A worldview comprises a set of assumptions that influence how people view the world and how they answer the important questions of life, such as where did we come from, how should we live, and where are we going? Everyone has a worldview, and how people interpret life and evidence is influenced by that worldview. Two worldviews are prominent today, one based on the belief that the Bible gives trustworthy facts, even about earth history, and one that rejects any supernatural intervention in history (naturalism).1 But those are not the only worldviews.
An increasingly popular trend in Christendom advocates the mixing of Christianity with the theory that all life has evolved. In order to blend these two worldviews, some things in each have to be surrendered. The result is theistic evolution or evolutionary creation, including a version of theistic evolution called temple theology.2 According to this worldview, God created life forms through the process of evolution over millions of years.
In its attempt to meld scientific research and biblical statements about the creation of the world, theistic evolution actually establishes a dichotomy between science and religion by relegating each to a separate sphere. While theistic evolutionists believe that religion can provide spiritual guidance, they hold that only through science can human beings produce reliable explanations of the natural world. That is, religion gives subjective, prejudiced views, while a secular approach provides theories and explanations that are unbiased and neutral, unaffected by religious assumptions—secular science has facts while religion has assumptions. This has led to a two-level understanding of “truth”:
Religion—personal, subjective values, emotions (heart)
Science—public, objective, reliable facts (mind)
But there exists no such thing as a neutral search for truth. Both secular science and religious views are based on a worldview, a set of assumptions that influences everything. A Christian worldview regards the Bible as a trustworthy basis for an integrated view of the world, a “biblically informed perspective on all reality”3 that does not divorce religion from the rest of experience and knowledge. In contrast, a naturalistic worldview requires that separation.
Secularism introduces its own biases into the search for understanding and is no more neutral than Christianity. A worldview based on either viewpoint can form a basis for the search for truth, but they will lead in very different directions. The traditional Christian worldview starts with a belief in the truth of the central events of biblical history: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration (the great controversy between Christ and Satan). Commitment to this set of truths forms the foundation for an integration of all knowledge, not just religious knowledge.
In reality, theistic evolution has mostly abandoned any attempt to make this integration. Theistic evolution is essentially secular but interjects a few “religious” concepts into the secular view of the universe. This worldview accepts as fact the interpretation that all life resulted from evolution. But does the evidence warrant this? Have the advocates of theistic evolution carefully considered which Christian concepts must be rejected in order to accept their worldview? Do they recognize that the evolutionary theory they accept as fact is based on the assumption that no supernatural intervention anytime in history could ever have occurred? Is it good epistemology to try to blend two worldviews based on directly contradictory assumptions, on incompatible epistemological principles? Is it valid hermeneutics to judge biblical concepts according to the assumption that there has been no divine intervention in the history of life or of the earth?
Now we can summarize three worldviews.
Christianity: the great controversy between Christ and Satan
- God is real and is the omnipotent Creator of the universe and life.
- Creation of a perfect, sinless world
- Fall of humanity, bringing sin, evil, pain, and death
- Redemption through Jesus
- Future—restoration to sinless perfection at Christ’s second coming
- Universe and life arose through natural law; there has never been any intelligent, supernatural intervention in the universe.
- All plants and animals evolved from a common ancestor.
- Pain, suffering, death, and natural evil are normal, inevitable processes.
- Future—annihilation, extinction
Theistic evolution, evolutionary creation, temple theology
- Universe and life arose through natural law; there was no direct, intelligent, supernatural intervention in the origin of the universe. God was involved in the process but not in a way that could influence the physical evidence.
- All plants and animals evolved from a common ancestor.
- Pain, suffering, death, and natural evil are normal, inevitable processes.
- Future—??? Does a god who doesn’t know how to create as the Bible describes, know how to provide a future for us?
