Personal Worldview Paper Instructions
Last Update: 15 March 2017
Let me know if something isn’t clear and I can add information to this document. C.R.H. Click on these if you want (if the videos below don’t play) https://youtu.be/bUb9P5YpqWI & https://youtu.be/0tp3BbBU4R4
Telos of this Project: Self-Analysis and to Plan a Course of Study
The purpose of this self-diagnostic paper is to get a grip on the current contents of your worldview, and chart out a course of future study to fix the weak spots (we all have them). You will analyze your worldview for clarity, consistency, and (epistemic) strength, and you will bounce your views off of the philosophers we read in the course (at least 6 of them). In your conclusion (at least 300 words) you will analyze your overall worldview and tell your reader how you plan to work on your worldview in the coming years. A careful, philosophical analysis of your own beliefs will reveal to you what beliefs are too vague and which beliefs lack justification and what beliefs are actually more central to your life than you realize (and so life change is required).
Since you have to bounce your views off of the positions of the philosophers we are reading, you will be more engaged with the texts. Hopefully, the famous philosophers we read will pique your interest and motivate you to either modify your current beliefs if you find beliefs with stronger justification (i.e. reasons to believe), or to find further justification for your current beliefs. Instructions:
In this paper, you will briefly describe (in 5-8 pages) your worldview in the following areas: Epistemology (philosophy of knowledge), Theology (philosophy of God), Cosmology/Cosmogony (philosophy of the origins and conservation and destiny of the universe), Metaphysical Anthropology (view of the origin and powers and value of human beings and their place in the universe), Thanatology (philosophy of death), Soteriology (philosophy of salvation), and Ethics (philosophy of values and right and wrong). You must have section headings and you must have zero rhetorical questions in the paper. Students do not believe me and they end up having 200 rhetorical questions and no section headings and they can’t get an A without those structure/style points. Clarity, Centrality, and [Epistemic] Strength
In each section, be sure to pay attention to the clarity, centrality, and strength of your views. We cannot believe vague things. Clarity has to do with how clear of a concept you have of (e.g. God). For your theology if you believe in a god explain how clear of a view of God you have. Is god personal or impersonal, is God one or a Trinity, etc. For each section of the paper you are going to explain how clear your beliefs are? If they are vague (e.g. believing in a “higher power”), please say so. That’s fine. All of us have work to do to clarify our beliefs. You are just doing a self-diagnosis here. Do some in each section, but make sure your self-diagnosis is also mentioned in the conclusion.
Centrality concerns the degree to which your life revolves around a particular belief. If you change central beliefs, then you will see a lot of your life change as a result. My belief that Dr. Pepper is the best drink in the world is not very central to my life. My belief in Jesus as the smartest person in the universe and my belief that the best way to live life is to be his apprentice is huge for me.
Strength does not mean the degree to which you are emotionally tied to a belief. Strength means the degree to which your belief is justified in the epistemic sense. How many good reasons do you have to defend your belief? If you have a lot, and you can answer most objections, then you hold a belief strongly. If you believe in the existence of things (e.g. like the Force and Midi-chlorions) just because you love Star Wars, then your belief is weak. Even if you believe with all your heart that Midi-chlorions infuse all living organisms, your belief is weak in the sense of justification (reasons to believe it). What do YOU believe? Don’t tell us what you think you SHOULD believe.
BE SURE TO TELL YOUR READERS (i.e. me) WHAT YOU BELIEVE AND NOT WHAT YOUR MAMA OR PASTOR WANTS YOU TO SAY YOU BELIEVE. I WON’T TELL HER IF YOU ARE A HERETIC IN HER EYES! BE HONEST! Your view may change next week, but don’t worry about that. Write about your own worldview here and now and do a careful self-analysis. In some worldviews you can be killed for apostasy or kicked out of the family, so I understand the pressure from family to write what your parents want you to believe. This paper is FOR MY EYES ONLY, so I will not tell. Many students find it freeing to actually look at what they believe versus what they think they SHOULD believe.
Interact with at least five philosophers in at least four different sections of your paper. Preferably, you will interact with one or two philosophers in each section of your paper. Use short quotes to help.
