What in the World Is a Worldview?

In the film Arrival (2017), aliens visit earth and humans are faced with having to work out how to communicate with creatures that are entirely different to them. As they struggle to learn the alien language it becomes clear that these creatures have a understanding of the universe that is fundamentally at odds with the human understanding.

Basic humans ideas are incomprehensible to the aliens. Ideas the humans find mind-bogglingly complex are basic to the aliens’ understanding. Everything they think about the world is completely different. In short, they have a fundamentally different worldview.

A worldview is exactly what it sounds like: the way someone views the world. To put it in other words, it is the perspective from which you understand reality. The reason this idea matters is because when it comes to big questions about the meaning of life or the existence of God, our perspective affects the way we understand the evidence. So worldview explain a lot about why intelligent, thoughtful people often disagree about important questions.

Here are three illustrations to help show how worldviews work, so that we can better understand the problems we have talking about the big questions.

A pair of glasses

Like a pair of glasses, a worldview affects the way you see everything. A good pair of glasses helps you see things more clearly and accurately. But a bad pair distorts things, skewing your vision and stopping you from seeing things as they really are.

It’s the same with worldviews – the right worldview will show you the world more clearly, the wrong one will obscure and distort it. The best worldview will be one the helps us see reality accurately.

A film script

Imagine you arrive at the cinema to see a film, only to find out you’ve missed the first 10 minutes! You’re a bit confused about what’s going on but you do your best to keep up. But then 10 minutes from the end the fire alarm goes off and you’re forced to leave without seeing the end. How confusing and frustrating! You can’t make sense of it.

Now imagine someone gave you a copy of the script – you can read the bits you missed and suddenly everything makes sense. All the loose threads come together. If someone was being mean they might give you the wrong beginning or end, and you’d struggle to make sense of how it all fit together. You wouldn’t really understand the film properly.

A worldview is a bit like a film script. It’s an attempt to make sense of the confusing world we live in, where we arrive in the middle and leave before it’s over. The problem is that we can write our own script, trying to fill the gaps ourselves rather than turning to the author for the definitive answer.

A picture on a puzzle box

Imagine someone gave you a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle but didn’t give you the box. You’d have no idea what you were trying to make! You might start to make progress in some areas but find yourself impossibly stuck in others. Or what if you had the pieces in the wrong box? You might spend a long time fitting pieces together in the wrong place without realising where you’re going wrong. But an accurate worldview will give you the whole picture and help make sense of all the pieces.

So what now?

Understanding worldviews is an important step to having real conversations about the big questions. We can’t assume that other people see the world the same way as us. We need to ask questions to help us understand how others see the world. But we also need to ask questions about our own worldview to see if we’re going wrong anywhere.

Further reading

'Deconstructing a worldview' by Nick Pollard

What’s your worldview? by James N Anderson (Crossway, 2014) Read our review

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