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Worldview Matters Essay: The Free Inquiry Path To A Worldview
Your mental development begins with building a conceptual
framework on which a worldview is slowly constructed. Growing up involves acquiring experience and skills, learning
how to fit into the world, and selectively refining your understanding of how it
works. Ideally, by adulthood,
you’ve made good choices and are comfortable with your worldview.
Often this process is sadly corrupted! Many parents help their kids learn basic values (honesty, sharing, etc.), but fail to recognize that children aren’t ready to truly consider life's big questions, like "Why am I here?" "What is the meaning of life?" "How does nature work?" "How can I know God?" and "How should I live?" Rather than allowing them to mature in unprejudiced fashion, many adults force their own beliefs on children.
Devout Christians and ardent atheists, for example, are guilty of such forcing. Some Christians insist their toddlers pray, begin Sunday school attendance before kindergarten, choose theocratic home schooling over democratic public schooling, send younger kids to summer Bible schools, older ones to worldview academy camps, and encourage college applications to schools such as Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Similarly, some atheists deny their child’s request to attend a friend’s church, teach them there is no God, the universe has no Creator, their existence can be explained as a byproduct of billions of years of impersonal forces and random processes acting on matter, life has no intrinsic purpose or meaning, and only knowledge based on observation and scientific methodology is valid. Rather than allowing liberty of thought, both tyrannically wrap young people in intellectual strait jackets!
Need more specifics? An article on worldview development, posted on a popular website, identifies seven questions commonly used in Christian worldview related resources--the first being, "Is there a god and what is he like?" In counseling parents and teachers, author Tracy Munsil concludes, "It doesn't matter how many questions you use, just that you begin asking the big questions of life in four key areas--deity, origin, nature and rules--and then answer them based on Scripture." Evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins calls a religious upbringing a form of indoctrination and equates it to child abuse. Is the approach of those preaching de-Godized scientism better than a religious one? Certainly not--such brainwashing disconnects children from the beliefs and heritage of over 90% of the American population!
Should worldview development be guided by religious fundamentalists or atheists? Neither and both! To some degree, children should be exposed to many different perspectives. They should be taught by those who recognize that listening to debate and considering underlying conflicts in worldview is part of the knowledge acquisition process. Ideally their teachers' worldviews are colored in shades of gray: they believe it’s unethical to brainwash students by presenting one-sided views of controversial issues, and childishly simplistic to depict reality in black and white certainties! Their teaching promotes students' curiosity, inquiry, and readiness for ultimately finding their own answers to life's big questions.
Worldviews, we long ago decided, "should build on fragments of worldviews as a starting point"--an approach the Apostel research group at VUB in Belgium would later advocate. Back in 1990, with the publication of Coming of Age in the Global Village, we called these fragments "worldview themes" and presented twenty-six of them. This was but a first step. Writing this book made clear both what a formidable task providing a framework for worldview characterization was, and how nice it would be to have a place where people could “shop” for answers to life's big questions! With the 2006 launch of the Project Worldview website and its The Reality Marketplace, a cyber shopping mall version of such a place was created (using 80 what are now called version 2.0 worldview themes). By 2019 that structure had evolved to include 104 worldview themes (version 4.0). This website encourages individuals to systematically explore and consider questions and choices in four areas (identified with the four suits in a deck of playing cards): 1) diamonds <==> their relationship with knowledge, 2) hearts <==> their relationship with other individuals, including introspection, 3) clubs <==> their relationship with groups of individuals, including society in general, and 4) spades <==> their relationship with nature.
A key question at the start of worldview development is "What is the basis for my knowledge?" Many people started asking this question during the Enlightenment, which flourished in the Western world during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In seeking knowledge, they began to appreciate two things: that knowledge needs to be tested before it is accepted, and in the words of Rene Descartes, “Doubt is the origin of wisdom.” Thus those seriously engaged in worldview development must necessarily recognize the importance of two additional questions: “How do I justify my beliefs?” and “With what level of certainty do I believe?” Besides pursuit of knowledge, important both in its own right and for use in improving the human condition, something else characterized this era. In the words of E. O. Wilson, “The Enlightenment…brought the Western mind to the threshold of a new freedom. It waved aside everything…to give precedence to the ethic of free inquiry.”
Thomas Jefferson, a product of the Enlightenment, felt that well-educated citizens are "the ultimate guardians of their own liberty." Today’s challenges for democracies extend beyond educating citizens to select appropriate moral and political values and good government leaders. They now include promoting understanding of scientific, technological, and ethical complexities that living in an increasingly integrated, interdependent world requires, and countering threats posed by other nations’ weapons—not just those of mass destruction—but also those of mass indoctrination, such as madrassas in the Islamic world. Throughout the world, producing tomorrow’s well-educated citizens begins by turning today’s children loose on the free inquiry path to a worldview.