To help you clarify your views, use the views of the philosophers we are reading this semester to compare (and contrast) your own. It is a good idea to work on your worldview paper all semester by sketching notes in each section. In your paper, briefly explain a position taken by a certain philosopher (use short quotes and cite properly) and explain how your own view is similar or different. This is not a paper on these philosophers, but it can help clarify our views if we compare/contrast our worldview elements with those of the big philosophers. If you have changed worldviews from your childhood, you might contrast your current views with your earlier views. This is a tool to work on clarity – we need beliefs that are not vague.
For instance, when you discuss your theology, you might explain Aristotle’s view of God and how you agree/disagree with his view. Cite the text properly. When you do your metaphysical anthropology section, you are going to say if you agree or disagree with the philosophers we read. Cite our texts. For instance, in your thanatology (philosophy of death) section, you might explain how Hinduism holds that the Samsaric cycle is real, and that all sentient (conscious) beings are trapped in an infinite cycle of birth and rebirth. Then, explain how your view is the same or different. Or, in the Epistemology (philosophy of knowledge) section, you might compare/contrast your view with the Naturalist’s epistemology of weak or strong scientism, or the problem of Maya for the Sankara school of Hinduism. Email me if you need help.
You will lose content points if you do not interact in a substantial way with our texts. Cite the texts properly and give us a page at the end with your citations. Use a web-based program or use the writing center if you need help with citing things properly.
Video of me babbling about this paper: https://youtu.be/0tp3BbBU4R4 (click on that link or below)
And an optional lecture on the worldview of Naturalism (scientific atheism): https://youtu.be/sgQBrCjxl9w
HOW TO WRITE THIS PAPER: 30 Minutes Each Week. If you wait until the end of the semester you will regret it. Students often do.
To write this paper, create a Word document and make an outline with each section headings. Each week, type up a few of your thoughts in different sections. Think about your beliefs by talking to your friends. Or, write down the different topics on note cards. Think about your beliefs when you are bored and standing in line at the store. Sketch notes. Type them up when you get home.
Since you have to interact with some the philosophers we read this semester, type up your thoughts during some of your readings. Type interesting quotes in your paper as you read our texts. It is better to have too many quotes (that you have to cut out of the final draft) than not enough.
Do not wait until the last minute. You will not do well, and you will find it difficult to find quotes from the philosophers we read in the beginning of the semester. Exchange your paper with a classmate or at least read it out loud to a friend to see if s/he has additional questions about your views.
Outline of Paper: Use headings for each section to make it easier to read.
*Use these questions ONLY as guides to get you thinking about how to write on these topics. Given your course, you may or may not have studied the things I mention below You may only want to quote one of our philosophers and jump into where you agree and disagree. Use the bullet points as possible prompts to writing. Write in full, well-developed paragraphs—do not simply answer these questions.
INTRODUCTION: Give a quick autobiographical blurb about your worldview journey. Tell us, for example, how you moved from Buddhism to Christianity to Islam and now you are a Scientologist. Tell us as much as you want in this section. Nota bene: If you submit this paper to the book project, I’ll expect you to add a lot of content to this section, but it isn’t necessary for your graded paper.
