What are the Most Significant Areas of Disagreement in Our World?
In a previous post, we saw how there are many different ways of categorizing worldviews. In a more recent post, we saw how people with different worldviews often clash with each other, which sometimes manifests as simmering resentment and sometimes boils over into open conflict. In many instances, these clashes are motivated by superficial tribalism, wherein people of one group reflexively see those of another group as foreign and threatening. In such scenarios, the mere fact that someone belongs to a certain group is enough to cause conflicts, before they even have a chance to consider any issues of agreement or disagreement between the two.
We see this play out when Christians and Muslims fight with each other and also when different factions of either of these fight with each other (Catholic and Protestant Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims). When such people fight with each other, either violently or merely with words, they rarely get into the finer points of theology that ostensibly lies at the crux of the disagreement. But the knee-jerk us-vs-them mentality that often drives such conflict doesn’t account for all of the hostility, especially among the community leaders of the respective sides. If we inspect these clashes more closely, we can see that they are also often driven by more substantive matters of belief, wherein one side deeply believes in some core value or reason for existence and the other side believes something quite different.
We can now take stock of the main points of disagreement among people with divergent worldviews. A previous post noted some major areas of disagreement that cause communication breakdowns and conflicts among different groups of people, including religion vs. secularism, reason vs. faith, spirituality vs. materialism, etc. We can call these dichotomies and if we consider these from the standpoint of someone who is trying to figure out what to believe and not to believe, we can also call these dilemmas.
These dilemmas have impacts in the real world because groups of people are often deeply divided on one or more of these foundational this-or-that questions of life. In our effort to find the main hinge points of disagreement and acrimony in the world, we need to parse out these dilemmas. After that, we might be able to evaluate which of them seem to be more powerful and more consequential than the rest and we might be able to narrow it down to core issues that lie at the crux of the divisions in our global society.
Some of the dilemmas that differentiate worldviews have huge consequences depending on which side people gravitate toward. Our goal is to identify the most significant and most consequential dilemmas, and so we first need to compile an organized list of these so that we might be able to evaluate each of them:
- Religion/spirituality vs. secularism: This comes down to whether a worldview involves an organized approach to worship, faith, and spirituality or whether there are no religious or spiritual aspects of the worldview. We can note that there is a lot of conceptual overlap between the words “religion” and “spirituality”, although some people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and thus they don’t rely on religious faith and instead engage in spirituality in their own way. In either case, the dichotomy hinges on whether there is belief in something spiritual and timeless in the universe or whether it is assumed that everything in existence is temporal and belongs to an age.
- Reason vs. dogmatism: All worldviews would have to have some sort of epistemological framework through which one can determine what to believe and not to believe. For some, this is based on reason, which means that valid beliefs are determined by the weight of the evidence and by logic. For others, the valid beliefs are determined by preconceived notions, authoritative texts, and tradition and cannot be subject to scrutiny by any evidence or any line of line of reasoning that might run counter to these assumed, unquestionable beliefs.
- Science vs. faith: This is closely related to reason vs. dogmatism. There are different definitions of “science”, and this word can sometimes have more broad or more narrow connotations depending on the context. Later we will offer a more detailed definition, but for now we can define science as a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. We can define “faith” as unquestioned belief in something despite the lack of evidence or even in the face of counterevidence. And so we can see that science is dependent upon reason and faith is dependent upon dogmatism.
- Certainty vs. skepticism: Sometimes we think we are certain of things and sometimes we admit that we don’t know. Sometimes we believe we would attain certainty if certain circumstances are met (perhaps a logical proof or the presence of overwhelming evidence) and sometimes we accept that we would never have any way of genuinely knowing something (perhaps because certain things in this world are just unknowable). This dilemma is more of a spectrum rather than an either/or scenario, and there are at least two aspects of it: the extent to which one does know something and the theoretical circumstances in which one could come to know something. The former dilemma is dependent on the specific circumstances of people, times, and places, whereas the latter is more generalizable regardless of such specifics. As far as worldviews are concerned, it is the generalizable dilemma that is more significant. And thus it is important to consider, for any given worldview, the theoretical circumstances in which knowledge could be gained.
