Magazine Article

Faith-inspired Scientific Inquiry

Pioneering contributions in history

Leonard Brand
Faith-inspired Scientific Inquiry
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

How do we respond to a scientific culture that says biblical faith and science have nothing to say to each other? In this article I will address three questions: (1) Is it OK to mix faith and science? (2) Can biblical faith inspire and even guide scientific research? (3) Has research like that ever been published in peer-reviewed journals?

Mixing the Two

Scientists routinely mix their faith and their science. Many have a firm belief that life has evolved over millions of years. Some of us have faith that life was created a few thousand years ago. It can be claimed that neither of those has been proved, so they are both based on faith, but the source of those two faiths, or worldviews, is very different.

My research is primarily in geology and paleontology. In my five decades of research and interaction with scientists who think differently from me, I have found that there can be a fruitful interaction of my faith-based position with the science that tries to deny a role for Bible-based thinking. The first step is to treat others and their science with kindness and respect. Second, one must simultaneously be unapologetically confident in what the Bible says about the origin of life and of the earth. This position of both confidence and respect is the foundation for the fruitful interaction that we seek. In spite of our best efforts, many persons will deny that I have a right to mix my faith with science, but we will not deal with that issue here.

The Bible Guide

To address the second question, my Bible-based collaborators and I have experienced several episodes of earth science research inspired and guided by our biblical beliefs. To stay within the limits of this article, I will describe only one research project as an example of how this works.

Near the top of the walls of the Grand Canyon is the Coconino Sandstone, which extends over much of central Arizona and is composed of sloping layers of sandstone like the deposits that form on the front faces of sand dunes. This cross-bedded sandstone can be formed by wind or water, but the geological community is convinced the Coconino Sandstone is from sand accumulating in a vast desert. This explanation is the best fit in their millions-of-years story of earth’s history.

When the sand was being deposited, vertebrate animals walked on the sand surfaces, leaving trackways that became fossils as the sand turned to stone. I began studying these trackways, and did not find the eolian (desert) interpretation convincing.* Field study and a series of laboratory experiments confirmed that underwater trackways of amphibians offered the best comparison with the fossil trackways. Two features were of primary interest. In some trackways, the animals seemed to be walking sideways, which vertebrate animals don’t do, unless, perhaps, a gentle water current was pushing them sideways. Also, some trackways began or ended suddenly. Birds can do that, landing on the ground, walking, and then flying away. Four-footed vertebrate animals can’t do that unless they are underwater and can swim down to the bottom, walk around, and then swim away. Why had no one else seen this evidence? The biggest reason is that the accepted desert model is so strongly held that no one was asking whether the Coconino was a desert or an underwater deposit of sand.

A major benefit of a biblical worldview is that it opens our minds to recognize the need to ask more questions that others are not asking. Right here is a key point in this discussion. The Bible does not say anything about the Coconino Sandstone, so our geological questions must be answered by careful research of the rocks and fossils. What the Bible does is tell us about two events revealed by God (we could not have discovered them ourselves): (1) God created the earth a few thousand years ago, and (2) there was a geologically significant, catastrophic global flood. Only if we believe these two points that God told us can we understand earth history. If I was happy with the accepted naturalistic explanation, I may not have seen reason to ask more questions about the Coconino Sandstone. 

Publishing the Research

My graduate students and I, and other collaborators, have done much more research beyond the trackways. However, the example provided above illustrates the lesson on faith and scientific research. We have published nine Coconino Sandstone research papers in peer-reviewed professional research journals. Two are listed below. We have also published 19 other peer-reviewed research papers from other geology/paleontology research projects. Our experience convinces us that if we believe the Bible account of origins, our scientific research is more successful. We hope that our experience can help others to realize that the Bible gives us the only reliable account of ancient history.

* L. R. 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 and S. Maithel, “Small-scale Soft-Sediment Deformation Structures in the Cross-bedded Coconino Sandstone (Permian; Arizona, United States); Possible Evidence for Seismic Influence,” Frontiers in Earth Science 9 (2021): 2395, doi: 10.3389/feart.2021.723495.

Leonard Brand

Leonard Brand, Ph.D., is a professor and past chair of Loma Linda University Department of Earth and Biological Sciences.