I EPISTEMOLOGY: Explain how you rank different sources of knowledge in full paragraphs. Rank the types of knowledge in your mind: philosophical, moral, scientific, testimonial, historical, perceptual, spiritual, intuition, etc. Do you know the contents of your own mind (beliefs, thoughts, sensations, desires, willings) more than anything else? Do you trust your memories? Do you know the philosophical presuppositions behind science more than what science delivers? Does your conscience tell you fundamental moral truths are more justified than scientific theories? Does science deliver the best type of knowledge, or intuition, or maybe some source of Divine revelation yield this? How much science do you know and can you trust the testimony of scientists? Does the meditation experience of your own or from spiritual leaders (e.g. the Buddha) and their testimony give you knowledge? If there is a Personal God who designed human faculties to do science and use reason, it is much easier to justify science as a truth-gathering discipline than on Naturalism where science is just a fluke and we have way over-evolved. Naturalist at M.I.T.: “It is amazing that humans can study quantum physics and discover the Big Bang Theory is true when we are just monkeys that should just be finding better bananas to eat.”) HINT: Philosophy is more basic than science because science relies upon at least ten controversial philosophical presuppositions to be a truth-finding discipline: (1) Existence of numbers and logic (denied by most Naturalists and Hindus and Buddhists); (2) Existence of a theory-independent external world (denied by many Hindus and Buddhists; (3) Senses are reliable truth-gatherers (difficult to justify on Naturalism and Hinduism and Buddhism); (4) Reliability of reason and the possibility of induction (denied by many Naturalists); (5) Stability and uniformity of nature from moment-to-moment and throughout the universe; (6) Adequacy of language to describe nature (we might be two-year-olds trying to describe an NFL game or a quantum-physics book); (7) Etc. Science doesn’t tell us ANY of these philosophical presuppositions are true at all—so, philosophers can always pulls rank on scientists in this respect. Or, do you have to taste it, touch it, smell it, or see it yourself to count something as knowledge (i.e. are you an empiricist)? Given your epistemology, are you open to the possibility of divine revelation from God (through prophets or an incarnation like Jesus or Krishna) or revelation from an enlightened being like the Buddha? Explain. Empiricists: Remember that strict empiricism is self-refuting, since you cannot taste, touch, or smell, or see that the philosophical claim of empiricism is true. There are many truths you cannot prove, empirically, like that the past actually happened or that you are not stuck in a virtual reality machine like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Be aware of these philosophical assumptions we cannot prove at all. If you studied it, you can explain if you are a rationalist, empiricist, Kantian, skeptic, postmodernist, fideist, evidentialist, or a fan of Alvin Plantinga’s view of Properly Basic Beliefs and bounce your views off of the philosophers we studied and let us know where you agree and disagree. Cite properly. Do you believe in the possibility of getting information from God through nature and life itself (a.k.a. General Revelation), or the possibility of special information (Special Revelation) through prophets and, perhaps, God showing up as a person (viz. Jesus)?
II. THEOLOGY: Describe your view of God or the gods as clearly as possible taking note of how clear/vague, how central, and the epistemic strength (i.e. how many good reasons you have to believe what you do) for your theology. Do you think gods exist? If so, what are these gods (or God) like? Is God personal or impersonal? In other words, does this God care about humans and listen to prayers, or is S/He distant (as Aristotle and the Deists thought) and unaware of our existence? Are we part of God? Is the external world real or an illusion? If God exists, does God love unconditionally or conditionally? The God Jesus revealed loves sinners (Jesus hung out with the unclean—the prostitutes, the drunks, the hated tax collectors to show that God loves sinners). The God revealed in Islam does not love sinners or unbelievers (God’s love is conditional to those who love Him). In this section, be sure to compare/contrast your view with that of another philosopher and his/her theology/worldview. Quote and cite properly. In this section, use Dawkins scale or Chisholm’s scale. How central is your theology to your life? William Lane Craig argues everything hangs on this question and so “apatheism” is irrational in light of the implications of atheism. What do you think? If it helps clarify your view, give an example of a theological view of a philosopher we read (theist, atheist, polytheist, etc.) and explain how your view is similar/dissimilar.
III. COSMOLOGY & COSMOGONY: When did the universe begin? What keeps it in existence? What caused the universe to exist or was there no cause? Does it continue to exist without explanation?
· These beliefs usually are not as clear, central, or strong for people, but be sure to cover those elements of your beliefs. Is the universe eternal (steady-state theory) or did it have a beginning? If it had a beginning, was it created by a person? Universe? Multi-verse? Did God start the Big Bang or did the Big Bang happen without a “Banger”? Or, is the universe eternal and uncreated by the gods? Do you believe in a “Big Bang Machine” cranking out universes, or believe in an inflationary theory that spins off universes? If it helps, describe and compare/contrast your view with the view of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Naturalists, Jews, Christians, etc. if you want.