Advocates of theistic evolution or evolutionary creation who candidly address the topic recognize that their worldview leads to a god who created by the process of mutation, death, and survival of the fittest through ages of pain and suffering. This “creation” process requires death and natural evil (hurricanes, volcanoes, floods, earthquakes). Their deity must not interfere with all these destructive processes, so that, as they express it, the creation will not be unduly forced but will be “free.”4 Is such a god worthy of our worship? Is this evil-ridden world really free or merely dysfunctional?
I recommend one more step in the search for truth, as described by King Solomon: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).5 Knowledge becomes important, especially when combined with wisdom. God and His Word are the ultimate source of wisdom, no matter what our field of study. In many areas of scholarly study, the Bible does not provide a lot of specific information but gives the most important basic concepts, and it is the source of wisdom.
Solomon does not write only about the wisdom of salvation. He develops the theme of wisdom throughout the first nine chapters of Proverbs, applying it to morals and ethics in real-life situations. As a paleontologist, I especially noted that it even brings in the subject of origins: “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew” (Prov. 3:19, 20).
Solomon is using poetic language, but he clearly regards God as the earth’s Designer and Creator.
How should we decide which worldview to adopt? There is much evidence to consider, but above all is the need for wisdom. When God responded to Job, He did not provide answers to the difficult questions. Instead, He challenged Job—and us—to remember how little human beings know in comparison to the God who created all and is Master and Redeemer of all. Were we here when the earth was created? Where were we when the rocks and fossils were formed? In the end, we should choose a worldview to evaluate purported knowledge on the basis of wisdom. “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you” (Prov. 4:7, 8).
Solomon has already revealed where wisdom comes from—“the fear of the Lord.” Do we know the divine mind and Supreme Being behind the Bible? Does our relationship with Jesus give us assurance and confidence in His communication to us? These may seem like rather subjective questions, not relevant to a scholarly search for knowledge. To the contrary, I believe they are the most important questions.
What is the primary difference between the worldviews we have discussed? The difference lies in the nature of God and how (and if) He interfaces with us and nature. How could we, with our human limitations, know what God is like unless He tells us? Does God obey the humanly invented rule that He cannot involve Himself in the physical processes of the universe? Only a deep personal knowledge of God can give us the wisdom to make a truly informed choice of what standard we will use to recognize true and trustworthy knowledge—the Word of God or modern scientific interpretations. If the Bible is what it claims to be, it is not just a book, but the revelation and reflection of the divine Being behind the Bible. This will give us confidence in choosing a worldview.
Biblically motivated scientific discovery
This article has discussed some factors that must be considered in seeking and evaluating knowledge. Is there a way that a biblically based worldview can directly make scholarly contributions? Many critics of the Bible claim this as not possible.
In contrast, I predict that if the Bible presents a true history of the earth and of biological origins, scientists who are informed by Bible history gain an advantage in generating successful scientific hypotheses. That will sound preposterous to many, but some of us have been doing just that for many years and publishing the results in highly esteemed, peer-reviewed scientific journals.6 Other scholars use their worldview to suggest research ideas, and a theist can do likewise!
I do not go to a scientific conference and state that I think such and such a scientific theory is true because the Bible says so. However, the Bible presents the basic elements of a worldview that includes a literal creation, global flood, and short time for life on earth. That framework has implications for processes in both geology and paleontology. Based on these implications, we can propose hypotheses that can be tested with the same research procedures that any earth scientist uses.
Several factors are needed to implement such a research process. First of all, it requires independent thought, recognizing that some accepted scientific concepts must be wrong if one’s biblical worldview is right. Second, it requires solid knowledge of the scientific literature on the topic and high-quality research. Third, we must avoid the danger, illustrated in the work of some believers, of thinking that because we believe the Bible, any scientific idea we come up with must be correct. It is essential to remember that the Bible does not give many details, and we may have to reject several hypotheses about details before finding one that not only fits the Bible but also explains the evidence.
