. And within this process a special portion of being, called life, was also created. I am uncertain as to the details of this process. Both the stories told by God through His servants of old and the story told by the evolutionary scientist do not tell the whole story. The Bible shares the basics: God created the cosmos and life within it. Evolution offers a hypothesis that life began with the smallest of organisms and mutated into the intelligent life of humanity. Both require faith. Without the first, one is hard pressed to account for the existence of being. One can do without the second, however, for life is not necessarily the result of progressive mutation. Yet these details are nearly inaccessible for they have already happened and it is difficult to extrapolate that far back. What I affirm is that the being we experience is rooted in being-itself.
We are conscious of our being. The very question of being necessitates our consciousness of it. In fact, the conscious question of being is the most elementary proof of the existence of being. This argument is known as the cogito, originated by St. Augustine and popularized by Descartes. It shows the integral relationship between consciousness and being.
The question must arise as to whether our consciousness is responsible for our being or is our consciousness the result of our being. As I have already stated, being was created and is real. Therefore, it cannot simply be a result of our consciousness. However, the cogito illustrates the integral relationship between being and consciousness. The fact of the matter is that being and consciousness are paradoxically integrated with one another. There is not consciousness without being, and there is not being with consciousness.
A related matter is the duality between the mind and the body. They both participate in being and relate to one another, just as the spiritual and physical aspects of being relate. Yet the study of genetics has revealed the significant impact of physical make-up upon the mind. The principle of paradox must be remembered in this situation, however, for the mind can have a significant affect on the state of the body as well. Akin to the tension between general relativity and quantum mechanics, epiphenomenalism (one-way street) and interactionsim (two-way street) both explain aspects of reality. One theory does not need to overtake the other, but rather the two in tension can reveal the interconnectedness of being.
Previously I proposed that being-itself is at the root of our existence. Although we are only conscious of our particular universe, could there not easily be alternate universes rooted in that same being? Are these accessible to us? Furthermore, are these alternate universes implied at each fork-in-the-road decision made within our own universe? The possibility of other universes must be affirmed because otherwise being would be defined by our universe and not rooted in being-itself. Since these universes may simply spring out at each decision moment, there could be an infinite number. In principle, they are accessible to us, for they are rooted in the same being. However, in experience they are inaccessible to us, because another universe entails an alternate time-space continuum. To pass from one to the other is to never return to the one. Yet these are questions which require an extra measure of humility, for we are embarking into the unknown realm.
Within our own universe, however, we experience some kind of interaction between one universe and another. These experiences are known as miracles. In principle, they are part of one universe, for the spiritual and physical worlds are of one being. However, in perception it seems as though the supernatural is “breaking in” to the natural world and breaking its laws. First, we must remember that the free interaction between the physical and the spiritual should not repulse us for they are of one being. God does not need to “break in” to His own creation. Furthermore, a miracle does not need to be defined as a breech of natural law, for laws are human expressions of our limited knowledge of the cosmos. We must humbly accept that a broken law may never have been an absolute law in the first place.
It is evident from our inquiry into being that ontology is a matter searched out by both science and philosophy/theology. Being is an object available to both. One does not necessarily transcend the other, yet neither is complete without the other. For instance, physics can mathematically extrapolate the “how” of the origin of the cosmos. Yet without philosophy it cannot answer “why” the cosmos originated or “who” lies at the root of being. On the other hand, philosophy and theology can say little of when or how the universe originated, nor explain the details of the current order of the cosmos. The two realms of knowledge need one another and are both invited to the inquiry table of ontology.
Philosophy and science have so far been working together to inquire into the question of being. Exactly how do they interact? How does one know? What methods are there and by what means might one verify knowledge? Although these epistemological questions could have been answered before the inquiry into being, knowledge presupposes an object and therefore ontological assumptions needed to be laid out beforehand. With an understanding of the interconnectedness of being already established, we can move on to explore the interconnectedness of the methods of acquiring knowledge.
Epistemology asks two basic questions: “How much can we know?” and “How do we know?” The first question has already been touched upon in the prolegomena. I outlined the limits of knowledge with regard to the virtues of humility and mercy. Yet it is not only these virtues which set the boundaries of knowledge. Knowledge is also limited in principle and by experience. In principle, the totality of being cannot be known by a member of being. The observer participates in that which he or she observes, so that the something cannot be known as it stands alone. This limits the conclusiveness of our knowledge. Also, by experience we know that knowledge which at one time was “certain” is eventually falsified. We have also experienced that perception does not always line up with reality. The data of the world is sometimes counter-intuitive. Therefore, our knowledge of truths of any kind is limited.
Although our knowledge is limited, it is not irrelevant. We can know truth. How do we come to a knowledge of truth? In keeping with the interconnectedness of the cosmos, our methods of obtaining knowledge are also interconnected. For instance, the physical and spiritual realms are sufficiently distinguishable that some designate science to investigate the former and intuition, philosophy and faith to search out the latter. This denies the fact that one uses intuition, philosophy and faith within the context of the scientific method. One must reason through data and trust in the methods one uses. This separation also denies the role of science in verifying spiritual truths. There is at times tension between science and faith, but this does not imply them to be mutually exclusive. Rather, it is evidence that epistemological methods also participate in the interconnectedness of the cosmos.