IV. METAPHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY: Origins and reality of what human organisms are. Are your beliefs clear/vague, central, and strong? Explain in this section. Was Darwin right about our origins? Did aliens seed the earth so humans evolved? Did God use evolution to create us, or did God use a form of special creation to create us? Are humans only made of matter or do they have non-physical minds or souls with the non-natural (a.k.a. supernatural) powers of free will and reason and the ability to discover good/evil and right/wrong? The power to discover beauty and comprehend music and other things? Or, enter into real relationships of love or friendship (without it being reduced to a story of “the chemicals between us”? Do you believe in minds/souls (atman) or do Buddhists and Naturalists get it right with their (bundle theory) view of no self (anatman)? Are they inherently (or truly) valuable (b/c they are made in God’s image, or because they reason), or are they just instrumentally valuable (and we make invent this value in a constitution)? Are humans the kinds of things that could live after death? Do humans have the supernatural power of free will (libertarian agency), or are they determined by the laws of nature. Compare/contrast your view with another worldview in your answer. J.P. Moreland is a Christian philosopher who thinks Naturalism (scientific atheism) has obviously failed to show humans are just parts of nature like rivers, rocks, and lava flows. Moreland argues that if it is true that humans were created in the image of God (as stated in Genesis), then there ought to be things about us that are unexplained by the hard sciences: the existence of consciousness and the Self or “I”, the power of free will (libertarian agency), the power to discover beauty, the power to enter into relationships (love, friendship) with others; the power to discover good and evil; the inherent value of humans; etc. Do you think, from what you know about yourself, that chemistry and physics and future neuroscience will never explain the amazing features of human beings, or will Naturalists be able to show all of these things are illusions with a reductive explanation in molecular neurobiology? https://youtu.be/9c-cjYaey60
V. THANATOLOGY (Philosophy of Death): What happens to humans after they die? Do they vanish? Are they reincarnated? Is there a samsaric cycle of birth and death, or just one life to live? Is there a heaven or hell or Purgatory or “Outer Darkness”? Or, if we are Jedi, do we turn into energy ghosts and play Bodhisattva to other Jedi like Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Yoda? Compare/contrast your view with another worldview’s position. Quote a philosopher and tell us how much you agree and disagree.
VI. SOTERIOLOGY (Philosophy of Salvation): How clear, how central, and how strong are your beliefs in this area? Do humans need to be saved from something (Hell or the Samsaric cycle (Hindus and Buddhists), the Outer Darkness, etc.)? If so, how do they get salvation? Can God just forgive (as He does on Islam) or does God require an atonement (Christianity)? Faith in the atoning work of Jesus on the Cross? Good karma? The Amithaba Buddha? Christianity is one of the rare religions where there is a faith-based salvation through grace—Jesus said we are saved by faith and not by doing good deeds (As most other religions hold). Practicing the five pillars of Islam? Following the LDS Law of Eternal Progression? Explain and compare/contrast with the view of another worldview. Realize that a lot of people assume God is a God of grace, yet many worldviews do not think this about God. Do you base your knowledge on hunches about God or from special revelation from Jesus or prophets?
VII. ETHICS: Study of the Good (Values); Morality (rules of right and wrong); Character (virtues and vices) and the Good Life for humans. How clear, how central, and how strong are your ethical beliefs? Is spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines a major part of this (as Jesus taught), or irrelevant to becoming people of good character (or something in between)? Most people think ethical truths (e.g. It is wrong to torture your baby brother for fun) are known with a much higher degree of certainty than any scientific truths (especially historical scientific truths like the Big Bang Theory or Darwinian evolution). You tell us. Is there objective/real good and evil and right and wrong? Or, is it relative or just an illusion produced by evolution into our advanced primate selves? Describe the good life. What is a good person? Darwin said there is no such thing as human nature—we are always changing. There is no Natural Law (as the American Founding Fathers believed and founded our country upon). What do you think? Are you with Jefferson and Aristotle, or are you with Darwin and Daniel Dennett? Can we choose how to live, or is that living against our nature? Why should people be moral (if God exists or if God doesn’t exist)? Let us know how your theology relates. Is Jesus the exemplar of the good life? Is the person who follows Jesus the good person? See Christian philosopher Dallas Willard on this www.dwillard.org if you are a Christian who never thought about it. Or, do you agree with Friedrich Nietzsche that Jesus’ ethic of taking care of the weak, widows, the poor and people in prison is the biggest lie ever told in history? Is the Buddha the exemplar of the good life? Is Muhammad a perfect, sinless prophet as Muslims believe? Compare/contrast your view with the ethics of another worldview or a philosopher we read this semester. (If you know these terms) Are you a moral nihilist, moral relativist, moral objectivist/realist? Is morality a useful illusion given to us by naturalistic evolution, or is there an objective right or wrong (e.g. it is wrong to torture babies for fun))?