- Materialism/physicalism vs. immaterial and nonphysical belief: Materialism is the belief that everything that exists is material substance. Physicalism is almost the same thing since it is the belief that only material substance and natural physical processes exist. Many worldviews involve the belief that something besides the material/physical world exists. If the existence of the material/physical universe is assumed and something entirely distinct from it is assumed to also exist, then this belief would be some form of dualism and if the only thing that exists is assumed to be immaterial and nonphysical then this would be a form of idealism. There are many ways to parse out the metaphysical possibilities, as given in the diverse worldviews that are out there, but the most significant dilemma here is whether or not something besides the material/physical world exists. Whether or not there is something in existence that is ontologically distinct from that which is material and/or physical is indeed an important point of disagreement among the various worldviews that have wide popular support.
- Realism vs. idealism: There are worldviews where the material/physical universe is assumed to ultimately be a figment of the imagination. This dilemma is closely related to the dilemma that hinges upon whether something immaterial or nonphysical exists, but there is a distinction in that variations of dualism would have it that both realities exist. This dilemma only hinges upon whether the material/physical universe is a mind-independent truth.
- Natural vs. supernatural: Although it is often the case that the word “natural” is understood to be approximately synonymous with “physical”, there are contexts where these are two distinct concepts. Natural processes are those that are governed by laws of nature and where all outcomes are determined by such laws. We can see how this natural vs. supernatural dilemma is similar to the material/immaterial and physical/nonphysical dilemma, but it does seem a bit different when we consider that some worldviews have been conceived that involve nonphysical processes that nonetheless are understood to be governed by certain natural laws, and thus these would probably be natural (if they exist). The word “supernatural” does have mystical connotations, but it is not conceptually impossible for something supernatural to exist. We can say it’s unlikely and we can say there is no evidence for anything of the sort, but for now we’re just trying to understand the most significant points of disagreement of the various worldviews. And so this dilemma hinges on whether all processes are determined by some sort of natural laws or whether anything ever happens that isn’t strictly governed by natural laws.
- Infinite vs. finite: This can apply to several possible notions such as the expansiveness of space (whether or not it is infinitely large), the number of points along a line (whether or not there are infinite points along the line), the origin of time (whether or not time itself literally started at some point in the past), and the eternity of time (whether time is eternal or whether it will instead simply end at some point in the future).
- Objective vs. subjective: Some people often think of “objective” as simply denoting mind-independent reality, but herein this is supposed to refer to a fully unbiased understanding of things as they actually are and treatment of things in a way that is mind-independent. “Subjective” is defined as experience from one’s own point of view. All experience originates as a point of view, and so all objective knowledge would have to begin as subjective. As such, the distinction between these two concepts is tricky and nuanced.
- Free will vs. determinism: If all of our actions are determined by natural laws then there is no free will, as least not as we are defining this term here. There is room to interpret certain determined actions as being compatible with a certain notion of free will, but that is not what this dilemma hinges on. Our notion of free will could only be true if there are any actions that are not entirely determined by natural laws but are instead determined, at least in part, by the will (which itself is not determined by natural laws).
- Individualism vs. collectivism: There are multiple ways of thinking about the individual vs. the collective. A very basic way of thinking of this is whether or not there are other minds, as their own conscious subjects, in the world. If one has conceded that there indeed are other minds, then there are ethical considerations about how much one should care about their well being. Should one only care about their own self, or others as well? How many others? Perhaps we should be concerned about all other conscious minds?
- Moral absolutism vs. moral relativism: Most worldviews include ethical systems. Within some of these, the moral guidelines and rules are understood to be absolute, meaning that they are mind-independent facts that are valid for all regardless of whether or not anyone accepts them. Conversely, some worldviews consider morality to be relative to the conscious mind, and since minds differ in genetics, culture, and life experiences, morality is dependent upon these factors. Some worldviews feature ethical systems that bring together both moral absolutism and moral relativism, but we can say that this dilemma hinges upon whether there is any basis for moral absolutism within a worldview.
- Theism vs. Atheism: Some worldviews involve the belief in some sort of higher power or transcendent being that is some sort of god or deity, and these are theistic. Worldviews that don’t involve the belief in any such being are atheistic. Note that dilemma does not necessarily depend on faith or dogma, since some worldviews involve the belief in a god on what is understood to be reasoned evidence. Such a belief is called deism, and we can see this as a form of theism. Such lines of reasoning might or might not be logically sound, but what matters is that this dilemma hinges upon whether the worldview involves any sort of belief in a god.
These are a few of the main points of disagreement among people of the world, but there is probably a way that we can narrow these down to the most significant dilemmas that are truly at the heart of the greatest conflicts of our time. In a future post, I’ll try to rank these in order of significance so that we might be able to better understand the causes of the most damaging unnecessary conflicts in our global society.
What, if anything, can be done to lead to greater peace in this world? Let your voice be heard in the forum.
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