For truth to be known, one may come toward it from many angles: pure reason, empirically obtained information, direct revelation, historical study, and tradition. Some are better suited for particular inquiries. Yet all work together to find truth. And each works better when it has the aid of the others. The different methods falsify and establish one another so that our knowledge of truth is broad and deep. No one particular method is normative to the others.
There is a norm, however, but it is not a particular method. Methods are subservient to the norm, clarifying it and commenting upon it. This is divine revelation, found in the Bible. The Bible does not address every question nor outline methods of inquiry. It does, however, provide the norm for inquiry into truth. This does not need to be a tyrannical dogma, but rather a soft reminder of the sufficient truth given in the Scriptures. A faithful attitude toward revelation provides a backdrop for otherwise free inquiry.
An inquiry into being which reveals its interconnectedness might bring a sense of awe or wonder of the universe, but not necessarily a sense of purpose. It is for this reason that divine revelation is given -- to give purpose to life. The teleological truths of Scripture are the most striking and significant of all that is reveals therein. God creates life, God sets apart a special people, God sends His own Son for our sake, who calls us to a life of discipleship, and God promises a final consummation of His great purpose for creation. This is the grand story of being as we know it. Without this story, our existence would have no purpose.
Life first and foremost has a purpose because God created it. There is some evidence of this intelligent design in the complexity of living organisms. However, this purpose is deeper than just being fully alive. God has a special purpose for all of humanity. God has a purpose for each individual to be a disciple of His Son Jesus and to live a full life. This transcends mere human existence because Jesus dwells within us. This is eternal life. God also has a purpose for the entire human race to be reconciled magnifiers of His name.
This is not a mere escape into the spiritual realm. The spiritual and physical realm are dual aspects of being created by God, and therefore both have value. What one does with his or her body is just as important as what is done to the soul. All of creation, not just the souls of men and women, is groaning for redemption. Therefore, God will perfect His creation in the end. This is the purpose of the cosmos.
This purpose is directed by God. Yet free humans participate in this purpose. Part of God’s plan is to give humans the opportunity to respond to His call to purpose. Therefore, although nothing can thwart the plan of God, we do not live in a determined world. There is an element of freedom. There is even an element of chance and randomness. But freedom and chance relate to the micro level: individuals and particular situations. God’s pre-determined plan moves with relation to the macro level: the cosmos and universal outcomes. So God’s sovereign determination and human freedom are yet another beautiful tension evident in the cosmos.
The purpose of God calls humans to discipleship, which entails obedience. In order to obey, one must discern between good and evil. Good is that which is in accordance with God’s purpose, and evil is that which defies it. In order to distinguish between the two, the aforementioned interconnectedness of methods is used. With wisdom one can use reason, intuition, tradition, and even science to know what is best. God’s plan for purity, peace, joy, honesty, or anything else may be determined by using the faculties He has already fit into the system, as well as turning to the normative Scriptures for the final say and continued guidance. By this process, we can support God’s purpose rather than vainly attempt to thwart it.
The identification of the supernatural as being-itself has been assumed throughout this worldview sketch. For me, being points to a supreme being. Furthermore, if one removes being-itself then our being has lost any reality. We rely on the supernatural for our very existence.
The interconnectedness of being may have implied up to this point that God is within the world. This is not at all what I mean, but rather I am identifying God as the source of all existence. From His perspective He is an independent, non-contingent being upon which we are dependent and contingent. However, from our standpoint God might appear contingent and dependent, but only because we would never know of Him if He did not interact with us. Therefore, God is independent of creation yet thoroughly involved in it. Therefore, the supernatural realm freely interacts with the natural. Yet God remains independent of His creation. This beautiful tension is known as the dual doctrine of transcendence and immanence.
When we speak of God’s interaction with His creation, there is a further tension regarding the control of events. Is not God completely in control? Yet does the natural process of cause and effect have any meaning? God mercifully chooses to share control of the events with us. Yet he retains the final say. It is difficult to discern between divine and human causes. Hence, it is best to think of God and humans working together in a relationship, keeping in mind God’s ultimate control. This matter comes to practical fruition with regards to prayer. In prayer we participate in God’s interaction with the world. We do not cause Him, rendering Him a contingent being. Rather, we play our part at the micro live like pawns in a chess game, trusting in the master’s long term strategy.
As anyone can see, our knowledge of God is full of paradoxes and tensions. There are many more tensions which we have not addressed: the trinity, the incarnation of the Son, mercy and judgment, the theology of the cross, etc. Yet can there be contradiction in God? Cannot the paradoxes in the doctrine of God be sorted out? Our inability to exhaustively figure out God says something about us, not Him. It illustrates the inadequacy and limitations of our knowledge. It turns us once again to the virtue of humility. And in the end we humbly affirm what Alfred Lord Tennyson once expressed:
“Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”