Once upon a time there was a man who thought he was dead. His wife tried everything she could to convince him he was very much alive. But try as she may, he would not change his mind. After several weeks of this, she finally took him to the doctor who assured the man he was alive. Sadly, it was to no avail. Suddenly, the doctor got an idea. He convinced the man that dead men do not bleed, subsequently stuck him with a needle, and smiled as blood ran out of the man’s finger. The man was downtrodden for several days. He had been certain that he was dead but he could not dispute the fact that he could bleed. Finally, he figured out what to do. Returning to the doctor, the man blurted out, “Good Lord, dead men do bleed after all!”
Two Important Features of a Worldview
Our friend had a view of things that he clung to no matter what evidence came his way. His “worldview” was immune to revision, incapable of being falsified. As a result, he continued to embrace and assert his view without integrity. To see why, there are two important facets of a worldview. Before I mention them, you may recall from an earlier article that a worldview is the set of things one believes about the range of life’s most important topics, and the relationship among those beliefs to each other.
The relationship to which I refer involves the fact that some of one’s beliefs are more basic than others. The more basic a belief is, the greater the implications to the rest of one’s worldview if one gives up that belief. For example, my belief that God exists is more basic than my belief in baptism by immersion. If I came to believe in baptism by sprinkling, I would not need to change much else in my worldview, but if I abandoned belief in God, many other things (e.g., my belief in the resurrection of Jesus, in life after death, in moral absolutes) would have to go. Some beliefs (God exists) support, provide the basis for other beliefs (there is life after death). So a worldview consists not only in a set of beliefs, but also of the relationships of support that beliefs have to each other and to experience.
With this in mind, a worldview should be 1) descriptively accurate and 2) explanatorily adequate. A worldview should be consistent with the facts that make up reality. When one gives a careful description of the world, it should be in harmony with the way the world is according to one’s worldview. For example, if one’s worldview implied that there were no colors in the world, it would fail to be descriptively accurate. Further, a worldview ought to explain the facts at least as well as, if not better than rival worldviews. One of the reasons we put forth a worldview is to provide an explanation of things that would otherwise not be adequately explained or explained at all. The Christian claims that the existence of God best explains the origin of the universe, the design in living things, and so forth.
The man in the story above had a view of things that failed to comport with observations. He observed blood and shouldn’t have on his view. And it did not explain the facts. Postulating that he was dead did not explain why he was bleeding, so he had to change part of his worldview from “dead men don’t bleed” to “dead men do bleed” to retain its “explanatory” ability.
Recalcitrant facts and ad hoc explanations
As I just noted, one of the roles of a worldview is to provide an explanation of the facts, of reality the way it really is. In this sense, we call a worldview an explanatory hypothesis. From worldview explanations of facts to scientific theorizing to explaining little things in everyday life (for example, why my daughter’s room is messy), we all quite appropriately engage in “if-then” reasoning: If the moon were in such and such a place, then the tide would be thus and so. But the tide isn’t thus and so, so the moon must not be in that place. If my daughter did not come straight home from school, she would not have had time to clean her room; the room is messy, so it is likely she did not come straight home from school. If oil prices go up, then â€¦. You get the idea.
Now, the dictionary defines “recalcitrant” as “being obstinately uncooperative, hard to handle or deal with.” A recalcitrant fact is one that is obstinately uncooperative in light of attempts to handle it by some theory. A theory may explain some facts quite nicely. But a recalcitrant fact doggedly resists explanation for a theory. No matter what a theory’s advocate does, the recalcitrant fact just sits there and is not easily incorporated into the theory. In this case, the recalcitrant fact provides falsifying evidence for the theory. In our story above, the fact that the man bled when stuck was a recalcitrant fact for the man’s view that he was dead and that dead men do not bleed.
Did the flow of blood make the man give up his theory as false? It should have, because this recalcitrant fact was a serious one, indeed. Any reasonable person would have abandoned the idea that he was dead. But, in fact, the man did not give up his theory. Instead, he engaged in an ad hoc adjustment of his view. An ad hoc adjustment of a theory is an irrational, intellectually unacceptable adjustment of a theory whose sole rationale is to save it from falsifying evidence. As such, an ad hoc adjustment has no other independent reasons that can be offered on its behalf. In our story, there was no reason to believe “dead men do, in fact, bleed” besides the fact that if embraced by fiat, that would save the theory from being discarded by the evidence.
The image of God as a recalcitrant fact for rival worldviews
The Bible teaches that human beings are made in the image of God. This implies that there are things about our make up that are like God is. Among other things, this implies that the make up of human beings should provide a set of recalcitrant facts for other worldviews. The reasoning behind this claim goes like this: If Christianity is true, then certain features should characterize human beings. Those features do, in fact, characterize human beings. Thus, these features provide a degree of confirmation for Christianity. They resemble God and, moreover, come from Him. He made us to have them. The Christian offers a challenge to other worldviews—particularly, naturalism and postmodernism: Show that you have a better explanation for these features than Christianity does (with its doctrine of the image of God), or show that these features are not actually real, even though they seem to be.
Important examples of such features, and thus, of such recalcitrant facts, are consciousness, the self, free will, equal rights and dignity, rational abilities, the nature and cures of depression, and sexuality. Some of these may seem puzzling, and others may appear more intuitively plausible. In the remainder of this series, we shall look at each of them in order, and when we do, try to keep in mind the dialectical background provided in this article.