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There is a fundamental ambiguity in the way the concept of worldview is used within the science/religion discussion. On the one hand, scholars talk about the scientific worldview, by which they mean the picture of the universe that emerges if one brings together the different theories of physics, astronomy, biology, sociology, and so on into a systematic whole. On the other hand, some scholars make statements about the imbeddedness of science within a particular worldview, for example, within feminism, Christianity, Islam, or naturalism.

If the concept is understood in the second way, it follows that science alone can never provide a worldview, even though science can, of course, contribute to the formation or revision of a world-view. The reason why is that this conception presupposes that science lacks certain features that characterize a worldview. It is a matter of dispute what these features are exactly, but two elements that science seems to lack are values and metaphysics. A worldview in this sense is typically taken to explain who human beings really are, what the world is ultimately like, and what people should do to live a satisfying life. It gives direction and meaning to life and thus provides people with values. But science offers facts and not values. Therefore, it does not qualify as a worldview. Moreover, no scientific discipline can show whether the physical universe is all that there is. If scientists make such an assertion they make a metaphysical rather than a scientific statement.

Theism and naturalism, on the other hand, offer an answer to this kind of question. Theism says that reality consists of God and all that God has made. Naturalism holds that reality consists of nothing but matter in motion. Therefore, theism and naturalism, not science, are worldviews. Some advocates of scientism question this view, arguing that the boundaries of science can be expanded in such a way that it can offer both values and metaphysics. However, this view is highly controversial, lacking scientific consensus. It is therefore better to refer to it as a scientistic rather than a scientific worldview.

A worldview need not be well-developed or explicit; the worldviews of most people remain simply sets of background assumptions of which they are not fully aware. The function of such a worldview is primarily to help people to deal with their existential concerns, that is, their questions about who they are, why they exist, what the meaning of their life is, and what stance they should take toward the experience of death, suffering, guilt, love, forgiveness, and so forth. A worldview is thus the constellation of beliefs and values that (consciously or unconsciously) guide people in their attempt to deal with their existential concerns. A religious worldview affirms that people could only adequately deal with their existential concerns if they let their lives be transformed or enlightened by God or a divine reality, whereas a secular worldview denies this.

See also Paradigms; Scientism; Value


herrmann, eberhard. scientific theory and religious belief: an essay on the rationality of views of life. kampen, netherlands: kok pharos, 1995.

smart, ninian. worldviews: crosscultural explorations ofhuman beliefs, 2nd edition. englewood cliffs, n.j.: prentice hall, 1995.

stenmark, mikael. rationality in science, religion andeveryday life: a critical evaluation of four models of rationality. south bend, ind.: university of notre dame press, 1995.

mikael stenmark

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