VIII. POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: Describe what degree of liberty is best for humans in light of your view of human nature. Monarchy/tyranny? Democracy? Oligarchy? Timocracy? Some other kind of Utopian society (lots in history and in philosophy to choose from)? How clear, central, and strong are your beliefs (most students start out as liberal, Marxist socialists in college and become conservative later in life). To what degree do you believe in liberty versus tyranny? Marx and Islamists and socialists and progressives are statists and think an all-powerful central government that taxes and controls human wealth and behavior is the key to a flourishing society. The American Framers of the Constitution and Conservatives and libertarians think individual liberty is most important and society will flourish best without a tyrannical or strong central government that is a soft tyranny. Where are you? Give us your view of private property (do you lean libertarian or socialist) and why this fits with your view of human nature. Do you think there should be big government control and less freedom (as Socialists and Karl Marx and some Muslims believe), or less government and more liberty and personal freedom for individual citizens (as John Locke and Jefferson and the Founding Fathers and Framers of the Constitution of the U.S.A. believed)? Where are you on this (rough) CONTINUUM: (100% liberty) anarchy à libertarian à conservative à socialist à communist or theocracy à (100% tyranny and zero liberty). What is your view of social justice? Should government own all property and redistribute to individuals as they need (as Karl Marx believed), or should charity be conducted by individuals, churches, and non-profits only (as libertarians believe), or a mixture of some redistribution of wealth by government and private individuals. To what degree (if at all) are your rights violated if government gives your money away for you (versus your own choice)?
IX. EXISTENTIAL ISSUES: (Purpose/Meaning in Life; Despair & Absurdity of life; Alienation/Isolation; Guilt; Death; Freedom/Determinism) How do you explain these problems humans have had throughout all of history? Nota bene: You may have dealt with some of these issues earlier, so pick ones that you haven’t touched upon just yet. Atheists like Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre struggled with the absurdity of life without God (and immortality). See William Lane Craig’s article explaining their views: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god Without a personal God, there is no meaning to life other than the subjective purposes we give it, and the whole human race is just a meaningless blip in the history of the universe. Our existence is just as insignificant as bacteria on this little planet in this little solar system in this one galaxy which is one of billions. The human race will vanish someday—this is a scientific certainty. Life is absurd if there is no God and immortality. If we are just meat machines produced by naturalistic evolution (as Darwin believed), then there is no human nature (Aristotelian formal causes) and no way humans ought to be—nothing is wrong in the universe. Everything (Nazi gas chambers, seat belts, creating the Islamic State, etc.) is the result of natural processes. Why do we feel guilty if there is no way we ought to be (and we don’t have free will to choose otherwise, anyway)? J.P. Moreland argues that Naturalism will never explain humans completely. Who is right about that? Why are humans different than cows in that we can feel very alone in a crowd of 10,000 people or even alone at school in a classroom of students, or at home with our families? Kierkegaard (a Christian philosopher) said we are alienated from God and this relationship needs to be repaired through the power of God and faith. See the video below (or click here) for discussion of existential issues section of the paper: https://youtu.be/bUb9P5YpqWI
X. CONCLUSION/SELF-EVALUATION (1-3 pages long): Explain what beliefs in your worldview need more work to get them clarified or strengthened (epistemically). What beliefs are inconsistent or potentially inconsistent and require further study? Some atheists do not believe in God, yet they don’t see that life is, ultimately, meaningless and absurd (as atheists like Camus and Sartre and Russell argued). Many people are philosophical naturalists (scientific atheists) and they have no idea how much they are helping themselves to things that only make sense on the worldview of Personal Theism (e.g. objective morality, believe naturalistic evolution is how humans came to be, yet they believe in supernatural powers like free will and reason . . . and in non-physical things like real, metaphysical love and universal, objective non-physical properties like moral values and principles, logic and mathematics. Those things are difficult to reconcile if the only things that exist in the universe are matter and energy.
