For any of us to be fully conscious

intellectually we should not only be able

to detect the worldviews of others

but be aware of our own—

why it is ours and why in light of so many options

we think it is true.



Other Books by James W. Sire

How to Read Slowly Scripture Twisting Beginning with God Discipleship of the Mind Chris Chrisman Goes to College Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? Jesus the Reason (Bible study guide) Habits of the Mind Václav Havel Naming the Elephant Why Good Arguments Often Fail Learning to Pray Through the Psalms A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics Praying the Psalms of Jesus Deepest Differences with Carl Peraino



A Basic Worldview Catalog


J A M E S W . S I R E




InterVarsity Press, USA P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, USA World Wide Web: Email:

Inter-Varsity Press, England Norton Street, Nottingham NG7 3HR, England Website: Email:

Fifth edition ©2009 by James W. Sire. First edition ©1976 by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of the United States of America. Second edition ©1988 by James W. Sire. Third edition ©1997 by James W. Sire. Fourth edition ©2004 by James W. Sire.

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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. Distributed in the U.K. by permission of Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. All rights reserved. “NIV” is a registered trademark of International Bible Society. UK trademark number 1448790.

Design: Cindy Kiple

Images: deep space: Phil Morley/iStockphoto open door: Nicolas Loran/iStockphoto

USA ISBN 978-0-8308-7742-3




To Marjorie

Carol, Mark and Caleb

Eugene and Lisa

Richard, Kay Dee, Derek, Hannah, Micah, Abigail and Joanna

Ann, Jeff, Aaron and Jacob

whose worlds on worlds

compose my familiar and burgeoning universe





Preface to the Fifth Edition 9

1 A World of Difference: Introduction 15

2 A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God: Christian Theism 25

3 The Clockwork Universe: Deism 47

4 The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism 66

5 Zero Point: Nihilism 94

6 Beyond Nihilism: Existentialism 117

7 Journey to the East: Eastern Pantheistic Monism 144

8 A Separate Universe: The New Age—Spirituality Without Religion 166

9 The Vanished Horizon: Postmodernism 214

10 A View from the Middle East: Islamic Theism 244

11 The Examined Life: Conclusion 278

Index 287





It has been more than thirty-three years since this book was first pub lished in 1976 Much has happened both in the development of world- views in the West and in the way others and I have come to understand the notion of worldview

In 1976 the New Age worldview was just forming and had yet to be given a name I called it “the new consciousness ” At the same time the word postmodern was used only in academic circles and had yet to be recognized as an intellectually significant shift Now, in 2009, the New Age is over thirty years old, adolescent only in character, not in years Meanwhile postmodernism has penetrated every area of intellectual life, enough to have triggered at least a modest backlash Pluralism, and the relativism and syncretism that have accompanied it, have muted the dis- tinctive voice of every point of view And though the third edition of this book noted these, there is now more to the stories of both the New Age and postmodernism In the fourth edition I updated the chapter on the New Age and substantially revised the chapter on postmodernism

In the fourth edition I also reformulated the entire notion of world- view What is it, really? There have been challenges to the definition I gave in 1976 (and left unchanged in the 1988 and 1997 editions) Was it not too intellectual? Isn’t a worldview more unconscious than conscious? Why does it begin with abstract ontology (the notion of being) instead of the more personal question of epistemology (how we know)? Don’t we first need to have our knowledge justified before we can make claims about the nature of ultimate reality? Isn’t my definition of worldview de-



10 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

pendent on nineteenth-century German idealism or, perhaps, the truth of the Christian worldview itself? What about the role of behavior in forming or assessing or even identifying one’s worldview? Doesn’t post- modernism undermine the very notion of worldview?

I took these challenges to heart The result was twofold First was the writing of Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, published at the same time as the fourth edition of The Universe Next Door Here I addressed a host of issues surrounding the concept of worldview Readers who are interested in the intellectual tool used in the fourth edition and this one will find it analyzed at much greater depth there To do this, I was greatly aided by the work of David Naugle, professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University In Worldview: The History of a Concept he sur- veyed the origin, development and various versions of the concept from Immanuel Kant to Arthur Holmes and beyond, and he presents his own definition of the Christian worldview It is his identification of worldview with the biblical notion of the heart that has spawned my own revised definition, which appears in chapter one of the fourth edition and the present book

Readers of any of the first three editions will note that the new defini- tion does four things First, it shifts the focus from a worldview as a “set of presuppositions” to a “commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart,” giving more emphasis to the pretheoretical roots of the intellect Second, it expands the way worldviews are expressed, adding to a set of presuppositions the notion of story Third, it makes more explicit that the deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of the “really real ” Fourth, it acknowledges the role of behavior in assessing what anyone’s worldview actually is To further emphasize the impor- tance of one’s worldview as a commitment, in this fifth edition I have added an eighth worldview question: What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Nonetheless, most of the analysis of the first four editions of The Uni- verse Next Door remains the same Except for chapter three on deism, which has been significantly expanded to account for the diversities within this worldview, only occasional changes have been made in the presentation and analysis of the first six of the eight worldviews exam- ined It is my hope that with the refined definition and these modest revi- sions the powerful nature of every worldview will be more fully evident



