Book Review: The Universe Next Door – By James W. Sire

 

Universe Next Door Sire.pngLetter IIn the wake of the Enlightenment it became more and more clear as people began to try and doubt everything that there was to doubt, that eventually one runs into a dilemma, either to doubt their-self away or to posit some first principles, some axiom, some presupposition. We have become more and more self-aware from that point forward – and indeed it is one of the hallmarks of the postmodern philosophy – that we are all operating upon and within certain presuppositions or worldviews.

In The Universe Next Door James W. Sire sets out to explore these worldviews, these other universes which we neighbor. As is stated in the preface: “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.” In good fashion, Sire doesn’t claim or attempt to be exempt from this standard, and claims up front to be coming from the worldview of Christian Theism. His goal is to take a look at nine different worldviews – Christian Theism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Eastern Pantheistic Monism, The New Age Spirituality, Postmodernism, and Islamic Theism – and to examine the answers that these varying worldviews give to seven basic questions revolving around reality, the human condition, epistemology, morality and ultimate meaning.

Throughout the course of his text Sire provides insight into the foundations and weaknesses of all the worldviews presented, and so while the text is an introductory survey of the worldviews held, it is also an apologetic for the Christian worldview based upon the philosophic and logical consistency found in the various worldviews.

On that note, Sire’s text is a great introduction for the Christian into the other worldviews which they might run up against and also provides a fairly solid basis on which to critique those other worldviews. It is accessible and coherent, with a clear flow and analysis, and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to get an idea of the presuppositions underlying their views regarding the world (and if you’re not a Christian, then it may serve as an excellent case study into the way that Christians view opposing worldviews, as well as their own).

Memorable Quotes:

-“Few people have anything approaching an articulate philosophy – at least as epitomized by the great philosophers. Even fewer, I suspect, have a carefully constructed theology. But everyone has a worldview.”(p19)

-“We thus end in an ironic paradox. Naturalism, born in the Age of Enlightenment, was launched on a firm acceptance of the human ability to know. Now naturalists find that they can place no confidence in their knowing.”(p106)

-“The problem [with the morality of our day] is not that moral values are not recognized but that they have no basis.”(p108)

-“Art is nothing if not formal, that is, endowed with structure by the artist. But structure itself implies meaning. So to the extent that an artwork has structure, it has meaning and thus is not nihilistic.”(p115)

-“The weakness of resting on a paradox is the difficulty of knowing where to stop.”(p137)

-“In postmodernism the essence of modernism has not been left behind. Both rest on two key notions: (1) that the cosmos is all there is – no God of any kind exists – and (2) the autonomy of human reason.”(p242)

-“If we expect to know anything, we must assume we can know something.”(p281)

-“Christian theism as I have defined it was culturally abandoned not because of its inner inconsistency or its failure to explain the facts, but because it was inadequately understood, forgotten completely or not applied to the issues at hand.”(p284)

Specific Criticisms

While I have said that this is a great text for getting to know what worldviews are out there it is not without its flaws. Minor flaws include such things as mistaking metanarratives for meganarratives, which results in a skewed critique of postmodernism. I also think Sire would have done better to be slightly more objective in his analysis, and to weigh the power that the questions being asked have over the conclusions that are reached. Finally, I think Sire could have been somewhat more self-aware as regards his judgments of the opposing worldviews, recognizing that his judgments are based upon the standard set by Christianity. While the opposing views are judged by their inconsistency (which is excellent), they are also judged by their failure to conform to the authors own presuppositions (which is less excellent, but still worthwhile for a certain audience).

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