Five Worldviews

Author
Dennis McCallum

It sometimes seems as if there are more philosophical and religious views than any normal person could ever learn about. Indeed, there are more than six thousand distinct religions in the world today. However, some people are surprised to find that the world’s religions and philosophies tend to break down into a few major categories. These five worldviews include all the dominant outlooks in the world today. 

For easy side-by-side comparison, see the Five Worldviews Comparison Chart. This chart and content is adapted from Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense by Dennis McCallum (Tyndale).


Naturalism

(e.g. Atheism, Agnosticism, Existentialism)

Reality

The material universe is all that exists. Reality is "one-dimensional." There is no such thing as a soul or a spirit. Everything can be explained on the basis of natural law.

Man

Man is the chance product of a biological process of evolution. Man is entirely material. The human species will one day pass out of existence.

Truth

Truth is usually understood as scientific proof. Only that which can be observed with the five senses is accepted as real or true.

Values

No objective values or morals exist. Morals are individual preferences or socially useful behaviors. Even social morals are subject to evolution and change.


Pantheism

(e.g. Hinduism; Taoism; Buddhism; much New Age Consciousness)

Reality

Only the spiritual dimension exists. All else is illusion, maya. Spiritual reality, Brahman, is eternal, impersonal, and unknowable. It is possible to say that everything is a part of God, or that God is in everything and everyone.

Man

Man is one with ultimate reality. Thus man is spiritual, eternal, and impersonal. Man’s belief that he is an individual is illusion.

Truth

Truth is an experience of unity with "the oneness" of the universe. Truth is beyond all rational description. Rational thought as it is understood in the West cannot show us reality.

Values

Because ultimate reality is impersonal, many pantheistic thinkers believe that there is no real distinction between good and evil. Instead, "unenlightened" behavior is that which fails to understand essential unity.


Theism

(e.g. Christianity; Islam; Judaism)

Reality

An infinite, personal God exists. He created a finite, material world. Reality is both material and spiritual. The universe as we know it had a beginning and will have an end.

Man

Humankind is the unique creation of God. People were created "in the image of God," which means that we are personal, eternal, spiritual, and biological.

Truth

Truth about God is known through revelation. Truth about the material world is gained via revelation and the five senses in conjunction with rational thought.

Values

Moral values are the objective expression of an absolute moral being.


Spiritism and Polytheism

Reality

The world is populated by spirit beings who govern what goes on. Gods and demons are the real reason behind "natural" events. Material things are real, but they have spirits associated with them and, therefore, can be interpreted spiritually.

Man

Man is a creation of the gods like the rest of the creatures on earth. Often, tribes or races have a special relationship with some gods who protect them and can punish them.

Truth

Truth about the natural world is discovered through the shaman figure who has visions telling him what the gods and demons are doing and how they feel.

Values

Moral values take the form of taboos, which are things that irritate or anger various spirits. These taboos are different from the idea of "good and evil" because it is just as important to avoid irritating evil spirits as it is good ones.


Postmodernism

Reality

Reality must be interpreted through our language and cultural "paradigm." Therefore, reality is "socially constructed."

Man

Humans are nodes in a cultural reality – they are a product of their social setting. The idea that people are autonomous and free is a myth.

Truth

Truths are mental constructs meaningful to individuals within a particular cultural paradigm. They do not apply to other paradigms. Truth is relative to one’s culture.

Values

Values are part of our social paradigms as well. Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have the answers are the only universal values.

Submitted by Sam on Tue, 06/09/2020 - 16:11

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Hey,
I am a high school graduate and am looking into knowing more about worldviews. I unfortunately had a bad experience taking a class on it that had a very bias opinion and was disrespectful of other ideas. I was wondering if anyone could recommend some books to read to get an idea of different beliefs and philosophies. Thanks

Submitted by J.D. on Tue, 06/09/2020 - 16:12

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I am an atheist and agree that good and bad do not exist. Our love for our own (family usually, but also nation, or other group) is enough reason to be kind and helpful to others. No outside moral law is required.

I am curious as to what you would say to a fellow atheist who says "I am an atheist and agree that good and bad do not exist. My commitment to myself is enough for me to sustain the few that I need and kill anyone who gets in my way. No outside moral law is required." I am not saying that this is where you as an atheist would ever go. I'm just wondering whether you would think you had a basis to consider his view wrong (vs. just not like what he says), and if so, what that basis would be?

First, I'm not a fellow atheist. I'm a theist. But yes, what he says is consistent with the atheistic view. An important question is whether he actually lives by that. Most who claim they don't believe in morals end up being morally outraged at key "sins"

This is true. No atheist lives out their atheism. And this is so because while you can mentally deny the existence of God, you cannot scape living the way you were made to live. We all live in God's universe and thus behave accordingly regardless of our intellectual commitments. This is the first thing C S Lewis tackled in "Mere Christianity". The one who denies moral absolutes complaints when something "wrong" is done to him/her. And right here their relativism goes out the window. So atheists, in order to function in this world, must steal from God all the time.

I agree with you comment, after serving in the USAF for a number of years, I encountered many individuals and religions. I found that individuals who are in a, healthy lifestyle, is having sometype of morality compass. If this is missing then the individual is higher risk of everything from lifestyle advancements being lost, or worse encarsaration because we have laws and rules in our Country/World that keep the moral compass set to everyone one having a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Not many other countries have the same laws but it is still seen as morally wrong to kill a person who is subdued. People all over see that as something wrong, unfortunatly some do not however when you have people telling you what you should do and one doesnt think for themselves.

Have a great day, I personally feel if everyone would just love each other and accept that others can have a different opinion about living their life because it does not impact me directly. As a Christian all I can do is pray for them.

V/R
Ashley C.

Just a couple of questions to see if I understand you correctly.
When you say good and evil do not exist--what is love, kindness, and helpfulness if not somethings that are good?
If no outside moral law is needed would that also include our governmental laws? While as some may be inclined towards love and doing kind and helpful deeds, what is to be said of those who feel stealing, adultery towards my or your wife, inflicting pain and suffering upon others, or even murder is acceptable behavior, and not evil, or wrong?
Please give me your thoughts that I may better understand what it means to be an atheist.
Thank you. JM

Submitted by Dennis Holman on Tue, 06/09/2020 - 16:12

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I am so glad that I am taking this course. God is awesome in my life. He has brought me a mighty longways in life. The information that I am being presented with is only going to give me more understanding concerning the Creator of the universe. I thank all who worked to make this information known to those who seek it. I am thankful to be a part of the Grand Canyon University academic community. God bless you all.

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