What are Worldviews, and Why Should University Students be Mindful of Them?
As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It isn’t a physical view of the world (like the sight of planet Earth you might get from an orbiting space station) but rather a philosophical view of the world—and not just of our planet, but of all of reality. A worldview is an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us. A worldview represents a person’s most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe they inhabit. It reflects how they would answer all the “big questions” of human existence, the fundamental questions we ask about life, the universe, and everything.
Worldviews matter, in the first place, because everyone has one, although not everyone is aware that they have one. A worldview is as indispensable for thinking as an atmosphere is for breathing. You can’t think in an intellectual vacuum any more than you can breathe without a physical atmosphere. Most of the time, you take the atmosphere around you for granted; you look through it rather than at it, even though you know it’s always there. The same goes for your worldview: normally you look through it rather than directly at it. It’s essential, but it usually sits in the background of your thought.
Few people think intentionally and critically about their worldview. Nevertheless, our worldviews play a crucial role in how we interpret our experiences of the world and response to those experiences. Like a pair of spectacles with colored lenses, our worldviews affect what we see and how we see it. Depending on the “color” of the lenses, we see some things more easily, while other things are de-emphasized or distorted. In the worst cases, we might not see some things at all. The fact that people who live in the same world—or even in the same neighborhood—have very different worldviews explains why they frequently reach radically divergent conclusions on matters of history, science, ethics, and politics.
Why is it that some people view abortion as a grave evil while others see it as an exercise of basic human rights? Why is it that some scientists think there’s overwhelming evidence for the Darwin’s naturalistic theory of evolution while other scientists (equally intelligent and well-informed) think there’s compelling evidence for intelligent design in the natural world? Why did some people view the infamous 9/11 attacks as depraved acts of terrorism while others saw them as heroic acts of martyrdom? In all these cases, and many more besides, the simple answer is conflicting worldviews.
It should be clear enough by now why worldviews matter and why university students should be mindful of them. If worldviews affect how we think about everything in the world, and if only one worldview can be the correct worldview—the worldview that reflects the world as it really is—then it will be important for us to be aware of our own worldview and the worldviews of the people we engage with day-to-day. It will benefit us to think carefully and critically about the fundamental differences between the various worldviews represented in our society and culture today. Being “worldview conscious” will help us be more attentive to our own biases, as well as the biases of others. It will also help us understand why people who inhabit the same world can view that world so differently and can encounter such deep disagreements about the basic issues of everyday life.
Christian students have especially good reason to be mindful of worldviews and the importance of having a distinctively Christian worldview. According to Jesus, the first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Loving the Lord our God means, among other things, using our minds to think about God, others, and the world as God intended us to do so. God wants us to look at his world through the right pair of spectacles, so to speak—the lenses of God’s Word, the Bible. The apostle Paul exhorted Christians not to be conformed to the world but to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:1). In sum, one of our basic responsibilities as Christians is to cultivate and apply a biblical worldview, because if we desire to live rightly in God’s world, we must also strive to think rightly about God’s world—and to encourage fellow believers to do likewise.
James N. Anderson, Ph.D. is Carl W. McMurray Professor of Theology and Philosophy and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary. An ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, his scholarly interests primarily lie in philosophical theology, religious epistemology, Cornelius Van Til, and Christian apologetics.
Professor Anderson's Recommended Further Reading on the Topic:
James N. Anderson, What's Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life's Big Questions
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog
Anderson, James N., "What in the World is a Worldview?"