Testable Truth (RJS)

apollo08_earthriseAll of us have some kind of worldview or philosophy of life. It may be a carefully reasoned position, or an organic entity that we grew into (or up in). In any event it can be helpful to examine the elements of our worldview and put them to the test. Truth should survive the test.

I recently picked up a book by Kenneth Samples A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test. Kenneth Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB) and lectures in the MA program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. He is a philosopher and theologian by training – with an MA in Theological Studies from the Talbot School of Theology at Biola.

In chapter 2 of his book Samples suggests a series of nine tests that can be used to critically consider the elements of one’s worldview.  (pp. 33-37)

  1. Coherence Test: Is a particular worldview logically consistent.

Truth will always be wholly consistent within itself, displaying internal logical harmony. The coherence test stresses the crucial unity and relatedness of all truth. Therefore any logical inconsistency in the basic elements of a worldview is a mark of essential error. …

Incoherence shows that a worldview must be false; coherence shows that a worldview may be true. As important as coherence is, more is needed for a worldview to pass the ultimate truth test. (p. 33)

  1. Balance Test: Is the worldview properly balanced between simplicity and complexity?

All things being equal, the simplest worldview that does justice to all aspects of reality deserves preference (p. 33)

A credible interpretation of reality will be neither overly simple nor unnecessarily complex.  In short, the simplest, fully orbed worldview possesses superior explanatory power. (p. 34)

  1. Explanatory Power and Scope Test: How well does a worldview explain the facts of reality (“power”), and how wide is the range of its explanation (“scope”)?

A viable worldview explains the phenomena of the material realm and life in sufficient detail. This description should account for what can be observed external to humanity (the physical universe) as well as internal to the same (hopes, desires, aspirations, and so on). (p. 34)

  1. Correspondence Test: Does a particular worldview correspond with well-established, empirical facts, and does it correspond to a person’s experiences in the world. (p. 35)

Both facts and experiences are important – and neither of these should be disregarded in a coherent worldview.

  1. Verification Test: Can the central truth-claims of the worldview be verified or falsified?

Testability increases a worldview’s intellectual credibility. The concept of “testable truth” contains persuasive power. (p. 35)

  1. Pragmatic Test: Does the worldview promote relevant, practical, and workable results?

An acceptable worldview must be sensible and workable and, therefore, “externally livable.” This pragmatic approach applies to both society and individuals. A worldview should meet peoples needs, both theoretically and practically. … It should provide direction to people and help them solve problems. (p. 35)

  1. Existential Test: Does the worldview address the internal needs of humanity? (p. 36)

Is there meaning to life, the world, and everything?

  1. Cumulative Test: Is the worldview supported by multiple lines of converging evidence that together add increasing support for its truth-claims and extend the breadth of its explanatory power? (p. 36)

Samples turns to a CS Lewis quote to illustrate this point (more info):

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” For Lewis, the Christian worldview illumined the world and all of life, particularly the enigmatic human condition. The multiple strands of evidence in support of the Christian worldview had resulted in a cumulative case argument for the faith. (p. 36-37)

  1. Competitive Competence Test: Can the worldview successfully compete in the marketplace of ideas?

As a corollary Samples points out that a robust worldview needs to be able to accommodate new data. Human knowledge and understanding is continually growing. “The ability to adjust makes for a successful contender and workable belief system in the marketplace of competing ideas.” (p. 37)  Certainly there must be a sufficiently firm core – but a perspective cast in stone at some time and place and then held to with blind determination will not be competitive in the intellectual arena.

Do you agree with these tests?

What else might you suggest?

IMG_3792I will offer a few reflections, but would like to hear other perspectives as well.  There are interesting ideas here – and ones from which we can learn, both to agree and to challenge.

The first (coherence), ninth (cumulative) and tenth (competitive) tests are particularly important. To stand the test of time and focus on truth rather than comfort our view of the world should be coherent, accounting for all of the evidence. In order for this to be true, it must have a level of adaptability – knowledge and understanding are not static. To pick a simple and relatively straightforward example, a Christian worldview cannot rest comfortably on a flat earth with a vault, the absence of antipodians, a geocentric universe, or even a heliocentric universe. Nor should it rest on our current understanding of the extent and form of the material universe.

Of course, we must also leave room for mystery – for phenomena so far outside of our realm of experience that they seem incoherent even if true. The wave/particle duality of modern quantum theory is an example of such a phenomena. There are scientifically predictable phenomena that seem bizarre to our intuition. Could there not also be aspects to reality that move beyond our expectations and are foreign to mere human experience and intuition?

The existential test seems intrinsically circular (as does the pragmatic test). On a fundamental level, truth about the world need not address human existential concerns at all. If the bald materialist is right humans are nothing special, no matter how much we might wish otherwise. On an emotional level we may have a need for meaning and purpose – but does require that there is actually any meaning or purpose to our lives? On a pragmatic level, worldview grounded in classism, racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism may work very well for those in power and even for many of those on  the downside it may produce a stable society providing a basic level of comfort. Such a view may also satisfy the desire for existential meaning providing everyone a purpose and place in society. Is this a valid criterion for evaluating the truthfulness of the view?

The verification test is interesting. Certainly there are elements of a worldview that are amenable to objective verification. But this isn’t true of everything. I do not believe that it is possible to objectively demonstrate or disprove the existence of God. As a Christian I believe that God has revealed himself to his people – in creation, in the preserved record of his interaction with his people, and in ongoing interactions with humans.  But none of these constitutes a ground for objective verification. God’s self-revelation seems inescapably subjective. Even most who met Jesus in 1st century Palestine did not recognize him for who he was.

Any thoughts?

Should our worldview be verifiable?

How important is pragmatism or coherence?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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