A number of research projects has been done by creationists, based on a biblical worldview, and published in peer-reviewed scientific research journals. I will briefly describe just one example. The Coconino Sandstone in northern Arizona is generally believed to be an accumulation of desert sand dunes, cemented into sandstone. The only fossils are trackways of animals on the dune surfaces. These trackways are commonly cited as evidence of a desert origin of the sand deposit. I wondered if the Coconino SS could be windblown sand if it formed during the global flood. Of course, the flood was complex, and we cannot be sure there were not episodes of high winds during that event. However, it is worth suggesting the hypothesis (resulting from my worldview) that the trackways were made underwater. Research over a number of years (data and interpretations) has resulted in papers presented at national geology meetings and publications in quality earth science journals.7 There are features, not recognized by other researchers, that seem impossible to explain unless the trackways were made completely under water.
My worldview opened my eyes to see things not noticed by others. The evidence was there all the time, but worldview influences what questions are asked, and what researchers notice. A naturalistic worldview does not rule out the possibility of underwater tracks, but it also did not suggest such a hypothesis. My biblical viewpoint provided an advantage in research. This has happened in many cases, for me and for other researchers. There is vast potential for this type of Bible-inspired advance in a variety of disciplines, as there has been for theologians who have confidence in Scripture. When we use this approach, the Bible is no longer on the defensive but a stimulus for discovery of new knowledge.
To understand how human beings acquire and evaluate knowledge, and how to determine what is true, involves consideration of worldviews and how they influence our interpretation of evidence. Any worldview is based on one or more assumptions that we accept on faith. A very important element in choosing a worldview is wisdom, and from the Bible it is clear that wisdom begins with the “fear of the Lord.” There will always be challenges in our search for truth, but if we keep Jesus in first place and put a biblical worldview to practical use in suggesting concepts for study and research, this may even help to advance the scholarly understanding of our disciplines.
1 Leonard Brand, “How Do We Know What Is True?” Journal of Adventist Education, 73, no. 2 (December 2010/January 2011), 16–23); Leonard Brand, Faith, Reason, and Earth History, 2nd ed. (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2009); Leonard Brand, Beginnings (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2006); Ariel Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1998).
2 Ian G. Barbour, Myth, Models and Paradigms (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); John F. Haught, God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, 2nd ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2008); Denis O. Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008); Nancey Murphy, Religion and Science: God, Evolution, and the Soul (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2002); Arthur Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993); John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science and Understanding (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000); John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1994); G. L. Schroeder, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom (New York: Free Press, 1997); John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
3 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 23.
4 See endnote 1 above, and N. Murphy, R. J. Russell, and W. R. Stoeger, S.J., eds., Physics and Cosmology (Tucson, AZ: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2007). Also see L. Brand, “A Biblical Perspective on the Philosophy of Science,” Origins 59 (2006): 6–42.
5 All Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.
6 Brand, Faith, Reason, and Earth History, 96–104; Brand, Beginnings, 153–157.
7 L. Brand, “Variations in Salamander Trackways Resulting From Substrate Differences,” Journal of Paleontology 70 (1996): 1004–1010; L. Brand, Reply to Comments on “Fossil Vertebrate Footprints in the Coconino Sandstone (Permian) of Northern Arizona: Evidence for Underwater Origin,” Geology 20 (1992): 668–670; L. Brand and T. Tang, “Fossil Vertebrate Footprints in the Coconino Sandstone [Permian] of Northern Arizona: Evidence for Underwater Origin,” Geology 19 (1991): 1201–1204; L. Brand, “Field and Laboratory Studies on the Coconino Sandstone (Permian) Fossil Vertebrate Footprints and Their Paleoecological Implications,” reprinted in Terrestrial Trace Fossils, W. A. S. Sarjeant, ed., Benchmark Papers in Geology 76 (1983): 126–139; L. Brand, “Field and Laboratory Studies on the Coconino Sandstone (Permian) Fossil Vertebrate Footprints and Their Paleoecological Implications,” Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 28 (1979): 25–38.