PLEASE DO A THOROUGH ANALYSIS AND SEE WHERE YOU NEED WORK: We all need work
This section will be graded heavily. If a student makes no attempt to be self-critical and believes that all of his/her views are 100% clear and 100% [epistemically] strong, then s/he will not get full content points. This “conclusion” is to set out a 5-10 year plan of study to make sure the worldview is as solid as possible. As B. Alan Wallace said, “We all bet our lives on our beliefs,” and as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This project is too important.
ADVICE: You could easily write 30 pages on your worldview. Or, you may want to write a billion pages as a rough draft and then just edit it down to 8-13 pages.
AFTER THE SEMESTER IS OVER: If you want, submit the paper after the semester to be placed on my website www.christopherhammons.com and then to a book publisher in 2016 or 2017: [email protected] I do not save papers. The purpose of this is to protect your privacy if you are, for instance, a Muslim who does not agree with Islam, or a Baptist who is a closet atheist, or a Tibetan Christian, or a Jew who beliefs in the deity of Jesus Christ, etc. Some students have written numerous papers over the years because this project is so helpful.
GRADING: 100 POINTS Content Points: 40
To get full content points, each section needs to focus on clarity, centrality, and epistemic strength. Must interact with at least 6 of the philosophers we study this semester, and if your interaction is weak, you will lose points. The conclusion needs to be a thorough analysis and might be 1-3 pages long. Spelling and Grammar Points: 30
For every second grammar or spelling mistake, a point will be removed. Take your paper to your campus’ writing center. Have a friend proofread it. Read it out loud to yourself at least three times. Structure and Style Points: 30
Every section needs a section heading. Write in prose form. Make good paragraphs. Don’t ramble on for pages in one big paragraph. Read your paper to yourself out loud. Read it to a friend. Make your paper flow. No rhetorical questions! Cite your sources properly with APA or MLA style. You don’t have to answer every question or point mentioned in this document. They are just guidelines to help you flesh out your views in each section. No rhetorical questions (most of you will ignore me and lose a lot of points). Add section headings. Good paragraphs. Cite properly. Use Microsoft Word’s tool or an online citation tool: http://www.easybib.com/guides/citation-guides/mla-format/how-to-cite-a-parenthetical-citations-mla/
Grading Rubric: 100 points
40 points for CONTENT Do you address the clarity, centrality, and strength of your beliefs in every section? If you read it out loud to someone, does your listener/reader want more information from you? Did you bounce your views off of at least four of the philosophers we read this semester? Was the conclusion a great self-analysis and a plan for study in the future?
30 points for SPELLING & GRAMMAR
30 points for Structure & Style No rhetorical questions No plagiarism. Everything cited properly (e.g. religious sources www.biblegateway.com ) Good paragraphs. No lists. No choppy sentences. No need to define each term. Just jump in and give your view. Each sentence must have content—no fluff.
A = Less than three mistakes in grammar, spelling, structure, and style. No rhetorical questions. Clearly explained each philosophical view and discussed (or implied) centrality, clarity, and strength. Self-evaluation was honest and insightful in showing weaknesses in worldview.
B = More mistakes in grammar, spelling, structure, and style. Fairly thorough in explanation of worldview concepts, but often forgetting to talk about the centrality, clarity, and strength of various beliefs. Analysis in conclusion is incomplete.
OPTIONAL BOOK PROJECT: After the semester is over, you may submit your paper to the book project via email: [email protected] . Do it AFTER the semester is over. I will be putting up a blog of past student papers at www.christopherhammons.com or https://christufferhammons.wordpress.com Editing these in a book since this project is one that every human on this planet should do every year the rest of their natural lives 😉
2) Sample worldview paper I made up
3) Feedback to real students in my other philosophy course (they read different philosophers, so you won’t use Plato or Aristotle or Hume or Descartes so you can ignore my encouragements to find quotes by those philosophers. Adjust your reading accordingly.