Dallas Willard – The Nature and Necessity of Worldviews at UCLA

The Veritas Forum at University of California at Los Angeles. Dallas Willard:

  • Truth is in trouble, not just religious or moral, but TRUTH!
  • Truth does not accommodate belief; belief has to accommodate truth.
  • No one has ever made a proposition true simply by believing it.
  • Here’s a question of fact or truth and it has incredible bearings on how we approach our life: Am I, fundamentally, a material object that exists or gets organized by DNA and exists for a little while and then I stop existing? Or, am I an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s Universe?
  • I always tell my students: The burden of proof is always mine because I am the one who wants to know.

The power of the world view. Dallas Willard talks about what it is and how it works in context. Notes:

Nature and Necessity of World View

  • Your „world view” consists of assumptions about the realities and values that govern you and the world in which you live.
  • It is a biological reality, built into your usual actions and responses.


Our ability to represent things as they are, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience
This is what our universities are devoted to.
But knowledge requires TRUTH.


A thought or statement is true if what it is about is as that thought or statement represents it.

„An institution of higher education is, by definition, dedicated to the search for truth and its dissemination”. Harvard had a little problem with this and they changed their shield several times. Primarily they were troubled about the issue of the unity of truth and that is: Does truth include the religious, the moral and the other dimensions of truth? Gradually through the years there has been a drift in university affairs that relegates truth to just the natural world. And so our ability to represent God, personal character of the human beings, spiritual side, all of that is eliminated from knowledge. But, truth itself does not do that.

Truth does not accommodate belief; belief has to accommodate truth. No one has ever made a proposition true simply by believing it. Now, maybe their belief in it caused them to act and to bring something about, that made the proposition true. But, merely believing doesn’t make propositions true. A group of people believing it doesn’t help get up a movement. It won’t make it true.

The bitterness of truth is its total indifference to human will and desire together with the fact that human desire and will is set on reshaping reality and therefore truth to suit itself. This is the fundamental conflict in human life. It is the conflict between desire and will and truth. And that conflict affects everything we do, including what we do on the university campus.

The Main World view questions

When it comes to these world view questions the same questions are there. The question: How do we know the truth? still applies to those. Here’s a question of fact or truth and it has incredible bearings on how we approach our life: Am I, fundamentally, a material object that exists or gets organized by DNA and exists for a little while and then I stop existing? Or, am I an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s Universe? Wow, what a difference. See?

The Main World View Questions:
*The nature of reality
-What counts as knowledge of reality?
*Who is really well-off?
-The Good Life
*Who is a „really good” person? (one of the deepest questions)

Jesus and his tradition responds to each of these questions… as do Plato, Buddha, Freud, etc. In the university setting the dominating world view is expressed through what is accepted as research and what counts as possible knowledge. You (university students) are in a system that teaches a world view without responsibly defending it.

How is a world view taught?

  • Mainly by body language, facial expressions, tones of voice and inflections, „looks”, off hand remarks about people and events
  • By what is permissible
  • By example – how we treat people (in class, out of class, colleagues)
  • By who gets rewarded or punished in various ways in the academic or other context
  • Rarely (almost never) by explicit statement. Explicit statement is only used to reinforce what is taught indirectly as previously indicated.

What we have to do with is a kind of orthodoxy, a secular orthodoxy. That is a sociological reality, not a rationally supported outlook. I am, more or less, calling attention to this and saying: Look, this is something we have to deal with. UCLA answers these questions in a pretty straightforward way but, they don’t stand on the street corner and argue for it.

How does the University answer the Four Great Questions?

  • Reality is the natural, sense-perceptible world
  • The spiritual is not real and/or not knowable – That’s been developing for a long period of time in our academic culture and although there’s an increase in talk about spirituality, when any serious moral issue arises it will be treated as not for something which will be treated as a subject for knowledge and that’s because it falls in a non physical realm. You cannot make any sense or morality if you stick to your physics. Same thing is true about logic. Logical implication is not something in the physical world. That doesn’t mean it’s not real. But, one of the funny things in philosophy is you watch people/students who go to study logic and they want to know what it’s all about, what are those funny symbols on the board and they very quickly learn and are socialized that you do not ask that question because if you ask that question, you’re too stupid to understand the answer. Logic, like morality is not a part of the physical world. Now that doesn’t mean it’s not real, it doesn’t mean we don’t know it. It means that under the prevailing outlook, we can’t come to grips with it.
  • You are your body
  • Well being is physical/social well-being: success, money, health

These „Answers” are the Assumptions of what we do and do not do

We wouldn’t try to defend them except in some philosophical context, possibly. But they are the assumptions that we live by and we set up our curriculum in those ways and we judge the qualification of people to teach and not to teach, to publish or not to publish, to get grants and not get grants. That’s where the world-view takes hold.

