An Overview of Clement Vidal’s, The Beginning and the End-Chapter 3

The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological Perspective

(Continued from last post.)

3.1 Religious Worldviews –  Vidal now invokes his criteria to test various worldviews. To demonstrate how the process works he compares intelligent design (ID) with flying spaghetti monsterism (FSM).  They are both objectively consistent and equally unscientific, although ID is larger in scope. ID does better in terms of subjective consistency,  since the designer of ID is amorphous, while FSM has a very specific designer. ID is also more useful and emotionally satisfying, as it is disgusting to think that a monster designed the world. FSM is more intersubjectively consistent since it has not killed millions, but ID is collectively more useful. ID’s narratives are more developed than those of FSM.  From this analysis we can conclude that ID is a better worldview than FSM. (Of course it may be a much worse worldview than others.)

Now that we have a sense of how these comparisons work we can consider religious worldviews in general. Religions usually excel in personal and collective utility, emotionality and narrativity. “… a religious worldview gives meaning, provides answers to fundamental questions, and has a pragmatic value in terms of both psychological benefits and social cohesion.” (Vidal, 43) Yet religions have few rational methods to resolve conflict–hence the ubiquity of religious conflict–and they are generally low on objective criteria, their tenets often contradict known scientific truths. They typically respond by invoking a god of the gaps, using god to explain current gaps in scientific knowledge. (This strategy is notoriously weak, as the gaps are continually closed causing religion to continually retreat.) In short religions are generally much better with subjective and intersubjective criteria than with objective criteria.

3.2 Scientific Worldviews – The strength of science is apparent–it constructs our best models of what is, where it came from, and where it’s going. It is strong in precisely those areas religion is weak. (I would say this is because science is the only cognitive authority in the world today.) But science often ignores integrating its models with questions of value, actions, knowledge, and meaning. Essentially, science is strong regarding objective criteria but less so regarding the subjective and intersubjective.

3.3 Philosophical Worldviews – In order to correct the flaws in their various worldviews, theologians try to develop theologies more consistent with science, while scientists may expand their worldviews to include values, emotions, and meanings. Building a naturalistic worldview entails starting with objective, scientific principles, and extending them to include the subjective and intersubjective. For Vidal this is the essence of a philosophical worldview.

Vidal now examines three analogies to help us grasp how to build comprehensive and coherent worldviews. First consider worldview questions as an axiomatic system where worldview answers are structures satisfying the axioms. Many philosophies and religions use axioms such as god, immortality, or freedom as postulates in their systems. In general scientific worldviews are coherent but incomplete; religious worldviews are relatively complete but incoherent. Second consider worldview questions as a system of equations. In this model solving philosophical questions about worldviews compares to solving intricate sets of equations.  Third consider worldview questions as problems to solve. In this case we might employ problem solving techniques to resolve these problems.

Now that we have some idea of what it entails to develop a philosophical worldview, Vidal’s next task is to reformulate worldview questions in light of modern science.



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