Every metaphysical system with any cogency and appeal has some points of strength, and all have weaknesses. The question is which have more strengths and fewer weaknesses than others. (Millard Erickson in Christian Theology, 3rd Edition) 1
Frederick Pond Ferré (1933–2013) was Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at The University of Georgia and a president of the Metaphysical Society of America. Much of his work concerned how metaphysics is translated into practical questions about how we live our lives, including ethics.
I have not read his works directly, but have enjoyed the digests of his work in Millard J. Erickson’s excellent systematic theology book (63 hour audiobook!) Christian Theology.
Erickson discusses the progress and changes in Analytical Theology, which has moved from the helpful but limited logical positivism of the 20th century to functional analysis, becoming more verifiable and practical, if not pragmatic.
All that is to say that Ferré suggests nice criteria for evaluating metaphysical, as opposed to empirical statements – that is, if science can’t prove or disprove God, are we left with no means of evaluating religious claims? As I discussed previously:
Ferré suggests four criteria for world-view evaluation, two internal (consistency, coherence) and two external (applicability, adequacy). I have remanded the second pair with “C” words so that they all start with the same letter (it’s a quirk I have). But let’s examine them.
Consistency simply asks – “Are the propositions of the world view logically consistent, or do they contradict one another?” Are these contradictions true contradictions, or are they merely paradoxes that have a more nuanced harmony? Erickson explains
A system can not be considered TRUE if it is not consistent, though it still may be FALSE even though consistent.
A system of propositions may not conflict logically (Consistency), but they may not even be logically connected. “Roses are red and violets are blue” is consistent, but there is no relationship between the propositions.
Coherence asks, “Is there a genuine unity and relationship between the components of a world-view system?”
The synthesis of our views must be capable of illuminating some experience naturally and without distortion.
Theory must match real sense data, i.e. real life. If our views are internally consistent and coherent, they could still exist in a fantasy novel, and have no relationship to reality.
congruence asks, “do my views match and function in the real world?”
This is not pragmatism, suggesting something is true because is useful (though that is a perhaps valid and useful measure of how well our theories “work” in reality), but merely asking “does it fit what we observe and experience?” If it does NOT, that may indicate it is FALSE. But again, just because it has some congruence with reality is not sufficient to say it is TRUE.
A world view must be fairly comprehensive to have value – it is meant as a synthesis of principle with practice, accounting for and integrated across all possible experience, not just applicable in a few situations. Otherwise it’s in isolation from the rest of reality and truth.
One of the reasons I returned to Christianity after deconstructing and leaving the faith for 8 years was that it fulfilled these criteria better than other views. I was not thinking in these exact criteria, but in retrospect, they fit my process.
I realized that all views have faults, even Christianity. While the prevalence of paradox in spiritual matters and in faith can make Christianity not seem logically consistent, I find that even in science, not everything is automatically intuitive or simple, and as long as there are no obvious, unarguable contradictions, it seemed equal to others.
Regarding coherence, Christianity works very hard and well in integrating its ideas, and even its view of the natural world with the spiritual, something, for example, Hinduism does not strive to do.
Regarding it’s congruence with the real world, I find that in history, Christianity has produced more alleviation from poverty, more compassion (despite significant foibles highlighted by cherry-picking critics), and more liberty and flourishing in history than any other world view. Just compare the freedom of the Christian west with the east and you can see – would you rather live in the West, or Africa, China, Russia, or the middle-eastern countries? Their world views have stifled innovation and human flourishing.
Lastly, Christian world-view advocates rightly claim that the Bible has principles for all of life, and is therefore high in completeness – it covers relationships, civil government, the narrative of history, economics, ethics, and even math and science. 3
In fact, many historians like Rodney Stark argue that the possibility of progress in the Christian narrative and the order of a created universe, Biblical conclusions, are what allowed science to flourish in the West and NOT in the East, despite the many genius inventions in, for example, China. Both Confucianism and Islam look backward trying to recover a more perfect past, and so don’t push technology forwards.
ADDENDUM: Atheism as a Worldview Fails Utterly
In this last category of completeness, atheism entirely fails – in part, because, as some claim, it is not a world view, but merely a “personal lack of faith in God.” However, if you are making a philosophical and objective claim that God does not exist, then you must integrate that into a coherent, congruent, complete worldview.
And many have tried. But when attempted, atheism suggests subjective morals, social Darwinism, meaning primarily through, as Nietzsche described, the Will to Power, and eventually, the diminishment of the human in favor of an oxymoronic independent self under an autocratic government. Not only is the atheist world view not very good at answering ultimate questions, the answers it does lead to are unpalatable, and it’s actual results in history are abysmal.