The Missing Link

Michael Metzger

When we talk about a worldview or concept, we’re assuming that human beings think with their brains. But what if we think more with our whole body?

What we say flows from what is in our heart (Luke 6:45). When we speak of a worldview, we’re revealing an Enlightenment heart. Worldview “refers to a person’s interpretation of reality” or “basic view of life.”[1] This comes from Enlightenment thinkers such as Descartes (“I think, therefore I am”). Descartes saw the human body and soul as two intrinsically independent substances. The essence of the soul is thought or “thinking.” There can be no communication between body and mind, because the disparity between them is too great. The body is merely a machine. We only think with our brain.

From this, Immanuel Kant coined a new word—worldview. Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche employed the word. So have many Christian scholars. Worldview assumes we stand apart from culture and objectively observe it. But we can’t. Cultures are not a set of clothes that we can step out of. They are the various waters flowing through our gills. Everyone is immersed in cultures, including Christians.

This Enlightenment error led to another new word—concept. It’s a 16th century term from the Latin conceptum for “abstract.” In some cases it was a refashioning of conceit. Concept is the Enlightenment conceit that we can discover truth without getting our hands dirty—that we think with our brains, not with our whole body.

Many Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox theologians have long opposed the idea of worldview. So have many in the natural sciences (Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi). Worldview assumes my take on reality is right. Yours is wrong. This is particularly pronounced in evangelical circles, where many assume their “Christian worldview” is unsullied by sin or cultures. It’s “objective” and right. Other worldviews are sullied by sin and society. They’re wrong.

This is lousy anthropology. Biologist James Shapiro of the University of Chicago says human cells “Intelligently” adapt our DNA to build models of how the world ought to be. Most of this happens on the nonconscious level. Nature “has built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from it and with it,” wrote the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in Descartes’ Error (1994). In other words, we think with our whole body, not just with the brain.

Descartes’ error was in not knowing that our body and brain, from the cellular level upwards, build models of the world. They’re largely the result of experiences in various cultures. No wonder Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor felt that “the things we taste and touch and feel affect us long before we believe anything at all.” If she were addressing evangelicals today, she’d say the human body is their missing link.

If this seems like much ado about nothing, consider that Einstein said the most important thing you can do is name something. He got that from Genesis. God names creation. Adam properly names the animals. We are supposed to properly describe reality. Worldviews and concepts do not properly describe how we acquire knowledge.

If you doubt me, read Genesis 4:1. It describes how Adam and Eve acquired knowledge. It was by touching and feeling—sexual intercourse. They learned with their whole body, not just with their brain (and they didn’t sit through a “worldview of sexuality” course!). That’s why many Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic leaders, including Pope John II, said your whole body tells God’s story, not just your brain.


[1] David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p. 260.


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  1. P (hysical E (motional R (ational S (piritual O (ptional N (otional A (spirational
    Gives PERSONA sense ability.That is realised.
    L (anguage I (nterpret S (ocial E (mpower
    D (iscern
    In SPACE S (afe P (urpose A (ccess C (omfort E (pression
    We each develop a POSABLE outcome

    Sadly the P (hysical and E (motional, S (piritual and O (ptional are often relegated from ‘common’ sense. In addition fast food knowledge is seen as ‘manna’ to placate the understanding and wisdom deficit that long term digestion may require.
    Capturing ourselves in words depersonalised if the result is summation rather than informative.
    Noting that if we think not, we don’t disappear.

  2. …Capturing ourselves in words depersonalises if the result is summation rather than informative.

  3. Barnabas: Your last two lines are very insightful. Summation far too often oversimplifies. And you’re right – “if we think not, we don’t disappear.” Rather, if all we do is think, we are malformed.

  4. “I feel, therefore I am”?
    It requires consciousness – mind
    “I am” is the great descriptor of the infinite
    “I feel” denotes the seat of the soul

  5. I agree that thinking is a whole-body activity, a point that Descartes and all who came after him often miss badly.

    However, I to think “worldview” is a useful (if I may) concept when thought of as a frame of reference, not an absolute. In other words, it’s not that my worldview is right and yours is wrong, it’s that we each have a different frame of reference, and recognizing that makes helpful dialog possible.

  6. Agreed, David, The deconstruction of definitions of world and view will vary considerably. Tis why in my ‘view’ language is a key point of resonance or dissonance. The context communicated by the Trinity often bears witness to different perceptions of a unity.

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