Preface to the Fifth Edition 11

Finally, there is one major worldview now affecting the West that I have not treated in any of the previous editions Since September 11, 2001, Islam has become a major factor of life not only in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia but in Europe and North America as well The Islamic worldview (or perhaps worldviews) now impinges on the lives of people around the globe Moreover, the term worldview appears in daily newspapers when writers try to grasp and explain what is fueling the stunning events of the past few years Unfortunately, I am not personally prepared to respond to the need for us in America to understand Islam’s understanding of our world So I have asked Dr Winfried Corduan, pro- fessor of philosophy and religion at Taylor University and author of a number of books but especially of Neighboring Faiths, to contribute a chapter on Islamic worldviews 1

One final comment on my motivation for the first edition It has trig- gered numerous negative comments especially among Amazon com re- viewers who complain that the book displays a pro-Christian bias They want an unbiased study There is no such thing as an unbiased study of any significant intellectual idea or movement Of course an analysis of worldviews will display some sort of bias Even the idea of an objective account assumes that objectivity is possible or more valuable than an ac- count from a committed and acknowledged perspective C S Lewis, writing about his interpretation of Milton’s Paradise Lost, once com- mented that his Christian faith was an advantage “What would you not give,” he asked, “to have a real live Epicurean at your elbow while reading Lucretius?”2 Here you have a real live Christian’s guide to the Christian worldview and its alternatives

Furthermore, I first wrote the book for Christian students in the mid 1970s; it was designed to help them identify why they often felt so “out of it” when their professors assumed the truth of ideas they deemed odd or even false I wanted these students to know the outlines of a “merely” Christian worldview, how it provided the foundation for much of the modern Western world’s understanding of reality and what the differ- ences were between the Christian worldview and the various worldviews that either stemmed from Christianity by variation and decay or coun- tered Christianity at its very intellectual roots The book was immedi-

1Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1998) 2C S Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), p 65



1 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ately adopted as a text in both secular institutions—Stanford, the Univer- sity of Rhode Island and North Texas State, for example—and Christian colleges Subsequent editions have been edited to acknowledge readers with other worldviews, but the Christian perspective has, without apol- ogy, not been changed

In fact, the continued interest of readers in this book continues to sur- prise and please me It has been translated into nineteen languages, and each year it finds its way into the hands of many students at the behest of professors in courses as widely divergent as apologetics, history, English literature, introduction to religion, introduction to philosophy and even one on the human dimensions of science Such a range of interests sug- gests that one of the assumptions on which the book is based is indeed true: the most fundamental issues we as human beings need to consider have no departmental boundaries What is prime reality? Is it God or the cosmos? What is a human being? What happens at death? How should we then live? These questions are as relevant to literature as to psychol- ogy, to religion as to science

On one issue I remain constant: I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why, in light of so many options, we think it is true I can only hope that this book becomes a steppingstone for others toward their self-conscious develop- ment and justification of their own worldview

In addition to the many acknowledgments contained in the footnotes, I would especially like to thank C Stephen Board, who many years ago invited me to present much of this material in lecture form at the Chris- tian Study Project, sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and held at Cedar Campus in Michigan He and Thomas Trevethan, also on the staff of that program, have given excellent counsel in the develop- ment of the material and in the continued critique of my worldview thinking since the first publication of this book

Other friends who have read the manuscript and helped polish some of the rough edges are C Stephen Evans (who contributed the section on Marxism), Winfried Corduan (who contributed the chapter on Islam), Os Guinness, Charles Hampton, Keith Yandell, Douglas Groothuis, Richard H Bube, Rodney Clapp, Gary Deddo, Chawkat Moucarry and Colin Chapman Dan Synnestvedt’s review of the fourth edition sparked



Preface to the Fifth Edition 13

my vision for a fifth and provided guidance, especially for the chapter on deism Recognition, too, goes to David Naugle, without whom my defini- tion of a worldview would have remained unchanged To them and to the editor of this edition, James Hoover, goes my sincere appreciation I would also like to acknowledge the feedback from the many students who have weathered worldview criticism in my classes and lectures Finally, which rightly should be firstly, I must thank my wife Marjorie, who not only proofed draft after draft of edition after edition, but who suffered my at- tention to the manuscript when I had best attended to her and our family Love gives no better gift than suffering for others

Responsibility for the continued infelicities and the downright errors in this book is, alas, my own




Chapter 1



But often, in the world’s most crowded streets, But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire After the knowledge of our buried life:

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force In tracking out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know W hence our lives come and where they go.

M a t t h e w A r n o l d , “ Th e B u r i e d L i f e ”

In the late nineteenth century Stephen Crane captured our plight as we in the early twenty-first century face the universe

A man said to the universe: “Sir, I exist ” “However,” replied the universe, “The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation ”1

1From Stephen Crane, War Is Kind and Other Lines (1899), frequently anthologized The He- brew poem that follows is Psalm 8



16 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

How different this is from the words of the ancient psalmist, who looked around himself and up to God and wrote:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and cro

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