  • …and HOW we do (or do not do) it
  • They are the assumptions of the training, professionalization, socialization of our faculties.
  • They are not the outcome of rational research. No one has DISCOVERED them, found them to be true.
  • They are not knowledge

How does Jesus answer these four questions?

  • Reality is God and his activities, including the natural world (physical, social)
  • The person is well-off who has a life deriving from God and his „kingdom”
  • The good person is the person pervaded with God’s kind of love: AGAPE love
  • You become a good person by becoming an apprentice of Jesus Christ

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I want to stress this fact: A world view, a basically unified world view that is taught by inflection, action, model. You get crosswise of that you will soon find out that you’re not acceptable. It is very powerful, it is a sociological reality.

There is another world view, it is the one that founded the universities, and, intact dominated the universities until about 75 years ago. That change has come very recently. It is a part of a socialization process that is going on in history, a necessary one, in many respects, in which the university had to divorce itself from the implicit institutions of religion and society. (Recommends the book: The making of the modern university). It wasn’t that suddenly, someone found out that Jesus was wrong. Nobody found that out. It was not discovered, it was negotiated over a period of time in which people decided that it would be that way, and was able to set the tone against it. That’s what happened.

Where we now stand

  • The answers of Jesus constituted the world view of the universities well into the 20th century.
  • We have been locked into a sociological, not an intellectual reaction. We like to think of ourselves as engaged in a rational enterprise in the universities and we are apt therefore simply not to miss and understand the sociological realities that determine the world view that is actually taught.
  • See Julie Reuben, The Making of a Modern University (Book)
  • That goes along with the disappearance of logic from the campus. There’s almost no university or college in the world today that requires a course in simple logic, that is a part of the degree program. Your argument is now judged by your conclusion, not your conclusion by your argument.
  • The answers of Jesus have not been shown false and the now prevailing answers true. Until you recover the sense of logic you can never take that issue up.

Where to now?

  • Recognize that our world view assumptions are what govern life
  • Assume the „burden of proof”. Be a rational „skeptic”. I always tell my students: The burden of proof is always mine because I am the one who wants to know. I’m not in this discussion to put you back on your heels. I’m here to determine the truth and the burden of proof is mine. I’m not trying to win an argument. I think that’s one of the most important things that’s especially for Christians to understand. They’re not here trying to „duck and dodge”. If you can find abetter way than what is Jesus Christ’s offers, He would be the first person to tell you to take it and f you don’t believe that about Him, you can’t be His disciple because you can’t trust Him.
  • Thoroughly consider the teachings of the Bible and the record of Jesus’ people on the main world view issues.
  • Put His teachings to the test of life.
  • Do the same for the world view teachings of the current intellectual.
  • Then honestly compare. Don’t just rest in your „intellectually respectable” prejudices.

Question and answer session begins at the 35th minute.

  1. Do you consider Intelligent Design and Creationism a Science? What is and isn’t science shouldn’t be our fundamental question… Science, for me, is just a fancy word for knowledge… To me the fundamental question is, for any of those ideas is: Are they reasonable? Do they have strong support in the evidence? Do they fit together with a coherent world view?
  2. An atheist states: You use the words :knowledge of God”. I would argue that nobody can read or know the Bible or the Koran really well and know the customs and prayers really well and be sincere in their heart that it’s true, but how can one know God if one, can’t know at the same time, that miracles don’t exist? Logically, those are independent issues. You had many people who had standard arguments for the existence of God who had rejected miracles. It depends on whether you’re going to be a deist or a full blown theist. Christian theists tend to depend upon knowledge of miracles for their knowledge of God, at least partly.
  3. Dr. Willard, you had mentioned during the outlining of the secularization of the university that it was necessarily so, and possibly indicating that it was a good thing. How will I, as a person who does research in the sciences and yet, also have faith in Christ, integrate that and is it wrong to do that? And if the segregation of faith and academy is a good thing? In the period right after World War II, colleges and universities were thought not to be training people well for the future of the country. They were concerned particularly about technology, about science, but they were also concerned about international relations and things like that. There was a lot of criticism and what they experienced was this: Nearly all of the colleges and universities were closely aligned with denominations and what they found was that the denominational distinctives were not open to inquiry. That is why there had to be an opening up between institutional religion and inquiry. That is a good thing because the truth claims of religion should be open to scrutiny as any other field. Historically, religion has not been and that’s why there had to be some distance. Let’s open it now. That is what I am complaining about now on the secular side, we don’t have it (inquiry) because the secular side has trained itself to say that religion is not open to inquiry. That’s the change that had to be made.
  4. What steps do you think can be taken to encourage people to have open forums and do you see the university going in a positive direction or a negative direction? In philosophy, things have gotten considerably better in my lifetime.

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