If you’re still looking for high school graduation gifts, particularly for students interested in philosophy, theology, apologetics, or global studies, a classic book you might consider is The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, now in its 5th edition (with over 300,000 units sold). While this book was first published in 1976, many updates have been made along the way (including new chapters on postmodernism and Islam). If you’ve seen a previous edition, note that this 5th edition, released in 2009, is considerably longer than previous versions.
Author James W. Sire does a masterful job explaining some of the common worldviews in our day — fairly assessing each of them, first explaining their appeal and then their flaws. After a preface to the 5th edition and an introduction, Sire explains Christian Theism in chapter 2, Deism in chapter 3, Naturalism in chapter 4, Nihilism in chapter 5, Existentialism in chapter 6, Eastern Pantheistic Monism in chapter 7, New Age Spirituality in chapter 8, Postmodernism in chapter 9, and Islamic Theism in chapter 10, followed by a conclusion.
Here’s an excerpt from Sire’s critique of naturalism (p. 93):
“The problem was coherence. Did naturalism give an adequate reason for us to consider ourselves valuable? Unique, maybe. But gorillas are unique. So is every category of nature. Value was the first troublesome issue. Could a being thrown up by chance be worthy?
Second, could a being whose origins were so “iffy” trust his or her own capacity to know? Put it personally: If my mind is conterminous with my brain, if “I” am only a thinking machine, how can I trust my thought? If consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, perhaps the appearance of human freedom which lays the basis for morality is an epiphenomenon of either chance or inexorable law. Perhaps chance or the nature of things only built into me the “feeling” that I am free but actually I am not.”
The Universe Next Door is the first book I’d pick up to understand what people throughout the world believe and why they believe it. It’s excellent.