Jim Sire Addresses: Is Atheism a Worldview?

James W. Sire

James W. Sire (Ph.D., University of Missouri), retired editor of InterVarsity Press and author of The Universe Next Door and other books on worldviews and apologetics.

I’ve had the privilege of knowing James W. Sire, Ph.D., since my college days. Sire served as a senior editor at InterVarsity Press and authored a number of books published by InterVarsity Press including The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview CatalogHabits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian CallingLearning to Pray Through the Psalms, and Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept.

Our paths crossed several times during my years as a student at Grove City College. I heard him speak not only at my college, but also at a Carnegie Mellon University outreach and a seminar addressing Scripture Twisting at Urbana Student Missions Conference. Sire’s The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog was significant not only in drawing me out of nihilism, but also in bringing me face-to-face with the critical reality of THE primary world of the God of the Bible.  Beginning with our first several conversations and continuing through today, we can converse for quite some time. Over my nearly 17 years on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I have hosted Sire for various speaking engagements and connected with him at InterVarsity conferencing. More recently I have enjoyed reading his newly e-published memoir Rim of the Sandhills (2012) and interviewing him for a Christian Thought and Ethics in the Contemporary World paper on the development of his thought on worldview.

Since I am connecting with Sire several times in the coming weeks, I offered to my Facebook friends the opportunity to pose worldview questions to him. In response I received two excellent questions. After receiving Sire’s replies, I asked if he’d allow me to post his replies and open a worldview question-and-answer to the Emerging Scholars Network. Sire replied, “Yes.” So, if you have a question for Sire regarding worldview, please email me. I’m fine with attributing the question to Anonymous. Andy Walsh said that he didn’t mind having his question attributed to him :)

Question 1:

I’ve encountered several folks who strongly reject characterizing atheism as a worldview. From what I can tell, they see a connection between worldview and religion, and don’t want their atheism framed as anything resembling religion. To them, atheism is plain reality and religion is something made up and added to plain reality. Has Dr. Sire encountered this mindset, and does he have any insights on how to approach a worldview discussion with such folks? — Andy 

The Universe Next Door cover

The Universe Next Door (James W. Sire, 2009, 5th Edition), cover

James W. Sire’s response:

“If your atheist friend is up to pursuing the idea with you, ask him or her to answer the eight worldview questions in The Universe Next Door Chapter 1. Make sure he/she understands each question. The answers given honestly will be the atheist’s worldview. It is likely to be some form of naturalism.

Or, again if the atheist is amenable, read him/her the one line answers given to those questions in Chapter 3 of The Universe Next Door. Does the atheist disagree with any of these propositions?

Remember that everyone has a worldview, but not everyone knows they do. And those eight questions may not be ones they usually ask anyone, including themselves. But each of us react to the world as if there were answers to these questions. And worldviews do not have to be religious at all.

It may take a while to become familiar with your own worldview. So knowing what it is is important to help someone else know what theirs is. In doing this we are dealing with a ‘philosophy of life,’ so to speak. It’s impossible not to have one; it’s just not necessary to know you do or what to call the part of the philosophy of life you are aware of.”

Follow-up questions of my own:

* Have you had similar conversations?
* If so, how have you responded?
* How do you enter such dialogue in on-line interactions?

Do you have a question for Sire regarding worldview? If so, please email me so that we’ll have a 3rd, 4th, 5th question for the series. . . As stated above, no problem attributing the question to Anonymous. The second post in the series will go up next Thursday. Don’t miss it!

Updated profile picture/caption. 11/12/2012. 11:21PM CST.

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